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The Women in Pahari Paintings

I am a lover of art. The ancient art inspires me the most, as it has come down to us after the hard work of centuries.


A woman is like a fast flowing river whose depth cannot be fathomed by man. Those who tried floundered on the rocks. To discover the ultimate reality of women, one has to cultivate a higher merit, strength of imagination, control of senses and total conquest of ego. This is possible in some men of creative capabilities.

A woman is, after all, a mother and to fulfill this task, she had to bind herself to man. Without the satisfaction of this instinct, she is like a barren land chased by all. To perpetuate the existence of man, she has to wade through the river of her own self. Emerging from the core she aspires to reach the surface and bears the burden alone.

The artists have captured the various facets of women on canvas from time to time. Images like the suggestion of two pillars or a pair of a handkerchief, a sharp necked flask filling into a wide-mouthed cup, mortar and pestle, flower blossom etc. symbolize the flames of passion raging within.

Capturing the Moods of Women

Women waiting beneath a banana tree or a Cyprus tree for her lover, pouring her heart to a pair of bucks are some of the favorite scenes.

In some Pahari paintings the peacock assumes the role of lover or the hero. With nightfall, even the peacock retreat into the groves to enjoy the company of their beloveds. The dark night outside and the raging storm within heightens the pangs of separation. The flashes of lightening in the dark cloudy sky signify union.

The flight of the pair of cranes (symbolizing flight of lovers), a pair of parrot sitting on a banana tree (symbolizing sexual urge), a young girl carrying earthen pots (symbolizing fertility), all unravel the riddle of women’s mind.

Women in Kangra Paintings

In Kangra paintings, the artists have even surpassed the scope of above-mentioned images. The path leading to the house of beloved has been shown in the form of ar la cot I.e., by joining two branches.

The branches are tied together and a gloomy looking bird is shown perched on them. This symbolizes the longing for the union, which never takes place because of the social customs and taboos.

In one of the Kangra painting, the beloved is shown being led by the female companion for a midnight tryst at the arrival of the lover with the kelp of flaming torches.

The final sexual union of lovers has been depicted by the paintings with merging the qualities of various objects, which become blurred in the pursuit of oneness.

The vine climbing up the tree represents nothing, but the state of the union.In these paintings, the lovers are brought to life through symbols and signs.

In Bara- Masa paintings the lovers are brought to life through different symbols and signs. What they cannot say to each other is conveyed through the objects of nature viz. birds, trees, clouds, flowers, fruits etc. It is the artist who has made the women realizes her vital being.

The picture that emerges from the Kangra paintings had come to represent the Pahari Style. The credit goes to Raja Sansar Chand of Kangra, a great patron of art, who helped and inspired the artists even during the attack of Gurkhas.

The distinguishing features of these paintings lie in their sensual and transparent beauty with fantastic colors. The Kangra paintings embody feminine tenderness and a silk touch.

Rukmini Going to the Temple, 18th century Guler Painting

The Agony

The beloved communicated her agony of the departure of her lover to the birds like crows, sparrows, parrots etc., pleading with them to bring back or at least convey her message. She is depicted as offering the buttered bread to the crows.

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The cold winter nights are spent sharing her loneliness with caged parrots. The mood here is represented by images like dry leaves, withered trees, broken strings of musical instruments and scattered utensils.

The Imagery

The fruit imagery depicts the reticence of women. Usually, two long-necked flasks with covered mouths symbolize the inviolate chastity of women. The pot-shaped pomegranate, apples, bananas, and grapes etc. all symbolize sexual union.

At such moments the lovers are often shown standing in front of a door with a raised curtain as if the passing storm has divested them of their inhibitions and they can freely indulge in their lovemaking. The holy moments of love are shown in the form of a tray of fruits covered with cloth lying near a thin necked flask.

The Costumes

The heroines are shown with well-fitting blouses and ghagras or petticoats. But their blouses reach waist levels, contrary to the bodice shown in Basholi paintings, which covers only the cups of the breasts.

Dupatta or the well-embroidered orhini or head cover on the head reaches the knees. These heroines also wear ornaments, while the clothing has a translucent Mughal feature.

The Basholi Paintings

In the case of Basholi paintings, there is a positive hint of masculinity, even in the female figures. In the paintings of Nurpur, the elegantly dressed tall women have long limbs.

In this style, the trees are chiseled into domes and shaped structures as if decorated deliberately.

Sexual Symbols

The banana trunk in the paintings is a symbol of male energy or phallic symbol for the grief-stricken heroine, pining for her lover.

The snake symbolizes the phallus, while the flowering creepers entwining the plants symbolize the urge for sexual fulfillment.

The colorful bushes add to the atmosphere congenial for lovemaking.

Mandi School

Marriage Procession in a Bazaar, 1645 AD

Marriage Procession in a Bazaar, 1645 AD

The Features

The women are attractive combining sensuous looks and enticing gestures. The forehead is small and extends up to the long nose.

The half open eyes, long coiled hair, curling at the ear, a small mouth make these heroines a lively and attractive figure to behold.

The eye for detail is captured in the finely sculpted figures. Most of these paintings only depict the profiles.

The Nature

The scenes of love making in these paintings are tenderly depicted in the background of nature. The lush green surroundings with flowers in full bloom, the trees and creepers add to the sensuous appeal of female figures.

The trees are depicted in Kangra style in a natural way, unlike the Basholi School.

The chirping birds add beauty to the atmosphere.

The peacocks, parrots, swans and sparrows are the common birds shown in these miniatures. In addition, the animals like cows, deer, and snakes symbolize different emotions.

The Colors

The colors used in these paintings also play an important role. Three basic colors viz. the yellow, red and blue are frequently used. Other colors appear by blending these colors.

The golden color is used to depict an act of sexual vision and to express the royal status of the character. Sometimes the border of the paintings is made acute by the use of golden color.

The color is used to convey the idea of different types of heroines. For instance, to express Khandita or the angry heroine, she is shown wearing a red dress.

Since the facial expressions do not bear testimony to her rage, the color provides the effect.

© 2014 Sanjay Sharma


Sanjay Sharma (author) from Mandi (HP) India on April 13, 2014:

Thanks srsddn for the visit and the comment. I love the paintings and Pahari miniatures are my favorite. I wanted to write a book on the subject, but the dasher of life .

Sukhdev Shukla from Dehra Dun, India on April 13, 2014:

sanjay, it seems you have done in-depth study of Pahari Paintings. Thank you for sharing such a useful information. Voted up and interesting.

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