Art and craft flourished in the Dogra region with the introduction of mural and miniature paintings. In all probability painting on wall preceded the portfolio painting, and in Jammu region walls are still decorated where paintings on paper is quite unknown.
There was no dearth of painters. The ateliers of the rulers of Jammu were populous and the artists adept both in miniature as well as mural art were available locally, or could be sent from other hill courts with whom the Jammu rulers were connected by matrimonial alliances, a fact which rendered Jammu School characterised by a variety of style and execution, both in line and in colour. The Jammu ruling house was thus socially connected with the famous centres of miniature as well as mural painting, viz., Basohli, Ramnagar, Nurpur, Kangra, Siba and Bilaspur. The interchange of paintings and painters could therefore be a natural process. A large number of murals have survived the ravages of time and human hand in Jammu region. Particularly in temples, most of these have been disfigured by nail and hammers at the hands of those who do not only lack sense to appreciate their historical value, but also consider them as a hinderance in their own adjustment of the dwellings.
The Jammu mural painter seemed to have been fully acquainted with the tradition of Chitralekakshana that wall painting should be executed on the glossy surface of the lime plastered wall, in all suitable internal and external places, by depicting auspicious stories and images of dieties. The mural painter in Jammu city was primarily employed to adorn the walls of temples dedicated to Raghunath or Rama and Sita. A variety in details of episodes which speaks well of his mastery of the legends and the convention of representing them in sculptures and paintings by blending stray myths with the continuous series of Rama-Lila and Krishna-Lila.
One of the finest examples of mural paintings is dedicated to Shri Krishna and Radha, situated at Panjtirthi area in the northern quarter of the city half way between the new palace and old palace- Mubarak Mandi Palace Complex. The temple has an enclosure in the middle of which there is a raised platform, some three feet high, 20 feet front and some 40 feet across. The small chamber in the middle is the usual garbhagriha housing the deity, surrounded by a narrow, covered and enclosed pradakshina-path, and a veranadah in front having small rooms on either side. The verandah and the three arched entrances are profusely illustrated, the arches bearing magnificent floral cum geometrical decorative designs. The ceiling is similarly painted with floral patterns. The three walls contain five murals, three on the front wall of the shrine which has door in the middle, and one each on the left- and right-hand walls in the narrow surface between the door and the cornice.
However, the five paintings in the verandah on popular myths possess an artistic importance. The one to the right of the shrine door depicts the Kaliya-daman theme in purely Jammu idiom a local landscape. The sheet of water which is the habitat of the legendary snake, looks like a hill tank, so common in Jammu hills, fringed by the undulating Jammu hills on one side. Some bushes are scattered here and there and a big borh or briksha has grown on its bank, a usual sight in Kandi natural water reservoirs. The snake kaliya here is purely a Jammu conception and has been painted in this style at several other places. It has a number of small hoods emerging out of its huge stem like head on which the youthful Krishna is shown dancing making the culmination of the struggle in which his fillet has swung off into the air. The subdued snake, standing erect on his coil, is surrounded by six female-snakes, his consorts, three on each sides, who have upper bodies in human female form, decked in the attire of girls, emerging out of water on their serpentine coils, offering homage to the divine cow-boy and praying for mercy to their lord with folded hands. The anxious situation created by Krishna’s daring action has been shown by two gopas and a cow swooning out of fear, and two other cows greatly agitated. There is an effort to provide depth to the scene and the sense of distance is evident from farther objects.
On the opposite side of the door is a panel on Rama darbar, being held in a pavilion with three arch ways. Rama, along with Sita is seated on a throne against cushions in the central arched opening, whereas three courtiers or royal princes are standing behind them in the third archway. In the first arched opening there are four or five chiefs, whereas there are some 7 or 8 tribal chiefs scurrying forward under a shamiana outside the pavilion. These are men with faces of monkeys and bears and one a horned Rakshasa, probably Vibhishana, the brother of Ravana. They are probably to pay tribute. All the chiefs are wearing crowns. The one at the left end of the audience, a bear faced noble, is bringing a nariyal, the pavilion building has been painted in the pattern which is quite peculiar to the Nayika-Nayakai paintings of Basohli school. The scene is laid on a raised platform approached by a masonry steps of seven steps, flanked by sham archways, five on each side. The drawing of the mansion, is somewhat defective, but the portraiture and colouring are a result of good workmanship.
The third panel depicts an open landscape, showing desolation appropriately painted to portray the murder and mutilation of Sahasar Arjun, The Haihya Chief, by the enraged Parsurama. The latter has plied his thirsty axe and cut off all the thousand arms of the Kshatriya King and is shown as holding the severed head. The depiction of tree is Basohli like. The landscape is fine. The desolation of the place and the scared crow far away convey somewhat sanguinary mood. Colours have faded away at places stealing most of the charm of the panel. The legend in two other minor panels is not clear. The panel on the top of the shrine door are shown a royal couple seated on a couch umbrella with a crowned attendant behind them and an aged, grey-head sadhu or purohit with a bamboo umbrella, standing before them. In another panel on the top of the door in the right wall are seen a royal personage being approached by a horseman who has left his horse at some distance. There is nothing special about these two panels. The first mural seems to depict Vaman Avtara. All these panels are horizontal, enclosed from the above by an embellished and corbelled arch which happen to be especially attractive and fine. A large number of murals have survived the ravages of time and human hand in Jammu region. But of late these have suffered immensely due to neglect and apathy of government agencies to preserve these.
(The author is an architect and heritage conservation practitioner, based in Delhi)