This exceptionally beautiful painting represents a lover, or a loving husband, completely dedicated to his beloved, dyeing her feet with saffron-paste, which besides being a feature of her make-up is considered most auspicious and sacred by Indian women, particularly the married ones. Supporting on his left palm and raised left knee he is upholding his beloved’s right foot and is applying to it the dye – the conventional ‘mahawara’, with his right hand. Lest it harmed her delicate feet and soft silken skin the prince seems to have alternated with the saffron-paste the customary scarlet dye containing hard chemical properties used by womenfolk in general.
Though with no ornaments on his person or any kind of adornment, except a simple gold chain with a pendant, the blue-complexioned youthful prince, clad elegantly in a single colour, saffron choga, sash and turban, with borders and sash-ends woven in gold thread, not only reveals divine grace and rare beauty but also presents a delightful contrast to his pearl-hued mistress and to her reddish purple costume. The magic of this scheme of colour-contrast works in full in the red ‘lehenga’ with wide black bottom, and green ‘odhani’ – a sheet comprising upper garment, worn by the woman standing close to the prince. This interplay of colours continues also in the background, the architecture and the rest.
Though a beautiful canopy – red with green frill and golden flower-motifs embellishing it, providing respite from the direct sun-heat, the drama is being enacted on an open terrace outside a marble pavilion. On its other side there is a garden with flowering plants and towering cypresses, and a square conically domed palace-tower. A cage with a parrot in it is hung on the pavilion’s arched door. Around the ‘chowki’ – a low-height flat sofa, on which the young damsel is seated, there lay a pot containing the saffron-paste, a jug having a spout and handle containing rose-water, and a tray carrying a bowl and a small towel on it. All utensils are made of gold and are inlaid with semi-precious stones and are enameled. The young prince is sitting on the floor before her and behind him stands the lehenga-wearing young beautiful woman, perhaps one of his beloved’s companions.
A piece of great aesthetic art portraying a delicate feeling of love, the painting is conceived as illustrating the model of Swadhinapatika Nayika under the convention of Nayika-bhed, a literary cult seeking to classify the women – ‘nayikas’, in love under different categories taking into consideration their age-group, phase of love, love-relation, love and loyalty, love and marriage etc. Swadhinapatika is the heroine who by her virtuous character and dedication wins her husband’s or lover’s admiration as also his absolute loyalty for displaying which he is always keen to do everything that pleases her. He is her perpetual companion and is bound to her by ties of love. Swadhinapatika, usually a married one, is called the loyally loved Nayika.
This painting, which seeks to reproduce in its exactness a magnificent Kangra miniature, a great style of Pahari art, datable to 1790-1800 AD., revealing same freshness, fervour and naïve simplicity, is based on a verse : fourth of the chapter seven, from the Rasikapriya, a long canonical poem by Keshavadasa, a Hindi poet of late sixteenth century from Orchha in Central India. In the Rasikapriya the ‘Nayaka’ is Krishna, and ‘Nayika’, Radha; hence in Kangra’s proto-model, the Nayaka applying saffron-paste to the Nayika has a peacock-feather crest in his turban revealing with greater definitiveness his identity as Krishna. In this contemporary work the artist has retained the figure in its exactness but deleted that peacock feather crest, perhaps for allowing to the viewer greater freedom to enjoy the painting completely in aesthetic frame beyond all theological conditions. In the Keshava’s verse, a ‘sakhi’ – companion of Radha : the woman in red lehenga and green odhani in the painting, chides Radha who, a mere cowherd girl, lets Krishna touch her feet for putting on them ‘mahawara’, while she knows well that he is the life-giver to Vraja and is venerated by Brahma and other gods and is the Lord of all three worlds.
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.