In her late forties, the oval faced lady with visible make-up of the face – lampblack applied to her eyes, shaded eye-lids and the like, and stylistically dressed hair with a protuberance on the top, and every section of her coiffure adorned with elaborate head-ornaments: a forehead pendant, laces defining hair-parting, hair-contours and coiffure’s top knot, and side-pins with pearl-hangings, has been portrayed as seated on the ground with ‘tanapura’ in her front. She is seated with her left leg turned backwards, while her right, upwards, with knee raised for supporting the ‘tanapura’ upon it. With its head laid on the ground, and arm, held upwards, she is holding the instrument with her left hand, while with her right, she is moving its strings.
The damsel has been painted as wearing a red expensive kim-khava sari woven with rich silk and gold threads and with a heavy gold border, pallu – end-part, and buti all over the field, and a green silk blouse with elaborate gold work used for defining the sleeve-ends and check-design. As wide and lavish is the range of ornaments that she is putting on her person. Her jewellery made of gold and inlaid with precious stones includes as many as seven necklaces ranging from a large and heavy gold-coin locket to a gold ‘satalara’ – seven-stringed necklace, and another, comprising gold amulets. Apart, she is wearing heavy gold rings on her arms, wrists and fingers, and quite massive and exotic ear-ornaments.
Her appearance, with all her splendour, rich costume and lavish jewellery, deludes the viewing eye to take her as a royal personage, especially when music was considered all through the ancient and medieval period as a desirable, if not essential, requirement of an accomplished royal woman. Annals related to many of them hail them as great musicians adept especially in stringed instruments like ‘vina’. Thus, in view of her splendour the feudal links of the portrayed lady seem to be certain; though with greater certainty her status appears to be one of a courtesan, not one by royal birth. The artist has shown tremendous skill in discovering her class-identity as a courtesan.
The portrayed lady is playing on a ‘tanapura’, an instrument of the head-lady of a brothel, not on ‘vina’, the instrument of gods-goddesses, celestial beings and kings and queens. As the tradition has it, in a brothel its head lady usually held a ‘tanapura’ in her hands when a younger member of the house performed a dance for guests. As reveals her posture, the lady on ‘tanapura’ seems to be performing for a gathering, not for her own delight, as was invariably the objective of a royal lady’s performance. A princess or a queen would not perform for anyone other than herself. The kind of costume and the volume of jewellery of the lady on ‘tanapura’, as also the kind of make-up, suggest that for her the moment is of the most formal kind. A royal lady, a princess or a queen, would take a lyre in her hands only in her most intimate moments.
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 books.