The lovers stand on a terrace. The nayakaor hero wears a red diaphanous jama, fully revealing his blue-skinned body. In this occasion he is associated with Krishna, the eternal lover. On his head rests a golden crown and his forehead bears Vishnu’s tilaka. With one arm he embraces the heroine (nayika), his other hand rests on her breast. She has dropped her pale blue peshwazon the carpeted floor and only wears her red diaphanous odhani. She lifts her veil with her right hand to look back at the lady who interrupts their union, perhaps a confidante (sakhi) or the nayaka’s wife who catches her unfaithful husband in the act of an adulterous embrace. She is depicted raising her finger in shock and reprobation. The crimson carpet on which they stand is finely knotted with blue arabesques, a colourful striped curtain closes the entrance to the chamber. The walls are finely decorated and rise to three chhatris, two of which are thatched. In the grove, a blossoming tree bends over the sakhi’s head to form a canopy. Behind her, a tall cypress is entwined with a weeping willow.
The painting is identified in Takrias shatha nayaka or ‘duplicitous hero’. He appears in the two Sanskrit and Hindi literature classics composed in verse in the 15th and 16thcentury: the Rasamanajari of Bhanudatta and the Rasikapriya of Keshav Das. The poems deal with love in all its varied aspects and classify the types of female and male lovers. The love of Krishna and Radha is used to describe situations arising in ‘an ease-loving society in which plurality of wives was common’ and the texts are ‘an important record of the social life of the upper classes’ (Randhawa 1981, p.1). Nayikas and Nayakas enjoyed great popularity from the 16th to the 18th century and Emperor Akbar’s chronicler Abul Fazl cites the four types of heroes in his major work ‘Ain-i-Akbari: faithful, impartial, impudent and perfidious (shatha nayaka). Of shatha nayaka he writes ‘by cunning and simulating affection [he] wins [the nayika’s] heart though attached to another (Jarrett 1948, pp.259-260). He is 'one who speaks sweet words but who is duplicitous and who is not afraid of immorality’. Shatha nayaka appears specifically in both the Rasamanjari and the Rasikapriya. In Basohli Paintings of the Rasamanjari M.S. Randhawa describes the love-episode in these words:
‘the cunning lover won the confidence of his doe-eyed nayika by decorating her braid with garlands, painting floral designs on her forehead with sandal-paste, putting armlets on her upper arms and by placing a necklace of pearls on her bosom. Winning the confidence of the fawn-eyed lady, he slyly loosens the knot of her skirt, with his soft hand, on the pretext of touching her girdle’ (Randhawa 1981, p.118).
'A Rasamanjari painting of shatha nayaka, attributed to Kripal circa 1660-70 is in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (inv.no.17.2780). This illustration, however, comes from an apparently unrecorded set. Stylistically, it relates to a leaf from a Bhagavata Puranadepicting Krishna welcoming Sudama which is now in the Freer Gallery of Art, Washington (F.1930.25). The painting is dated to circa 1700 (although previously dated to circa 1625 and to mid-18th century, Khandalavala 1958, no.53, p.115). The dramatic and lavish use of dark red, in conjunction with white and sage-green is similar, as are the facial types, marked with notably prominent noses. The composition is very clear, perhaps drawing from contemporaneous murals (Keiff 1959, pl.11, pp.28-29). In the same vein is a painting of Raja Ajmer Chand worshipping Rama and Sita, produced circa 1700 (Archer 1973, 14, p.233).
