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10. Illustration to the ‘Large’ Guler-Basohli Bhagavata Purana: The Liberation of Nalakuvara and Manigriva
Attributed to Manaku
circa 1760–1765
Opaque watercolor heightened with gold on paper
Image: 9 ⅛ x 13 ¼ in. (23.3 x 33.5 cm.)
Folio: 11 ¼ x 16 in. (28.9 x 41 cm.)
Illustration to the ‘Large’ Guler-Basohli Bhagavata Purana: The Liberation of Nalakuvara and Manigriva

The collection of Brendan Garry (d. 16 September 2011).
The collection of Siva Swaminathan (d. 26 March 2014).

This painting depicts a scene from the tenth book of the Bhagavata Purana, which captures young Krishna’s penchant for mischief. After being caught repeatedly trying to steal butter by his foster mother, Yasodha, she tied him to a wooden mortar to keep him from trouble. Many years prior to this, two yakshas, Nalakuvara and Manigriva (sons of Kubera), were cursed for their pride and bound in the form of two arjuna trees. Through his omniscience, Krishna knew the arjuna trees contained the souls of these yakshas—carrying the mortar on his back and wedging it between the trees, the young hero used his great strength to uproot them, thus freeing the two brothers from their bondage. The yakshas are shown crowned in the center of the painting, offering praise to Krishna to express their gratitude.

The present illustration comes from a series dated to 1760–1765, commonly known as the ‘Large’ Guler-Basohli Bhagavata Purana, or the ‘Fifth’ Guler-Basohli Bhagavata Purana. This series is known for its use of broad landscapes with few figures, exemplary of a transitional Basohli style. Each painting in the series has an identifying inscription on the reverse in gurmukhi and nagari scripts—the present painting is labeled ‘Leaf 35’ in gurmukhi, and inscribed ‘Bhagavata Purana, 10th Chapter, 10th book’ in Sanskrit. The leaves have since been dispersed throughout the world, some of which can now be found in the Victoria & Albert Museum, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Archer Collection (see W.G. Archer, Indian Paintings from the Punjab Hills, London, 1973; Visions of Courtly India, London and New York, 1976, no. 8, p. 15; and W.G. Archer and Edwin Binney 3rd, Rajput Miniatures from the Collection of Edwin Binney 3rd, Portland 1968, nos. 55a and 55b, pp. 74–75 for other paintings).

This painting was likely executed by the master Manaku, older brother of Nainsukh, even if he was not responsible for completing the entire series. Manaku has been named as the illustrating artist for a Gita Govinda series completed in the 1730s, as well as the ‘Small’ Guler Bhagavata Purana completed between 1740 and 1750. Similarities between works in both of these earlier series to the 1760s Bhagavata Purana indicate that Manaku had a part in completing multiple pieces from the later series.

Compare the yakshas in the present work to The Sage Kardama Renounces the World, from the ‘Small’ Guler Bhagavata Purana in the collection of the Lahore Museum (see B. N. Goswamy, Manaku of Guler, New Delhi, 2017, p.405, no. B35). The same careful rendering of facial hair and ornate jewelry support the claim that Manaku was the author of both. In addition, realistic detail is ascribed to the trees across Manaku’s known oeuvre, replicated in the arjuna trees shown here.

While some scholars argue that this later Bhagavata Purana was illustrated by Fattu, son of Manaku, it is clear that the series was drawn by a number of different hands. Since these series were typically completed in chronological order, following the progression of the text, the present example would have been executed earlier than many others within the series, bolstering the plausibility that this painting was indeed drawn by the hand of Manaku.

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