Mural Paintings of Jammu: a Walk through Radhey Shyam (Billu) Temple

Theme: Heritage Preservation and Rural Communities

By Ms. Sukanya Sharma
HeritageForAll Intern (Call 2019) from New Delhi , India
Internship Program “Rural Heritage and Traditional Food”
Bachelors in Architecture, School of Built Environment and Design, Lingayas University

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Abstract:

Mural art becomes popular in the Dogra region along with the miniature painting. In all probability, wall painting was preceded the portfolio painting, and in Jammu region, walls are still decorated where paper paintings is quite unknown. There was no dearth of painters. The ateliers of the Jammu rulers 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 characterized by a variety of style and execution, both in line and in color. The Jammu ruling house was thus socially connected with the famous centers of miniature as well as mural painting, viz., Basohli, Ramnagar, Nuirpur, 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. But of late these have suffered immensely due to neglect and a governmental agencies apathy to preserve these, left to chance, particularly in temples, most of these have been disfigured by nail and hammers at the hands of those who don’t only lack sense to appreciate their historical value, but also consider them as a hinderance in their own adjustment of the dwellings.

Introduction:

The Jammu mural painters have been fully acquainted with the tradition of Chitralekakshana that the wall paintings 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 deities. These pictures should be painted in different beautiful colors, applying them neither too much nor too less, to meet the requirements of forms, sentiments (Rasa), mood (Bhavas) and actions; and these would be variously rewarding for the patron and the painter. The Jammu mural painter primarily employed to adorn the walls of temples dedicated to Raghunath or Rama and Sita. Therefore, he had to confine himself to a very narrow range of themes of religious nature. He has, however, presented 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 paintings, he has successfully created variety. He has also introduced local versions of various Pauranic myths thereby giving his art a cultural sequence and historical touch.

Colors: Preparation and Application

Special attention was paid towards the preparation of colors which were mostly extracted from the vegetable world and minerals. The used chemical colors were well known as the pigments. According to the sources, the following colors were used in the mural paintings of Jammu city:

  • Mineral Colors: Yellow Olive, Geru (light red), Hermuj (Indian red), Lajward (Lapus Lazuli), Singref (Crude cinnabar), Harital (orpiment).
  • Organic Colors: Neel (Indigo), Mahawar (lac).
  • Chemical Colors: Sindur (red lead), Kajal (Black Soot), Safeda (Zinc white).

All these colors were available in the Pahari region, and mixing of the pigments was a familiar practice not only among the artisans but among the folk. No mineral color was used in its pristine form. Its impurities were first removed by the process of levitation, technically known as Rang Dhona (washing the color). The purest form of color extracted after drying in the sun is mixed with the gum of the Neem tree (Nim ki gond). The colors prepared for use were kept ready in wet earthen pots. These were applied to the surface of the wall by a brush called “Kalam”, made out of squirrel and camel hair.

Radhey Shyam (Billu) Temple, Panjtirthi, Jammu

View of Radhey Shyam Temple (Billu Mandir), Jammu. Source: ©author

This is a small shrine dedicated to Shri Krishna and Radha where to be situated in the northern quarter of the city half way between the Old Palace and Ranbir Palace. The temple has an enclosure wall 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 veranda in front, 8’x12’ in dimension, having small rooms on right and left ends. The veranda and its three arched entrances are profusely illustrated and decorated that the arches bear a magnificent floral cum and geometrical decorative designs. The ceiling is similarly painted with chequer-cum-floral decoration. 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. The whole length of the circum-ambulation walls has been divided into vertical panels obviously meant to receive paintings. But only a couple of rough murals have been done in the front, two of the Dwarpalas, one on each side of Garbhagriha entrance, which are of artistic value.

View of idols in Radhey Shyam Temple (Billu Mandir), Jammu. Source: ©author

However, five paintings in the veranda are on the popular myths possessing 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, which 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. The whole panel gives the impression of a miniature, from which the artist has copied the episode and resembles much with any Kangra composition in its execution. There is an effort to provide depth to the scene and the sense of distance is evident from farther objects.

First panel is showcasing the theme Kaliya-daman. Source: ©author

On the opposite side of the door is a panel on Rama Darbar, being held in a pavilion with three archways. 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 Shamiana outside the pavilion. These are men with faces of monkeys and bears and 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 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 coloring are a result of good workmanship.

Second panel is showcasing the theme of Rama Darbar. Source: ©author

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. Colors have faded away at places stealing most of the charm of the panel.

Third panel is showcasing the murder and mutilation of Sahasar Arjun, The Haihya Chief, by the enraged Parsurama. Source: ©author

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.

Fourth panel is showcasing a royal couple seated on a couch umbrella with a crowned attendant (Left), Fifth panel is showcasing a royal personage being approached by a horseman. Source: ©author
Fourth panel is showcasing a royal couple seated on a couch umbrella with a crowned attendant (Left), Fifth panel is showcasing a royal personage being approached by a horseman. Source: ©author

All these panels are horizontal, enclosed from the above by an embellished and cor-belled arch. The decorative geometrical cum floral work on these arches and the ceiling and the three arched entrances to a veranda, happen to be especially attractive and fine. Colors used in decorative patterns are exceptionally bright and contrasting.

Bibliography

  • Cunninghum, W. B. (1932). Lahore, Dogras.
  • Dewan, P. (2008). New Delhi, a History of Jammu.
  • Jerath, A. (1999). Jammu, Splendour of Miniature Paintings.

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