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Four Centuries of Paintings and Manuscripts from the Indian Subcontinent

CAT. NO. 44

A Nayika waiting for her lover Mughal, c.1730–50

Fol. 42v from a late eighteenth-century Mughal album | Painting in watercolour and opaque watercolour including gold metallic paint and decorative incising on paper; set into composite margins of dyed and plain papers with opaque watercolour and gold metallic ornament | 32.7 × 22.2 cm (folio); 17.1 × 10.1 cm (image) | RCIN

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This seductive painting of a lady as she begins to undress is intended to evoke sringara rasa, the erotic mood. She is an idealised heroine (nayika) waiting for her lover. Her direct gaze meets that of the viewer who takes the place of the hero (nayak) for whom she is waiting. Such imagery was not common in Mughal painting until the eighteenth century and reflects the influences of Rajput culture at the Mughal court.[169] According to rajahdharma (‘the duty of kings’), a king is obliged to experience the four purusharthas (‘aims of life’), one of which is kama, sensual pleasure.[170] Muhammad Shah’s chief court musician, Nimat Khan, known as Sadarang (1670–1748), composed numerous khayals, two-verse ‘love songs’, in which the Emperor is cast as the ideal lover or nayak for whom the nayika yearns.[171]

Here, the woman is depicted as a fictitious, ideal type with a narrow waist, full breasts and adorned with elegant jewels. Her form is reminiscent of sculptures of apsaras (‘celestial maidens’) on Hindu and Buddhist temple walls and her iconic pose appears throughout South Asian art.[172] That she is imagined as Hindu is indicated by the ornamental orange and gold bindi between her eyebrows. Her figure is sensitively rendered with minute stippling, yet the background is far cruder. It is possible that this was originally left blank and only added when the work was assembled into this album in the second half of the eighteenth century.

  • [169] For other Muhammad Shah period nayikas see Hurel 2010, p. 115, cat no. 148 (1–10).

    [170] Singh 2016, p. 41.

    [171] Ibid., p. 44.

    [172] See Aitken ed. 2016, pp. 11–15. 

  • From an album thought to have been presented to George IV by Ghazi al-Din Haider, Nawab of Awadh, c.1828