The splendour of the Himalayan landscape with its lush greenery and eternal tranquillity, have always inspired generations of artistic and creative talents in Uttarakhand. Alongside a strong literary culture, the Garhwali and the Kumaoni people have also developed their traditions of indigenous painting and visual representations. From the prehistoric times to the modern era, the people of Uttarakhand have been consistent in showing their love for the art of painting which is an organic part of their collective life and cosmic imaginations.
Prehistoric Rock Paintings
For those who are intrigued by the examples of prehistoric art, Kumaon should be an important destination. In the Almora district, the Lakhudiyar caves on the bank of river Suyal, is a treasure trove of colourful rock paintings made by the primitive men of the Stone Age. The Lakhudiyar caves, along with many other significant sites of early rock paintings spread all over the Kumaon Himalayas depict the cultural activities and the life-styles of our primitive ancestors quite beautifully.
Garhwal-Kumaon miniature paintings
Historically, the Garhwal and Kumaon regions of Uttarakhand were part of the Himalayan kingdoms that witnessed the emergence of the brilliant school of traditional Indian miniature painting known as the Pahari Paintings in the 17th-19th centuries. Like other branches of the Pahari School, the tradition of miniature painting among the Garhwali and Kumaoni people – more famously known as the Garhwal School of Painting – also grew out of the style of miniature paintings patronised by the Mughal court and is marked by their brilliant use of colours and judicious arrangement of lines. It is said that Suleman Shikoh, a Mughal prince had come to Garhwal in 1658 in an attempt to escape from his uncle, the Emperor Aurangzeb. The prince had brought his court painter and his son, who was also an artist, with him. When the prince left Garhwal, the painters, Shamdas and Kehar Das, enchanted by the beauty of the Himalayas, decided to stay behind. It is believed that these two Mughal court painters introduced the art of miniature painting in Garhwal and therefore paved the way for the development of a separate Garhwal School of miniature painting in later days. it is believed that Mola Ram, who was credited by many as the founder of the Garhwal School of painting, was a descendant of them. In the later days of its evolution, the Garhwali-Kumaoni miniature painting tradition drew much of its inspirations from the Kangra Kalams. Elements such as the landscape or architectural motifs and human figures painted by the Garhwali and Kumaoni painters reflect their debt to the Kangra techniques of Pahari painting. Passionate romance against the backdrop of the lush Himalayan landscape is one of the most favoured themes of the Garhwali-Kumaoni miniatures. The miniature painters of Uttarakhand, like their counterparts in the Himachal regions, found endless joy in painting various scenes and anecdotes from popular literary sources such as Ramayana, Mahabharata, Krishna Lila, Rukmini Magal and Kama Sutra. A variety of royal court scenes, scenes depicting the ordinary and domestic lives of the beautiful Pahari women, depictions of the series of Raginis and serene Himalayan landscapes were also some of their favourite subjects.
Other folk painting traditions of Uttarakhand
Apart from the great tradition of miniature painting which had enjoyed the privilege of royal patronage in the past, there are quite a few other folk traditions of painting in Uttarakhand that are absolutely worth mentioning. One of them is the rich tradition of Aipan paintings in Kumaon. A variant of the Rangoli tradition of Northern India or the Alpana (also known as Alimpan) tradition of Bengal, the Aipans are colourful ritualistic drawings made on the floors, doors and courtyards of houses and shrines. Sometimes papers and pieces of fabrics also serve as suitable surfaces for these paintings. Beautiful arrangements of geometrical patterns and floral motifs dominate the traditional Aipans which are usually painted by the Kumaoni womenfolk during religious ceremonies and auspicious occasions. Quite naturally, these paintings are full of symbolic meanings as well. Traditionally, a natural dye of simple ochre colour or Geru and a white rice paste serve as the only colours used in these scared drawings. The designs are all traditional motifs carried on from generation to generation which makes this an integral part of Kumaoni life and heritage.