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How Kashmiri Pandits Preserved Painting

By P.N. Kachroo

The Kashmiri painters, in their heyday of estab lished movements had chiseled and garnished a style based on the traditions of Harvan formalism and Baroque of Wushkar school and contented with their philosophic thought. The chromatically decorative element composed with spatially organised figurative symbols constituted the great Kashmir murals, of which the majestic but lingering appearance still stands in the monasteries of Alchi in Ladakh, waiting pathetically for its demise. Further, the style was subtly and sensitively ornamented with the linear sensibilities observed in Mathura and Pala schools while their seasonal sojourns and pilgrimages.

Hordes of such aesthetes and creators went out in the company of eminent and propagating Kashmiri scholars under numerous leading painters like Hasuraj and lead their artistic movement as far as into Tibet, while contributing to the establishment of themes of Buddhistic Mahayana-Vajrayana in Central Asian regions.

The barbaric and devastative onslaught of Islamic iconoclasm, ushered in early thirteenth century, which vandalized, ignited and razed to ground all the monumental edifices and temples of national sanctity along with the invaluable and creative wall frescoes, murals and gold gilt paintings. The examples are still lingering over the mud walls of monasteries of Alchi. Consequent to this the Kashmiri painter suffered a deep cultural shock and a grievous starvation for means and methods of expression. But, as always like a typical Pandit he not only survived the shock but came up with an alternative equipment that did not only bring forth but strengthened and energized the Kashmir miniaturist movement. Thus the base for expression shifted from monumental areas and structures to portable areas of Burjapatras and home made papers. This altnerative means for expression did not only safeguard the continuance of his creativity secretly, but also made it easy for him to carry his masterpieces in case of his migration to seek shelter for his life. This physical fanning out widened the field of diffusion for the Kashmir style, leaving behind the pieces of master--expression not only in neighbouring Himachal principalities but in places of pilgrimage like Kurukshetra, Vrindavan, Haridwar and in as far away places as Sangam and Varanasi.

During the transitory periods of peace in the Valley the customary pilgrimages, particularly in winters, had taken the shape of an intensified yatra of Sthanapatis (Thanapti) from numerous religio-cultural centers like Jeshtheswara, Martand (Matan) and Vijeyashwra (Vejabror). This would compensate their prevailing penury through annual visitations to their Jajmans living in various Indian principalities. These hordes of migratory Brahmins were joined by numerous painters, calligraphers and scribes who, in their search for economic survival, would move from village to village, particularly in neighbouring outer Himalayas and Punjab. The numerous groups of scribes and painters would drop themselves in a nearby Sarai of a town at its outskirts and then fan out in the alleys of township and would hawk and call Muratgarh! Chitragarh! Likhari! In later periods of Indian Muslim rule their calls changed into Mussavir, Katib, Mussavir-mi-Katib, the painter and scribe together.

In absence of printing technology the profession of a scribe and book illuminator proved to be an indispensable profession that kept the starving Brahmin and painter wedded to his staunch faith and philosopy. He would hawk in the various lanes of Indian settlements and would transcribe and illumine the various tattering Pothis and manuscripts. It has become customary for every household to provide these pundits free quantities of oil, besides their wages, so that they could finish their job by burning the midnight oil. The wandering Pandits would pack up their bundles the moment their job would finish, and would move to another Sarai and seek out their job for transcription and illumination. At the advent of spring time, in case the situation permitted, these groups would return to the Valley to spend their summer time with their kin and families.

Various collectors and research scholars, particularly Swiss, German and American teams and organisations have collected a sizable number of such manuscripts and Pothis from various Indian townships, scribed and painted by these wandering pilgrims of culture who have fanned out the aesthetic elements of Kashmir school to wider areas of the subcontinent. Recently, one of the most creative collections of a high aesthetic order lying now in the Museum Reitburg, Zurich from Alice Boner collection of Switzerland, has been published by these authorities. This is one of the finest collections of Kashmir school, depicting the various forms of Shakti as interpreted through the creative forms of Kashmir Miniaturist movement.

 

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