King Riding a Horse Composed Maidens

King Riding a Horse Composed Maidens

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Item Code: HM86
Water Color Painting on Paper
Artist:Kailash Raj
7 inch x 9.5 inch
A delightfully curious feast to eye, unusual anatomy the creation of mere fancy, the painting combines with a grotesque horse the figure of a normal human being riding it. An early experimentation in art, initially such grotesque forms composed of female figures confined mostly to an elephant form. Known in Sanskrit as ‘kunjara’ such elephant form was identified as ‘nari-kunjara’, an elephant composed of women figures. Subsequently, grotesque forms of other animals : horse, camel, lion, peacock …, composed similarly of women figures and identically named by the names of such animals, and sometimes, all as ‘nari-kunjara’, also emerged on canvas. In most of the paintings of such forms their both components, the animal and its rider, had a grotesque looking form. The cult of such grotesque animal forms has been in equal prevalence also in Chinese, Egyptian, Christian and Central Asian mythologies since early times.

This painting, rendered in characteristic Rajasthani style as prevailed at Jaipur around the late eighteenth century, represents Nari-kunjara with the form of the horse sometimes called nari-ashva – the horse composed of a number of female forms, but unlike most of the grotesque paintings where human figures are also grotesque-looking, the rider in this painting is a normal human being, a king, though with his body painted in blue imitating Lord Krishna’s body-colour and attired and crowned identically to Krishna wearing Krishna-like peacock feather crown, a large garland of colourful fresh flowers like Lord Vishnu’s Vaijayanti, a halo around his face and the love-god Kamadeva like carrying the sword composed of flowers, that is, he has Krishna-like fascinating being, Vishnu-like prowess, and Kamadeva-like power to move passion. The lavishly bejeweled figure of the king is putting on a lehenga-like lower wear consisting of maroon silk length richly brocaded with gold zari border and buti all over the body and an identically conceived sash on his shoulders.

The figures of nine beautiful young maidens, besides the king’s figure below the waist that has been so painted as to look like the saddle-cloth, have been manipulated to create the form of the horse. Contrary to usual practice of using various kinds of animals, birds, vipers, fish, even forms of elephant or lions, and mythical beings, for composing various body parts having various dimensions and styles the painting has used just a single form, a young damsel, for arriving at widely different organs of the horse, something really challenging requiring rare skill for the repeats of a single form are sometimes monotonous and lack variety. The way the painting uses the legs of two damsels, as they are, to become the legs of the horse. The yak-tail chowri of the chowri-bearing maiden most befittingly substitutes the horse’s tail whereas her roundish buttocks and bowed back constitute the haunches or the hind part of the animal. The head of the woman used to represent the head of the horse, the posture of her arms, and her backwards waving hair wondrously comprise the horse’s head. Her figure also defines the inner neckline.

Except a few gaps of almost negligible lengths, the figures of the damsels by themselves define the peripheral external line. The seated lady with mradanga – long double drum, in the centre of the belly, defines the belly’s curve by its arching contours. The three figures, besides the one forming the animal’s head, and the other, its forelegs, constitute the horse’s forepart while the other three, besides the one forming its back legs, constitute its hind part. The damsel seated in the centre and the lower half of the riding figure comprise its middle part. All female figures have sharp features with exceptional large eyes. Besides forming the animal’s one part or the other at least five of them are performing on musical instruments, one is engaged in dance and one is waving a chowri. Except a band of grayish blue on the upper part defining the sky the rest of the background consists of pistachio green.

This description by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr Daljeet. Prof. Jain specializes on the aesthetics of ancient Indian literature. Dr Daljeet is the chief curator of the Visual Arts Gallery at the National Museum of India, New Delhi. They have both collaborated on numerous books on Indian art and culture.

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