"Dervish Leading a Bear", Folio from the Shah Jahan Album, Painting by Govardhan (active ca. 1596–1645), Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper

"Dervish Leading a Bear", Folio from the Shah Jahan Album

Painting by Govardhan (active ca. 1596–1645)
Mir 'Ali Haravi (d. ca. 1550)
Object Name:
Album leaf
recto: ca. 1630–40; verso: ca. 1530–40
Attributed to India
Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper
H. 15 5/16 in. (38.9 cm)
W. 10 1/16 in. (25.6 cm)
Credit Line:
Purchase, Rogers Fund and The Kevorkian Foundation Gift, 1955
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 463
This painting of a dervish reflects the Mughal interest in holy men. Prince Dara-Shikoh, Shah Jahan's eldest son, became a serious student of these spiritual beliefs and this painting was most likely executed under his patronage.
A dervish wearing a brown animal fur covering, earrings, bangles, an anklet leads a dark brown bear by a leash. The red earing and iron bangles are customary accessories worn by dervishes of the Qalandar and Haydari orders. His forearms and chest are dotted with markings, caused by self-inflicted burns. These marks, known as dagh (hot) in Persian, demonstrate faithfulness and love for God.
The scene suggests an allegory familiar to Sufis in which the higher self (here perhaps symbolized by the dervish) struggles to overcome his baser instincts (the bear). His burns, ragged garb, fasting, and wandering give him strength in this struggle.
The Shah Jahan Album, also known as the Emperor's Album, features fifty illustrated and calligraphic folios, forty-one of which belong to the Metropolitan Museum, and nine of which reside in the collection of the Freer Gallery of Art.
In lower part of second border around the portrait, Shah Jahan's handwriting identifies this as "Work of Govardhan." verso–Calligraphy

Gave I my life and died from grief,
my pain would not decrease,
And from your love my suffering heart
would still not find release.
And should your love and faithfulness,
Oh faithless one, decrease–
My love, my ancient faithfulness,
would never yet decrease
Poor [faqir] 'Ali the scribe [al-katib]

The page is surrounded by a fragment from a Persian mathnavi in the khafif meter that tells a story about a person with a squint. Meter and topic suggest that it is from Sana'i's Hadiqat al-haqiqa, the early twelfth-century work that was the first mystical-didactic poem written in Persian.

Annemarie Schimmel in [Welch et al. 1987]

THE BORDER of this verso page has the same scheme as that of the recto and is certainly by the same hand. The inner border here has palmettes and flower heads in gold with a rather prominent leaf scroll, both here and on the recto, rather sketchily drawn.

Marie L. Swietochowski in [Welch et al. 1987] recto–Dervish Leading a Bear

INSCRIBED: (on border in Shahjahan's hand)
"work ['amal] of Govardhan"

OUT OF respect as well as curiosity, Babur, the first Mughal emperor, visited ascetics, as did most of the others in his line. Jahangir's admiration of saintly Jadrup, a Hindu hermit known for his extreme austerity, is described in the Tuzuk. But of all the Mughals, the most concerned with holy men was Prince Dara-Shikoh, eldest son of Shahjahan; it is probably for him that Govardhan's and Padarath's facing miniatures of dervishes were painted. Sermons in paint, these spiritual foils to courtly portraits must have chilled imperial souls. Govardhan's bony, troubled dervish, striding uphill with his amiable bear, invites comparison to Padarath's more static composition (MMA fol. 11v; pl. 77 in this volume) in which the detailed landscape stretches out like a photographer's panoramic backdrop, a far cry from Govardhan's darkling landscape. Windswept grass, a yellow, sandy path, agitated green horizon line, and a troubling purple-to-streaked-blue sky establish a mysterious gloom, bereft of eye-trapping detail. Although ritual burns scar both dervishes, only those painted by Govardhan communicate their sting. Unlike the trappings of Padarath's ornamentally deluxe ascetic, the furs and cinctures of Govardhan's dervish bespeak misery. He moves us as effectively as he moves the bear, whose leash is gripped firmly (unlike that in Padarath's picture), and which paces along, mastered by a slender but threatening stick.

This wandering Sufi wears a red earring in his right ear and has iron bangles around his arms and right ankle, as the somewhat unorthodox dervishes known as Qalandars and Haydaris did from the Middle Ages on (these dervishes belonged to not-so-respectable but quite influential branches of Sufism in India and in medieval Turkey). The white pattern on the red skullcap is reminiscent of the ajrak designs in Sind (the ajrak was a cotton cloth stamped with red, blue, and black motifs and worn as a turban, loincloth, shawl, etc.).

