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Eastern Encounters pattern
Eastern Encounters

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

CAT. NO. 43

Madhava Nal enraptured at the sight of Kama Kandala
Attributed to Muhammad Afzal

Mughal, <i>c</i>.1730–50

Fol. 3r from an eighteenth-century Mughal album (see cat. no. 38) | Painting in opaque watercolour including gold metallic paint on paper; set into composite margins of dyed papers with opaque watercolour and metallic gold ornament, edged with gold paper | 42.0 × 28.0 cm (folio); 29.9 × 18.8 cm (image) | RCIN 1005068.e

This painting depicts a scene from the popular Madhava Nal-Kama Kandala romance.[166] The handsome Brahmin, Madhava Nal, has been exiled from his kingdom for the effect his music had on women (‘When Madhava took the vina (a stringed instrument) into his hand, love overflowed, and none remained standing’).[167] Dressed as an ascetic, he wandered playing his vina and singing beautiful songs until he heard tales of a bewitching courtesan equally famous for her song and dance, Kama Kandala. In this image, Madhava Nal is so enraptured by the first sight of her that he faints and must be revived by the palace ladies. Kama Kandala sits watching inside a palace pavilion as Madhava Nal is fanned and offered a cup of wine, his instrument lying by his side. She holds her fingers up to her lips – an Iranian convention which typically denotes an emotional reaction (see cat. no. 9), which of course no high-status Mughal lady would be expected to display.

The most popular version of the romance during this period was a Hindi text by the poet Alam (fl. 1658–1703) in which Madhava Nal does not actually faint at the sight of his beloved. Several variations of this painting nevertheless exist in which the artists invariably chose to depict him so overcome with feeling that he collapses.[168] The images therefore work on an allegorical level distinct from the text to which they refer, poetically portraying a climactic moment of the hero’s pleasure at finally beholding the object of his desire, as a metaphor for the loss of self when the soul reaches the Divine.

  • rajah nal / Rajah Nal

  • [166] For this romance, see Orsini 2015.

    [167] Translated by Richard Williams.

    [168] See Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (68.8.85); Morgan Library, New York (M.458.21); private collection (sold as part of the Ernevaz K. Dubash Collection, Pundole’s, 9 April 2015); Bodleian Library (MS Douce Or. a3, fol. 24r); V&A (IS.7 – 1957); British Library (Add. MS Or. 482); Goenka Collection (published Goswamy 1999, p. 84, cat. no. 65); San Diego Museum of Art, Binney Collection (1990: 660); collection of Gursharan and Elvira Sidhu (published in Aitken 2010, p. 257) and Harvard Art Museum (1974.9). For a discussion of this theme in South Asian painting see Aitken 2010, pp. 211–85. See also 'the Raj Kunwar falling before Mrigavat' in Yoga Vashishta, CBL Ms. 5, fol. 73r, Leach 1995, vol. i, p. 226, cat. no. 228. 

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