The recent passing away of BP Kamboj, a consummate artist and photographer and a chronicler of the Garhwal school of painting has largely gone unnoticed in the media and also amongst various art groups active in the state. Kamboj, and before him Barrister Mukandi Lal were the greatest chroniclers of this art form. This speaks of the sad state of affairs of the vital arts in the mountains, that tell us who we are and constitute our very identity. It is unfortunate that some of the most celebrated works of the Garhwal school, an art form Uttarakhand should have been celebrating, that emanated from the brush of the great master Pundit Maula Ram Tomar, can be seen in the Boston Museum of Art, USA; Bharat Kala Bhawan, Benaras; Kastur Bhai Lal Bhai Sangrahalaya, Ahmedabad and art galleries in Kolkata, Allahabad, Lucknow and Delhi. Some can also be found in private collections, but the state of Uttarakhand, for all the expense incurred on melas and official events to mark the culture of the mountains, has failed to set up even a state museum in Dehradun.
The Garhwal school of painting is one of the lesser-known schools of Pahari-Rajput style of painting. The Garhwal school traces its origins to the Mughal Durbar; though some scholars believe that there was a tradition of painting in the courts of the Garhwal kings, earlier as well. In 1658, when the exiled Mughal prince Sulaiman Sheikh, son of prince Dara Shikoh, sought refuge in Srinagar-Garhwal, escaping his uncle Aurangzeb, two painters accompanied him. These were the father and son duo, Shyam Das Tomar and Har Das Tomar. Raja Prithvi Shah ruled Garhwal then and he gave asylum to prince Sulaiman Sheikh. Though, later, his nephew who succeeded him, betrayed Sulaiman to Aurangzeb, he kept the two painters at his court in Srinagar and they were appointedtasvirdars (literrally- laureate painters) in the royalChitrashala (literally- royal gallery and studio).
Barrister Mukandi Lal and Ananda K Coomaraswamy are credited with rediscovering the Garhwal school of painting. Barrister Mukandi Lal was of the opinion that the Garhwal school is much older than the Mughal period, and it traces its origin to the Parmar Rajputs. Later, the Garhwal school had close interactions with Basholi and Kangra schools, as the royal families of India forged matrimonial alliances, and paintings always remained a significant part of the dowry. The uniqueness of the Garhwal school lay in depicting human figures, especially that of the heroines, the nayikas. Ananda Coomaraswamy considered Garhwal school to be the carrier of the Ajanta tradition when it came to depicting feminine grace and poise. The depiction of vegetation, though, is not as concentrated here as in the Kangra and Basholi miniatures.
In the lineage of Shyam Das Tomar and Har Das Tomar, Maula Ram Tomar was one of the greatest painters of the Garhwal school. There were other great painters of the Garhwal school, who appear to be more refined than Maula Ram, such as Jwala Ram and Shiv Ram. But Maula Ram overshadows all of them owing to his scholarship and poetic talent. Samples of this art can be seen on wall paintings all over the Doon Valley. Tulsi Ram, perhaps the last of the Garhwal painters, created the murals on the walls of Guru Ram Rai Durbar. This Tulsi Ram is the same person who was the last painter in the lineage of Shyam Das and Har Das. The family is said to have suffered from a curse that if the brothers continued with painting as a profession, one of them would lose sanity. This curse led to their shifting of profession from painting to gold smithy.
Many old havelis, including the Doonga Haveli at Bidholi village and the ones at Thano and Raipur bear ample evidence of this great school. These havelis bear ample evidence of this great tradition, where the Ala-Gila technique, or the method of painting in vegetable dyes over fresh lime plaster, the hardening of which gave a laminate protection to the paint, was used to create exquisite scenes. The Guru Ram Rai Durbar, with its adjunct buildings also bears evidence of the Garhwal paintings. However, paintings adorning the walls of some the temples are the most in danger on being mutilated.
For instance, the Rangarhwala Temple, next to the Indian Military Academy’s Chetwode Hall has a small paintedmandapam leading to the inner chamber or garbha grihawhere a circular dome depicts eight characters, probably Lord Krishna with seven gopis, his companions, together performing the Raas Leela. Towards the left have been depicted what could be local kings and characters from Indian history, figures like Tansen the master musician. A painting on the right depicts goddess Durga killing the demon Mahishasura. The wall paintings are bordered by figures of snakes in red and blue. Vibrant floral patterns frame them.
Situated not very far off is the Lakshmi Narayan Temple near the Kaulagarh Gate of the Forest Research Institute. Lakshmi-Nar Narayan is the appearance of Lord Vishnu with his consort Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth according to Hindu mythology. It is an old but undated temple, built by Lakshman Prasad following the classic style of Hindu temple architecture. On the inner wall of entrance archway, there is a depiction of the samudra-manthan as part of Hindu mythology, which explains the origin of amrit (the ambrosia of immortality), the churning of the ocean of milk that took place in which Mount Mandara was used as a churning axis and Vasuki (the snake that adorns Shiva’s neck) became the churning rope. Ceiling features a painting of Lord Krishna along with seven gopis dancing the cosmic dance in a circle.
On the busy Tilak Road is the Radha Krishna Temple. Typical of Nagara architecture, it has an octagonal mandapam, surmounted with an onion-shaped dome supported through squinches. As the supporting dome wall is of octagonal shape, it has a depiction of eight different stories. The depictions include folklore and characters from Indian mythology, like Gautama Buddha and Ravana. Lord Shiva as Ardhanarishwara and Goddess Parvati, have also been painted. Lord Parshuram, with his axe, has been painted on one of the walls of the octagon, while another one depicts Lord Krishna and his mother Yashoda.
In Rajpur is situated the Kelaghat Temple. Kelaghat lies on the bridle path between Rajpur and Mussoorie and was in active use, travellers using the route before motor transport developed between the two places in the 1920s. A small rectangular area on the left, after entering the garbha griha, depicts a deity, not very clearly visible. Rust and indigo appear to have been used extensively in the interiors while red and indigo are still visible on the exterior, mostly in floral patterns. Unfortunately, many of these precious works of art are now covered under layers of whitewash.
A little up the hill is the Thakurdwara Temple in old Rajpur. The inner part of the dome and the walls of this temple have been painted. Lord Krishna has been painted with his signature peacock feather playing the flute, while Radha’s ornaments include a huge pahari nose ring or Tehri nath. Shades of two colours, red and blue, are prominent.
These monuments and their paintings are the only record of this great tradition of wall painting. They have suffered the weather and the enthusiasm of devotees always too keen to cover the temples in bathroom tiles and chemical paint. It should be our bounden duty to protect them.
(The writer is an anthropologist, author, traveler & activist who also runs a public walking group called Been There, Doon That?) Read more posts…
Monday, 31 December 2018 | Lokesh Ohri |Dehradun| in Guest Column—