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Varati Ragini: folio from the Chawand Ragamala series


Not on view

In this folio, the lover has arrived and is being treated to pan by his mistress. Two caged birds evoke the mood of lovers kept apart. A female attendant fans the couple on what must be a warm starlit night. The mustached lover, who closely resembles the enthroned ruler in another work from the series, sits supported by a meditation strap (yogapatta); he has placed his punch-dagger in the bedchamber an indication of their intimacy. The figures preserve early Rajput conventions—the torso seen frontally with head in full profile and displaying a large deer-like eye that enhances the intensity of the gazes exchanged by the lovers. This physiognomy is a feature shared throughout the early Rajput group and is a significant part of its appeal.

About the Artist

Active at the exiled court of the Mewar rulers Rana Pratap Singh (r. 1572–97) and Rana Amar Singh (r. 1597–1620), in Chawand, Mewar, between 1585 and 1609, and presumed to have returned to Udaipur thereafter

This Muslim painter is known only from this Ragamala manuscript, dated April 10, 1605, and linked by its colophon to the southern Mewar outpost township of Chawand. The artist is named. No documentation is provided regarding the patron, but likely it was the ruler Rana Amar Singh or one from among his small court in exile. Chawand Fort served as the last retreat for Rajputs still in defiance of Mughal suzerainty. It collapsed to Mughal forces in 1609, and Amir Singh finally submitted to Prince Khurram (the future Shah Jahan) in 1615 at Gogunda, an event recorded in the Jahangirnama and illustrated by the imperial artist Nanha in 1618.

The painter Nasiruddin was not an innovator; rather, he was working in a style already familiar in the early Rajput tradition, as is witnessed by a series of works dated some fifty years earlier, the most pertinent of which are the Caurapancasika series, the Bhairavi ragini, and the Vasanta Vilasa (Festival of Spring) dated 1451. The central concern of all these works is love in its various guises. The Vasanta Vilasa is the most explicit in its description and depiction of lovers in springtime, but all these works are concerned with the emotions of lovers. The iconography of ornament as well as the sentiment evoked are expressly designed to enhance the erotic mood of sringara rasa. The Chawand Ragamala shares these romantic concerns, seen here in the image of a woman awaiting her lover in one folio and serving him pan in another.

Unlike the Caurapancasika and other early Rajput works, the Chawand Ragamala has broken from the horizontal layout, which derives from the pothi tradition, to assume a vertical format inspired by the Islamic codex book. This series also introduces new pictorial devices learned in the previous thirty years from artists who had served in the imperial Mughal atelier. Large numbers of Indian artists (chitaras), Hindu and Muslim alike, had been gathered to Akbar’s workshop by ‘Abd al-Samad to complete the monumental Hamzanama, and upon its completion around 1572, most were released. They scattered to the courts of Rajasthan and Malwa as well as the Muslim courts of the Deccan; some must have secured employment at Udaipur, where Nasiruddin would have learned his skills and developed his distinctive style. His Chawand Ragamala is a uniquely dated and provenanced series, representing a landmark in the development of Rajput painting. It is distinguished by its vibrant palette and intense emotional sensibility. Through the innovations of Nasiruddin’s successor, Sahibdin, this work led directly to the mature Rajput court style that came to dominate Hindu court painting in both the plains and the hills.

Varati Ragini: folio from the Chawand Ragamala series, Nasiruddin, Opaque watercolor and ink on paper, India (Chawand, Mewar, Rajasthan)

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