Hindu hill kingdoms

Nainsukh, 'Mian Mukund Dev of Jasrota riding through a meadow', about 1754. Museum no. IS 7-1973

Nainsukh, 'Mian Mukund Dev of Jasrota riding through a meadow', about 1754. Museum no. IS 7-1973. Opaque watercolour and gold on paper.

In the hills at the edge of the Panjab plains, isolated Hindu kingdoms nurtured strongly distinctive styles of painting. For some of the 17th century and throughout the 18th, Pahari artists - artists 'of the hills' - produced extraordinarily vibrant paintings for the rulers of states such as Basohli, Mankot, Nurpur, Chamba, Kangra, Guler and Mandi. They illustrated the ancient stories of Hinduism and depicted the lives of their patrons, the characteristics of these divine or earthly figures drawn from a large repertoire of conventions.

Their work is stylised, but full of vigour, their subjects often isolated against backgrounds of saturated colour - deep yellow or intense red, or gentler hues of sage green or ultramarine.

Little is known about these artists, but the family relationships of some Pahari masters has come to be established, providing the key to understanding stylistic influences between the different courts. Artists travelled from one to the other over the generations, creating their own individual styles yet working within a recognisable family tradition. One of the most significant families was that of Pandit Seu of Guler, who died in about 1740, and his sons, the remarkable Nainsukh and Manaku.

Pahari artists also worked for Sikh chiefs in the late 18th century and when Sikh rule united the Panjab and the Hindu kingdoms declined, the later generations of Pahari artists increasingly turned to the Sikh courts for patronage.

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