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Two Folios from Manuscripts of the Rasikapriya of Kesavadas

Posted by Art Of Legend India [dot] Com On 1:24 AM
Krishna and Radha Meet in the Woods at Night
The Rasikapriya was written in 1591 by Kesavadas, the court poet of the renowned Madhukar Shah (r. 1554-92) and his son, Prince Indrajit Shah, of Orchha in Madhya Pradesh. Composed, in highly cultivated Hindi, the poem categorizes the emotions and behavior of ideal lovers, especially the divine couple Radha and Krishna. The Rasikapriya became the stylistic standard for subsequent Hindi romantic literature, and illustrated copies were frequently commissioned by Rajput patrons throughout northern India. The two folios illustrated here were executed approximately half a century apart in different courts of Rajasthan and represent two of the finer sets ever created to illuminate this popular text.

A.)  Although the specific correspondence of this Mewar Rasikapriya folio to the text is not possible due to the damaged condition of the inscription in the upper border, it is clear from the visual evidence that Radha (or a heroine) has ventured into the woods at night in order to meet with her lover. The woman is shown behind a plantain tree offering a delicacy, perhaps betel nut (pan), to the princely garbed Krishna. Another woman, presumably the heroine's handmaiden, also holds a treat and watches a village man milking a white cow. In the lower right corner is a forest cave in which sit a personified serpent couple, identifiable by a small snake protruding from each of their fore-heads, who also indulge in a savory snack. The passion of the lovers in their illicit tryst is evoked through the pairing of the human, serpentine, and avian couples; the painter Sahibdin's characteristic and suggestively erotic juxtaposition of a plantain tree and a cypress tree; and even the obvious fertility symbolism of the lactating cow and recipient vessel. The scene also includes the depiction of the Hindu god of creation, Brahma, who floats in the sky in his celestial chariot and holds the four sacred texts of the Vedas. Curiously, however, the manuscripts are labeled with the names of various Hindu deities rather than the proper names of the texts.

This illustration of the Rasikapriya is attributed to Sahibdin (fl. c. 1630-55), the leading artist under Jagat Singh I (r. 1628-52) of Mewar, and probably dates from about 1630-40. Consisting originally of a set of over no folios, Sahibdin's Rasikapriya was his third commission under the artistically minded Jagat Singh I. The set ushers in the middle phase of Sahibdin’s stylistic development, in which he experimented with pictorially expressing the poetic nuanees of the text through both innovative and conventional treatments of various motifs and compositions (Topsfield 1986).

Radha Describes Krishna's Attenpted SeductionB.)  According to the text on the reverse of the painting (see Appendix), this Bikaner Rasikapriya painting depicts a nayika (Radha) describing to her sakhi (maidservant) Krishna's attempts to seduce her. Radha is shown in the foreground seated against a bolster on a palace terrace while being entertained by a singer and a drummer. Krishna's lustful acts are presented in continuous narration in a wooded landscape beyond the palace. The pictorial rendition closely follows the literary one. As Radha says, "he touched my feet and took oaths" and "he pressed my head with his one thumb and at the same time with the other lifted my chin," thus is the lord of devotion portrayed.

The text also states that this Rasikapriya illustration was painted by Natthu, one of the premier artists working in the court atelier of Bikaner under Karan Singh (r. 1631-69) and Anup Singh (r. 1674-98). Natthu Umrani (fl. c. 1650-1700) was a cousin of the celebrated master painter of Bikaner, Ruknuddin (fl. c. 1665-1700), who in about 1674 began the work on the Rasikapriya set to which this folio originally belonged. This particular set is known as Set I as two additional Rasikapriya sets were produced in Bikaner during the eighteenth century. Following the initial work by Ruknuddin and Natthu, the Rasikapriya Set I was continued by Ruknuddin's son Ibrahim (fl. c. 1670-1700) and eventually completed in about 1714 by Ruknuddin's nephew Nure (fl. c. 1650-1715) (N. Krishna forthcoming). The text on the reverse also furnishes the date of 1694, apparently when the painting was recorded in an inventory taken at Bikaner Palace.

Stylistically these two Rasikapriya illustrations exhibit varying degrees of assimilation of the imperial and subimperial Mughal painting traditions. The Mewar folio (A), painted in brighter colors and lacking in depth, remains more faithful to the earlier pre-Mughal manuscript tradition and displays Mughal influence mainly in the composition and figural style. The facial modeling and more convincing spatial conventions in the Bikaner example (a) reveal its closer ties to the more naturalistic style of Mughal painting.

Writer Name:- Pratapaditya Pal

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