The paintings herein on the theme of Rama's wanderings during his exile and his adventures in the forest as narrated in the great Indian epic, the Ramayana, are from Chamba, an important center of Pahari painting, situated in the Ravi Valley in the heart of the Himalaya mountains. To its north-west lies the State of Jammu-Kashmir. Chamba was till recently the capital of a small principality. Being protected naturally, and too small to attract an invasion, its archaeological wealth is well preserved. As a result of the explorations carried out by J. Ph. Vogel in the opening years of this century, a museum was established at Chamba in 1908. Raja Bhuri Singh, of Chamba after whom this museum is named, presented a large number of Pahari miniature paintings from the palace collection to the museum. The gift included an extensive set of paintings on the Ramayana. Before we describe this set of paintings and deal with its social and historical background it is essential to relate briefly the story of the Ramayana and its importance in the life of the people of India.
The qualities of the hero are summed up and described in the beginning of the story when the sage Valmiki enquiries of Narada, the heavenly musician saying, "In this world today, who is endowed with excellent and heroic qualities, versed in all the duties of life, grateful, truthful, firm in his vows, an actor of many parts, benevolent to all beings, learned, eloquent, handsome, patient, slow to anger, one who is truly great, free from envy, and who, when excited to wrath, can strike terror into the hearts of celestial beings"? Apart from the hero, there is a graphic portrayal of many other characters in the story.
All ancient Indian scriptures hold a man's character above all else. It was a conception of obligations, of the discharge of one's duties to oneself and to others. The epic is encyclopedic in its content and it has been said that there is no situation or circumstance, one faces in life, which does not occur in this story and thus it guides its hearers to righteous action on all occasions and for all obligations and duties in different situations and circumstances. The story, therefore, has had a unique appeal to the imagination of the people of India in all ages. It has exercised a continuous and pervasive influence on the mind of the masses in all the languages of India as retold by their poets. Scholars are well aware of many such works, but it may not be known, particularly to foreign scholars, that countless versions of the Ramayana exist in local dialects and folk songs peculiar to small areas and communities, evidencing its wide popularity. Chamba is no exception and it, too, has a beautiful loka Ramayana in a long poem, known as anchali of Rama, which is sung for the whole night on auspicious occasions. It is simple and is usually sung in chorus. Not being a literary work of a single poet, it is hardly possible to ascertain the antiquity of this folk poem.
The Ramayana became more popular in north India than elsewhere because of its Hindi version composed beautifully by the poet Tulsidasa (A.D. 1532-1624). Every year it is enacted as a stage drama during the Dussahra festival at all places, be they big cities or small villages. In big cities almost every street has its own stage and performers. Tulsi's Ramayana gained popularity to such an extent that many people commit to memory the whole poem and they are known as Ramayanis, the reciters of the Ramayana. They recite the teachings of the Ramayana interpreting the various episodes of the story and relating them to ethical conduct and the duties of daily life.
The influence of the Ramayana became so great that the devotees of Rama came to be considered as a separate sakha (sect) amongst the Vaisnavas. This is suggested by indirect evidence of an episode from the life of the poet Tulsidasa. Once when the poet was in Mathura, the birth place of Krishna, associated largely with the worship of Krishna, he went to a temple away from the town. Here, also to his surprise, Krishna was seen by him. On seeing Him, he spoke thus:
Oh Lord! What can I say of thy appearance,
Thou art in strange shape.
Tulsi would bow his head
Only on seeing a bow and arrow in thy hands
In order to understand the story one has to bear in mind the important principle of karma. No one can escape the fruits of his actions. Piety, endurance, and devotion are high values in life and this spirit pervades the whole story ending in the triumph of good over evil. Ravana the demon king of the rakshasa race was a mighty ruler who, after performing austerities for many years, pleased the god Brahma and obtained the boon that he should be invulnerable and invincible against devas (gods), asuras (demons), gandharvas (heavenly musicians), and other such beings. The arrogant Ravana did not ask for protection against those of human form, thinking that those in human form were too weak to do him any harm.
Drunk with the power thus acquired, he started oppressing the devas causing them great misery and hardship. Finding themselves unable to destroy Ravana they went together to Brahma for help who took them to Hari, the God Vishnu. They begged Hari to put an end to Ravana and his atrocities. Vishnu granted their prayer and took birth as the four sons of Dasaratha, the king of Ayodhya. Vishnu however manifested himself more fully in Rama than in his three other brothers.