Govardhan not only compels the viewer to concentrate upon the ascetic and his disciplined bear but also urges speculation. The allegory brings to mind one familiar to Sufis in which the higher self (here perhaps symbolized by the dervish) struggles to overcome his baser instincts (the bear). His self-denials–bums, ragged garb, fasting, and wandering–give him strength in his struggle against evil.[1]

Govardhan's studies of holy men [2] are among the supreme examples in Mughal art of a genre favored by Emperor Akbar and by his great-grandson Prince Dara-Shikoh, who devoted much of his life to mystics and mystical thought. Presumably this picture, the most serious in the Kevorkian Album and one of a scattered group that illustrates the prince's religious interests, was given by him to his father. (For a late version of this miniature, see MMA fol. 9r; pl. 96 in this volume).

Stuart Cary Welch in [Welch et al. 1987]

THE PICTURE is surrounded by a ghazal without its opening lines by Qasimi (Qasim al-anwar); the last line is the beginning of another ghazal by him.

Annemarie Schimmel in [Welch et al. 1987]

THIS RECTO page has the margin number 11 and so belongs to Group B. In addition to the innermost border of cutout verses, it has an inner border of flower-head, palmette, and leaf-scroll pattern in gold on a pink ground. The outer border contains flowering plants on a buff ground. They have rather thin stems and sparse leaves and are heavily outlined in gold; smaller plants appear between them. Along the bottom margin there is a continuous ground plane on which the plants rest. This feature is relatively unusual. Only a campanula (prob. cult.) located at the left center of the outer margin and an iris in the center of the inner margin can be identified.

Marie L. Swietochowski in [Welch et al. 1987]

1. For austerities in Sufism, see Schimmel, Annemarie. Mystical Dimensions of Islam. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1975, indexed under "suffering."

2. For other portrait studies of holy men by Govardhan, see Brown, Percy. Indian Painting Under the Mughals. Oxford, 1924, pls. LXVI and LXVII; Stchoukine, Ivan. Les Miniatures indiennes de l'epoque des Grands Moghols, au Musee du Louvre. Paris, 1929, pl. XI; Ivanov, A. A.; Grek, T.; and Akimushkin, O. F. Al'bom indiyskikh i persidskikh miniatyur XVI-XVIII v.v. Moscow, 1962. pls. 12 and 13); Welch, Stuart Cary. The Art of Mughal India: Painting and Precious Objects. New York, Asia Society, 1963, no. 46; Welch, Stuart Cary. A Flower from Every Meadow. New York, Asia Society, 1973, no. 63, pp. 104–106; Welch, Stuart Cary, India! Art and Culture 1300–1900. Exh. cat. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1985, nos. 159 and 160; Beach, Milo Cleveland. The Grand Mogul: Imperial Painting in India, 1600–1660. Williamstown, Mass., Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, 1978, nos. 22, 41, and 43; Nouveau Drouot, Paris, sale cat., June 23, 1982, no. II; Schimmel, Annemarie. Islam in India and Pakistan. Iconography of Religions XXII, 9· Leiden, 1982, pl. XXIVa.
Signature: verso:
In Persian, in lower left corner triangle: Fakir 'Ali al-katib.

Inscription: recto:
In Persian, in lower part of second border around portrait (Shah Jahan's hand): Work of Govardhan.

Marking: recto:
Margin number '11' is inscribed in the gilt margin.
Jack S. Rofe, Scotland (in 1929; sale, Sotheby's London,December 12, 1929, no. 130, to Kevorkian); [ Hagop Kevorkian, New York, from 1929]; [ Kevorkian Foundation, New York, until 1955; gift and sale to MMA]
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Emperor's Album: Images of Mughal India," October 21, 1987–February 14, 1988, nos. 75 and 76.

Sotheby's: Catalogue of Oriental Manuscripts and Miniatures. London: Sotheby's, New York, 1929. no. 141.

Welch, Stuart Cary, Annemarie Schimmel, Marie Lukens Swietochowski, and Wheeler M. Thackston. The Emperors' Album: Images of Mughal India. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1987. no. nos. 75, 76, pp. 234-23, 238, ill., verso pl. 75 (b/w); recto pl. 76 (color).

Okada, Amina. Imperial Mughal Painters: Indian Miniatures from the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries. Paris: Flammarion, 1992. p. 202, ill. fig. 238 (b/w), recto.