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Eastern Encounters pattern
Eastern Encounters

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

CAT. NO. 47

राधा कृष्ण होली Radha and Krishna celebrate holi

Provincial Mughal (Awadh), <i>c</i>.1765

Fol. 16 from an early nineteenth-century Mughal album | Painting in opaque watercolour including gold metallic paint; set into margins with opaque watercolour and gold and silver metallic leaf; on multi-layered support | 43.1 × 29.4 cm (folio); 36.0 × 23.3 cm (image) | RCIN 1005113.r

During the joyful spring festival of Holi, coloured powder and tinted water are hurled and squirted in jubilant imitation of the games played by Krishna and the gopis. In this fantastical painting, a princess on a balcony gazes out over the stormy night sky and conjures a vision of Krishna and the gopis covered in pink and yellow dye as they revel in a forest grove.[180] Reverie and reality overlap as the ladies of the zanana peer down from the palace onto the illusory scene. Krishna and the gopis are joined by a frolicking ensemble of yogis, both male and female, clad in animal skin, and, to the right, a dancing hijra or khawaja sara (a member of the auspicious 'third sex' community) cheerfully waving her shawl above her head. Both situated on the margins of society, only the yogis and hijra are able to traverse the realms of reality and the Divine.

After the death of the Emperor Muhammad Shah, many Mughal artists migrated to wealthier provincial centres in search of patrons. When in 1772 the Maratha envoy in Delhi received a request for pictures of Hindu divinities by Mughal artists, the clerk replied that no Hindu artists were to be found in Delhi, most of them having migrated to Lucknow or other towns for lack of patronage.[181] Some Delhi-trained artists continued to paint in the imperial style while others developed new, distinctive approaches characterised by greater mannerism and fantasy as exemplified in this enchanting scene. The wider setting of the palace and ornamental gardens, depicted in dizzyingly accentuated perspective, is not uncommon in paintings executed in the Mughal provincial courts of Awadh in the second half of the eighteenth century.[182]

  • [180] Certain elements of this work, including the hijra, were copied in a painting (lot 43) sold as part of the Sven Gahlin Collection, Sotheby’s, 6 October 2015. For a discussion of depictions of Holi in the zanana see Diamond 2016.

    [181] Falk and Archer 1981, p. 121.

    [182] See paintings by the artist Faizullah in the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin (In 69.6) and the David Collection, Copenhagen (inv. 46/1980) and another similar painting formerly in the Earnest C. and Jane Werner Watson Collection (see Chandra 1971, pp. 36–7, no. 42).

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