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Paintings > Hindu > Obdurate or Annoyed Heroine: A Theme Based on Rasikapriya of Keshavadasa
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Obdurate or Annoyed Heroine: A Theme Based on Rasikapriya of Keshavadasa

Obdurate or Annoyed Heroine: A Theme Based on Rasikapriya of Keshavadasa

Obdurate or Annoyed Heroine: A Theme Based on Rasikapriya of Keshavadasa

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Obdurate or Annoyed Heroine: A Theme Based on Rasikapriya of Keshavadasa

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This large size canvas, an impressive and extensive backdrop with extremely simplified theme focusing just on one emotion or the state of mind, illustrates Manini Nayika, obdurate or annoyed heroine, as elaborated in the Rasikapriya, a great Hindi classic by Acharya Keshavadasa, the known late sixteenth century Hindi poet and the founder of ‘Riti’ convention in Hindi poetry. Rasikapriya, more than a poem a treatise of attributes – Lakshana-grantha, classifies young women in love under different classes or types and various emotional situations they undergo. Known as ‘Nayika-bheda’ – classification of nayikas or heroines, is an early literary convention in India in practice at least since fourth-third century BC, its earliest known form appearing in Natya-Shastra, a timeless treatise in Sanskrit on drama and poetics by sage Bharata. In Hindi literary tradition Acharya Keshavadasa, the court poet of Orchha and Akbar’s contemporary, is its first exponent.

In a couplet or two, or more, Keshavadasa elaborates the attributes of a Nayika in one category or other and then in the verses to follow using Radha as his model of such heroine places her in a particular set of emotional situation which aptly illustrates her type. For every emotional situation or set of attributes Radha is Keshava’s model of the Nayika, and Krishna, his ultimate hero. For the purpose of illustrating these love-situations Keshava’s Radha and Krishna are more close to flesh rather than spirit. Most of the paintings from any of the Rajasthani art schools use Radha and Krishna as their heroine and hero, the same as does the text, for illustrating Rasikapriya theme but Pahari artists, who have scarcely illustrated Rasikapriya text, exploit and use the emotional situation and the drama involved in it, and sometimes even further intensify, but, as here in this masterpiece, do not use the divine couple for illustrating it. They prefer replacing Radha with a royal lady or elite, and correspondingly Krishna with the prince she is in love with.

As the situation in the Keshava’s verse has it, Krishna had asked Radha to come to a secret place in the forest. Radha reaches there but engaged in love with some Gopi Krishna fails to keep his words. Radha comes to know all about it from a ‘sakhi’ – friend, and annoyed decides not to ever meet him. Hence, when Krishna reaches there and sends a go-in-between to bring Radha, she refuses to go to Krishna despite all persuasions. A correspondingly conceived theme, this painting, rendered using the most evolved idiom of Pahari art style characteristic to late eighteenth century Kangra School, replaces Radha with a royal heroine, the forest place, with her chamber in the palace – a massive architecture with vast spaces, and Gopis, with variously engaged maids attending upon her. Appearance of Krishna, or hero, is not the part of the theme; however, the artist has used deep dark clouds lurking in the sky, symbolic of the blue-bodied Krishna, to simultaneously denote two things, the state of the heroine’s mind which Krishna’s, and thereby the hero’s memory storms, and the month of Shravana when burns the heroine’s heart with deeper passion of love than ever else, perhaps a Baramasa element that the artist has incorporated from another literary convention.

The scene has been magnified or rather dramatized beyond proportion. It is set inside a palace comprising a bed-chamber, upper pavilion, large walled courtyard, turrets, towers … revealing great regalia. The Nayika, fully indisposed, is sprawling on her bed against a huge bolster. A maid is massaging her feet, and another, arranging her cushions. For relieving her of the heat of passion she is burning with an elderly nurse, the most experienced of all, has brought rose water in golden pot and another one, among those emerging from the backside door, is carrying a golden tray with sandal paste, the usual remedy for reducing the heat in the body. Two of them are entering the chamber-courtyard with a jar of cool water and a pot for washing her feet in, another device of cooling her heat. Deeply agitated over the conduct of her lover, the hero, the obdurate and annoyed lady shouts at the hero’s messenger and in a stern action of her raised forefinger commands her to go back. The artist has universalized her agony by making it reflect on every face and in every effort and action represented in the painting. Not only those engaged in her service bringing to her this healing balm or other her agony reflects also in discourse of those not part of the palace crew.

This description by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr. Daljeet. Prof. Jain specializes on the aesthetics of literature and is the author of numerous books on Indian art and culture. Dr. Daljeet is the curator of the Miniature Painting Gallery, National Museum, New Delhi. They have both collaborated together on a number of books.

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