Paintings are the most antiquated version of the Pahari art that developed in the 16th century in the small but culturally rich principality of Basohli under the patronage of Raja Kirpal Pal. This art tradition happens to constitute one of the most fundamental figments of the cultural landscape of Duggar, whose appeal invariably remains universal and transcendental. Globally renowned museums in the US and UK harbour Basohli paintings as their curated art pieces. These flamboyantly bold Basohli style is, generally, understood to be the earliest known painting school of the hills that had risen under the direct tutelage of the local rulers constitute a visual wonder in the stream of Indian art tradition.
B. N. Goswamy attributes “the shaping of Pahari style from the simplicity of Basohli to poetic lyricism and refinement of Kangra to the ingenuity of a family of artists through his scholarly approach of family as the basis of style.” Vidya Rattan Khajuria has written that “Pahari Kalam Shaili de chitrein ch ae sabne kolan paile chitra n, jindey par is challi tith samwat ditta geya hai. Ae chitra adhbhut rachna n. inde ch bartey gedey rang bade shokh n. inde ch chitrat-purakh te naari donein de chehre di banawat bade khaas dhangey di hai…chamkele shudh rangein da prayog inein chitrein diyaan khaas khoobiyan n” (This style of the paintings are the first in the series that bear dates on folios. These are wonderful paintings, for the colors they are used are bright and natural . Another interesting facet of these paintings is the unique way of drawing the human faces-of the men and the women)
But it’s really dampening to know that these paintings haven’t been granted GI Tag so far, despite them being indispensable to our native culture. On the other hand, the paintings of Kangra, which emerged as a successor school to Basohli have been granted this coveted Tag, which makes them commercially viable and give them a solid standalone quality standard, not to mention the appeal they evoke for the art connoisseurs across the world. In this respect, the role of the Himachal Government is laudatory as it has launched an endeavour called Srijan which gives the much-needed push to the fading art of Kangra-style painting by linking them with the major virtual marketplaces.
However, for Basohli paintings, there seems to be an institutional apathy running deep down the system. A few years ago, it was reported that the process for registering GI tags for Basohli Paintings, Basohli Pashmina products Chikri Wood Craft, etc has been initiated. But lo and behold, while Kashmiri Saffron got the tag in 2021, Jammu still awaits its maiden entry into the list. Shiv Kumar Padha’s article titled ‘Paintings that need patronage’ mentions that “.. the State Government has closed its eyes and doesn’t care for this dying art with the result that this is at the brink of extinction.
No step from the Government side has ever been taken to revive this art and keep it alive to meet the increasing demand of the art in the international market”. The article further elaborates on the fact that the culture of art which once marked Duggar as a shining star in the artistic firmament has received no durable support from the Government. The piecemeal efforts of the administration have just remained woefully inadequate in providing considerable support to sustaining this ecosystem and the artists thereof. Procedural hazards notwithstanding, the government appears in deep slumber vis-vis the local art of Jammu hill states.
As per Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act, 1999, “the registered proprietor of the geographical indication and the authorised user or users thereof have the right to obtain relief in respect of infringement of the geographical indication in the manner provided by this Act”. It provides legal protection to the product as it prohibits any unauthorized use of the product. Clause 21(b) authorises the user with an “exclusive right to the use of the geographical indication in relation to the goods in respect of which the geographical indication is registered”. This enhances the commercial viability of the product and grants it a niche status within a specified market while ensuring the quality standards of the product and likewise, the ingenuity of the producers/manufacturers remains intact. Additionally, it also helps to augment the marketing strategy for these products on the national and international stage. And when it comes to Pahari Paintings, the market though limited but is niched and well developed. Finally, it promotes economic growth and increases the demand for the product both at national and international markets. The other benefits include that it helps producers to obtain the title of premium goods and avail proper price in the competitive market (ipleaders). The appeal of Pahari Miniatures can be gauged from the fact that in 2008, a painting by Nainsukh was sold for $2.22 million.
Arguably, for the last 8 years an allegedly pro-Jammu Government has been vested with the reins of power in this state but unfortunately, they’ve not been able to bestow Jammu with its rightful share. The sheer incompetence and marked truculence of this administration lay bare when its indifference towards Jammu and its material culture gets explicitly exposed. It can’t be gainsaid that Jammu Haat which was destined to play a positive stimulator towards the promotion of Jammu province’s culture (Dogra, Gujjar, Saraizi, Bhaderwahi, Kishtwari, Pahari, Paddari etc) remains a shoddily designed monstrosity with least possible aesthetic functions.
Every such instance points toward a sordid saga of Jammu being the second fiddle to Kashmir in this setup. It seems that the cultural nuance of our land is being made to align with a ‘superior’ Kashmiri culture. Therefore, it becomes really important on my part to apprise the concerned authorities regarding the invaluable heritage that animates our ‘collective consciousness’ and the importance thereof. It’s the collective responsibility of each one of us to make our products land on the GI list, not just for the sake of their commercial value but for the sake of Jammu and its multifarious cultural identity. GI for Basholi art is going to remarkably change the fortunes of the local population. The employment avenues-direct and indirect that it’d generate would function as a surfactant for the local economy. The Administration should act now.