Kangra paintings belong to the school of Pahari paintings that were patronized by the Rajput rulers between the 17th and 19th centuries. This great art originated in a small hill state ‘Guler’ in the Lower Himalayas in the first half of the eighteenth century when a family of Kashmiri painters trained in Mughal Style of painting sought shelter at the court of Raja Dalip Singh (1695-1741) of Guler.
Kangra paintings is not a folk art, it is essentially aristocratic art, the patrons of which were the rulers of had fine sensibility and good taste, thus like the best of Europe, Kangra painting is the art of elite. This style was copied by the later Mughal painting, many of whom were patronized by the Rajput rulers who ruled various parts of the region.
The Kangra School became widely popular with the advent of Jayadev's Gita Govinda, of which many extant manuscripts feature exquisite Kangra illustrations. Though the main centre of Kangra paintings are Guler, Basohli, Chamba, Nurpur, Bilaspur and Kangra. Perhaps the most famous, or at least the most prolific school, was that of the Kangra School, from which came an extensive range of delicate and beautifully detailed paintings.
The Gita Govinda is a forest idyll and its Kangra paintings, the drama of loves of Radha and Krishna is played in the forest or along the river bank. In Kangra paintings, there is an art which celebrates life and love. The Kangra artists were hereditary painters who worked in the quiet of their cottages in the sylvan retreats of the Kangra valley.
The Kangra painters used colors made of vegetable and mineral extracts. Bhagvata Purana and the love poems Gita-Govinda of Jaidev were the most popular subjects dealing with the legends and the amorous plays of Radha and Krishna symbolizing soul’s devotion to God. Kangra painting presents a pure melody of flowing lines and glowing colors, breathing out a sense of space, tranquillity and poetic sentiment. Kangra paintings depict the feminine charm in a very graceful manner.
In the paintings of the Sat Sai the background of the architecture provides the setting for the love drama of Radha and Krishna. Bhakti cult was the driving force and the love story of Radha and Krishna was the main source of spiritual experience, which was also the base for the visual expression. Kangra paintings were influenced by the Bhagavad Purana.