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Eastern Encounters

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

CAT. NO. 52

The Earth

Pahari, Nainsukh family workshop, <i>c</i>.1775–90

Folio from a series depicting the Bhagavata Purana (see cat. no. 51) | Painting in opaque watercolour including gold and silver metallic paints on paper with wide painted margins | 30.6 × 38.4 cm (folio); 23.8 × 31.7 cm (image) | RCIN 925228

Book Three of the Bhagavata Purana describes a great flood which engulfs all the earth. In order to retrieve it, Vishnu dives into the waters in his boar incarnation (Varaha) and lifts it back up to the surface. Here, the earth floats in all its glory: a green and lush landscape dotted with marble palaces and shrines connected by fast-flowing streams, reflective of the local landscape of the Punjab Hills. The large golden mountain with five peaks represents Mount Meru, the sacred mountain which according to Buddhist, Hindu and Jain cosmology, stands at the centre of the universe.

Pure landscape scenes are rare in Indian painting. The painter of this work was evidently familiar with a painting from another Bhagavata Purana series by the earlier artist, Manaku.[192] That scene depicts a different episode but the basic elements are retained, apparently handed down from one generation to the next. The parallel fine lines and delicate stippling are techniques inherited from Mughal painters, but the abstracted conception of space is essentially Rajput. 

  • [192] ‘King Prithu Raises Villages, Towns and Forts’, Rajasthan Oriental Research Institute, Jodhpur (inv. 1527/9). See ibid., pp. 243–4. See also the so-called Tehri Garhwal Gita Govinda series: Archer 1973, vol. 1, p. 293 and Goswamy 1968. 

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