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Four Centuries of Paintings and Manuscripts from the Indian Subcontinent

CAT. NO. 60

Folios from a series of the Gita Govinda Rajput (Jaipur), c.1800

Paintings in opaque watercolour including metallic pigments and gold leaf on paper set into painted margins; text in devanagari script written in black ink in band at top edge; red morocco binding with gold tooling | 24 fols; 33.7 × 43.5 cm | RCIN 1005114

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This series of paintings from Jaipur reproduces verses from the Sanskrit devotional poem Gita Govinda (‘Song of the Cowherd’). It represents a type of painted manuscript commissioned by aristocrat Rajput patrons in the courts of Rajasthan, of which religious and literary texts were the dominant subjects.

From the sixteenth century onwards, a Hindu movement known as bakhti encouraged intense faith and devotion on a personal level, sharing many parallels with Islamic Sufism. In bakhti-inspired literature, the love-play (lila) of the gods and their devotees was used as a metaphor for the reciprocal love and longing of man for god and god for man (see cat. no. 45). Written in the late twelfth century, the Gita Govinda, by the Bengali poet Jayadeva, was celebrated several centuries later as one of the best literary expressions of the essence of bakhti. His protagonists are the god Krishna, the eighth incarnation of Vishnu, and his lover, the mortal cowherdess Radha. Their recurrent separations and blissful reunions expressed in passionate rhetoric are metaphors for the separation of the soul and the Divine and their ultimate ecstasy in union. 

The Gita Govinda poem is composed as a cycle of 24 songs, each consisting of eight verses. The Royal Collection’s group of paintings illustrates 22 verses from the beginning of the poem up to the middle of the third song, the earliest part of what would originally have been a series of nearly 200 loose folios. Painted in Jaipur at the beginning of the nineteenth century, the series is likely to have been commissioned by Maharajah Pratap Singh (r. 1778–1803), himself a poet and many of whose own writings elaborated on the Radha-Krishna theme. He commissioned several illustrated series such as this.[196] Rajput painters often depicted their patrons as active participants within the scenes. The figure of the Maharajah in these folios is portrayed in a number of different guises which appear to be portraits of earlier rulers of Jaipur and Amber, as depicted in contemporary dynastic portraits.[197] Stylistically, the series owes more to the artistic legacy of the painters at the old state capital of Amber than to that of Mughal and Awadhi painters as seen in other Jaipur paintings of the period.[198]

  • [196] See Pratap 1996, p. 26. Many thanks to Catherine Glynn for her dating of this series.

    [197] See ‘Maharajas of Amber and Jaipur’, c.1800, Kumar Sangram Singh Museum, Jaipur, published in Pratap 1996, p. 47; and ‘The Rulers of Amber and Jaipur’, 1744, Maharaja Sawai Mansingh II Museum, Jaipur. The rulers of Amber and Jaipur were of the Kachwaha clan of Rajputs. Based first in Amber, they founded a new capital at Jaipur in 1727.

    [198] See the Bhagavata Purana (c.1792) and Durga Path (1799) series in the Maharaja Sawai Mansingh II Museum, Jaipur. 

  • Presented to Edward VII when Prince of Wales by Mangaldas Nathubhai in Bombay, 1875