Pahari flavour

Historians agree that Basohli miniatures are the oldest of all the Pahari paintings
with offshoots in the Jammu region and Himachal Pradesh, writes Suraj Saraf

Raja Kirpal Paul of Basohli was by all means a remarkable ruler. Given keenly to literary, artistic and spiritual pursuits, he immortalised himself by pioneering the world- famous Basohli school miniatures which find a place of pride in every important museum globally.

Chroniclers and connoisseurs agree that Basohli miniatures are the oldest of all the Pahari paintings with offshoots all over the Jammu region and Himachal Pradesh and that these first appeared in the reign of Raja Kirpal Paul and instantly rose to pinnacle of perfection.

Though experts are still controverting as to how a mature classic painting style could have erupted so suddenly, none has been able to prove cogently facts to the contrary. There is no doubt that it was due to his patronage and high personal qualities and his contact with Dev Dass that resulted in the miracle of Basohli miniatures. The names of the two appear together on the colophon of some paintings.

Till the middle of the 19th century, Basohli was an independent prosperous principality. Even though a small area once comprising just 74 villages Maharaja Gulab Singh was then fast carving out the biggest princely state in India, J&K. He amalgamated Basohli in it.

It would be germane to underscore here the much favourable milieu in which Kirpal Paul ascended the throne.

According to Kahan Singh Biloria, the historian of those hill states, Basohli principality was established in the 7th century. Its headquarters were at Bilor, where relics of old palaces existed till some decades back. It was only towards the end of the 16th century that Basohli started assuming importance. Mughal kings had not brought the hill rulers under their direct control but the latter vied with one another to win favour of the Delhi emperors.

The first Basohli ruler to have established contact with the Mughal court was Raja Kishan Paul towards the end of the 16th century. In 1735 a very puissant ruler, Bhupat Paul, ruled basohli. He conquered large areas around. He also established a new Basohli town because the old one, much below near the Ravi, always remained prone to attacks from Chamba.

How imposing those palaces were is reflected in the description by a European traveller, GT Vigne, who happened to pass by them in 1830 on his was to Jammu. Vigne remarked: " I thought it the very finest building I had seen in the East. Its square turrets, open and embattled parapets, projecting windows, Chinese-roofed balconies and moat-like tank in front presented a general appearance, which, without entering into specific detail, was sufficient to remind me of the most ancient red-brick structures of my own country (France)."

The prosperity of Basohli state, besides due to its warrior rulers like Bhupat Paul, was due to the fact that it was on the trade route, followed by Vigne, too, which passed through Nahan, Guler and Nurpur to Jammu. By the time Kirpal Paul ascended the throne in 1678, Basohli was enjoying the peak of power and prosperity.

Hirananda Shastri, a great epigraphist, in 1920s had acquired a Basohli miniature with the name Rasamanjari written on it.

MS Randhawa, an authority on the Pahari miniatures, describing Kirpal Paul as a great scholar and lover of art and main patron of the Basohli school of paintings, refers to manuscripts of Charka and Sushurta written by Shrikantha and Shivaprasad.

The painting entitled "On the threshold of youth" illustrates the feelings of a young Mudha girl who is still not conscious of her youthful charms.

The Rasamanjari verse on the painting, "The dilemma of the heroine," translated, reads: "The modest nayika is in a dilemma. To fall asleep is to lose sight of her adored one; to remain awake is to risk physical possession."