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11. Illustration to the ‘Large’ Guler-Basohli Bhagavata Purana: Satadhanva, Akrura, and Kratvarma in Discussion
Attributed to the first generation after Nainsukh and Manaku. Guler-Basohli
circa 1760–1765
Opaque watercolor heightened with gold on paper
Image: 10 ¾ x 15 in. (27.4 x 38 cm.)
Folio: 11 ¾ x 16 ⅛ in. (29.7 x 40.8 cm.)
Illustration to the ‘Large’ Guler-Basohli Bhagavata Purana: Satadhanva, Akrura, and Kratvarma in Discussion

The present illustration comes from the tenth book of the Bhagavata Purana which describes episodes from the life of Krishna. This episode recounts the story of the Syamantaka, a precious gem which was presented to Satrajit by the sun god Surya and accounted for the god’s dazzling appearance. Krishna becomes embroiled in the gem’s repeated theft and recovery after being wrongfully accused of stealing it by Satrajit. When Krishna recovers the jewel and returns it to Satrajit to clear his name, Satrajit has a change of heart and offers Krishna both the Syamantaka jewel and his beautiful daughter, Satyabhama, who was considered a jewel among women. While Krishna refuses the gift of the jewel, he accepts Satyabhama as his new wife, angering Akrura and Kratvarma who had sought Satyabhama’s hand for their own. Akrura and Kratvarma appear here trying to convince Satadhanva to kill Satrajit for his indiscretion and steal the gem for himself.

The three men appear framed in a large double-paned window. The bearded Satadhanva, on the left, listens to the mustachioed Akrura and Kratvarma on the right as they plot to steal the precious gem. All three wear jamas with bold patterns that complement the gold geometric motif of the terrace walls outside. This image utilizes the unusually large format in a striking way, filling it with prominent yet simplified architectural elements rather than breaking up the space with small details—an example of how the younger generation of Seu family artists were able to throw off the constraints of the traditional miniaturist.

The present painting comes from a series referred to by Archer as the ‘Large’ Guler-Basohli Bhagavata Purana or the ‘Fifth’ Basohli Bhagavata Purana of 1760–1765. In her discussion of four paintings from the same set in the Chester Beatty Library, Linda York Leach explains:
The series, by a number of different hands, is one of the richest sources of information about the specific ways in which Pahari miniaturists gradually relaxed their styles of drawing and developed a cleaner, more open and more naturalistic idiom.
(L.Y. Leach, p.1048)
B.N. Goswamy and Eberhard Fischer note that the series is often ascribed to Manaku’s son, Fattu, who lived for a time with his uncle Nainsukh, and thus incorporated the styles of both masters into his own work (Goswamy, p. 689). Compare to a folio from the same series at the Philadelphia Museum of Art depicting Uddhava visiting Vrindavan at Krishna’s Bidding (acc. 1996-120-2). The Philadelphia folio exhibits a similar format, with Uddhava and Vrindavanb framed within a red, double-paned window, and surrounded by stark architectural forms. See also a folio from the ‘Large’ Guler-Basohli Bhagavata Purana depicting the return of the Syamantaka, published by Archer in Indian Paintings from the Punjab Hills, 1973, Basohli, 22(xii).

References:
Goswamy (ed.)., et al., Masters of Indian Painting, New Delhi, 2011.
L.Y. Leach, Mughal and Other Indian Paintings from the Chester Beatty Library, Vol.II, 1995.

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