Kishangarh School of Painting, Rajasthan - Indian Mona Lisa

  • Read about various artists and characteristics of Kishangarh School of Painting not to miss Bani Thani. Also know places of tourist interest in Kishangarh.

Kishangarh painting, 18th-century school of the Rajasthani style of Indian painting arose in the princely state of Kishangarh (central Rajasthan).


The school is clearly distinguished by its individualistic facial type and religious intensity. The sensitive, refined features of the men and women are drawn with pointed noses and chins, deeply curved eyes, and serpentine locks of hair. Their action is frequently shown to occur in large panoramic landscapes.


The Mughal connection brought about interesting and important changes in Rajput painting. These changes were visible in dress designs, architectural details, art-Motifs, landscape patterns and choice of subject matter.


Painting as an art form in Kishangarh is a very old tradition dating back nearly three hundred and fifty years. This art in its heyday, with its influences deeply steeped in Radha Krishna bhakti and the splendour of the natural beauty around the environs of Kishangarh, had a unique ethereal almost mystical quality.


Though the school lasted for a shorter duration, it possessed much more refined style. The style of painting kindled religious intensity. The paintings depicted various events of epics and themes of gods and nature, such as from Sri Krishna’s life, the Mahabharata, the Ramayana, or the beautiful panoramic landscapes.

Reference and credits

Reference and credits

History of Kishangarh School of Paintings

The school took shape and grew under the patronage of the king Savant Singh. He ruled from 1748 and 1757. Later he left everything to become a hermit. It was at this time that the Kishangarh art reached the zenith. He was also a poet, and wrote under the name of Nagari Das. He was a pious man and followed Vallabhacarya sect, which is known to worship Krishna, the divine lover.

He was inclined towards spirituality, aesthetics and religion. It was under his reign that the entire kingdom blossomed in devotional fervour and engaged in artistic production.  Albeit at the end of the 17th century, many competent styles of paintings analogous to the late Mughal style of art were being undertaken. But it was Savant Singh who induced the inspiration for the series of paintings on the Radha-Krishna theme.


It is said that Savant Singh fell in love with a lady who was employed as a singer by his stepmother in her palace. The real name of the lady is obscure, but came to be known as Bani Thani (“Lady of Fashion”). There are speculations that the facial features in the Kishangarh paintings have been modelled on her features. 


The master artist who channeled the astounding works and artistic passions of his patron into completely new visual outlook of images was Nihal Chand. The school lasted till the 19th century and in 1820, a series of paintings that depicted Gita Govinda were created.


Reference and credits

Bani Thani

Kishangarh School of paintings gave birth to a style of painting called Bani Thani. It is also popularly entitled as India’s Mona Lisa. It is a masterpiece creation by the great artist, Nihal Chand. It is being imprinted by the Indian Government on one of its postal stamps.

Bani Thani was a singer in the court of the king Savant Singh during the 18th century. Like him, she was also a poet. The king was enchanted by her beauty and exquisite elegance, and she soon became the king’s mistress. It is said that the king modelled as ‘Krishna’ and his mistress, Bani thani modelled as ‘Radha’, while Nihal Chand transformed their beauty in the form of a painting. Bani Thani turned out to be the legendary face of the “Kishangarh Radha”, an impeccable portrayal of the ideal beauty of Indian womanhood.


Prominent Artists

Girdhardas patronized by Raja Raj Singh is the first known artist from Kishangarh. An inscription on the portrait of Raj Singh bears his name.


Bhawanidas was well trained in the Mughal style Indian paintings. He served under Raja Raj Singh and produced paintings, which displayed luxurious courtly postures, delicately modelled faces, and graceful figures that emphasized on the charm of the youthful beauty.


Some of his notable works are; ‘A princess enjoying fire works’, ‘Queen listening to music’ and ‘Raja Sahasmal with his falconers’.


Dalchand and Kalyandas were related to Bhawanidas. While Dalchand was the son of Bhawanidas, Kalyandas was a relative of Dalchand. These artists established the Kishangarh School of painting, which flourished immensely under Raja Raj Singh and later under Raja Sawant Singh. These artists employed gold, a technique brought from Mughal workshops, in the paintings.


One of Dalchand’s significant works is the painting of a horse, which was presented to Mughal Emperor Farrukhsiyar.


While Kalyandas is known for painting a portrait of Rao Durjan Sal of Kotah.

Reference and Credits


Nooro Dhadi was a local painter who painted Rathor Daulatsingh, a jagirdar of the State.


Nihal Chand

One of the most outstanding painters was Nihal Chand (1710-1782) who produced brilliant work. His name figures in the captions of paintings and the papers of the Kishangarh State.