The Ramayana of the poet sage Valmiki comprising of 24,000 slokas (verses), is divided into seven kandas (books), but most of the text of the first book, the Balakanda, and whole of the seventh book, the Uttarakanda, appear to be later additions.
I. The Balakanda
In Ayodhya, the capital of Kosala, there reigned a brave and noble king by the name of Dasaratha. The founder of the dynasty was Ikshvaku and the Sun was said to be his ancestor. The race thus came to be known as Suryavamsi - the Solar race. Dasaratha had three queens, Kausalya, Kaikeyi, and Sumitra, but he was without an heir. The king performed a sacrifice to please the gods to have a son. This was the time when the devas had approached Vishnu praying to Him for help against Ravana. The God appeared before Dasaratha in a sacrificial fire and gave him a portion of it for his three queens. In course of time Kausalya gave birth to Rama, Kaikeyi to Bharata, and Sumitra to Lakshmana and Satrughna.
When Rama was sixteen years of age, he along with Lakshmana accompanied the sage Visvamitra to his hermitage to destroy the demons who were disturbing the sage's sacrifices. The princes repelled and destroyed the demons when the demons approached the hermitage to disturb Visvamitra's sacrifices.
Then Visvamitra took the two princes to Mithila to the court of Janaka king of Videha. The king, who possessed a wonderful bow of the god Shiva had made a vow that only the one who was able to bend it could aspire to marry his daughter Sita. Many princes tried but had failed even to lift the bow. Rama not only bent it, but broke it into pieces. Thereupon king Janaka rejoiced. Envoys were sent to Ayodhya to inform Dasaratha, who came to Mithila along with a large retinue. Janaka gave his eldest daughter, Sita to Rama, and her sister Urmila to Lakshmana, while Bharata and Satrughna married the two daughters of Janaka's brother. On the return journey to Ayodhya, Rama had an encounter with Parasurama, the destroyer of the kshatriyas. In the combat which ensued over the bow, Rama vanquished Parasurama. On the return to Ayodhya, Rama lived happily with Sita for twelve years. Bharata, accompanied by Satrughna, went to stay with his maternal grandfather, the king of Rajgriha.
II. The Ayodhyakanda
Dasaratha decided to appoint Rama as co-regent and preparations were made for Rama's consecration which was to take place on the following day. The news caused great rejoicing among the citizens of Ayodhya. Manthara, the maid servant of the queen Kaikeyi, happened to climb to the terrace of the women's apartments and stood surveying the town below. She saw the streets sprinkled with sandal water, strewn with lotuses, adorned with standards bearing gay pennons and crowded with men. On learning from a nurse that Rama would be installed as the co-regent, Manthara was overpowered with anger. She persuaded her mistress Kaikeyi to prevent Rama's consecration. Kaikeyi of noble lineage and out of love for Rama was indeed happy to know about the king's decision and gave Manthara a precious ornament as a gift for bringing her the good news. But the wicked Manthara angrily told Kaikeyi that she was unable to foresee the course of events that would follow on Rama's becoming the co-regent; it would mean that Kaikeyi would be the slave of the other queen Kausalaya and the life of her son Bharata would be in danger. Thereupon Kaikeyi's mind was filled with fear on being thus wickedly advised.
Kaikeyi once had saved the life of her husband the king Dasaratha in a battle and he had promised to fulfill any wish she may desire. Kaikeyi now reminded the king of his promise and asked for appointing Bharata as the co-regent and for sending Rama into exile for a period of fourteen years. Dasaratha was mortified on hearing this and at first refused her request. He tried to offer her various gifts but Kaikeyi remained adamant in her demand. Only when Rama himself swore to fulfill the promise made by his father did Dasaratha yield to Kaikeyi's demand. Thereupon Rama accompanied by Sita and Lakshmana went into exile in the forest.
On Rama’s departure Dasaratha who was overwhelmed with sorrow did not go to Kaikeyi’s palace where he usually lived and came to Kausalya’s apartment. Kausalya who was also overcome with grief and was burning with rage reproached Dasaratha but on seeing that the king himself was grief stricken and about to faint, the gentle lady showed affection towards him. Thus soothed he fell asleep. But in the middle of night the king awoke and related to Kausalya how when he was a crown prince he had, while hunting, killed by accident a young hermit whose blind parents had thereupon cursed him. The fulfillment of this curse was now due and Dasaratha died of grief caused by the separation from his son Rama.
