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Art Passages

The Feminine Mystique in Indian Art

Art Passages


Art Passages Indian and SE Asian Art

The Feminine Mystique in Indian Art

Catalogued by Robert J. Del BontĂ

Art Passages, San Francisco, California, USA 1.415.690.9077, info@artpassages.com, www.artpassages.com


Designed by Shapour Ghasemi

Š 2015 by Art Passages. All rights reserved under the Pan-American and International Copyright Conventions.

Cover page: A Maiden with a Deer and a Peacock, Kangra or Guler, North India, ca. 1830


Forward It is with great pleasure that I present our latest exhibition of Indian miniature paintings celebrating the feminine aspect in Indian Art. The female subject has always been a favorite of Indian artists. Whether depicting lovelorn beauties alone or with their paramours or even heroic goddesses destroying their adversaries in battle, the Indian artist’s devotion in pursuit of the feminine essence has been enduring. The feminine also implies inherent beauty, and nowhere else is this more evident than in the depiction of the goddess Uma cast in bronze, catalogue no. 18. She is the epitome of divine grace and worldly beauty. I would like to thank Dr. Robert J. Del Bontà for his excellent research in writing the catalogue entries. I would also like to thank Shapour Ghasemi for his beautiful design and layout of this catalogue. Shawn Ghassemi


The Feminine Mystique Romantic love is a popular subject in world art and particularly so for Indian painting. On the whole, the women depicted, often referred to as nayikas or heroines, are women of the court, but sometimes they even can be goddesses. Usually the setting itself is a courtly one, with women on terraces of mansions or in marble pleasure pavilions. The manner in which the women are dressed also underscores their high status; many wear rich materials and elaborate jewelry like the nayika in cat. no. 3 who is shown in the act of throwing away her finery as noted in the entry. Many of these paintings illustrate the rich poetic literature of India, often mildly erotic in nature. Most are from the indigenous Hindu traditions, but some romantic scenes are also the products of Muslim patronage as in cat. nos. 14-16. Catalog no. 14 illustrates a scene directly from Persian literature, the famous lovers Leila and Majnun. Lovers are shown together, but the theme of bittersweet separation is also quite common. Many of the paintings in this collection depict the female lover separated from her paramour. But a few do depict the romantic couple together either partaking of some entertainment or in one case hunting, the scene of Baz Bahadur and Rupmati out Hunting, cat. no. 12. This scene actually conjures up a tragic ending to their story similar to that of the lovers Leila and Majnun. Romantic compositions are not just for humans — often the gods are involved as well, as can be seen in the one painting of Krishna and Radha, cat. no. 11. Many of these paintings illustrate romantic poetry which had a long tradition in Hindu courts. A general concept is that of the nayaka and nayika, the hero and heroine. The female nayika gets the most attention both in the poetry and the pictorial tradition. They are separated into a number of different types and at times the paintings bear inscriptions from important series of poems. In this catalogue two paintings bear texts from the Rasikapriya of Keshav Das (fl. 1580-1601) composed in 1591, cat. nos. 7 and 8; but clearly other paintings in this group refer to his work or similar compilations of poetry. Two paintings, cat. nos. 9 and 10, represent poetry related to a classification of the classical music of North India, ragamalas or garland of ragas. The poets personified the ragas as male deities or royal figures and the feminine modes, the raginis, are personified as their wives or lovers. Much of the poetry tends towards descriptions of romantic dalliance. Another aspect of the feminine are representations of the many goddesses of Hinduism and the few examples here display both the benign Uma, cat. no. 18, and the active, violent Ambika fighting a demon, cat. no. 19.


1 A standing Beauty Holding a Flower Mughal, Delhi, ca. 1720-1740 Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper Folio 11¼ x 8⅛ in, 28.6 x 20.5 cm Painting 5⅜ x 3⅛ in, 13.5 x 7.8 cm

Without making so dramatic a gesture, this beauty lifts up a flower and gazes off into space, perhaps thinking of her absent lover, a theme often encountered in Indian painting. Formal full length portraits with the figure set on a low ground with a simple pale green background are often seen in sets of portraits of particular lineages, such as the Mughals. The elaborate border suggests that it may have been part of such a group and originally was bound in a muraqqa‘ or album. She is sumptuously dressed as if she is some important princess.

