Nainsukh of Guler – Man Who Redefined Pahari Paintings

Nainsukh Self Potrait
Nainsukh’s Self Potrait/Source: Sreekanth Ravi
Little is known about the legendary Pahari painter Nainsukh, even I, who have drafted this post, came to know about him with Shubhra Gupta’s interview with Amit Dutta that was published in Eye 6 April 2014 edition, a supplement magazine that comes along with The Sunday Indian Express, A conversation with Amit Dutta, the most famous Indian filmmaker you may have never heard of.

Raja Balwant Singh Watches Performer by Nainsukh C. 1750/Source: Wikimedia
It was on last Sunday, when I was going through my bookmarks, I rediscovered Dutta and Nainsukh, and it is when I decided to share my discovery.

Mian Mukund Dev of Jasrota by Nainsukh (1740-45)
Nainsukh, which means pleasure or joy of the eyes, lived up to the meaning of his name, with his beautiful, natural and intimate paintings.

Raja Dhrub Dev C. 1750/Source: Wikimedia
Nainsukh was born in 1710 in Guler, modern Himachal Pradesh, India, then the capital of Guler State, in foothills of Himalayas. His father Pandit Seu and elder brother Manaku were acclaimed Pahari painters, and he was trained in various styles of painting under their tutelage.

Raja Balwant SIngh Performing Puja C. 1750/Source: Wikimedia
Nainsukh is known for making far reaching changes in Pahari paintings, a style which was mainly concerned with Hindu religious subjects, by incorporating elements of Mughal paintings.

Ladvai C. 1750-55/Source: Wikimedia
On Nainsukh’s style, BN Goswamy, a leading scholar of Nainsukh, during his lecture at Tasveer Foundation’s lecture series explains, “Pahari painting was more interested in mythology. The colours were richer, but usually didn’t explore landscapes or background. As a result, they were almost flat, without much depth. Imagination took pole position here, instead of observation. The naturalism in Mughal paintings appealed to Nainsukh. He combined the two, to create his own style. He never let go of imagination, there’s almost a poetic element in him and yet, he was an observer par excellence. The details, the backgrounds in his paintings, make them almost life-like imagery.”

Raja Balwant Singh Viewing Painting With Nainsukh Standing Behind Him C. 1740-63/Source: Wikimedia
The defining moment came into Nainsukh’s life, when Nainsukh left Guler and moved to Jasrota, around 1740. Though reasons unknown, why he left Guler but it is Jasrota where he finds his true expression.

The Poet Bihari Offers Homage to Radha and Krishna C. 1760-65/Source: Wikimedia
Nainsukh, first painted for Jasrota’s Rajput ruler Mian Zorowar Singh and then his son Balwant Singh until his untimely death in 1763. It is his work for Balwant Singh which is his most celebrated and insured his glory.

Nainsukh Untitled
Nainsukh’s relationship with his art-loving patronage Balwant Singh must be very close. Since, he allowed him to even record intimate scenes of his everyday life, exact opposite to the attitude of Indian royalty, like, Raja getting his beard trimmed, hunting with retinue, watching dancers, or simply looking out of window, or smoking hookah and admiring a painting.

Nainsukh Untitled
After Balwant Singh’s untimely death in 1763, Nainsukh entered in the services of his nephew Amrit Pal, ruler of Basohli and a very devout Hindi, around 1765. For him, Nainsukh produced a different style of artwork, turning to traditional Pahari subjects and stories of Hindu epics, while retaining the characterstics of Mughal style.

Abhisarika Nayika by Family of Nainsukh/Source: Wikimedia
Nainsukh died in 1778 in Bhaosli. He seems to collaborated with his nephew Fattu (1725-85, son of Manaku) and his youngest son Ranjha (1750-1830). His other three sons, Kama (1735-1810), Gaudhu (1740-1820) and Nikka (1745-1833), were also painters, and carried the legacy. Though, it is hard to differentiate between their paintings, but art historians acknowledge them as “First Generation After Nainsukh.”

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