III. The Aranyakanda
For the episodes of the later part of the Ayodhyakanda and whole of the Aranyakanda namely the exile in the forest and abduction of Sita by Ravana the readers should refer to the descriptions of the plates.
IV. The Kishkindhakanda
On the abduction of Sita by Ravana, when Rama and Lakshmana were wandering in the forest in search of Sita they met the vanara (monkey) king Sugriva who had been ousted by his brother Vali. Rama concluded an alliance with Sugriva and promised to kill Vali and restore Sugriva to his throne. Sugriva in turn, agreed to assist Rama in recovering Sita. At Kishkindha, Sugriva fought with Vali whom Rama killed with an arrow. After regaining his throne, Sugriva sent four armies of his monkey subjects east, west, north, and south in search of Sita. The monkey army that marched south was under the command of the great Hanuman and on reaching the shores of the ocean, Sampati, brother of the mighty and noble eagle Jatayu, informed them of Sita's whereabouts.
V. The Sundarakanda
Hanuman sprang across the ocean with a mighty leap and reached the palace of Ravana in Lanka. He found Sita and delivered the message of Rama. Hanuman then destroyed the palace garden and killed several of Ravana's demons. At last he was captured by Ravana's son Indrajit and brought before Ravana who ordered Hanuman's tail be wound with cotton-wool and set on fire. This was accordingly done but Hanuman, when let loose, set aflame the whole of Lanka with his burning tail. After this he again leapt back over the ocean to the shore from which he had come and informed Rama of his meeting with Sita.
VI. The Yuddhakanda
Ravana was warned by his brother Vibhishana of Rama's vengeance for the abduction of Sita. Ravana, despite this advice, did not surrender Sita to Rama. Vibhishana joined Rama's army which had already reached the shore of the ocean. The monkey armies then constructed a bridge over the sea and thus reached Lanka. Several battles ensued and Ravana's demons were killed in large numbers while the rakshasa chiefs were slain by Rama and Lakshmana, one after the other. Finally Ravana himself was slain by Rama and Sita liberated. Rama returned to Ayodhya with Lakshmana and Sita, as the period of his banishment was now over. He was then solemnly consecrated as king of Ayodhya.
The story of the Ramayana has ever been popular both with painters and their patrons, and the available paintings of different periods indicate that the Ramayana has been a constantly repeated theme. Several sets of the Ramayana from the Punjab Hills are known. These paintings which illustrate the entire epic, or certain kandas of it, were obviously commissioned by Rajas or nobles, but numerous paintings on individual episodes from this story, such as 'Rama Enthroned', 'Rama Receiving the Homage of Hanuman', 'Victorious Rama Returning to Ayodhya', and certain incidents from the Aranyakanda, were prepared by the artists on their own for meeting a popular demand for such paintings dealing with a single event from the Ramayana, which an individual held in particular veneration and required for the purpose of worship. Other than the paintings from Chamba discussed herein, we know of several sets of paintings of the Ramayana theme from other Hill States. One such series in the Kangra style, numbering over seven hundred folios, was presented to the artist Ranjha to whom we shall refer hereafter.
In this context a brief survey of the history of Chamba Sate will be useful to indicate the popularity of the Ramayana during the period when the paintings herein were produced and the devotion of its rulers to Rama.
Chamba State came into existence by the middle of the sixth century as a small principality and by the eighteenth century spread over the valleys of the Chenab, the Ravi, and a section of the Beas. Here we are not concerned with its early history, save to say that its rulers were great patrons of arts as is suggested by the extant evidence, namely the ancient temples of Chamba and the great bronzes of Brahmor, Chhatrarhi, and Chamba town itself. The royal dynasty belongs to the Suryavamsi Rajput clan (the Solar race) and claims to have descended from Vishnu through Rama and Rama's second son, Kusa. The Chamba Rajas have been worshipers of Vishnu from early times. The earliest Vaishnava temple at Brahmor enshrines a life size eighth century bronze deity of Narasimha, the man-lion incarnation of Vishnu.