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2 A Maiden with a Deer and a Peacock

From a Nayika series Punjab Hills, Himachal Pradesh, Kangra or Guler, North India, ca. 1830 Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper Folio 10¼ x 8 in, 25.7 x 20.3 cm Painting 7½ x 5⅜ in, 19 x 13.8 cm This nayika or heroine, known as utka nayika, the second in Keshav Das’ eight categories, is out in a storm yearning for her absent lover. Her lover can never appear at the promised hour. Often a deer acts as a surrogate for the lover in these paintings and here we see a black buck to one side. The cloudy sky threatens a stormy night and she turns gracefully to a peacock, an animal that often is shown to suggest the coming of a storm. One can almost hear his call, heralding the tempest. The artist masterfully conveys her emotion and heavy heart by placing massive dark clouds above her, while at the same time her vibrant orange dress has echoes of a happier time and promise of a reunion with her lover.

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3 Vipralabdha Nayika, a Forlorn Heroine

From a Nayika series Punjab Hills, Himachal Pradesh, Kangra, ca. 1830 Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper Folio 11 x 8⅞ in, 28.1 x 22.4 cm Painting 8 x 5¾ in, 20.2 x 14.8 cm Vipralabdha Nayika, the seventh in Keshav Das’ eight categories, is a heroine who has waited for her lover and he has not appeared. Unlike the wistful Utka nayika seen in catalogue no. 2, this maiden reacts violently to the absence of her lover. She throws away her jewelry in disgust — his absence makes the ornaments burn her body. This is similar to the burning hot garland referred to in the poetry of catalogue no. 9. Often the poetry associated with this class of nayikas also speaks of food losing it taste and flowers their perfume. The beautiful lady is placed in an idyllic setting, at odds with her feelings. The artist has meticulously detailed the trees to the right, placing the nayika on a rolling hill by a spring, the perfect setting for a love tryst, but alas she is abandoned.

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4 A Lovelorn Lady

Rajasthan, Bikaner, ca. 1780 Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper Folio 8¼ x 6⅜ in, 21 x 16 cm Painting 5⅜ x 3¾ in, 13.5 x 9.5 cm This lady stands on a terrace with her arms outstretched above her head in a classic, sinuous pose, a gesture of yearning for her absent lover. This pose is also seen in catalogue no. 9 where the figure is more mannered. She stands on a floral rug gracing a terrace with a black bolster serving as a counterbalance to her uplifting gesture. The portrait is framed by a lovely pastel blue border with gold sprays of flowers inside a second thin border of gold set against beige, letting us know that it once was in an elaborate muraqqa‘ or album. The classic green background as seen in other paintings in this catalogue, subtly suggests a lavender sunset at the very top.

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5 A Drunken Beauty

Rajasthan, Bikaner, ca. 1700 Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper Painting 6⅞ x 3ž in, 17.5 x 9.5 cm In a setting common to many Indian paintings, the lady sits on a carpet on a terrace. She leans on a bolster and holds a flask and cup. Beyond the terrace with its violet railing are delicate flowers set against the typical green background crowned with the suggestion of sky at the very top. The orange bolster contrasts sharply with the paler colors of her costume. The enclosed pose with the girl confined by her garment suggests her self-absorption. The wine she is drinking probably numbs the pain of her longing for her absent lover. A number of paintings of ladies in the catalogue have wine flasks included and catalogue no. 10 clearly refers to intoxication.

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6 A Seated Beauty Holding a Posy

Punjab Hills, Himachal Pradesh, Kangra, ca. 1830 Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper Painting 7½ x 5⅞ in, 19 x 15 cm The nayika sits regally on six sided jewel encrusted gold throne, almost goddess-like. Rather than a terrace overlooking an expanse as seen in so many of the paintings in this catalogue, the terrace is enclosed in a palace setting as if firmly within the zenana or harem beyond the gaze of others. The elaborate geometric architecture and bright areas of color create a flat formal effect in keeping with her confident demeanor. Like other portraits in the catalogue she holds a flower in her upraised hand.

