Arts of the Book: Illustrated Texts, Miniatures
Ascetics In A Landscape
18th century CE or later
Materials and technique
Ink and opaque watercolour on paper
Page 45.8 x 33.9 cm; Image 21.4 x 14.2 cm
The rise of the Mughal Empire (1526-1858 CE) called for the subjugation of numerous small states that had existed in India before the sixteenth century. Some of these principalities were already Muslim, while others, like those ruled by the warrior Rajput caste in northern India, belonged to a native Hindu heritage. Situated at the foothills of the Himalayas, the Rajputs’ were known for their military might, but even they, like many other indigenous groups in India, eventually faced Mughal domination. The Rajputs came to an agreement with the Mughal conquerors; the Mughals would allow them to rule their individual territories in exchange for their participation in Mughal military campaigns and their sending of an important member of their family to be raised at the Mughal court. In spite of their military talents, the Rajputs also cultivated the arts, producing distinctive painting styles, one of which included a bright yellow colour (made from the urine of mango-fed cows) and a stylised, flat quality, seen in this painting with two figures seated on a tilted carpet against a plain, bright yellow backdrop. This may have corresponded to the fact that Rajput paintings sought to illustrate an ideal world (Cummins 2006, p. 93). One of the most popular subjects in Rajput painting was the depiction of ragas, or musical modes, indigenous to the northern Indian region. These modes eventually became described through a new genre of writing and, later, through illustration, gathered into what came to be called ragamalas, or “garlands of ragas.” The paintings were meant to evoke the multilayered quality of the musical modes through visual representation and sought to create a similarly complex sensory experience for the viewer. Ragas were classified into family groups, headed by the raga or patriarch, and followed by his wives or raginis, sons, or ragaputras, and (occasionally) daughters, or ragaputris (ibid., pp. 95–96). It is believed that ragamala illustration existed before the Mughal period. The Mughals, however, did not seem to adopt this form of painting, perhaps because of their greater interest in Persian music coming from Iran and Central Asia (ibid., p. 96). Nevertheless, ragamala illustrations exhibiting a Mughal aesthetic suggest that some paintings might have been produced by Mughal artists for non-Mughal clients, or by non-Mughal artists who integrated Mughal tastes with indigenous subjects. This painting of ascetics in a landscape provides an example of the latter. Mughal shading and modelling techniques as well as the subject of dervishes or ascetics gathering in a landscape are combined with indigenous Bundi elements, such as the bright orange sky and the inclusion of indigenous birds and flowers. The figures in patched robes are Hindu yogis; in ragamalas, ascetic gatherings are also common, but while in ragamalas there is a distinction between the raga and his raginis, here members of the group appear to be on a similar level (Canby 1998, p. 172). The instrument played by the musician is most likely a veena, a Southern Indian string instrument comprised of a pair of gourd resonators connected by a vertical wooden shaft. It consists of four main and three subsidiary drone strings.
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