Two pages from a manuscript of the Yog Basisht
Opaque watercolour heightened with gold, in manuscript folios with Persian text in nasta'liq and animal and floral designs in margins
i) The brothers Punya and Pavana seated by the river Ganges
ii) The sage Uddalaka rejects transport to heaven
Sub-Imperial Mughal, circa 1650
28.6 by 17.5 cm., page; 17 by 9 cm., miniature; 28.8 by 17.5 cm. page; 14 by 9 cm., miniature
The Yog Basisht is a Persian translation from the Sanskrit philosophical text Yogavasishta Maharamayana, which is a twelfth-thirteenth century discourse between the great sage Vasistha and the young Prince Rama as to how to reconcile performing his kingly duties with his ideal of the contemplative life. Vasistha tells various stories about kings who managed this.
A translation had already been commissioned by Akbar, but whilst Prince Salim was in revolt at Allahabad in 1600-03, he commissioned a new abbreviated version. His own copy dated 1602 is now in Dublin (Leach, L.Y., Mughal and other Indian Paintings in the Chester Beatty Library, London, 1995, no. 2.1-41).
In the first miniature, of the two brothers, Punya had achieved a much higher level of mystical knowledge, and on the death of their father he persuades his brother of the futility of grieving when he has already had countless fathers in his endless transmigrations. The two brothers are seated beneath a tree beside the river Ganges, which on its route from the distant mountains bends round their solitary station.
In the second, the holy man Uddalaka was so wrapped up in his meditations that he failed to spot four apsarases arriving with a litter to transport him to the heaven of the gods. Being intent on his own moksa, i.e. release from the cycle of transmigration, what the Persian text calls satta samani (sattva samadhi?), he rejected the offer.
These are based on paintings from Prince Salim’s manuscript now in Dublin (Leach, op. cit., vol. I, p.180, 2.20 & p.179, pl.22, 2.25), although the hut is absent, while here the artist has expanded his composition to include a depiction of the distant mountains and town.
Private collection, Germany