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7 Utka Nayika, The Anxious or Expectant Heroine From a Rasikapriya of Keshav Das series Punjab Hills, Himachal Pradesh, Kangra or Guler, ca. 1825
 Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper Folio 11¼ x 8⅝ in, 28.5 x 22 cm
 Painting 7⅞ x 5¼ in, 20 x 13.5 cm Inscribed: Mugdha utka nayika

The nayika repines on her bed longing for her lover. Much Indian poetry concerns lovers in a wide variety of situations and separation was a very popular theme. The word mugdha in the inscriptions at the top of the painting lets us know that this is a young inexperienced or naïve woman. Her sakhi or friend listens to her and consoles her. The cool palette effectively conveys the time of day and the severe angle of the bed and the few patches of bright orange add a sense of agitation. The moon bursting over the mountain with a star studded sky and the candles on the terrace giving off fountains of light, suggest that she will stay awake all night longing for her lover. Nayikas of the class called Utka usually are depicted alone in the forest, but there are other situations where we see these young women anxiously awaiting their lovers at home. The text on the back describes her as having paced in the place of her tryst, here perhaps a house in the usual forest. A second verse refers to the moonrise, comparing it to her face. I thank Heidi Pauwels for taking a look at the inscriptions on the reverse and suggesting some interpretation from Keshav Das’ verses from the Rasikapriya.

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8 Proshitapatika Nayika, a Heroine whose Lover has Gone Away From a Rasikapriya of Keshav Das series Punjab Hills, Himachal Pradesh, Kangra, ca. 1820 Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper Folio 11⅝ x 8⅜ in, 29.5 x 21.5 cm Painting 9 x 5⅞ in, 23 x 15 cm

A list of Keshav Das’ nayikas includes the sixth of eight general categories, one called Proshitapatika. She is the one whose husband has gone off and failed to reappear on the stated day. She sits despondently hunched over and is consoled by a sakhi or confidant. According to verses on the back of this painting, the husband apparently had stayed away a day longer than planned and the nayika has been harsh to him. The poetry is recited by her sakhi who tells the nayika that her life is fulfilled by his return. Why is she so mournful, her stubbornness is tougher than wood, why does it not burn? The sakhi sits with upraised hands clearly lecturing the stubborn princess. She clearly is mending fences. The terrace setting is commonly seen in Indian paintings from all over India, with a pavilion to one side and a distant view to the other. An elaborate garden with fountain separates the figures from the viewer. I thank Heidi Pauwels for taking a look at the inscriptions on the reverse and suggesting some interpretation from Keshav Das’ verses from the Rasikapriya. For a complete translation of the text see Ananda K. Coomaraswamy, The Eight Nāyikās, New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers, 2000, pp. 21-22.

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9 Patmanjari ragini

From a Ragamala series, attributed to Jai Kishan Rajasthan, Malpura, ca. 1756 Ink, opaque watercolor, gold, and silver on paper Folio 15½ x 11½ in, 39 x 29 cm Painting 11½ x 7¼ in, 29 x 18.5 cm This painting represents a very distinctive style with its highly decorated surface, the text written in gold and silver against a black background, and its delicate floral border. The group is noted for tall, attenuated and mannered figures, a bright color scheme with sharp contrasts, and fine detailing. The iconography is a bit peculiar for Patmanjari ragini. It is usually associated with a much older musical mode called Desvarati or Vairari which consistently depicts a woman stretching her arms upwards in position of yearning for her absent lover. A similar pose is seen in catalogue no. 4. The poetry above by Govinda describes the ragini as having a beautiful body. Her garland feels like burning coals, although in the image she does not wear one. She obviously has taken it off and handed it to her sakhi who holds it and is described as impatient. As in so many paintings in the catalogue, the absence of the lover makes for a distraught woman. Ebeling briefly discussed the known folios from this set in 1973 and pointed out that one now in San Diego is a bit different — it is numbered and rather than have the text lines alternate colors, the colors alternate according to the verses. This painting matches that organization as do a few others that have since come to light. We can now say that there were actually two Ragamala sets made around the same time, since a Dipak raga in the Fogg (1963.73) and one in Philadelphia (1994-148420) display the alternate set-ups with the two colors. The iconography and the text are identical. The sets are well known with examples in many museums: the San Diego Museum of Art, the Fogg Museum at Harvard, the Victoria and Albert in London, Fondation Custodia in Paris, the Walters Gallery in Baltimore, Philadelphia Museum of Art, and a number of private collections. The illustration of Asvari ragini from the series, formerly in the collection of Eric Schroeder of Cambridge, MA, and now in the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard University, bears a colophon with the name of the artist Jai Kishan and the date VS 1813/AD 1756-57. For a short discussion of the set, see: Klaus Ebeling, Ragamala Painting, Basel, Paris and New Delhi, 1973. p. 212. Provenance: Published in T. Falk & B. Lynch, Images of India, Indar Pasricha exhibition catalogue, London 1989, n. 29. And Sotheby’s London, 29-30 April 1992, lot 270. I thank Heidi Pauwels for taking a look at the inscription and suggesting some interpretations.

