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Eastern Encounters pattern
Eastern Encounters

Drawn from the Royal Library's collection of South Asian books and manuscripts

CAT. NO. 6

A Gathering of Yogis by Daswanth, calligraphy by Muhammad Husayn Kashmiri

Mughal, <i>c.</i>1600

Folio from an early Mughal album (see cat. no. 3) | A composite page: black ink and watercolour including gold metallic paint on marbled and dyed papers; set into margins of gold metallic paint on light green paper | 37.0 × 24.0 cm (folio); 28.5 × 19.5 cm (panel) | RCIN 1005062

This beautiful, sketch-like painting is a depiction of Hindu holy men with a touch of irony. They are goraknathi yogis, identifiable by their thick hoop earrings and the small horns hung on sacred threads around their necks.[20] Their trident-bearing leader sits in front of a sacred fire as young acolytes go about their tasks preparing food and stitching garments. He glances apprehensively at the emaciated ascetic to his left, a sunken bellied sadhu, hunched and deep in thought. The accompanying poem suggests that the yogi is gazing at the two youths at the bottom left:

Do not gaze at the beauties for, in the end,
Gazing brings about the burden of weeping:
The seductresses of the age, small and great,
Are [like] Joseph to the eye and wolves to the ear[21]

In Persian literature, Joseph (or Yusuf, as he is referred to in the Quran) is considered the paragon of beauty and the Beloved. The trope of an old man contemplating young beauties is common in Sufi literature and many tales of ascetics expounded the notion that, in order to attain true knowledge, as well as renouncing worldly possessions, one must also relinquish all intrusive thoughts and desires.

The image is ascribed to the artist Daswanth. A contemporary account describes him as the son of a palanquin-bearer, who caught the Mughal Emperor’s attention when painting on the palace walls and became ‘matchless in his time’ under the instruction of Iranian tutors.[22] Here he creates a wonderful contrast between the poise of the guru, legs crossed in lotus position, with his rounded paunch, and the rugged imbalance of his agitated companion with his painfully hollowed abdomen. It is recorded that, shortly before the Mughal court moved to Lahore in 1584, ‘the darkness of insanity enshrouded the brilliance of his mind’ and Daswanth committed suicide.[23]

While the album was still bound, its edges suffered water damage on the right-hand side, resulting in the brown dye of the paper running towards the middle of the painting and causing a tideline. 


  • amal-e daswant[h] / the work of Daswanth

  • [20] For depictions of yogis in Mughal paintings see Mallinson 2013.

    [21] Translation by Assadullah Souren Melikian-Chirvani.

    [22] Ain-i Akbari, vol. 1, p. 114.

    [23] Ibid. A similar painting in one of the British Library’s Johnson Albums (J.22, 15) features the same figure on the left carrying a vessel, but in reverse.

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