indian art: 3 posts

Night, Moon and Jasmine

I enjoyed your comments on the recent post when I’ve asked you to match scents to a baroque Spanish still life. In my collection, I have a beautiful Mughal period miniature depicting a woman draped in jasmine. I couldn’t resist tossing it among–which fragrance would you pick to represent the mood of this painting.

As you can see, the lady has a bottle of perfume and a flask of rosewater in front of her.

Image by Bois de Jasmin

Divine Pleasures

From 1750 to 1850 India experienced one of its most turbulent and violent periods. Fissures in the Mughal Empire that had controlled most of the subcontinent since the early sixteenth century allowed competing states to take control. Written down as history, it sounds like yet another shuffling of rulers and borders, but for the contemporaries it meant slaughter and starvation. When you keep in mind the scope of the calamities, the ethereal world of the art produced at the time comes as a surprise.

“Here lovers cling to each other in abandon, surrounded by a mosaic of cushions and bolsters; elephants run amok and dart under the arches scraping their sides; armies of monkeys and bears turn into a vast cloud as they advance upon Lanka; the universe comes into being before one’s eyes as matter begins to form from void; a tiger shot in a forest tumbles nineteen times over before it falls to the ground; a blind poet envisions baby Krishna waking up; princes stand on marble embankments feeding crocodiles;… boats ply on gentle waters while lovers escape to fragrant arbours. There is so much to see here, and savour, as painters play around with time and keep manipulating space at will.”

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Snake Charmer and Sandalwood

She is wearing a peacock feather mini skirt and gazing passionately at a cobra. Serpents embrace her slender legs adorned with heavy anklets and stained with henna. Who is this mysterious snake charmer in the 18th century Indian miniature?

ragini

According to Indian legend, snakes are entranced so much by the perfume of sandalwood that they wrap themselves around the trees, but there is something even more powerful that can entice them–raga. Meaning “color” as well as “beauty” and “melody,” raga is a melodic mode in Indian classical music. The painting held at the Victoria & Albert Museum is called Asavari Ragini, hinting that what we are looking at is a representation of a melody.  Asavari is usually performed in the morning, and it’s classical image is a woman charming snakes out of their sandal scented groves.

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