Kashmir School of Miniature PaintingIt
is for the first time
in the history of Indian, or world, art that miniature
paintings of the
Kashmir school are being displayed in an exhibition. With the solitary
exception of a recent work by a Russian art historian, no attempt has been
made so far for a systematic study of this important school of art.
The story of art in Kashmir opens with a pre-historic
rock drawing discovered at the Neolithic site of Burzahom depicting a hunting
scene. A subsequent stage of development is represented by masterpieces
of art in the shape of Harwan tiles and Ushkar (Wushkar) stucco figures.
The Nilamata Purana makes clear reference to the existence of painting
in ancient Kashmir. From 7th-8th century onwards the school of Kashmir
art acquired distinct features, even as it was absorbing Gandharan and
Gupta influences, reaching its pinnacle of glory in the times of Lalitaditya.
The movement sustained till the 10th-11th century when its fame spread
throughout the Himalayan region.
Although no direct example of Kashmir painting
of this period has survived, the characteristic features of the Kashmiri
style can be clearly seen in the Gilgit manuscript paintings assigned to
the 9th century. The murals of the Buddhist monasteries of Alchi in Ladakh,
Mang Nang in Western Tibet and Spiti in Himachal Pradesh present a successive
stage of the development of the tradition of painting in Kashmir. These
mural paintings appear to be a pictorial translation of the exquisite Kashmir
bronzes dated to 9th to 11th century.
The Kashmir artistic tradition faced decay during
the political and religious
upheaval of Kashmir in the 14th century. Lack
of patronage and fear of religious persecution forced master painters of
Kashmir to migrate to the neighbouring Himachal princedoms where the Kashmir
style revived and flowered after being grafted into the Pahari-Kangra school.
Despite large scale vandalism and destruction
in the subsequent centuries, the traditional artistic propensities of the
Kashmiris could not be entirely stiffed though. The Kashmir school of miniature
painting survived taking a new avtara during the late 18th century, continuing
through the l9th century to the early decades of the twentieth. The Puja
room (thokur kuth) of the Kashmiri Brahmins became a virtual museum of
religious art which found expression in the illuminations of Sharada manuscripts,
horoscopes, folk-art works like the krula pacch, nechipatra (almanac) etc.
besides individual paintings. The themes were essentially religious with
forms of Hindu deities and local gods and goddesses dominating.
In fact miniature paintings became a family tradition,
passing from generation to
generation. It even became a collective act
of creativity with one expert making the border, another executing the
drawing and a third one painting the colors. These Kashmir
are characterized by the delicacy of line introduced to the massive and
weighty proportions of form, the colour scheme being throughout soothing,
soft and harmonious. The facial type, in the words of Dr. A.K. Singh, is
"marked with ovaloid face, fleshy cheeks, double chin, aquiline nose and
full lips, highly arched eyebrows and almond shaped eyes". The division
of space has the unique characteristic of correlating the foreground and
background. Ornamental border, with occasionally strong use of gold, is
another striking feature of the school.
Unfortunately, this rich treasure of miniature
paintings has gone virtually unnoticed by art historians, making it difficult
to reconstruct a chronological history of the Kashmir school. Unmeelan
is an attempt to invite the attention and appreciation of art lovers and connoisseurs
to this very important but neglected school of art.