From the period of 1755 to 1766 AD, Nihal Chand worked for Raja Sardar Singh who ruled in the northern part of the partitioned State. He produced a memorable work in the association of his team which consisted of Sitaram, Soorajmal, and

Amar Chand.


After the demise of Sardar Singh, Roopnagar was again merged with Kishangarh. Nihal Chand returned to Kishangarh and was given 200 acres of land.

Reference and Credits

Nihal Chand under Raja Sawant Singh, who was himself a poet and an accomplished musician and painter, rendered visual expression to Sawant Singh’s poems and feelings in his paintings. He was close to Sawant Singh and evolved a figure of Radha based on the appearance of Bani Thani, the mistress of Raja Sawant Singh. He evolved a mannerist style which emphasized on the slender curves and almond eyes of Bani Thani. Radha as Bani Thani was shown with delicate eyebrows curved like a bow, long neck, curls of ebony hair, shapely nose and fastidious nose.


The series of Radha Krishna paintings depicting the mystical love between them are his notable creations.


His painting called ‘Boat of Love’ is considered as a masterpiece of Kishangarh School of painting. The depiction of minutest details with sheer perfection celebrates the eternal love of Radha and Krishna. His other works include ‘Radha offering flowers to Krishna’, ‘Tambula Seva’, ‘Shukadeva Muni preaching Bhagavat to Parikshit’, ‘Sawant Singh and Bani Thani’ and ‘Radha and Krishna seated on a lotus’.


Nihal Chand work speaks for its delicate and graceful drawing and distinctive patterns, and colors.


Reference and Credits

The painting style of Sitaram, eldest son of Nihal Chand closely resembles to that of his father. His notable works are ‘Krishna offering a garland to Radha’, ‘Krishna holding Radha’s Odhani’ and ‘Diwali festival’.


Sooraj Mal was brother of Sitaram and his worthy sketches indicate his love for brush.


Soordhaj Nanagram was son of Sooraj Mal and grandson of Nihal Chand. Painting of Kalyan Rai executed by him is his noteworthy contribution.


Soordhaj Ramnath was son Nanagram. He excelled in drawing and painting of flowers and fruits.


Amar Chand is remembered for his well-ordered compositions. His notable works include ‘A Moonlit Music Party’ that shows Raja Sardar Singh at his Roop Nagar Palace and also figures Nihal Chand.


Sooratram and Budhlal are other significant names, which worked at Fatehgarh in the State and produced lovely works of art.


Kishangarh is also famous for its marbles. Kishangarh can be explored in a day or two, and like any city of Rajasthan, it has worthwhile experiences to offer.

Khoda Ganesh Ji Temple

A unique temple of Lord Ganesha, Khoda Ganesh Ji is located 15 km from Kishangarh. It was built by the royal family of Kishangarh about 250 years ago.


Perhaps, the consecrated idol of Ganesh was unravelled from the ground, hence, it is called Khoda Ganesh which translates into dugout Ganesh. In the present day, this shrine is visited by all kinds of people, especially newly married couples seeking the blessings of Lord Ganesh. Wednesdays are special days for offering worship to Ganesh.

Khoda Ganeshji. 

Kishangarh Fort

This fort located 19 km from Ajmer city was constructed at the command of Maharaja Roop Singh in 1649, hence called Roopangarh Fort.  


One of the remarkable features of this fort which makes it extraordinary is a deep moated wall. Only permitted visitors and guests living in the adjacent Phool Mahal Palace Hotel are allowed to enter this fort.

Phool Mahal Palace

Phool Mahal Palace was made in 1870 as the royal monsoon retreat of the Maharaja of Kishangarh. It lies at the centre of the city, and now serves as a boutique hotel where guests are treated with the same warmth and honour as the royalty.


Ana Sagar Lake

Dating back to the eighth century, this man-made lake is located 60 minutes from Kishangarh. It was constructed by the grandfather of a local well-known warrior. A Jain temple is also located near the lake.

Mandir Shri Nimbark Peeth

This temple dedicated to Shri Radha and Krishna was made to salvage the local people from the malpractices of an evil man named Fiquir Masting Shah who was adept in black magic and other such tricks. The temple was founded by the Bhati Chief of Khejarli, Shri Sheoji along with Gopal Singh Ji Bhati. The shrine is made on forty-two thousand square feet land and has beautifully engraved marble pillars. Quite naturally, this temple is a magnet for devotees.

Besides all these places, there is a Navgraha (nine planets) Temple, Lakshmi Narayan Temple and Gondulav Lake that lies between the old city (purana shahar) and the new city Madanganj. Tourists may plan a visit to these places as well according to the time and will.