Raja Pratap Singh Varman was the contemporary of the Mughal Emperor Akbar. Evidence indicates a cultural efflorescence at Chamba from this period onward. Active contact with cultural centers outside the state increased on account of settled conditions under the Mughals. Several Brahmin families came to Chamba from the plains and distant places like Banaras, Gaya, and Ujjain and settled in Chamba. Raja Balabhadra Varman (A.D. 1589-1641) was renowned for his piety and charity. Learned Brahmins received favors in various ways and were appointed to high offices. Title deeds on copper plates reveal a good knowledge of Sanskrit as compared to early documents. Two temples, one dedicated to Krishna and the other to Rama, were constructed in Chamba town during this period. More importantly, however, is the relief on a rock above the town representing Rama, Sita, and Lakshmana receiving the homage of Hanuman.
Balabhadra Varman was removed from the throne in A.D. 1613 because of his ruinous charitable acts and his son Janardhana Varman was made the Raja. Chamba was attacked and occupied by the Nurpur forces in A.D. 1623 and the Raja was killed. Balabhadra Varman, the deposed Raja, was again made the titular ruler at Chamba. Prithvi Singh, the heir-apparent, then a child of four years, was smuggled out to Mandi-Suket for safety. Raja Jagat Singh of Nurpur who had occupied Chamba revolted in A.D. 1640 against the Mughals. This provided an opportunity to Prithvi Singh who regained possession of Chamba. He rendered valuable help in resisting the revolt and was made a mansabdar by the Mughals for his services. He also received several valuable gifts from Shah Jahan. Prithvi Singh visited the Mughal court nine times and was a favorite there. It is said that he obtained a Saligrama, (self-manifested deity) from the Emperor in A.D. 1645 which was used as a weight in the Imperial palace. Saligrama is still worshiped in the Chamba palace as Raghuvira, the hero of the Raghus - Rama. He built a temple dedicated to Rama which stands beside the new palace. Documentary evidence also indicates that Prithvi Singh was a worshiper of Rama. He constructed in A.D. 1652 a State Kothi at Brahmor decorated with wood-carvings in bas-relief indicative of the influence of painting. His reign is considered as a period of quiet consolidation and reforms.
His son Chhattar Singh (A.D. 1664-1690) expanded the State territory by occupying a part of Kashtwar and founded the town of Chhattargarh which became an emporium of the Central Asian trade, giving added prosperity to Chamba. In the year A.D. 1678, Aurangzeb sent orders for the demolition of the temples of Chamba. The Raja did not obey the Imperial orders and instead placed gilded pinnacles on the temples. A contemporary painting shows him worshiping at a shrine of Rama. He was succeeded by his son Udai Singh (A.D. 1690-1720). A temple dedicated to Sita-Rama was constructed at the Jansali quarters of the town and paintings of this period illustrating the Ramayana are also known. Later the Raja took to evil ways and was deposed and later killed by the State officials. Raja Ugar Singh succeeded him in A.D. 1720 but also was deposed and Dalel Singh gained the throne in A.D. 1735. He was a deeply religious minded ruler. In the year A.D. 1747 he made an offering of a gilded silver toran to the Lakshmi-Narayana temple. An inscription on it discloses the names of two artisan silversmiths, Laharu and Mahesh, who were also painters. Their styles are well known and some Ramayana paintings, other than the series dealt with herein, are regarded as their work and were probably done for Dalel Singh. Raja Umed Singh, son of Ugar Singh, with help from the Mughal governor then occupied the throne of Chamba in A.D. 1748. Dalel Singh did not offer any resistance and became a sadhu (recluse).