A second series of the Bhagavata Purana produced in Bilaspur in the early 18th century also provides a relevant comparison. Two illustrations from this series, depicting Krishna killing the Horse-Demon and Krishna and Balarama on their way to Mathura, are published in Poster et al 1994, cat.194 and 195, pp.240-241 and a third, Brahma hiding the cows and cowherders, was in the Ehrenfeld Collection (Ehnbom 1985, cat. 106, pp.214-215). In her discussion of the paintings, Poster notes that ‘the contrast of the subdued palette with the colourful orange and yellow costumes (here the red of the odhani, jamaand carpet), the treatment of the entwined trees [..], as well as the figural style [are] a synthesis of Mughal and contemporaneous Pahari conventions’. The treatment of the foliage of the trees here is common to this Bhagavata Purana series which Poster suggests is ‘one of the finest examples of the Bilaspur style’. See also Archer 1976, cat.35, pp.62-63.
Whilst there are elements in this painting that support an early 18th century dating, the pronounced shading of the faces, visible around the eyes, nose and forehead finds parallels in works that span the second quarter of the 18th century. This is visible in a painting of the worship of the new moon by a man and a woman, dated to circa 1735 (San Diego Museum of Art, 1990.1158) and in a celebrated Bilaspur series of the Bhagavata Purana, dated to the mid-18thcentury. Figures in that set are rendered with great attention to volume: the faces show a fine sense of volume that is achieved by elaborate shading. Two paintings from that set are in the San Diego Museum of Art: Balarama changes the course of the Yamuna River (1990.1166) and in the Cleveland Museum of Art, Rama and Lakshmana fighting (1953.357).
The detail of the cypress entwined with a swaying tree, remains of which are visible to the left of this painting, is a common trope in Persian poetry that symbolizes the union of the lovers, and often appears in Mughal painting. It is an appropriate motif for a painting on the types of love as described in the Rasamanjari and Rasikapriya. Stylistically, it also illustrates the influence of Mughal art over Pahari painting which emerged from the 1660s onward (Seyller 2014, cat.37, pp.106-107).
The particularly elongated format of this painting (16.1 x 27.3cm.) is unusual. However, it is of similar dimensions to a Bilaspur Rayamana set, dated to the first half of the 18th century which measures 17 x 28.6cm (Rietberg Museum, Zurich, Inv.-Nr. RVI 937).
Opaque pigments heightened with gold and paper, identified in gold Takri in the bottom margin, with later black Takri inscription in the top border
Page: 19.4 x 28.7cm. (max)
Image: 16.1 x 27.3cm. (max)
3 shatha nayaka (Takri, bottom left)
autar sri karisan [Krishna] gopi da 34 (Takri, top; the incarnation of Krishna[for] gopi)
Provenance: London private collection formed in the 1970s
W.G. Archer, Indian Paintings from the Punjab Hills, A Survey and History of Pahari Miniature Painting, London, New York, Delhi, 1973
W.G. Archer, Visions of Courtly India, The Archer Collection of Pahari Miniatures, Washington, 1976
K.P. Bahadur (trans.), The Rasikapriya of Keshavadasa, Delhi, 1972
Colonel H.S. Jarrett (transl.), ‘Ain-i-Akbari of Abul Fazl-i-‘Allami vol.III’, in Bibliotheca Indica, vol.270, Calcutta, 1948
A.K. Coomaraswamy, Catalogue of the Indian Collections in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston: Part V, Rajput Painting, Boston, 1926, pl.65, inv.no.21.1675
Daniel J. Ehnbom, Indian Miniatures, The Ehrenfeld Collection, New York, 1985
Karl J Khandalavala, Pahari Miniature Painting, Bombay, 1958
Robert Keiff (ed.), Indian Miniatures, The Rajput Painters, Rutland and Tokyo, 1959, pl.11, pp.28-29
Amy G. Poster with Sheila R. Canby, Pramod Chandra and Joan M. Cummins, Realms of Heroism, Indian Paintings at the Brooklyn Museum, New York, 1994, cat.194
M.S. Randhawa and S.D. Bhambri, Basohli Paintings Of The Rasamanjari, New Delhi, 1981
John Seyller, Jagdish Mittal, Pahari Paintings in the Jagdish and Kamla Mittal Museum of Indian Art, Hyderabad, 2014