Indian Ghats- a unique genre of paintings

Indian Ghats and rural river banks particularly Benares and Mathura have been a favorite subject for artists, starting from the ancient miniature painting where religious figures were often shown near a sacred river and the theme continues to be popular among the artists of contemporary times. It’s probably because of the exotic beauty and uniqueness of the composition that attracts the artist to capture the view.

Even the European artist’s who travelled Asia (18th to mid 19th century) known as the orientalist painters, were particularly fascinated by the rituals performed on waterfront of Benares, women water carriers clad in bright colored clothes, spiritually elevating Ghats of the sacred city of Mathura and exotic sites of rural river banks.

Shown below are two of the most popular paintings depicting Mathura Ghats and Ganga Water Carriers made by the American artist Edwin Lord Weeks.

Along the Ghats, Mathura, 1881

Water Carriers of the Ganges, 1885 (Women collecting water from the river Ganga)

There are many reasons to this art genre of ‘Ghat Paintings’ for being so popular, cultural vitality, unending possibilities of interesting compositions and exceedingly flexible layouts. In E. L. Weeks’s paintings (shown above) the ethnic subjects in the foreground are the highlight, complementing the busy yet restrained setup in the background.

British artist, William Simpson (watercolors shown below) preferred to emphasize on the beauty of the rituals and traditional elements.

Ghats on the banks of the river Yamuna, Mathura, 1865

Panchganga Ghat from the Ganges, Benares, 1860

William Daniell and Auguste Borget treat their artworks as scenic landscapes. Unlike other artworks depicting religious sites, Daniell’s main focus is the rustic life and the picturesque flora and fauna. The fleets of stone stairs are natural and the subjects are engaged in activities which are not religious in nature.

The Banks of the Ganges, by artist William Daniell 1825

Mosque on the Banks of the Ganges, by artist A. Borget 1846