It was a critical time in the history of North India and the resulting disorder diverted the entire trade between North India and Central Asia through the Hills. This brought prosperity to the Hill States until the rise of the Sikhs as a great power in the Punjab. It was the period when the finest sets of Pahari painting consisting of many painted folios were produced. A temple to Rama was constructed in the Kharura quarter of Chamba town and an extensive set of pictures on the Ramayana was planned to be painted and a part of the work was completed during Umed Singh's reign. This ruler also constructed palaces and temples decorated with murals. His son, Raj SinghPictured left, succeeded to the throne in A.D. 1764 at the age of nine, and Chamba remained under the influence of Jammu for some years. Raj Singh on coming of age threw off the Jammu yoke which Ranjit Dev strongly resented and so sent a force under Amrit Pal of Basohli to attack Chamba. Raj Singh who was away regained possession of Chamba with the help of the Ramgarhia Sikhs within three months. We find that while Raj Singh was only of about fifteen years of age, there were highly skilled artists from Guler working at Chamba. This is evidenced by a portrait of the young Raj Singh at a Dance Party and other documents. He was a great devotee of Chamunda Deva, the goddess of war. This Raja stands out as a valiant personality in the Hills. He was also a great patron of art. Several sets of Pahari paintings including the Ramayana paintings of the Aranyakanda were painted in his atelier. He was killed in A.D. 1794 while defending the State borders lying along Kangra territory. His son Jit Singh ascended the throne at the age of nineteen. During this period several Hill States were annexed by Ranjit Singh, the Sikh ruler, but somehow Chamba escaped annexation. Charat Singh succeeded his father Jit Singh at the age of five and the affairs of the State were managed by the queen mother, Sharda. She constructed a temple dedicated to Krishna in A.D. 1825. After the first Sikh war in A.D. 1845-46, Chamba came under the control of the British and continued to exist as a princely State until 1948.
During this period life in Chamba, as elsewhere in the Hills, was organized on feudal lines. The Raja stood at the head. The nobility and the priestly class were the most privileged. People in the town lived in ease and happiness. Everyday they devoted hours together for puja and prayers. They also took keen interest in music. Apart from three score and more temples in the town, there were household shrines in almost every dwelling of the nobles and the priests. These conditions proved conducive to the production of paintings, especially when these paintings served a dual purpose, namely that of puja, and the pictorial narration of religious stories.
Although for want of adequate material it is difficult to say exactly when the art of miniature painting was introduced in Chamba, this writer believes that the beginnings in this art were made in the early seventeenth century. There were probably no regular ateliers at that time at Chamba but the presence of some itinerant artist can safely be assumed, from the evidence of portraits of the princes of that period. It seems that some artists working at Nurpur had migrated to Chamba in the first half of the seventeenth century. Nurpur, close to the plains, was the most powerful State in the Punjab Hills at that period and its Rajas were favorites at the Mughal court during the reigns of Jahangir and Shah Jahan. Some families of painters from western Rajasthan or Gujarat and possessing experience of Mughal painting, settled it seems at Nurpur in the early seventeenth century. Chamba which remained under the control of Nurpur from A.D. 1623 to A.D. 1641 was thus in communication with Nurpur during this period. Since the Nurpur Rajas were often serving outside their State with the Mughal armies, some artists might have moved to Chamba even before A.D. 1623. 1
Moreover the generosity of Raja Balabhadra Varman which had acquired fame even outside the State might have attracted painters to Chamba. This Raja, being a great devotee of Krishna, may well have desired to possess some paintings of Krishna and perhaps invited painters from Nurpur, which was not distant from Chamba. We know of Gujarati Manikanth carpenters working as painters at Chamba. The earliest documentary evidence of their presence in Chamba pertains to the year A.D. 1676 and they must have come to Chamba two or three generations before that date. 2
The available material suggests that at first a naturalistic style of painting, having affinities with Mughal painting of the Jehangir period, was introduced at Nurpur and not long afterwards at Chamba. Thereafter the migration of painters from the centers of the Mughal painting who were not first rate artists of the Imperial atelier and the presence in the Hills of the pre-Mughal style of manuscript illustration, resulted in the evolution of a style which is peculiar to the Hills. 3 Gradually the naturalistic style gave way to stylization, while more vivid color tonalities were preferred. Portraits of Raja Balabhadra Varman 4 (died A.D. 1641), and his son Bishambar 5 (died A.D. 1623) and Prithvi Singh 6 (A.D. 1641-1664) are known. A painting in an early Pahari style with marked Mughal influence showing Raja Prithvi Singh with the Emperor Shah Jahan 7 is in an American collection. Painting activity must have become common during the period of Prithvi Singh as well as in the reign of his successor Raja Chhattar Singh, A.D. 1664-1690. Several paintings assignable to Chhattar Singh's reign exist having characteristics of their own.