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10 Gauri ragini, the Fifth Wife of Dipak raga

From a Ragamala series Northern Deccan, Madhya Pradesh, ca. 1640 Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper Folio 13¾ x 9¼ in, 35 x 23.5 cm Painting 10¼ x 7⅛ in, 26 x 18.2 cm Inscribed: Atha Gavari ragani pancam i stri dipak raga ki... This Ragamala painting comes from a known set of paintings that numbered far more than the usual thirty-six. Rather than merely consist of six male ragas, each with five consorts, the raginis, this set included sons of the ragas as well for a total of 86. Other paintings from this set and another closely related one are scattered in many museums and private collections. The northern Deccani artist uses bold patterns and a variety of colors, including pastels, and juxtaposes them to create a pleasing overall pattern teaming with life. Texts on the back of the painting are in both nastaq‘liq and in devanagari. It is identified as Gauri ragini, the fifth wife of Dipak, although Gauri is more usually associated with Malkos raga. Gauri is depicted a bit larger than her attendants, who bring her delicacies and wine. One holds a cauri or yak tail fly-whisk that curves, mimicking the shape of the corner of the door of the palace adding more life to the composition. As in other paintings in this catalogue the ragini featured here has been drinking wine. One of her sakhis holds the flask and cup, while another offers her pan (a savory betal leaf). The texts on the back describe her as in strange attire and in the state of intoxication; her sakhis have to support her. The nasta‘liq adds the fact that her attendant is keeping her from falling to the ground! John Seyller suggested this is an earlier set from the other similar group, dating from around 1640, earlier than previously thought; John Seyller, Mughal and Deccani Painting: Eva and Konrad Seitz Collection of Indian Miniatures, Züich: Museum Rietberg, 2010, pp. 117-23. Paintings that are from the same set as this one with empty text panels are in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (M.74.105.1, Shankarabharana ragaputra of Megha raga) and the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco (B84D12, Malava ragaputra of Shri), as well as no. 38 in the Seitz catalogue. Seyller mentions others in that catalogue, p. 122, footnote 2. I thank Heidi Pauwels for taking a look at both inscriptions on the reverse and suggesting some interpretation.

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11 Krishna Adorns Radha with a Tilak

Punjab Hills, Himachal Pradesh, Mandi, ca. 1830 Ink and opaque watercolor on paper Folio 10¾ x7⅞ in, 27.3 x 20 cm Painting 8¾ x 5¾ in, 22.4 x 14.6 cm In an idyllic pastoral setting Krishna and Radha meet on the bank of a stream. Apparently Radha has been carrying pots of milk in a wicker basket and Krishna has met up with her. The vetra or cowherd’s stick on the ground suggests that he has left his work hoping for a romantic tryst. In delicate foreplay, Krishna places the tilak or bindi on Radha’s forehead. The gesture is reminiscent of a brahman acknowledging an offering to the god — Radha’s relationship with Krishna stands for a devotee’s direct contact with god. The sinuous vine wrapping around the tree implies their union, while the two ducks in the water also mimic the meeting of the two lovers or the soul’s union with the godhead.

