A miniature by Kailash Raj, a contemporary artist engaged in reviving India’s universally celebrated miniature art style, in characteristic Mughal idiom of the Akbar’s period, bringing back to canvas the Akbar’s court artists Basawan’s strokes of brush and Tara Kalan’s fine and sensitive colouring, represents two groups of ascetics engaged in fierce battle calling for intervention of royal forces that could control them but not without further shedding some blood. Illustrated realistically, the battle has turned so fierce that not only that the bodies of many senior ascetics have been torn but even the intervening Mughal forces appear to be the part of the ongoing battle. Unlike the depiction of a symbolic battle where dismembered bodies lie scattered, severed heads thrown here, and arms there, in the painting the agitated, anguished faces full of wrath, are intact and as in a real battle swords and other weapons have just torn their bodies inflicting deaths or injuries, no one having any time to mutilate any.
Not apparently compartmentalized, the folio illustrates the event in three parts. The bottom half on the obverse side of the green hill, its descent, valley and the plain beyond, portrays two groups of ascetics with swords, shields, bows, arrows … in hands engaged in fierce fighting. Except a few figures with swords and shields in hands, Mughalia turbans on their heads, in full sleeved tunics and with waist-bands-like sashes around waists – obviously, the intervening Mughal soldiers seeking to control the situation, almost all other fighting figures have on their foreheads identical Vaishnava ‘tilak-marks’ revealing their Vaishnava identity. They are most powerfully gesticulated, each face revealing wrath, dauntlessness and anguish. Only partially clad, in mere loincloths or lower wears with or without a sash around necks, bare-headed but with long hair – disheveled or knotted, there is apparently nothing that divides them on sectarian lines. Some of them are fair-complexioned, while the other, grayish blue, obviously smeared in ashes – a practice prevalent alike among both sects Vaishnava and Shaivite. Alike, some have bearded faces while the others are without beards but ascetics of both lines had beards as also did not have.
Obviously, not a confrontation of the followers of two warring sects, the two groups appear to be the members of two different ‘akharas’, a long prevailing medieval institution of semi-martial character the members of which practiced austerities and having relinquished family life were ascetics, though besides practicing rituals they also practiced martial arts and were part-time soldiers and for running their akharas fought like professionals on hire. Sometimes for supremacy and similar other interests they confronted mutually and were often a threat to sovereignty of the state. The folio seems to illustrate one of such occasions when the inmates of two ‘akharas’ clashed for some self interests. The folio has on the top a course of palatial structures, obviously the imperial palace thronged by columns of officials reached to report the incident. The central register portrays the emperor himself riding his horse reaching the venue. Emperor, obviously Akbar, is wearing his characteristic ‘chakdar jama’. Here a group of villagers are seen complaining of the threat to the peace of the region that the battling ascetics were creating. Behind him is a column of elephant riding soldiers arrived for controlling the situation.
The painting seeks to reproduce a Mughal miniature of circa 1590 AD, now in Victoria And Albert Museum, London, illustrating an actual event as narrated in Akbarnama. Basawan was one of the master artists at Akbar’s court atelier, and Tara Kalan, a junior especially skilled in fine and sensitive colouring. Basawan was a master in all departments but in drawing fine details in particular. The details in this 1590 AD miniature were drawn by Basawan and colours were laid by Tara Kalan something that Kailash Raj, the contemporary painter of this piece, has done single handed drawing each detail with same precision, as much sensitively and has completely succeeded in transporting the viewing eye back to the glorious phase of Akbar’s court art. His painting has the same flavour of past and a feeling of antiquity as has Basawan’s.
This description by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr Daljeet. Prof. Jain specializes on the aesthetics of ancient Indian literature. Dr Daljeet is the chief curator of the Visual Arts Gallery at the National Museum of India, New Delhi. They have both collaborated on numerous books on Indian art and culture.