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Maharana Sarup Singh and his Courtiers on Elephants Celebrating the Festival of Holi


Not on view

The colored powders (gulal) resembling fireworks that are strewn on the occasion of the Holi festival suggest anarchic abandon. But that does not mean that courtly etiquette has been abandoned; rather, the spectators that frame the event are arranged in ordered rows, according to rank. The scene is composed with Tara’s typical use of multiple perspectives, combining a view of the courtyard of the palace from above with a depiction of its facade viewed in elevation. A British artist described the spectacle on the occasion of the Holi festival of 1877: “The powder is tossed using a handkerchief tied around the wrist at one end . . . thus making a kind of sling.” Large syringes were also used, to spectacular effect.

About the Artist

Active at Udaipur ca. 1836–70, especially under Sarup Singh

The artist Tara enjoyed his most productive phase under the prince Sarup Singh (r. 1842–61), from whom he received ongoing support. Tara followed the tradition of documenting the daily cycle of Mewar court life, illustrating festivals, official receptions, court entertainments, and hunting parties. Although not an innovative painter, he became celebrated for his large format compositions that stand at the threshold between late painting and early photography.

Tara’s works are dominated by an organized compositional style characterized by geometric forms. In the first version of the celebrations on the occasion of the spring Holi festival, the prince appears atop an elephant, strewing colored powder. The work employs Tara’s typical perspective, in which the view down into the palace courtyard is combined with a rendering of the palace facades. On either side, at the Tripolia Gate on the right, for example, the facades are swung outward — a long-established convention. The depiction of the elephants and courtiers is in a regular static arrangement. This disposition may reflect the courtly hierarchies and protocol that had to be observed in such illustrations.

Long before Tara, the Udaipur landscape, with the palace complex towering above Lake Pichola, had inspired local artists to combine topographical views with court activities. The English artist William Carpenter visited Udaipur in 1851, and while there, he made a watercolor portrait of Sarup Singh. Tara copied the work, employing new modeling techniques and a green pigment imported from Europe. Around 1858, the first works appeared on which it is noted that Tara worked together with his son Shivalal. Tara had trained both his sons Shivalal and Mohanlal to follow in his profession. An impressive watercolor study by William Carpenter shows Tara with them in the year 1851. Shivalal continued in his father’s conventional style, while the second son, Mohanlal, pursued a different path.

Maharana Sarup Singh and his Courtiers on Elephants Celebrating the Festival of Holi, Tara (Indian, active 1836–1870), Opaque watercolor on paper, India (Udaipur, Mewar, Rajasthan)

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