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A soldier by temperament, Maharaja Ranjit Singh was also a lover of the arts. Apart from his numerous adventures, big and small, he was always kept mentally preoccupied. The only relaxation he indulged in was a long ride on one of his favourite horses or to witness dance & music. And yet his admirers make a fairly convincing case that the Maharaja loved the arts and endeavoured to promote artistic activity in his regime. What appears to be more significant? is Maharaja Ranjit Singh's unmistakably secular approach in matters pertaining to the arts, whether it was painting or architecture, music or dance. When Maharaja annexed Kangra and other hill states, the people of Punjab generally and Lahore darbar in particular came in touch with the glorious heritage of Pahari artists, who were patronised without any consideration of caste and creed by the Maharaja, his household and even his courtiers. A number of them are said to have entered into the service of the Maharaja or his nobles. According to Mr. B.N. Goswamy, an eminent art critic, some of the artists may be named as Nikka, Gokal, Harkhu, Chhajju and Damodar, all of Rajol family of artists, that we know so well. Maharaja Ranjit Singh's regime is better known for its pro-motion of the arts of portraiture. Commissioning eminent artists to make portraits seems to have been in fashion. The portraits made by the native or foreign artists were both bold and penetrating. It is also said that there was a time when the Maharaja would not encourage any artist, howsoever eminent, even to make a fleeting sketch of him. He had a good reason for it. With one eye missing. be had hardly any thing to recommend him for portrayal. But, before long, the Maharaja shook off his allergy, when he found artists bringing out his intellectual sharpness, the majesty of his person and the nobility of his character in his portraits. To start with, the artists painted the Maharaja from the right side to avoid his blind eye. Some of the better known paintings of the period are Emily Eden's water lour sketch of the Shalimar Garden, the credit for which should go to the aesthetic taste of the Maharaja. "The Court of Lahore" is another masterpiece done in oil colour.
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