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Four Centuries of Paintings and Manuscripts from the Indian Subcontinent

CAT. NO. 74

Proshitabhartrika Nayika Punjab, c.1840

Painting in opaque watercolour including gold and silver metallic paints with decorative incising on paper with painted margins | 28.6 × 22.2 cm (page); 22.4 × 15.8 cm (image) | RCIN 1005128

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The ashta nayika (‘eight heroines’) of South Asian poetry and dance were also favoured subjects of painters.[247] Each nayika finds herself in a different situation and emotional state, proshitabhartrika nayika being the lady in despair because her lover is away. Here, in a palace chamber overlooking a valley, the heroine rearranges the folds in her sari in frustration as her sakhi (companion) attempts to console her.[248] Her inner turmoil is echoed outside as the dark clouds open up and strutting peacocks welcome the dramatic downpour of the monsoon rains.

With the spread of Sikh authority over the Punjab in the early nineteenth century, many painters of the Pahari hill states migrated to the Sikh centres of Lahore, Patiala, Kapurthala and other cities of the Punjab Plains. The hasty execution of this work and the sparing application of costly pigments reflect a more general decline in quality as traditional systems of patronage ended and the painter’s trade commercialised.

  • [247] See Bhanudatta’s Rasamanjari and Keshavadasa’s Rasikapriya, both of which combine the nayika’s mood with rasa-associated subjects.

    [248] In South Asian poetry a sakhi is the female confidante who often plays the go-between for the nayika and her lover (nayak). 

  • Presented to Edward VII when Prince of Wales during his tour of India, 1875–6