Tuesday, April 21, 2020



Village Dancers by Pandit Sieu ( Shiv ) Raina ..Guler...

The erstwhile princely state of Guler is known world over as the birth place of Kangra ( Pahari Miniature) Paintings . Sometime during the first quarter of the 18th century, a family of Kashmiri Pandit painters sought shelter at the court of Raja Dalip Singh ( r.1695–1741) of Guler.The Raja was a connoisseur of art and music. This family produced many artists who revolutionised the scope and subject of Pahari Miniature Art in the hills of Western Himalayas.

Noted art historian B N Goswamy writes :

" Manaku’s patron was possibly Dinamani Raina, the Rajguru of Guler. My wife has translated manuscripts like Daliparanjini—a chronicle of Guler for its king, Dalip Singh, by a visiting poet, who was engaged/ patronised by Dinamani Raina, so it’s entirely possible he patronised artists as well. And he was an important figure at the " court. He’d have been an important part of any discussion about religion. Also Manaku belonged to the ‘Raina’ community. There’s very little doubt in my mind that he was Manaku’s patron."

This statement of B N Goswamy gives credence to the theory that Pandit Sieu ( Shiv ) Raina ,a fugitive artist ( well versed in Pala and Mughal style ) from Kashmir must have gone to the court of Raja Dalip Singh of Guler only under some invitation or patronage. Pandit Dinamani Raina , the Rajguru of Raja Dalip Singh of Guler appears to be the logical host .
Was Pandit Sieu (Shiv )Raina working in some Mughal court or did he come from Kashmir directly ? This is a baffling question .But certainly ,Shiv Raina came to Guler in not knowing that his sons and their progeny would shape the history of Pahari Miniature art in the hills of what is now known as Himachal Pradesh .

There is a painting (done in Pahari Miniature style ) on display inside Philadelphia Museum of Art that has below details attached to it:

" This painting shows Pandit Dinamani Raina Visiting the Women’s quarters of Raja Dalip Singh of Guler, Himachal Pradesh India. Period 1740-70 probably.Medium..Opaque watercolor with gold and silver or tin on paper."
This painting confirms the presence of Pandit Dinamani Raina and his dominant role in the affairs of Guler kingdom when artist Pandit Sieu ( Shiv ) Raina sought shelter .
. .
Coming to the painting 'Dancing villagers" ,one can assume that Pandit Sieu Raina has painted a group of professional Nati dancers in proper attire performing 'Shiv Badra ' Nati dance possibly on Shivratri festivity.
Nati is performed by men with elaborate hand and leg movement. Performed by men, Nati has many varieties Kullu Nati, Kinnauri Nati, Gaddi Nati, Chamba Nati, Shimla Nati , Sirmauri Nati etc. Nati is also performed in Mandi and Kangra. This dance is accompanied by musicians. Although traditionally this dance form is male oriented, these days however it is performed by women as well,
In this painting , the dancers are swaying and swirling on beats created by musicians who are in the background playing on Dohl,Turhi, Shehnai ,Tabla etc. Every dancer has his individual style and pose in this work. Every dancer conveys his deep involvement and happiness as he stretches his hands and body to dance.
Pandit Sieu Raina and his illustrious son Nainsukh make it seven as and when they paint dancers or musicians in action. Here too Pandit Sieu Raina has painted seven dancers.  In the painting under review , the dancers and musicians are wearing Chola ( long upper shirt), Churidar Pyjama, Dora / Qamarbandh ( tied to waist  ), swirling tunics, and headgears.Every dancer is  using  a cloth length as dancing aid.
This painting is in the custody of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, USA.

(Avtar Mota)


It is believed that some families of Rajanka ( Raina and Razdan ) Brahmins from Kashmir started moving out from Kashmir valley during the last quarter of 17th century to seek employment in the courts of various hilly principalities of present-day Himachal Pradesh. These Brahmins were proficient in astrology, art, Sanskrit and Persian languages. This learning enabled them to get employment in various courts as Rajgurus or Rajpurohits or Darbaar artists. Noted art historian MS Randhawa believes that Pandit Sieu Raina was one among these migrant Pandits from Kashmir. Did Pandit Sieu Raina come from Kashmir to Guler  or he was already v a court painter of the Mughal ruler Shah Alam 1 ? This is a baffling question

  • There is an important issue as to wherefrom did  Nainsukh's father Pandit Sieu Raina pick up Mughal Naturalism. I have a different take on this. At two or three places I read that some Kashmiri Brahmin painters were employed in the court of Shah Alam 1.  Names have not been mentioned. Shah Alam 1 or Bahadur Shah was a liberal man in comparison to his  father Aurangzeb. He had refused to fight forces of Guru Gobind Singh  when ordered by his father.  He died in 1712 AD and most of his court advisors left Delhi. Jahandar Shah next Mughal ruler was murdered . Delhi kingdom faced bad time subsequently after Nadir Shah and Ahmed Shah Abdali attacked and devastated Delhi. Many Persian scholars ,artists fled Delhi . I believe Pandit Sieu Raina must have come from the court of Shah Alam 1 . His arrival to Guler coincides with death of Shah Alam 1 . He and his children might have  decided to stay in hills due to subsequent mayhem created by Nadir Shah and Ahmed Shah Abdali. This is my assumption that has some connect. However, it needs research. I could not lay my hands on some detailed work on Shah Alam 1 .

During the 17th and 18th century, Kashmir was passing through a turbulent period. In last quarter of 17th century, Kashmir was administered by a ruthless Mughal governor Iftikhar khan who suppressed Kashmiri Brahmins forcing them to run to hills and plains of the country to save their lives and escape forced conversion. This is the period when Guru Tegh Bahadur sacrificed his life for the cause of Brahmins of Kashmir. The suppression continued during the subsequent Afghan rule in Kashmir valley resulting in continued migration of Kashmiri Pandits to the plains of the country. 
Anand Koul in his book " Kashmiri Pandits " writes :
" Mughals deputed 63 governors whose rule was characterized by justice excepting that of Qulich Khan ( 1606) , Iradat Khan ( 1620 ) Iftikhar Khan(1674 ) , Muzaffar Khan ( 1690 ) Abu Nassar Khan ( 1694 ), Jaffar Khan ( 1707 ) and Asghar Khan ( 1728 ) who are remembered to have exercised tyrannies over Brahmins. "

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