Private Collection, Dubai
Maharao Ram Singh of Kota (r. 1827-66) is one of the best represented of Rajput rulers with many aspects of his life both public and personal documented by his artists. He is represented in durbars with his court and with British officials, in the many festivals of the Hindu calendar, including Dussehra as here, the Asapura festival (Kreisel 1995, fig. 132), and the riotous spring festival of Holi (Topsfield 1980, pl. 7), as well as personal worship of the deities (Seyller 2015, no. 60) , and of course many scenes of personal interest such as riding an elephant on top of the chajja of a pavilion in 1853 (Ehnbom1985, no. 64), playing polo with his noblemen (Welch 1997, no 63), entering Delhi in 1842 (ibid., no. 65), and scenes of him enjoying himself with his women (Seyller 2015, no. 61). Here, he is celebrating the autumnal Dussehra festival, commemorating the slaying of the buffalo-headed demon Mahishasura by the Devi, by hunting and killing a buffalo in a ritual slaying. Other pictures suggest that this was not a solitary affair but was a communal ceremony undertaken with his nobles (Kreisel ed. 1995, fig. 133).
In our splendidly energetic painting, the Maharao is gorgeously apparelled in helmet and body armour, with room of course for jewels, over a lilac jama. He carries a small shield in his left hand which holds the reins, while an empty scabbard is by his side, the sword being used to slice at the neck of the buffalo, which is falling to the ground behind the horse. The horse is even more gorgeously caparisoned than the Maharao, with its tasselled mane, jewelled bridle and many chains with attached gold plates. Two attendants run beside on foot, one with a khanda sword and a chowrie, and the other with a sun-burst parasol. The latter may also be carrying an upright spear, unless it is attached to the horse in some way or held by an invisible attendant. The scene is set below a plain green hillside dotted with a few trees and with a walled garden near the summit of the hill.
The Maharao here appears relatively young, being without his full set of bushy sideburns that grew gradually over the course of his reign. He came to the throne at the age of 19 and one of his earliest datable portraits shows him about 25 (Bautze’s fig. 14 in Welch et al. 1997, p. 53), when his sideburns were already heavier than they are in our painting. His profile with its bulbous ending to the nose and protruding lips is instantly recognisable.
The horse rolls its eyes as the buffalo falls dying to the ground, its horns obtruding into the margin, but Ram Singh’s grave face is devoid of the pleasure of the hunt but rather intent on doing his ritual duty. A later and rather stiffer picture dated 1859 in the Mittal Museum in Hyderabad (Seyller ed. 2015, no. 63) shows the same ritual killing of the buffalo but with the Maharao using a spear rather than a sword, while a preliminary drawing for that painting is in the V&A Museum (Archer 1959, Kotah fig. 49).
Archer, W.G., Indian Painting in Bundi and Kotah, HMSO, London, 1959
Ehnbom, D., Indian Miniatures: The Ehrenfeld Collection, American Federation of Arts, New York, 1985
Kreisel, Gerd, ed. Rajasthan, Land der Könige, Linden-Museum, Stuttgart, in Zusammenarbeit mit Kunstverlag Gotha, 1995
Seyller, John, ed., Rajasthani Paintings in the Jagdish and Kamla Mittal Museum of Indian Art, Hyderabad, 2015
Topsfield, A., Paintings from Rajasthan in the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 1980
Welch, S.C., et al., Gods, Kings and Tigers: The Art of Kotah, Prestel, Munich, New York, 1997
EXPERT : J. P. Losty
J. P. Losty was for many years curator of Indian visual materials in the British Library in London and has published many books and articles on painting in India from the 12th to the 19th centuries.
Artiana would like to thank J. P. Losty for his expertise and assistance in preparing this catalogue entry.
Classical Indian Painting
Classical Indian Paintings - an ode to the rich history of art in India - are divided into Rajput, Mughal, Deccani, Pahari and other schools, each having their signature stylisations. These paintings, across all the various schools display a strong connection with nature, people and early Indian culture and tradition. Although these pictures seen at a glance, are easily recognized as Indian in origin, they are a confluence of various cultures and traditions. This genre of classical Indian art is also an important window into the past, as the images reliably depict the surroundings and milieu around the time of their execution.
The tradition of Indian miniature painting finds its beginnings around the 7th century ACE. Appearing as text illustrations, these paintings emerged primarily in Jain and Buddhist palm leaf manuscripts. Reaching a high level of sophistication in 15th century, the style grew steadily, sustaining its similarity with other schools of miniature painting while articulating a unique aesthetics of its own. The schools of miniature painting consist of two broad variants – the first centred on Islamic elements unique to Iran and Turkey, and the second an indigenous tradition of India. Indian miniature paintings are famed for its diverse qualities – its myriad themes, subtle aesthetics, stylistic diversity, sensuality, religiosity and the opulent life of the royals to name a few.
Mughal painting sprouted and grew during the Mughal Empire (16th to 19th centuries). It was exclusive to the nobles and royalty its development depended, to a great extent on, the patronage of this class of society. With its origins in Central Asia, the Mughal empire was heavily influenced by Persian cultural trends, which was taken to new heights in India. The paintings are known for its subtlety and appreciation of historical or quasi-scientific themes in nature. Its scientific quality ensured that the paintings were largely secular in nature, consisting of allusions to natural life, literature and the routines of royalty. The Mughals were best known for their fusion of Indo-Islamic culture, and early Emperors — particularly Akbar (1556-1605) — commissioned paintings to illustrate Hindu epics as well as various Persian texts.
The Rajasthani School emerges around the 16th century as an off shoot of the early Mewar paintings. Later several states of Rajasthan had developed their own individual styles of painting, the most prominent amongst them were Kota, Bundi, Bikaner, Kishangarh and Mewar and Jaipur. Rajputs of the time, who patronised the art to a great extent, ensured that it featured themes of religion and literature in a distinct sense. Once Rajasthani Miniature painting came into being, it progressed quickly under local painters. While the influence of the Mughal style was unmistakable, the style retained its unique lyrical temperament and classical worldview.
At the close of the 7th century, the Pahari school of painting developed in the Hills of Punjab, which, at the time, grew in the margins of mainstream culture and art. The lively and romantic school of Pahari miniaturists produced some of the finest religious scenes, offering a glimpse of the daily mind and sentiment of India. The earliest Pahari School of miniature painting is called Basholi. Basholi had produced some wonderful portraits and is famed for its Rasamanjari series. Pahari art, produced in Kangra under Raja Sansar Chand is known for its pronounced rhythmic quality. The Vaishnavite tradition of Hinduism, celebrating the love of Radha and Krishna, bears its distinct stamp of the Kangra style.
Deccani painting grew almost simultaneously with Mughal art, with Ahmednagar, Golkonda, Bijapur, and subsequently Hyderabad as its centres. Most of the painters working at these courts were immigrants of Turkey, Iran and Europe, and had brought with them their artistic idioms and skills. Deccani art attained a great maturity in form and sophistication, acquiring the same regard as Mughal paintings.