About Kangra Paintings

  • Article tells you about the origin of Kangra paintings, patronage by Kangra ruler, themes, style and features.

Kangra painting is the pictorial art of Kangra, named after Kangra, Himachal Pradesh, and a former princely state, which patronized the art. It became prevalent with the fading of Basohli School of painting in the mid-18th century, and soon produced such a magnitude in paintings both in content as well as volume, that the Pahari painting school, came to be known as Kangra paintings.
In the middle of the 18th century A.D. when the plains of Northern India were convulsed by the invasion of Nadir Shah (1739), followed by the incursions of Ahmad Shah Abdah, a strange event took place in the Punjab hills viz. the birth of the Kangra School of Painting at Haripur-Guler under the patronage of Raja Govardhan Chand (1744-1773), a prince with a refined taste and passion for painting.


He gave asylum to refugee artists trained in the Mughal Style of painting. In the inspiring environment of the Punjab Himalayas with their beautiful green hills, wave-like terraced paddy-fields and rivulets fed with the glacial waters of the snow-covered Dhauladhar.


The Mughal style with its sensitive naturalism blossomed into the Kangra style. Instead of painting flattering portraits of their masters and hunting scenes, the artists adopted themes from the love poetry of Jayadeva Bihari and Keshav Das who wrote ecstatically of the love of Radha and Krishna. Thus, was developed a school of painting with a new spirit, whose artistic works are suffused with romantic love and bhakti mysticism.


Parkash Chand (ruled 1773-1790), the successor of Govardhan Chand, also continued the patronage of the artists.


The paintings in early Guler style were by the artist Pandit Seu and his two sons Nainsukh, Manak and brother Gursouhae were employed by Raja Parkash Chand of Guler.


Raja Sansar Chand (1775-1823) attracted a number of talented artists from the court of Guler even when he was 20 years of age. He was the most renowned Raja in the Kangra Valley and was the most generous patron of the art of painting.


It was under his patronage that Jaydeva’s Sanskrit love poem, the “Gita Govinda”, “Bihari’s Sat Sai”, “Bhagawat Purana”, the romantic tale of Nala and Damyanti, and Keshav Das’s Raskapriya and Kavipriya were translated into paintings of exquisite beauty. Manku, Khushala Kishan Lal, Basia, Purkhoo, Fatoo are mentioned as artists in the employment of Sansar Chand.


These artists did not mention their names on the painting which also shows their selfless devotion to the art.



To turn to the techniques of Kangra Painting, its chief features are delicacy of line, brilliance of color and minuteness of decorative details, like the art of Ajanta,


Kangra art is essentially an art of the line. This imaging delicacy and fineness of the line was achieved by the use of fine brushes made from the hair of squirrels.


The Kangra painters made use of pure colours like yellow, red and blue and these have retained the brilliance, even after two hundred years. The central theme of Kangra painting is live and its sentiments are expressed in a lyrical style full of rhythm, grace and beauty. The recurring theme of Kangra painting whether it portrays one of the six seasons or modes of music, Radha and Krishana or Siva and Parvati is the love of man for woman and of woman for man.

Sri Krishna and Radha.

The three main centers of Kangra painting are Guler, Nurpur and Tira-Sujanpur.

Painting depicts ideas and values which guided life in society, sentiments and passions pictured in the language of brush and color making our experience rich and sensibilities sharp.


Miniatures are steeped in religious faith as they depict Puranic tales and stories from Ramayana and Mahabharata in minute detail. Sensitive depiction of literary works Rasik Priya, Sat Sai and Rasmanjari, Geet Govinda and other works refer to the awareness of people.

Sri Ram & Hanuman ji.

The episodes are most eloquent, colours most vibrant, brilliant and soft. The brush is tender. Nature is depicted as sublime. Animal & birds find place wherever necessary.


The Nayika of miniature is Radha, the most beautiful woman on earth characterized by feminine grace and Porcelain delicacy and Nayak is none other than the blue God Krishna. We also see the hill Rajas modelling for the Nayak. Portraits of hill Rajas give us a glimpse into their character, likes and attributes. But for the liberal patronage available this art would not have touched such High levels of excellence.



In Kangra painting we find a mix of folk styles in Rajput, Mughal and Punjabi. As Aurangzeb drove the Hindu artists of his court from the state, they took shelter in neighbouring states. This art has grown from them has many styles.


Features of Kangra painting

One striking feature of Kangra paintings is the verdant greenery it depicts. The style is naturalistic, and great attention is paid to detail. The foliage depicted is vast and varied. This is made noticeable by using multiple shades of green. The Kangra paintings feature flowering plants and creepers, leafless trees, rivulets and brooks.


The Kangra artists adopted various shades of the primary colors and used delicate and fresher hues. For instance, they used a light pink on the upper hills to indicate distance.


Kangra paintings depict the feminine charm in a very graceful manner. Facial features are soft and refined. The female figures are exceptionally beautiful.


Later Kangra paintings also depicted nocturnal scenes, storms and lightning. The paintings were often large and had complex compositions of many figures and elaborate landscapes. Towns and house clusters were often depicted in the distance.

The Kangra painters used colors made of vegetable and mineral extracts. They employed cool and fresh colors. Kangra paintings are known for the lyrical blending of form and color.



The Kangra painting is unique to the place where it was born and raised. The pictures are inspirational to the hills. The shade of that area is visible in the wooden bins. The plot is a touch of folk tales. Kangra is meaningful because of this colorful background.


McLeodganj, along the road from the main square to the Dalai Lama temple are souvenir shops and trinket stalls. There may once have been a time when these businesses sold goods that were unique to the region, but, over the years, most of their wares have acquired a pan-national character.

In the chaos of modern commerce, objects harking back to centuries-old tradition can be hard to sell, and yet, this is precisely the task that the Kangra Arts Promotion Society (KAPS), an NGO, has been quietly working at for the last decade. On the walls of its gallery in McLeodganj, an airy space with windows offering stunning views of the valley below, are exquisite paintings in the 300-year-old Kangra painting tradition.

Author is a Mumbai based artist

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. 

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