The ex­quis­ite fres­coes of Bundi: A glimpse of Kr­ishna- Leela at Tara­garh’s ‘ chi­trashala’

The Asian Age - - News+ - Shona Ad­hikari The writer is an au­thor, a pro­fes­sional com­mu­ni­ca­tor and an in­trepid trav­eller

■ The Tara­garh Fort is known far and wide for its splen­did fres­coes, con­sid­ered to be some of the finest paint­ings seen at palaces and forts in In­dia. Here the walls of its palace and the ‘ Chi­trashala’ are cov­ered with colour­ful ren­di­tions on the theme of Kr­ishna- Leela, and ev­ery­day de­pic­tions of the royal fam­ily. The unique Chi­trashala is an art gallery with its walls and ceil­ing cov­ered with the most amaz­ing paint­ings.

The Hada Chauhan Ra­jputs of Bundi were royal Surya­van­shis, who claimed to be de­scended from the sun. They ruled Bundi and a vast hilly re­gion area spread around it from within the mas­sive square- shaped Tara­garh Fort, ma­jes­ti­cally poised high on the hill­top. From the ram­parts of the Tara­garh Fort, one can have a splen­did view of to­day’s Bundi and sur­round­ing hills, while mar­vel­ling at the cre­ation of this mas­sive fort on the steep hill that con­tin­ues to stand guard over the city.

The Tara­garh Fort is known far and wide for its splen­did fres­coes, con­sid­ered to be some of the finest paint­ings seen at palaces and forts in In­dia. Here the walls of its palace and the “Chi­trashala”, are cov­ered with colour­ful ren­di­tions on the theme of Kr­ishna- Leela, and ev­ery­day de­pic­tions of the royal fam­ily. The unique Chi­trashala is an art gallery with its walls and ceil­ing cov­ered with the most amaz­ing paint­ings, cre­ated in what we of­ten re­fer to as the Kota style of minia­ture paint­ings.

The state of Bundi was founded in 1341 by Rao Deva. The mas­sive Tara­garh Fort dates back to his reign and work on his palace be­gan around 1354. Suc­ces­sive rulers added their rooms to the palace, over the next 200 years, mak­ing it into one large palace with suites and rooms added at dif­fer­ent lev­els on the hill­side. What is in­ter­est­ing is that un­like other palaces in Ra­jasthan, there is very lit­tle Mughal in­flu­ence in its ar­chi­tec­ture and the Fort rep­re­sents a rare ex­am­ple of Ra­jput style — pavil­ions and kiosks with curved roofs, tem­ple col­umns with carved brack­ets, cov­ered with ele­phants and flow­ers.

Even more in­ter­est­ing is the fact that in­stead of the sand­stone used in build­ing most Ra­jput palaces, the palace at Tara­garh was built with a spe­cial green- tinged stone, quar­ried lo­cally in Bundi. Since this was a very hard type of stone, in­stead of re­sort­ing to fine carv­ing, the Bundi rulers de­cided to cover their walls and ceil­ings with splen­did paint­ings. The Fort con­tin­ues to be of­fi­cially owned by the royal fam­ily and is en­tered through the im­pos­ing “Hathia Pol” ( the Ele­phant Gate), flanked by two tow­ers and topped by a pair of huge painted ele­phants. The most spec­tac­u­lar part of the palace is the Chat­tar Ma­hal built in 1660 and the Chi­trashala — an ar­caded gallery built be­tween 1748 and 1770, over­look­ing a hang­ing gar­den.

As is the case with many of our an­cient build­ings, here too there is an ur­gent need for re­pair. The Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal Sur­vey of In­dia ( ASI) has man­aged to do some work over the years and ap­pear to be tak­ing good care of the fres­coes on the walls of the “Chi­trashala” — pre­vi­ously known as Ummed Ma­hal af­ter Ma­haraja Ummed Singh. Since it was taken over by the ASI, it is be­ing beau­ti­fully main­tained with a gar­den and a fresh- look­ing green lawn.

Art his­to­ri­ans are known to say that the Bundi style of paint­ing is unique as it has “bor­rowed el­e­ments from the minia­ture art forms of the Dec­can”. Here one can see splen­did scenes of royal ac­tiv­ity, hunt­ing, fes­ti­vals, pro­ces­sions, court life, an­i­mals, birds and along with these, one can see plenty of land­scapes — in­clud­ing forests, lakes, flow­ers and gar­dens. Some of the finest fres­coes were based on the Kr­ishna- Leela theme. With my keen in­ter­est in art, I was awed by the ex­quis­ite draw­ings and the use of glow­ing colours by the Bundi artists of yore — pre­dom­i­nantly blue, green and touches of deep ter­ra­cotta red and touches of yel­low. On ask­ing I learnt that pure sil­ver and gold were used in the paint­ings, while the other colours were ex­tracted from veg­eta­bles, fruit, min­er­als and pre­cious stones.

The “Badal Ma­hal” ( Palace of Clouds), built at the high­est point in the fort, also has a fine col­lec­tion of paint­ings on its walls. It is said that dur­ing the mon­soons, the rain clouds were known to float through the court­yards of the Badal Ma­hal — hence the name of the palace. The palace is said to have been built by Rao Bhoj and this area with its steep stair­way was Rao Bhoj’s harem — the “Ze­nana” or women’s quar­ters. The paint­ings on the walls and ceil­ings of Badal Ma­hal de­pict battle for­ma­tions, ru­ral life, fan­tas­tic beasts and heav­enly crea­tures — along with scenes from a royal dur­bar. The cen­tre­piece of the Badal Ma­hal is the ceil­ing of the Tara­garh Fort’s top­most cham­ber. This has been re­ferred to as “Ra­jasthan’s Sis­tine Chapel” and de­picts in glo­ri­ous de­tail Kr­ishna and the Raas Leela.

But how was the tra­di­tion of minia­ture paint­ing de­vel­oped? There is an in­ter­est­ing leg­end that may be the answer. The ex­ist­ing tra­di­tion of minia­ture paint­ing is said to have been given a boost in 1605, by three mas­ter pain­ters who were sent to Bundi as a gift by Em­peror Ak­bar. These pain­ters, who had ear­lier made palm leaf manuscripts, may have been re­quested to change their style to paint­ing on the walls. What­ever the rea­son, we must thank Em­peror Ak­bar when we see the paint­ings at the Chi­trashala and Badal Ma­hal. The leg­end may be a fig­ment of the imag­i­na­tion, but it does make a good story!

Walls that talk: Mu­rals in­side the palace and the ram­parts of Tara­garh Fort

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