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12 Baz Bahadur and Rupmati out Hunting

In the style of Mir Kalan Khan, Mughal, Probably Uttar Pradesh, Lucknow, ca. 1750 Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper Painting 6½ x 9¾ in, 16.5 x 24.5 cm The story of Baz Bahadur, a Muslim ruler of Mandu, and his marriage to the Hindu maiden Rupmati is very often depicted in painting. His love for the girl and his neglect of his kingdom is credited with his defeat at the hands of the Mughal emperor Akbar’s army and there is much romance attached to the story. The tale is a fairly typical one and follows a famous earlier story of Padmini of Chitor, who was desired by ‘Ala-ud-din Khilji in the 13th century. In both cases, women commit suicide rather than be taken as spoils of war. The pair is often depicted on horseback, in this case hunting, and it is actually a composition that is known from a number of paintings. Raz Bahadur aims an arrow at a buck and Rupmati has ingeniously lassoed the animal with her bow, keeping him steady as her husband shoots. Four doe and a pair of rabbits run up a lush swelling hill. The artist has balanced the dense copse of trees to the left with the more open group of animals and placed a stream in the foreground and a lake behind the hillock to focus the action. A distant group of buildings and a golden sunset crown the appealing composition. For a discussion of Mir Kalan Khan, see: Terrence McInerney, “Mir Kalan Khan,” Masters of Indian Painting, Milo C. Beach, et. al. (eds.), Zürich: Artibus Asiae Publishers, 2011, pp. 607-22.

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12. Baz Bahadur and Rupmati out Hunting


13 A Princely Couple on a Terrace

Ascribed to Gul Muhammad Rajasthan, Bikaner, dated VS 1768/1711 AD Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper Folio 11½ x 8¾ in, 29.3 x 22 cm Painting 8⅝ x 5¾ in, 21.5 x 14.6 cm The lovers sit on a terrace under an elaborate marble pavilion decorated with gold and floral motifs. The whole has a sumptuous quality with fine detailing to the carpets and floral background giving the painting a rather regal aspect. The perspective is interesting with the fountain in the foreground seen from above with its parterre gardens to either side and the terrace itself sloped to give us a full view of the carpets with trays and bottles seen in profile below the figures. The pavilion itself and the trees and flowers are seen straight on. The lovers enjoy some wine with the lady holding the flask and offering her lover a small gilded cup. They gaze intently into each other’s eyes. The whole sports an elegance and refinement marking it as a real masterpiece. The physiognomy of the couple relates to a few other known paintings, one in the Brooklyn Museum (81.192.5) and another formerly in the Ehrenfeld and Bellak Collections and now in the Philadelphia Museum of Art (2004.149.49).

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14 Leila is Astonished by Majnun’s Devotion Mughal, Uttar Pradesh, Lucknow, ca. 1790 Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper Folio 13¾ x 10⅜ in, 35 x 26.5 cm Painting 11 x 7⅝ in, 28 x 19.5 cm

Depictions of the tragic lovers Leila and Majnun was a popular subject for Indian painters, it was especially common in various Muslim courts. The Persian poet Nizami Ganjavi (1141-1209) based his version of this love story on earlier Arabic sources. It is a legend of ill-starred lovers: the poet Qays falls in love with his cousin Leila, but is prevented from marrying her, and goes mad (hence called Majnun, which means mad or possessed in Arabic). Majnun abandons society and family and moves to the desert and composes poems for his love, Leila, who has been married to another. Very often he is depicted with a dog as a companion. Although they were never united in life, when the lovers die, they are buried in the same grave. In this image, the emaciated and lovelorn Majnun is seen caressing a stray dog’s foot, because the dog has walked in the footsteps of Leila. This is related in the nasta‘liq inscription below the figures. Leila, on the other hand is dressed sumptuously and is looking down at Majnun in astonishment because of his utter devotion. The contrast between the elaborately costumed Leila and the unbelievably thin Majnun is striking. The whole is presented in a formal stage setting with the lovelorn lovers completely isolated from each other. The cold marble architecture may sport an open doorway, but they could not be more apart. A dog accompanying Majnun is a common feature, but here its elaborately caparisoned appearance suggest that it is a fantasy of Majnun’s derangement, its elaborate accoutrements mimic the elegant Leila above the parapet.

