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Eastern Encounters pattern
Eastern Encounters

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

CAT. NO. 45

Paintings of Krishna and the gopis and a green bee-eater.

Mughal, <i>c</i>.1730–50

Fol. 47v from a late eighteenth-century Mughal album | Painting in opaque watercolour including gold metallic paint on paper; set into composite margins of dyed papers with opaque watercolour and gold metallic ornament and ink inscription | 32.7 × 22.2 cm (folio); 16.7 × 10.9 cm (image) | RCIN 1005069.av

Mughal writers identified strong parallels between Hindu Vedantic philosophies and those of Islamic Sufi mysticism. Krishna-lila poetry, which celebrates the divine nature of the Hindu god’s game-playing was particularly popular at the Mughal court in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. As in much Sufi literature, the love-play (lila) between Krishna and his devotees are metaphors for the reciprocal love and longing of man for god and god for man (see also cat. no. 60). This painting depicts Krishna’s lover Radha covering her eyes as she walks away from him and three gopis (cowherdesses) who hide in leafy bowers. It recalls a verse from the Sat Sai (‘Seven Hundred Verses’) of the early seventeenth-century Hindi poet Bihari (1595–1663):

She never tires of playing blind man’s buff when her lover [Krishna] is there
For every time they hide or touch each other they can ardently embrace.[173]

Bihari worked for Shah-Jahan in Agra before composing the Sat Sai, his most famous lyrical poem, at the court of Mirza Rajah Jai Singh I of Amber in Rajasthan (r. 1611–67) (see cat. no. 33).

The fact that this painting was cropped from a larger work is indicated by the tiny corner of a pavilion roof protruding from the right edge. There are two other related paintings by the same artist in this late eighteenth-century album, which suggests they may have originally belonged to a distinct series of paintings or illustrated a manuscript.[174]   

  • taswir-e kishan / likeness of Kishan (Krishna)

  • [173] Satasai 1992, verse 136, p. 94. The game is called cora-mihicani in which the ‘thief’ is usually blindfolded while the others hide, then the ‘thief’ removes the cloth and searches for them.

    [174] RCINS and 1005069.ay (fols 46v and 50v). 

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