Chitrashala – literally means the school of Art or precisely the School of Painting. Now I have been reading about miniature paintings. That primarily comes from two traditions – Mughal and Rajput including the ones from Hills of Himachal. In the various sub-schools of Rajput miniature paintings, the Bundi school of Art is a prominent school. Probably one of the few that have a continued tradition of painting. So, when I got an opportunity to be in Bundi and that too for an event called Chitrashala, there was no way I was going to miss it. It is one of the most beautifully painted rooms in Umaid Bhawan Palace. This is where I spent most of my time, so this post is only dedicated to the miniature paintings here.
Chitrashala – Miniature Paintings, Bundi School of Art
The first sight of Bundi town was breathtaking – a sea of blue houses surrounding a lake in front of a hill. A fort on top and a bunch of Palace’s hanging from a cliff-like formation. We went around the town to reach the entrance of the palaces. Through a series of gates that were both carved and painted, we reached the upper Palace’s, some of which were painted. As we kept going up the walls kept getting richer with the vibrant paintings that combined the mythological scenes from the epics and the daily life of the palaces.
Miniature Paintings – Portraits
The pinnacle of this series came at Umaid Bhawan when we reached the blue-green room called Chitrashala. All of us were mesmerized. For someone like me, this was a paradise of its kind. But even those who are not history or art enthusiasts keenly listened to the stories and admired the profusely painted walls. Let me walk you through some of these stories on the walls.
When you enter this palace all you see is green and blue color – a soothing but unusual combination of wall paintings. When you start looking at the paintings, you have to zoom in to see the fine details painted. You admire the skills of the painters when you can distinctly see the multiple layers of fine fabric on a human figure. When you see the optical illusion where a single piece acts as heads of two different animals. Like elephant and a bull in a scene depicting their fight. The body rhythms and expressions of the Gopis as they beg the Krishna to return their clothes are just brilliant. Every strand of hair flows with the wind. Landscapes and animals are limited to their need for the scenes, though.
Umaid Bhawan Palace
This palace was built by Rao Umaid Singh and hence gets his name. But paintings are attributed to both Rao Umaid Singh and Rao Bishen Singh and were done between 1773 -1821 CE. Paintings are a curious mix of the Mughal style of miniature painting and the Rajput style of miniatures. Green color has been used as a backdrop and white color to create human figurines. Red, blue, black and yellow has been used to depict the dresses worn by the people. A red and white panel at the bottom depicts the animals, primarily elephants in action – fighting, playing. All the scenes are well defined by a floral border around it that makes each scene an independent painting. Even when it is a part of the series of a story on a wall.
Krishna Leela Paintings
Scenes painted here include the story of Krishna and his various Leelas. If you begin from the left side of the hall, you first encounter three large panels depicting Krishna Leela. Krishna lifting Govardhan Parvat, Raas Leela of Radha Krishna and Krishna stealing clothes of Gopis on the banks of Yamuna.
Then there are lots of scenes of daily life and I was pleasantly surprised to see many scenes of women’s lives. You can see them playing board games like Chausar, you can see them dancing along with the birds and you can see them enjoying the palace lives. They are on the swings during the day and they are on the boats at night. A long panel with three scenes shows women hunting tigers, boars, and deer.
Contemporary court scenes are depicted in some panels and here you see the influence of the Mughal school of Art more clearly.
There are panels depicting the marriage scene of Ram and Sita from Ramayana. Right from the Baraat or the marriage procession to the Vivah Mandap or the marriage ceremony. You identify the scene with the presence of Shiva, and three brothers. In fact, my guide threw me a challenge and said can you identify this scene and thankfully I could.
Nathdwara Temple Map
It is at Chitrashala that I found a complete map of the Nathdwara temple with Shrinathji in the center. When I was in Nathdwara, I was lost in the multi-dimensional labyrinth of the temple – going up and down to see it’s various parts. Here a neat map depicts the layout of this temple with Shrinathji standing in the middle with his left hand holding the Govardhan temple. In fact, you see various avatars of Vishnu painted on the walls. Probably the depiction of various temples and they typically have kings and courtiers standing with folded hands.
I quite liked the panels depicting the Ganesha, Shiva-Parvati, Saraswati and Gaja Lakshmi. It felt almost like a pantheon of Indian deities in a temple.
Paintings & Inlay Work
The ceiling has bright floral patterns in again blue and green. Sun is painted right in the middle of the ceiling – like it is shining bright in the sky. Sun is the symbol of the royal dynasty of Bundi and many other dynasties that ruled from Mewar. They claim their lineage from Lord Ram of Ramayana who was also a Suryavanshi.
Doors leading inside have intricate inlay work with ivory. The wood is wearing out, ivory pieces are falling apart, but the doors still look graceful in the remains of their erstwhile glory.
It is wonderful to see that hospitality brands like Justa Hotels have decided to keep this legacy of the place alive by starting an annual artist residency program named after Chitrashala. I will write in detail on this wonderful initiative in another blog post. Here is a video of an artist in Udaipur explaining the making of Miniature painting.
We all came out feeling enriched. We were transported to the world of scenes that the paintings depicted. The work was so good that all our senses were engaged in admiring and appreciating the work. The works are reasonably well maintained, though the vagaries of the time, does have its impact. There are many parts of the other Palace’s that show signs of vandalism, but thankfully this one has escaped that more or less.
Do you know of any other similar painted walls that can enthrall you?
Recommend you to read the following Places to visit in Rajasthan.