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15 A Loving Couple Entertained by Musicians

Attributed to Muhammad Faqirullah Khan Mughal, Uttar Pradesh, Farrukhabad, ca. 1760-1770 Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper Painting 9 x 12½ in, 23 x 31.7 cm This painting, similar to catalogue no. 12, 14 and 16, comes from the eastern area of the Mughal territories, probably from Farrukhabad, another capital of the Lucknow rulers. Although not inscribed, this painting can be attributed to a known artist, Mohammad Faqirullah Khan based on stylistic similarities to his known works. The long attenuated figures with elongated faces as seen in this painting was a hallmark of his work as well as the way the landscape in the background is painted with fine shades of green and yellow. The lovers recline on a charpoi or bed with one of the man’s hands wrapped around his paramour and the other cupping her left breast. They gaze intently into each other’s eyes. Two attendants stand to the left and a group of female musicians sit on the terrace. Two play instruments, one plays what must be a two-ended drum or dholak. The other holds a tambura a typical stringed instrument used to create a drone to accompany the singer who lifts her arm captivated by her own song. Another painting attributed to Muhammad Faqirullah Khan, dated to 1760-70 and painted in Farrukhabad, is now in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (M.2005.159). See: Stephen Markel, ed., India’s Fabled City. The Art of Courtly Lucknow, Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 2010, cat. 25, p.73-74.

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15. A Loving Couple Entertained by Musicians


16 A Tryst in a Clearing

Mughal, Uttar Pradesh, Lucknow, ca. 1770 Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper Painting 11ž x 8⅜ in, 30 x 21 cm A courtier and a courtesan meet for an assignation in a copse of small trees. Attendant ladies accompany them. Rather than depict a simple outing, the ladies hold elaborate gold hookahs for the couple. The courtier holds one of the mouthpieces in one hand while he wraps the other around his consort and holds a garland of flowers. The trees are framed by stark white buildings which form a nice contrast against the green vegetation. Above the canal at the right, a white cenotaph possibly suggests the burial place of a Sufi mystic. Lucknow was a noted Muslim centre and the city is dotted with these religious spots. The sky is delicately streaked with colors suggesting a sunset. A painting from Lucknow with similar composition by Nidha Mal is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (2001.302).

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17 Ladies Frolicking in a Pool

Punjab Hills, Himachal Pradesh, Guler, ca. 1760-65 Ink with color washes on paper Painting 7 x 5他 in, 18 x 14.5 cm Where a few paintings in the catalogue, notably nos. 5 and 10, depict intoxicated ladies, here the ladies of the zenana are at a bathing pool and two of them seem to be intimate with each other. Life in the zenana was apparently not always so boring. Another in the pool is swimming towards the couple while two others sit by the poolside, one smoking a huqqa and the other telling her a story. This drawing is a close copy of a painting now in the Victoria & Albert Museum in London (I.S. 115-1955). This sketch illustrates how the artist uses deft lines to make the under-drawing for a finished work. He first draws the outlines in red and then adds black in a sure hand; nothing appears to be tentative. Had he then gone on to add pigment to complete the painting, some of this would have become obscured, however the line always drives the painting even when we become distracted by bold coloring and jewel-like detailing. Here we can relish the strengths of the Indian artist. W. G. Archer, Indian Paintings from the Punjab Hills, London and New York, Sotheby Parke Bernet, 1973, his Guler no. 42.

