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Polygamy was the most commonly pursued practice amongst medieval princely life – Rajput, Muslim, or any. Instead of one by choice or for love, most marriages were the result of either a momentary infatuation or diplomatic maneuvering, or for ego seeking satisfaction either in some unwilling father’s insult by forcibly marrying his daughter, or in vanity of marrying someone above one’s own status. Obviously, a prince’s wives were his mere wives, not his loved ones. As such, to win his love or even the favour of his company for a night, or a period that he chose, there prevailed among his many wives an unfair competition, sometimes intriguing. At least, every evening each of them not only readied her and her bed-chamber as would please him, if he happened to come, but also used the services of maids and sometimes even a concubine for bringing him to her chamber and paid heavy costs. The painting might be seen as representing a similar event; however, the gesture of the prince as is apologetic and the demeanour of the lady, as one hurt by one of her lovers’ acts, are not in tune with such analogy.
If anything, the painting might be seen as portraying an oft illustrated love situation in classical poetry such as in the early twelfth century Sanskrit poet Jaideva’s love-lyric Gita-Govinda. In the Gita-Govinda, in a well adorn bower Radha awaits Krishna the whole night and when Krishna, engaged in love with other Gopis, does not come, in annoyance she retires into the forest. When from one of Radha’s Sakhis Krishna knows of Radha’s annoyance, he goes to her and appeases her. Though in characteristic medieval idiom rendered using feudal imagery, this painting seems to portray a parallel situation. The painting’s lady seems to have been long awaiting her lover with her bed and bed-chamber beautifully adorned with a lot of flowers. However, he comes late and tries to appease her by explaining its reason. Still annoyed the lady does not move from her place.
Different from Jaideva’s classicism which sought to graft human sentiments into divine images, with its feudal imagery and a palatial setting replacing the forest or the natural setting, this painting breathes strange medievalism, its flavour and ambience. The lady’s bed-chamber is a simple grayish black formless back-drop which a large bed covers almost completely except a little space on its left which a frill of floral garlands on the top and a multi-wicked lamp-stand on the bottom occupy. Though structured with gold, the bed, along with the sheet overlaid it, cushions and bolsters, is quite simple. Floral laces cover it canopy-like but their pattern is uniform and simple. Except his turban, in upper coat, jama, pajama, sash, and waistband of the prince, and lehenga, odhani and short blouse of the lady, the ensembles of them both are in exact Mughal styles.
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.