Chaurapanchasika is a set of 50 verses written by a Kashmiri Pandit Bilhana in the 11th century. It is also known as Bilhana Panchasika and Sasikalapanchasika.
The southern version of the story runs that a young and accomplished Brahaman, Chaura (according to Sir Edwin Arnold version the name of the poet protagonist was Chaura) at the court of King Sundava of Kanchipur was appointed to train his beautiful daughter Vidya (or Sasikala). In order to avoid any romantic development between the two, he told the princess that her tutor was a leper and told Chaura that his tutor was blind. However, the ruse soon fell flat through and before king could knew both the young souls were into passionate love.
When the king came to know about the affair he imprisoned Chaura who spent his last hours in prison composing the verses in praise and detailing his amours with his beloved. Each verse began with the refrain I still remember her.
When he was taken for execution and was asked for repent he offered his 50 verses, which moved the king and he united him with his daughter into wedlock.
The northern version recorded in the volume 13 of the Kavyamala as Bilhana Panchasika narrates the same theme however the names of the protagonists differ. Here, it is a talented Kashmiri Pandit Bilhana engaged in the court of king Virasimha who fells in love with lovely Champavati the daughter of the king. The Kavyamala also consists of seventy-four verses called purvapithika or background story of the poet.
The rich clientele patronized the paintings based on the verses of Chaurapanschasika .
One of the notable collections is an 18 set folio of Bilhana Panchasika, which came into Shri N C Mehtas collection through Padamshri Muni Jinavijayaji. In this set the verses are in black ink against a yellow background, while the pictures are in a lateral format and appear to have been separate and loose not bound in the form of a book or a portfolio.
The text on the pictures is in Sanskrit written in Devanagri script. It is believed that this set of 18 folios was painted in Mewar in the 16th century.
The paintings show close resemblance to the Gujarati School. The pictures show Bilhana wearing transparent angarkha or the jama with four sharply cut ends. Also, he wears an atpati turban, which appears occasionally with a conical cap or a kulah. He also sports a moustache and a perpendicular Vaishnava mark on the forehead. While Champavati personifies woman of ineffable grace and charm.
Certain pictures bearing close resemblance to the Bilhana Panchasika have been found and have been categorized under Chaurapanchasika series or the CPS Group. These paintings are:
- The 18 folios of Bilhana Panchasika or Chaurapanchasika (discussed above)
- Ragamala miniature of Ragini, Nada Bhairavi
- Ragamala Series belonging to the Muni Vijayaendra
- Laur Chanda Series
- Bhagavata Purana dispersed in several collections
- Gita Govinda Series
- A miniature illustrating the Krishna legend
Some of the conspicuous characteristics of this style are that men are always shown with transparent chakdar jama, four pointed, with tightly fitting sleeves worn over pyjamas. Men appear in distinct types of coat made of fine muslin wearing the atpati turban. While the women have large oval eyes, sharp projecting noses, and pointed chins. They are narrow waisted typically wearing a skirt usually with a check or geometrical pattern. They wear a transparent odhni in fine muslin and starch and decorate themselves with necklaces and earrings. Their long hair is braided and decorated with white flowers. The black pompons adorn the wrists, the arms and the neck.
The trees are shown in stylized pattern and the architecture includes a semi circular dome. The interiors of the rooms are draped with curtains, pompons and tassels.
A strip of cloud cutting one corner is characteristic also a pool of water with fishes and lotuses surrounded by a brick wall.
There is a use of background colors like red, yellow, green, and black in paintings of the Chaurapanchasika group, which flourished in various cultural centers of India in North, Central, and Western India.
The Chaurapanchasika group tries to present the pictures in an expressive way by introducing certain attitudes, figures and background to convey the sense of the verse through gesture, symbol or mood. These miniatures are to be read as books. Each picture is in complete itself as a verse and is an integral part of Indian paintings.