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Eastern Encounters pattern
Eastern Encounters

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

CAT. NO. 8

An intoxicated party by Bhagwati, calligraphy by Muhamad 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 plain, dyed, marbled and gold-flecked papers; set into margins of gold metallic paint on light blue paper | 37.1 × 23.8 cm (folio); 24.1 × 15.8 cm (panel) | RCIN 1005049

On the left of this folio is an ode by the medieval Sufi poet of Delhi, Amir Khusrow:

This is the time of roses, and wine we must have
A cupbearer and a simple partner, we must have
While the bud knitted its eyebrows
A blossoming brow, we must have.[26]

Although the verse refers to the joys of drinking, the image suggests the joys of intoxication by other means. Seven men sit in a circle outside a cabin: they appear dazed as they allow parrots to perch upon their hands and shoulders and pull their clothes. At the bottom right, one of the men takes a swig from a communal bowl. The drink it contains is bhang. Made from ground cannabis leaves mixed with milk and spices, to this day it is imbibed by Sufis in their attempts to open the mind and achieve a state of ecstasy. The parrots therefore act as a visual pun, the ‘green parrot’ or ‘parrot of mysteries’ being a euphemism for bhang in Sufi poetry.[27] Further pots, decanting jars and bowls suggest the preparation of opium, often mixed with rose-water or wine, and other narcotic confections.

Scenes of inebriation are not uncommon in Mughal painting, but the style of this work is unusual for the period. The absence of shading and the long, flat face of the figure at the centre suggest that its Hindu painter, Bhagwati, derived inspiration from the work of Iranian masters.[28] The Emperor Akbar’s painting studio was consecutively headed by two Iranian artists, Mir Sayyid Ali and Khwaja Abd al-Samad, who had worked for Shah Tahmasp (r. 1524 –76) in Iran before migrating to India.


  • amal-e bhagwati / the work of Bhagwati

  • [26] Translation by Assadullah Melikian-Chirvani. See Nafisi ed. 1964, p. 187, ghazal 550.

    [27] See Topsfield 2012b, p. 115, note 28. There is a further connection between the painting and the verse on the left in that the poet Amir Khusrow was famously known as ‘the Parrot of India’.

    [28] Only two other known works are ascribed to Bhagwati: RCIN 1005045.r and BM 1920,0917,0.13.41. The British Museum painting depicts Humayun and two Hajjis and is likely to be a copy after a (now-lost) Humayun period painting. Many thanks to Laura Parodi for her thoughts on the artist.

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