the 18th century kamangari wall paintings of kutch


With this post I digress to another side of Kutch—the ornamental wall paintings which decorate the walls of homes, temples and work places in the vast salt pans’ midst. An art form sadly extinct, and least known of Kutch art and crafts.

Dating back to the 18th Century, the Kamangari School of Painting, painted on scrolls and walls, and unique to Kutch, is now a vanished tradition—its remnants found in a couple of Bhuj’s museums, a few random surviving homes, and a portico in the decaying monastery of the Kanphata yogis that I visited in Than.

The wall paintings are neither sophisticated in style nor technique. Painted on wet plastered surfaces with brushes made from the bark of palm trees and colours extracted from pebbles, leaves and clay held together with gypsum, their charm lies in their vibrancy and spontaneity. I find the consistently grouchy expressions, of mortals and deities alike, with downturned lips smeared on the caricatured faces the most amusing. Almost endearing. 🙂 Why so cynical, dear Kutchi?

The little portico in the Than Monastery is a veritable treasure trove of Kamangari wall art. There are cherubic angels riding chariots driven by peacocks. Scenes from the Mahabharata with benevolent sages and divine deities flank secular everyday compositions of lovers in earnest flight being chased by arrows from a slighted admirer. The self-important official, dancing maidens, and platters of exotic fruit and flowers, together create a heady chronicle of the people of Kutch 300 years ago, not necessarily of life in Kutch, but rather of life as experienced or imagined by the Kutchi.

Patronized by the ruling and wealthy classes of society, the Kamangari artists were predominantly Muslim. Many Kutch residents during the period migrated to other regions in search for livelihoods, to come back with ideas and belongings they commissioned the Kamangari artists to paint for them. The arrival of the British into the Kutch district brought with it a further plethora of subject themes for the artists to explore and express.

I had the opportunity of seeing these paintings in their natural setting. I wonder if 50 years from now on, another traveller would… It’s a sobering thought.

The 18th Century Kamangari wall paintings of Than monastery. All in one little portico:

The burra sahebs—the ruling and wealthy class who commissioned the paintings
Eclectic concoctions of east and west
Paintings narrating stories
… Paintings symbolic, and at times purely ornamental
Odes to Hindu deities

Odes to Hindu mythology
Like wreaths of flowers, the Kamangari paintings add a breath of fresh air and vibrant colour to the walls they embellish. And like the flowers, they seem destined to wither away

Note: My road trip to Kutch was done with Breakfree Journeys.

19 thoughts on “the 18th century kamangari wall paintings of kutch

    • Great kamangiri paintings on the wall of Than monestry kutch are some gone. Because of repairing.
      None responsible for these.
      You had taken all photos so it preservrd in your album.
      Pramod Jethi 9374235379

      Liked by 1 person

      • Such a pity that some of these Kamangari paintings have been lost to repairs. 😦 But the monastery was in a very bad state, about to fall apart, and this was inevitable. I am glad I could at least preserve them through these photographs. Thank you, Pamod, for sharing the update with me.


  1. Good article on kamangari wall paintings.
    Before the earthquake of 2001 there were many sites in villages and towns of Kurch depicting this style of paintings. Some of them like darbargadh at Tera in Abdasa taluka and MacMurdo Bunglow are of high order and can be seen today.


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  5. A very good collection of Kamangari paintings exist in the old darbargarh in Sihor, Bhavnagar. It is a series of paintings done in the inner chambers of the fortress of the Thakore of Bhavnagar by eyewitness artists. The paintings represent a series of scenes from a siege and resulting skirmish between the forces of the Thakore and his neighbors. There is a documentary video on this battle of Chital on Youtube.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I many times visited Than monestry.I loved it.Every time I saw new things.Arts and architecture of Than is fantastic..This place is spiritual and people should know it.Removed shoes and walk in this place.
    pramod jethi kutchtourguide bhuj kutch 9374235379

    Liked by 1 person


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