India | Basohli

Illustration to the Bhagavata Purana:
The Liberation of Nalakuvara and Manigriva
Attributed to Manaku
India, Basohli
c.1760-65
Opaque watercolors heightened with gold on prepared paper

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Illustration to the Bhagavata Purana:
The Liberation of Nalakuvara and Manigriva
Attributed to Manaku
India, Basohli
c.1760-65
Opaque watercolors heightened with gold on prepared paper
Image: 13 1/2 x 9 1/4 inches (35 x 23.5 cm.)

Provenance:
The Collection of the late Brendan Garry (d. 16th September 2011)
Siva Swaminathan (d. 26th March 2014)

The narrative that this painting illustrates comes from the 10th book of the Bhagavata Purana, with Krishna’s habit for mischief contributing itself to the scene. After being caught repeatedly trying to steal butter by his foster mother Yasodha, she tied him to a wooden mortar to keep him from trouble. Many years prior to this, two yakshas Nalakuvara and Manigriva, sons of Kubera, were cursed for their pride to be bound in the form of two arjuna trees. Through his omniscience, Krishna is aware that the arjuna trees contain the souls of these yakshas, so he carries the mortar on his back and wedges it between the trees, using his great strength to uproot them, the two brothers emerging from the fallen timber. These figures are shown crowned in the center of the painting, offering praise to Krishna to express their gratitude.

The Bhagavata Purana that this work hails from dates to 1760 – 1765, and is commonly known as the “Large Guler-Basohli Bhagavata Purana,” or the “Fifth Guler-Basohli Bhagavata Purana.” This series is known for its use of broad landscape with few figures, exemplary of a transitional Basohli style, and each painting in the series has an identifying inscription on the reverse in gurmukhi and nagari scripts. The leafs have since been dispersed throughout the world, some of which can now be found in the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Archer Collection (see W.G. Archer, Indian Paintings from the Punjab Hills, London, 1973; Visions of Courtly India, London and New York, 1976, no. 8, p. 15; and W.G. Archer and Edwin Binney 3rd, Rajput Miniatures from the Collection of Edwin Binney 3rd, Portland 1968, nos. 55a and 55b, pp.74-5 for other paintings).

Although debated, this painting was likely executed by Manaku, older brother of Nainsukh, even if he was not responsible for completing the entire series.  Manaku has been named as the illustrating artist for a Gita Govinda series completed in the 1730s, as well as the Small Guler Bhagavata Purana completed between 1740 and 1750.  Similarities between works in both of these earlier series to the 1760’s Bhagavata Purana indicate that Manaku had a part in completing multiple pieces from the later series.

Compare the yakshas in the present work to “The Sage Kardama Renounces the World,” from the Small Guler Bhagavata Purana in the collection of the Lahore Museum (see B. N. Goswamy, Manaku of Guler, New Delhi, 2017, p. 405, no. B35) ; the same rendering of facial hair and ornate jewelry nod toward the claim that Manaku was the author of both. In addition, realistic detail is ascribed to the trees across Manaku’s known oeuvre, replicated in the arjuna trees shown here. Some scholars argue that this later Bhagavata Purana was illustrated by Fattu, son of Manaku, but it is likely that he only completed some of the works in the series. One last thing to note is that these series are typically completed in chronological order, following the progression of the text, meaning that the present example would have been executed earlier than others within the series, making it more plausible that the hand of Manaku was responsible for this painting.

Raja playing Chaupar
India, Jammu or Basohli 
c. 1750
Gouache and gold on paper
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Raja playing Chaupar
India, Jammu or Basohli 
c. 1750
Gouache and gold on paper
6 1/2 x 9 1/4 in. (16.5 x 23.5 cm.)

This marvelously drawn scene depicts a Raja (identified as such by marks on his forehead and an elaborate colorful turban with sarpech) engaged in a game of chaupar, a board game similar to Pachisi. Chaupar, along with Pachisi is believed to have been created around the 4th century, and played on a board of wool or cloth using cowry shells and pawns of wood.

Legend has it that Mughal emperors would often play with real life guards as their pawns, and if their pawn was killed, then that guard was beheaded.

Vishnu
India, Jammu or Basohli
c. 1720
Gouache and gold on paper

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Vishnu
India, Jammu, Basohli
c. 1720
Gouache and gold on paper
6 1/2 x 4 3/4 in. (16.5 x 12.1 cm.)

Vishnu is the main Hindu god, revered as the savior of the universe. Often shown as one of his 10 avatars, or forms he assumes to rescue humanity, the most popular being Varaha (boar), Narasimha
(Half-Lion) and Krishna, the cowherd.
A powerful image of Vishnu seated on a blooming lotus that emerges from a small pond at bottom. Shown seated cross legged he bears his attributes: mace, solar disc, conch and a lotus stalk. An example of early Pahari painting, this work has beetle wing cases affixed to various areas of the composition.

Illustration to the Rasamanjari of Bhanu Dutta: The Intoxicated Courtesan
Attributed to Devidasa
India, Basohli 
c. 1695
Opaque watercolor heightened with gold

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Illustration to the Rasamanjari of Bhanu Dutta: The Intoxicated Courtesan
Attributed to Devidasa
India, Basohli 
c. 1695
Opaque watercolor heightened with gold, silver and beetle wing cases on paper
8 1/4 x 11 1/2 in. (21 x 29.2 cm.)

The maiden is seen seated in a relaxed and open pose supported by a silver platform against a red bolster, secured at the arms by attendants who offer her more wine. To the left foreground, a seated maiden offers wine to another who raises her hand in refusal. The gathering is set against a green wall decorated with vase filled niches and surrounded by white faceted turrets, a yellow awning and flowering shrubs.

The illustrated text of the Rasamanjari is centered upon the popular theme of the hero and heroine (nayaka–nayiki) and expounds upon the many aspects of love (longing, separation, rejection, etc). The compositions are noted for their contrasting fields of solid color, lyrical figures and applied lustrous green beetle wings and the jewel-like raised dots of shell-lime.

As noted by Archer in The Loves of Krishna in Indian Painting and Poetry, London, 1960, p. 106 “The text in question is a treatise on poetics illustrating how romantic situations should best be treated in Sanskrit poetry—the conduct of mature mistresses, experienced lovers, sly go-betweens, clowns or jokers being all subjected to analysis..” This piece shows a mature heroine (nayika) so distressed by the absence of her lover that she spends her days intoxicated to numb the pain, drowning her longing. Sensitive to the pangs, her consumption is excessive contrasted with the accompanying maiden who practices moderation, raising her hand to refuse another glass.

Archer goes on further to state (ibid, 105) “This series of illustrations is in some ways a turning point in Indian painting for not only was it to serve as a model and inspiration to later artists but its production brings to a close the most creative phase in Basohli art.