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18 Uma

Tamilnadu, 13th-14th century Copper alloy Height 15½ in, 39.4 cm Provenance: Jaipaul Galleries, Philadelphia, 1970s This beautiful sculpture shifts gears in this catalogue, displaying a different form of the feminine mystique — here that of goddesses. The elegant sway of this goddess’ body in tribhanga pose, a classic triple-bend posture, with its softly molded forms, swelling belly and firm breasts, all point to a thirteenth century date for this beautiful bronze. Rather than the common crown types seen in other bronzes for goddesses of various types, here it is clearly an elaborate jeweled coiffure mimicking Parvati or Uma’s husband Shiva’s jata-mukuta. The sculptor has carefully modeled the details; the jewelry is crisp and rests gently on the body. An intricate girdle interspersed with cloth and festoons of jewels contrasts nicely with the soft, rounded forms of her body. She wears a lot of jewelry, but it doesn’t overpower the form in any way. The manner in which the sacred thread undulates over her body and between her breasts enlivens the figure. One arms falls casually to her side while the other is lifted in a gesture suggesting that it once held a flower. The diaphanous material of her garment is suggested with subtle folds seen in the fabric.

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19 Ambika (Devi) fights Nishumbha

Number 42 from a Devimahatmya series Punjab Hills, Himachal Pradesh, Guler, ca. 1780 Ink and opaque watercolor on paper Folio 7⅞ x 11½ in, 20 x 29 cm Painting 6½ x 10⅛ in, 16.5 x 25.5 cm In the Devimahatmya the demon Shumbha tries to get the lovely goddess Ambika to become his wife and she challenges him and his brother Nishumbha to war. The demon army confronts her and there are a number of battles. After killing terrible demons, here Ambika mounted on her lion is actively fighting powerful Nishumbha, Shumbhas’s brother. Weapons fly back and forth creating a pattern in the space between the warring figures. Her arrows with their curved heads deflect the more common kind which Nishumbha shoots, while she manages to send many discusses, faintly outlined as doughnut shapes, towards her demon foe. Ambika’s weapons reflect those of many gods, whose shaktis or female powers she embodies. She holds Brahma’s lota or pot; Vishnu’s gada and shankha, his club and conch; Shiva’s parashu and trishula, axe and trident; as well as a sword and bow and arrow. For a discussion of the text and translations in both Italian and English see: Alessandro Passi (ed.), Devi-Mahatmya: Il ms. 4510 della Biblioteca Civica “Vincenzo Joppi” di Udine, Udine: Società Indologica “Luigi Pio Tessitori,” 2008. The story is told in Adhyaya V (12), pp. 306-08. I thank B.N. Goswamy for informing me that there is an incomplete set of paintings dating from the same period in the Chandigarh Museum, which have similar compositions and uncolored borders. There are also similar drawings in the Metropolitan Museum in New York and other museums such as Brooklyn, Cincinnati, and Los Angeles.

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19. Ambika (Devi) fights Nishumbha


20 Ganesh Enthroned

Punjab Hills, Himachal Pradesh, Mandi, ca. 1840 Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper Folio 10 x 13⅜ in, 25.5 x 34 cm Painting 7⅞ x 10¾ in, 20 x 27.5 cm The elephant-headed god Ganesha sits on a throne under a canopy and is attended by two ladies. One holds the cauri or yak-tail fly-whisk which along with the throne and canopy is another attribute of royalty. The other offers the god modaka cakes, a ballshaped sweet, which are often associated with the god. His mount, the rat, seems to be enjoying one as well at the foot of the throne. The whole is highly detailed with a sumptuous carpet on the marble terrace, elaborate patterns to the fabric of the throne and bolster and the god’s dhoti, the garment he wears. Ganesha has four arms, underscoring his godhood and sits on a lotus, wearing a crown and fancy jewelry; he is truly an object of devotion. The near symmetry of the entire composition, even with the balanced trees behind the terrace, adds a formal quality to this devotional painting. For a painting of Ganesha depicted in a similar setting, see Anjan Chakraverty, Indian Miniature Painting, New Delhi, 1996, p.81.

