Polygamy was the most commonly pursued practice amongst medieval
princely life – Rajput, Muslim, or any. Instead of one by choice or
for love, most marriages were the result of either a momentary
infatuation or diplomatic maneuvering, or for ego seeking satisfaction
either in some unwilling father’s insult by forcibly marrying his
daughter, or in vanity of marrying someone above one’s own status.
Obviously, a prince’s wives were his mere wives, not his loved ones.
As such, to win his love or even the favour of his company for a
night, or a period that he chose, there prevailed among his many wives
an unfair competition, sometimes intriguing. At least, every evening
each of them not only readied her and her bed-chamber as would please
him, if he happened to come, but also used the services of maids and
sometimes even a concubine for bringing him to her chamber and paid
heavy costs. The painting might be seen as representing a similar
event; however, the gesture of the prince as is apologetic and the
demeanour of the lady, as one hurt by one of her lovers’ acts, are not
in tune with such analogy.
If anything, the painting might be seen as portraying an oft
illustrated love situation in classical poetry such as in the early
twelfth century Sanskrit poet Jaideva’s love-lyric Gita-Govinda. In
the Gita-Govinda, in a well adorn bower Radha awaits Krishna the whole
night and when Krishna, engaged in love with other Gopis, does not
come, in annoyance she retires into the forest. When from one of
Radha’s Sakhis Krishna knows of Radha’s annoyance, he goes to her and
appeases her. Though in characteristic medieval idiom rendered using
feudal imagery, this painting seems to portray a parallel situation.
The painting’s lady seems to have been long awaiting her lover with
her bed and bed-chamber beautifully adorned with a lot of flowers.
However, he comes late and tries to appease her by explaining its
reason. Still annoyed the lady does not move from her place.
Different from Jaideva’s classicism which sought to graft human
sentiments into divine images, with its feudal imagery and a palatial
setting replacing the forest or the natural setting, this painting
breathes strange medievalism, its flavour and ambience. The lady’s
bed-chamber is a simple grayish black formless back-drop which a large
bed covers almost completely except a little space on its left which a
frill of floral garlands on the top and a multi-wicked lamp-stand on
the bottom occupy. Though structured with gold, the bed, along with
the sheet overlaid it, cushions and bolsters, is quite simple. Floral
laces cover it canopy-like but their pattern is uniform and simple.
Except his turban, in upper coat, jama, pajama, sash, and waistband of
the prince, and lehenga, odhani and short blouse of the lady, the
ensembles of them both are in exact Mughal styles.
This description by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr. Daljeet. Prof. Jain
specializes on the aesthetics of literature and is the author of
numerous books on Indian art and culture. Dr. Daljeet is the
curator of the Miniature Painting Gallery, National Museum, New
Delhi. They have both collaborated together on a number of
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