In the beginning of the eighteenth century the facial type becomes slightly heavier but soon thereafter a longish facial type evolved and remained popular for some decades. Mid-eighteenth century paintings from Chamba have a distinctive style of their own, as can be seen in both dated and signed works. Trees crowned with triangular foliage and irregular trunks in regular rows are a common feature of the paintings of this period. The backgrounds are generally plain. There is no attempt at perspective. Architectural features, though not very intricate, have resemblances to contemporary Mughal architecture.
The drawing is competent though human figures are stylized. Thereafter, for a decade or so, two broad styles seem to have been in vogue at Chamba - one having its roots in the local style, yet disclosing some influence from other centers - the other considered to be an off-shoot of the Guler style until its development into the Kangra style. Their characteristics become clear to us from the study of the Ramayana paintings discussed herein.
Eighty-four paintings illustrating the story of the Ramayana were transferred in 1908 from the Chamba palace to the Bhuri Singh Museum which are listed in the museum catalogue from No. D, 67 to No. D, 150. Three more paintings were acquired later, while one is in a private collection in America. These facts suggest that the set must have been dispersed before the year 1908.
The eighty-seven paintings in the museum collection were painted during a period of at least four decades, from about A.D. 1760 to A.D. 1800. This series also possesses a general interest for students of the history of Pahari miniatures, as during this period there was a transition at most of the centers of Pahari painting from the local styles to the Kangra style as well as to the variations occurring in the Kangra style up to the close of the eighteenth century or even a little later. All the paintings of this series are in a horizontal format.
The paintings of the Balakanda, Ayodhyakanda and Aranyakanda are all of the same size, though executed in two quite different styles, which for convenience are termed herein as the Chamba and the Kangra kalams. The average size of these paintings is 23.3 x 34.2 cm. with a border about 27 x 35.3 cm. The paintings of the later kandas are slightly smaller in size, the average size being 21.5 x 28 cm. with a border about 26.8 x 33 cm. The borders of the Ramayana paintings are plain like those of Guler paintings, but the colors of the borders are different, some being red and other dull brick red or pink.
The brief inscriptions on the top borders of the paintings indicating the subject matter are in a local dialect, namely Chambayali. They were written swiftly and the writing is not very clear. The script used in the case of the paintings of the earlier part of the story is Takri as in Plate 2 while Nagari is used in the paintings of the later part as in Plate 5. With regard to the question whether the paintings included herein were all done at the same period of time, Plate 1, Plate 2, and Plate 3 may be compared. No conclusive inference however can be drawn in the present state of our knowledge. It seems that some of the inscriptions for identifying the themes of our Ramayana paintings were written by the artists themselves. In those times all classes of society including artists, were well aware of the Ramayana episodes. However, guidance by pandits in the production of such a series was obviously necessary. There are no inscriptions or text at the back of the paintings. The numbers on the paintings appear to have been recorded according to the episodes in the different kandas of the Ramayana and consecutive numbers for the entire story are not employed.
Before commencing the work on the production of this series, preliminary drawings were prepared of the complete story as was the prevailing practice. Some of these drawings pertaining to the Kishkindhakanda, Sundarakanda and Yuddhakanda are known to us. (Jagdish Mittal, Some Ramayana and Bhagawata Drawings of Chamba, Marg, Vol. VIII, No. 5, pp. 26-31). The drawings acquired from the painter family of Gujarati Manikanth carpenters at Chamba, are now in various museums and private collections. The inscriptions on these drawings are written only in the Takri script. The size of these sketches in the Bhuri Singh Museum is smaller than the finished paintings. Stylistically some of these drawings are similar to the paintings of the Balakanda and Ayodhyakanda. It appears that the entire series of paintings based on these drawings could not be completed, as no finished painting other than those of the first two kandas, based on these drawings are known.
The work on the series appears to have been suspended when the paintings of the Ayodhyakanda were being executed. Most probably the death of Raja Umed Singh in A.D. 1764 was responsible for this discontinuation. The work seems to have been resumed after a period of not less than fifteen years and in the intervening period the Guler-Kangra style had started influencing several centers of Pahari paintings and was adopted as a mode of pictorial expression at many places including Chamba. About thirty paintings in Kangra style related to the Ayodhyakanda and the Aranyakanda were painted. Thereafter, there is a change in style from the above mentioned group. They are not only done in a different hand, but their composition shows no affinity with the style of the thirty paintings referred to above, which we can call the middle period. The workmanship of the paintings in the changed style, namely of the Sundarakanda and Yuddhakanda, which is not of so high a quality as the paintings of the preceding period, and the use of colors therein strongly suggests that the patron was not the Raja himself. In place of gold, yellow is used and the pallet is not as rich. The paintings of the first phase (Circa A.D. 1760-1764) are not the work of a single artist, which is clearly suggested by the physiognomy of the figures seen in them. However, in composition and color schemes they appear to be closely related and form one group, we have termed the early group. In these paintings the composition is linear and simple.