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21 Kurmavatara, the Churning of the Sea of Milk Bengal, Murshidabad, ca. 1770 Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper Folio 11⅝ x 8½ in, 29.5 x 21.5 cm Painting 7⅞ x 5⅛ in, 20 x 13 cm

This iconography depicts Vishnu in multiple forms simultaneously. The principle function is illustrating his second major incarnation, Kurma, the tortoise. In the story of Kurma the gods and the asuras or demons have made peace with each other in order to churn the Sea of Milk to produce various treasures, objects and beings along with the sacred amrit or elixir of immortality. To churn the sea, they use Mount Mandara and the serpent Vasuki. Kurma offers his shell as fulcrum. The churning takes place in the bottom of the composition with the asuras holding the head of the snake while the gods, including Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, hold the tail. Vishnu is actually seen multiple times: dominating the composition atop the mountain, as Kurma at the bottom of the mountain, as well as actively churning the sea with the two other gods. Some of the treasures depicted above include a multi-headed horse, a multitrunked elephant, goddesses, and magical weapons.

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22 Maharana Ari Singh Out Hawking

Rajasthan, Mewar, Udaipur, ca. 1760 Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper Folio 12⅜ x 16½ in, 31.5 x 42 cm Painting 11¼ x 15¼ in, 28.5 x 39 cm Where Baz Bahadur and Rupmati hunted in a rather prosaic manner with bows and arrows, Maharana Ari Singh (r. 1761-73) uses another common approach, falconry. Astride a rather determined stallion, he releases the bird from his outstretched hand and it flies off. We see the bird three times in continuous narration; it flies towards its prey, a crane, it attacks it, and the two birds fall to the ground as the other birds, egrets or herons, make their escape. The ruler is accompanied by two attendants on foot who gesticulate almost in wonder at the success of the peregrine falcon. It all takes place in rolling hills suggestive of the setting of Ari Singh’s capital, Udaipur, on the side of Lake Pichola with marble architecture sporting cupolas at its banks like so much of the architecture there.

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23 Maharana Ram Singh II Entering a Fort Ascribed to Chauto Lacchu Rajasthan, Mewar, Udaipur, ca. 1830-40 Ink and color washes on paper Folio 26Ÿ x 30½ in, 66.5 x 77 cm

Inscribed: Rao Raja Maharaja Ram Singh ji has arrived at the Qila, his divan ji Baujya is with him.from the pen of the painter Chauto Lacchu. This attractive painting depicts Maharana Ram Singh II (r. 1828-66) arriving at the fort gates on an elephant with a large entourage. It is a grand procession with some of the army on horseback and atop elephants along with cannon and other accoutrements above the gate. The red palki, a covered palanquin, near the ruler probably contains one or more of his wives who are in purdah. The artist has given us a sense of the location of the fort, probably that of Udaipur, with the rolling hills behind dotted with building, some appearing to be grand temples. A hint of Lake Pichola is in the foreground full of fish and crocodiles swimming about in the water. Birds of various types fill the scene and curious monkeys are seen on the parapets of the city walls. Although unfinished the way the artist has added color washes, some rather dense, gives the whole a completed quality. Each key element is highlighted in some way. Where the Maharana is essentially finished in color, the procession above him within the fort stands out by being placed against a striking orange background.

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23. Maharana Ram Singh II Entering a Fort


24 A Prince Standing Holding Sprigs of Flowers

Deccan, Andhra Pradesh, Hyderabad, late 17th century Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper Folio 15⅜ x 10⅜ in, 39 x 26.5 cm This Mughal prince forms a nice foil to the Mughal princess seen in catalogue no. 1. Similarly it was once part of a muraqqa‘ or album and the figure is placed against a plain pale green background. In this case he almost seems to float in space since there is no indication of the ground at all. He is lavishly dressed and holds not one, but two sprigs of flowers. The painting was most likely executed in the Deccan, at Hyderabad. Many albums were created in that region during the latter half of the seventeenth century and beyond. The other side of this page from a muraqqa‘ or album boasts verses by Hafez, a quatrain signed by ‘Abd al-Rahim ‘Anbarin Qalam, ca.1600-30. The calligrapher from Herat, Persia, is documented as having worked for first the famous ‘Abd alRahim Khan Khanan, and then the Mughal Emperors, Jahangir and Shah Jahan.

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The Feminine Mystique in Indian Art  

By Art Passages

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