How to reach Kishangarh

Fortunately, reaching Kishangarh is easy. There is an airport as well as a railway station in the city. Besides, being close to Ajmer and Merta, it is easily accessible via road from other parts of Rajasthan and North India.



Bani Thani is labelled as India's Mona Lisa: brushwork for the divine (detailed elaboration)

It is one of the greatest romances ever; the tale of a union that elevates love and desire, the purest of all human emotions, to a godly realm. Lord Krishna, his beloved Radha and the love they share have a multitude of interpretations, but none can deny that while Krishna enchants the world, Radha enchants even Him.


The tale of Bani Thani is one with a different set of protagonists, each worshipping love, and each eventually being worshipped as lovers.


She is the iconic belle of a series of artworks originating from mid-18th century Rajasthan, and her presence is sealed in history. Bani Thani was Vishnupriya, mistress of King Sawant Singh, the ruler of Kishangarh and as time remembers, eventually became one of his wives. Although now forgotten, her image as Bani Thani - the decked-out lady - is timeless.


Credits go to Nihal Chand, the court artist and an exponent of Rajput miniature paintings, but also to the king himself, who commissioned repeated depictions of his beloved in the image of the most beautiful women ever known.


In this iconic piece of Indian miniature painting, we find a confluence of genres of art, and of course, the depiction of the most cherished of all human emotions-- love. In scriptures, Krishna often appears dark-skinned; most commonly in shades of blue. In the well-established Kishangarh School, he is unmistakably in a subtle hue of blue, as he is supposed to appear to the purest of his devotees.


The King and Vishnupriya were both poets, accomplished in composing verses on spirituality and praising the Lord. Singh, in particular, was known for his devotion, and passionate worship of Krishna; he took upon himself the name — Nagari Das, which leaves art historians drawing the hyperbole — “Is Bani Thani an image of Vishnupriya, as Lord Krishna himself might have seen Radha?”


Most unlikely, but even if one sets art aside, the legend of Vishnupriya was that of an ideal disciple of Radha, and like the goddess she worshipped, she too shared some of Radha's attributes.


To begin with, Vishnupriya was an unmatched beauty, which grabbed the attention of the king, but there is more to the story. It was not only her outward appearance but also her inner creativity, her musical and poetic prowess that added to her charisma. As a matter of fact, Bani Thani was known as Rasik Bihari, her much revered pen name as a poetess.


Looking at Chand's work, it is easy to realise why Sawant Sing was head over heels. Accentuated facial features are a key to Kishangarh art, and even the gopis are depicted with similar sharp features. But Bani Thani is rendered in a profile, she is one with a pointed chin; her eyes — enigmatic with a magical lotus-like appearance, and her arched eyebrows are more demi-goddess than mortal.


This, however, has been Radha's description in oral traditions, and widely seen in ancient Indian sculptures. Bani Thani has a Radha-like bodily lustre, like 'molten gold'; locks of curling hair lazily falling on the side; her expanded doe-eyes, enigmatic with profuse use of dark mascara. In texts, her nose had a more distinct description, “beautiful as a sesame flower and the tip decorated with a pearl” — something evident in the portrait itself.


The oral tradition continues, Radha wore light-coloured clothes during the full moon and dark colours in its absence. Her favourite outfit is a blue sari and shawl, matched with a coloured blouse (in pink) that delights Krishna. Radha's upper garment would often be red, like a ruby, and it is the favourite of Krishna, while her lower garment is the colour of a blue cloud, something that she prefers.


The portrayal of Bani Thani is not true to the lore in its exact form, extrapolated, yet, hinting to the origin. Her attire is in rich shades of orange overwhelming a grey background, which while spread throughout the painting, is used to highlight the central female figure. The elaborate jewels, mostly in white possibly denoting the pure aura of the one depicted, and in lieu with the near divine.

Bani Thani is labelled as India's Mona Lisa.  

Reference and Credits


Also read How Bani Thani paintings face extinction for first time in 270 years And Rajasthani Miniature Paintings


Video – Learn about Kishangarh School of Painting 12.09 minutes


The purpose of this compilation is to document and promote. We have given credits and reference links in this compilation. In case some are missed, it is not with malafide intent. In case of any shortcomings, mail with full details and we shall do the needful. 


Author Trishna Patnaik is a self-taught artist based in Mumbai, Trishna has been practising art for over 14 years. She is now a full-time professional painter pursuing her passion to create and explore to the fullest. She conducts painting workshops across India. She is also an art therapist and healer who works with clients on a one to one basis. Not to forget her quality writings on Indian Art and now Textiles for esamskriti. She fancies the art of creative writing.


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