In some paintings, translucent white clouds are shown with bubble-like forms arising out of them. The device used for showing water is similar to that seen in a Bhagavata series by an artist named Laharu, which is dated A.D. 1757 and is in the Basohli idiom. In the paintings of the second group in Chamba style, represented by a single example here (Plate 2), the treatment of figures is different and a green tonality predominates.
The eleven other paintings included herein (Plate 1 and Plate 3 to Plate 12) all belong to one and the same period of time, but one of them (Plate 3) appears to be the work of an artist other than the painter of the remaining ten. However, they are all in the Kangra style and a predominant feature in them is the landscape setting. The treatment of trees in these paintings is naturalistic and even minute details are drawn carefully. A variety of trees appear whereas in the paintings of the first phase (Balakanda and Ayodhyakanda) only the mango tree was painted. The depiction of trees in any schematic order is also avoided. Different tones of green are used for painting the trees; a device enabling the differentiation of plants. A common feature of the landscape is the presence of flowering plants and creepers seen in Kangra paintings and no doubt derived from them. Bushes are drawn summarily and introduced to fill the vacant slopes of hills or for separating their ridges; a method also borrowed from Kangra paintings. Small leafless trees also appear in several paintings reproduced heruin and are introduced as a motif to aid design. This motif was not introduced only in the late eighteenth century and is seen even in earlier work. The use of a light pink color at the upper slopes of the hills creates an illusion of distance and was favored by the Guler-Kangra artists. It is seen in Plate 4, Plate 5, Plate 10 and Plate 11. The device used for depicting water in these paintings has no relationship with the paintings of the early phase and the idiom peculiar to Kangra painting has been adopted in them.
In overall design and in composition in particular, these paintings are again close to the paintings of the Guler-Kangra kalam, although the pallet is more rich and varied in the latter. The paintings of the Ramayana follow several idioms of the Kangra kalam though in a limited manner. The artistic excellence of these Ramayana paintings, however, cannot be judged only by comparisons. The landscape and the general treatment in the Ramayana paintings convey a feeling of restrained elegance suitable to the requirements of the theme. This group of paintings of the Aranyakanda illustrate the episodes of the story of the exiled princes living as ascetics in the forest. Nothing is thus overdone in these paintings. Even the tones of color are kept under control. One figure seen in Plate 8 is probably the work of the artist Ranjha who served at the court of Raj Singh. This is the demoness Surpanakha in guise of a beautiful woman dressed in bright red and it is comparable to some figures seen in Guler-Kangra paintings. This seems to be his only contribution to the series. It may be noted that in this Ramayana series the lips of ascetics, unlike the lips of other figures including Rama, Sita and Lakshmana, are not painted red.
The hills in some of these paintings add to the beauty of the landscape. It is interesting to take note of the paintings showing Rama's hut at Panchavati where the exiled prince lived. It appears in as many as six paintings, (Plate 6 to Plate 10 and Plate 12). However, the artist has avoided the self same view of the hut so that its presence should not appear repetitive. Moreover, to afford variety, the river Godavari is at times seen in front of the hut, and at times at its rear, while in one painting (Plate 10) the river has the appearance of a lake full of lotus flowers and leaves. Similarly the trees near the hut sometimes surround it and sometimes appear in the background only. They are also different in form and pattern.
Animals and birds are represented in these paintings with understanding and sympathy. Most of them are naturalistic in treatment and lively in appearance while all are introduced as essential features of the composition in which they appear. Human figures are also portrayed as an integral part of the landscape and never predominate the scene. The artist not being concerned with actual portraiture has painted several facial types to portray Sita and the two princes.
The use of the colors in these paintings is both imaginative and pleasing. Color contrasts are woven into beautiful patterns but are never harsh. The sky is generally shown as light blue and at times as a grayish blue, lending depth to the landscape. An art historian has rightly remarked, that the Pahari painters rose to considerable heights in some of their Ramayana paintings, particularly in their rendering of the various aspects of the exile in the forest. The artists living in the Hills, inspired by the local landscape, transformed the forests of the Ramayana story into those of their own homeland.
There are no signed or dated paintings in this series and it is difficult to say definitely who were the artists responsible for executing the beautiful pictures of the Aranyakanda. However, the evidence of two important inscriptions discussed below, which relate to painters in Chamba who came from Guler, and their descendants, can be of help in determining a likely attribution for these Ramayana paintings.
A painting portraying the young Raj Singh at a dance party, already referred to, according to a Takri inscription thereon reveals it to be the work of Ram Sahai who has been equated with the artist Ranjha, the son of Nainsukh, a suggestion which appears quite plausible. This inscription as reread by the present author also reveals the date, namely A.D. 1772, confirming the assumption of its period as earlier made in Lalit Kala No. 1 & 2. P. 37. It belongs to the later phase of the pre-Kangra style and shows some idioms of the Kangra style in its evolutionary stage.
The other inscription of the year A.D. 1860, recorded on the back of a painting by the artist Attra, in the collection of Bhuri Singh Museum, Chamba, contains the names of seven Guler artists who, according to the inscription, worked for the Chamba court. The inscription reads:
"Chambe di rajasi de kadim naukar
Jagir Rihlu Pargana Rajoli gram Gagal rehne Wale Guleriye chitrehre
Mehte Syame ki Attre apu Likhi dita Sam 36"
It was published by the present author in Lalit Kala No. 11, in a note reporting its discovery. It was again published by Dr. B. N. Goswamy in Lalit Kala No. 15, with his comments on the interpretation of the inscription. It appears that all the seven Guler artists whose names appear in this inscription, had worked in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries for the Chamba court, some working only for a short period, while others worked for several years. The second name in the inscription is Narena, equated with the famous artist Nainsukh, who seems to have come to Chamba for a short period. The last mentioned three artists in the inscription, Chhaju, Attra, and Saudagara, whose works are well known, were active around the Year A.D. 1800 and in the nineteenth century, and thus for examining the question of the attribution of the Ramayana paintings, it is not necessary to discuss the style of these painters. As such there remain only three painters to consider, Ranjha, Nikka, and Godhu; all sons of Pandit Nainsukh.
The paintings Plate 1 and Plate 3 to Plate 12 form an isolated group in Chamba painting and their style seems to be a passing phase in the history of the whole corpus of paintings from this center in the Hills. The paintings reproduced herein (except Plate 2 and Plate 3) are most probably the work of the painter Godhu (Gaudhu) as already observed by us earlier. It would seem that Godhu did not stay for long in Chamba, for we learn from the painter Shiba's letter written to Raja Sansar Chand, that Godhu was working as a master artist at the Kangra court.
These Chamba paintings of the Aranyakanda were done in the period when the Kangra style of painting had achieved a high watermark and appear to be the work of the period A.D. 1780-1790. One painting of this series, 'Rama, Sita, and Lakshmana at the Hermitage' was published by Dr. W. G. Archer. He followed Dr. M. S. Randhawa in attributing these paintings to an artist named Tara Singh and in assigning them to the mid-nineteenth century. This suggestion however, is definitely incorrect but since it may have acceptance, the circumstances in which it came to be made require to be stated. In March 1960, Dr. Randhawa visited the Bhuri Singh Museum, Chamba, when the writer was present. On this occasion, information was given to Dr. Randhawa that the Ramayana paintings were the work of Tara Singh. This information however, came from a person who had no knowledge of Chamba painting and thus, Dr. Randhawa was unwittingly misled, for Tara Singh was a late nineteenth century painter whose work is known. How unknowledgeable Dr. Randhawa's informant was can be realized from the fact that he gave Dr. Randhawa the date of Tara Singh's death as A.D. 1871. In fact, Tara Singh died after the year 1910. By no stretch of imagination can the Ramayana paintings be attributed to this artist, for it would result in a stylistic impossibility. Tara Singh was a tantric and painted the late nineteenth century wall paintings of the Akhandchandi palace so widely different from those of the Ramayana, which were surely painted in the reign of Raja Raj Singh.