Swami Hanuhaak

Artist/maker unknown, India. Attributed to Nihal Chand, Indian, 1710 - 1782.

Geography:
Made in Kishangarh, Rajasthan, India, Asia

Date:
c. 1755

Medium:
Transparent and opaque watercolor, ink, and gold on paper

Dimensions:
10 9/16 x 7 3/8 inches (26.8 x 18.7 cm)

Curatorial Department:
South Asian Art

Object Location:

* Gallery 227, Asian Art, second floor (Wood Gallery)

Accession Number:
2004-149-43

Credit Line:
125th Anniversary Acquisition. Alvin O. Bellak Collection, 2004

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Label:

With his fantastic peacock-feather crown, wooden shoes, and bright orange wrap, this holy man is an instantly charming figure. The bell at his ear suggests that he may be an itinerant storyteller or singer. Such storytellers still ply their trade in India, going from village to village, belting out their tales to the rhythm of bells or drums. Such an occupation requires a loud voice, considerable stamina, and a fearless sense of style.

The inscription identifies him as Swami Hanuhaak, but his protruding belly, flamboyant clothing, and oversized sword affirm that he is more a figure of entertainment than religious gravity. Clues to eighteenth-century Kishangarh humor are found in the often cryptic inscriptions, as is the case with this painting where even his name translates as a pun, meaning (more or less) “jaw like a collard green leaf” and “armed with a great shout.”

Additional information:
  • PublicationIntimate Worlds: Indian Paintings from the Alvin O. Bellak Collection

    Nihalchand, otherwise famous for his delicate, precise paintings of the Krishna legends and of other lovers,1 apparently joined Bhavanidas (see Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2004-149-42) in the rollicking good fun of making satirical paintings at the Kishangarh court. Navina Najat Haidar has recently documented a group of sometimes wickedly witty pictures that ridicule girth, pomposity, and occupations ranging from those at the court to those at the bazaar.2 Clues to eighteenth-century Kishangarh humor are found in the often cryptic inscriptions, as is the case with this painting. The inscriptions here say that the subject is Swami Hanuhaak and that the painting was made by Nihalchand.

    The swami stands on his wooden sandals, wearing a short, orange wrap around his hips, a white cummerbund into which a long sword is tucked, two necklaces, and an amazing peacock-feather crown.3 His body is smeared gray with ashes, except for his forehead and cheeks, which are painted red. His huge belly protrudes so far beyond his body that most of his right arm is hidden, but his navel is just visible above his sash. He holds a set of bells in his right hand, which, with the bell hanging at his ear from the rim of the crown, suggests that the swami was a mendicant storyteller or singer. Such storytellers still ply their trade in India, going from village to village, belting out their tales, and accompanying themselves with shakers, bells, or drums. Such an occupation requires a loud voice, considerable stamina, and a fearless sense of style.

    The swami’s appellation, Hanuhaak, can mean several things. Hanu is “jaw,” “jawbone,” or “chin,” but it also means “armed.” Haak means “great shout,” “call,” or “din,” but it also means “collard greens.” In translation in the twenty-first century the hilarity is perhaps somewhat diminished, but there he stands, an armed swami with a jaw like a collard leaf, shouting out his stories. Another example of “vegetable satire” can be found in the inscriptions in a painting from either the Deccan or Kishangarh, in which at least two players have vegetable names.4

    In the satirical paintings described and published by Haidar, the corpulent figures are most often those being lampooned.5 Here, Swami Hanuhaak’s curved sword complements and echoes the curves of his monstrous belly and arm. As the viewer’s eye takes in the figure from feet to head, the ever-widening legs below and lack of neck above reinforce the solid mass of his upper body. The huge headdress with its straight sides draws the eye to his belly and emphasizes its roundness. Yet even with the mockery made of Swami Hanuhaak, he still looks a nice enough, dignified man. Ellen Smart, from Intimate Worlds: Indian Painting from the Alvin O. Bellak Collection (2001), pp. 122-123.

    1. See, for example, M. S. Randhawa and Doris Schreier Randhawa. Kishangarh Painting. Mumbai: Vakils, Feffer, & Simons, 1980, p. 18, plate III; p. 26, plate VII; and Steven Kossak.Indian Court Painting: Sixteenth-Nineteenth Century. Exh. cat. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1997, p. 95, no. 56.
    2. Navina Najat Haidar. “Satire and Humour in Kishangarh Painting.” In Andrew Topsfield, ed. Court Painting in Rajasthan. Mumbai: Marg Publications, 2000, pp. 78–91.
    3. Similar peacock headgear is worn today by the tribal Bhils in Gujarat when they come into town during Holi celebrations.
    4. I thank Navina Haidar for telling me about this painting, Twenty Strange People and a Bewildered Dog (Stuart Cary Welch. “A Matter of Empathy: Comical Indian Pictures.” Asian Art and Culture, vol. 7, no. 3 [Fall 1994], pp. 77–103, p. 94, fig. 13). Tindu and Bhindu, or “Squash” and “Okra,” are clearly written above the figures at the upper left.
    5. Navina Najat Haidar. “Satire and Humour in Kishangarh Painting.” In Andrew Topsfield, ed. Court Painting in Rajasthan. Mumbai: Marg Publications, 2000, pp. 78–91, plates 2, 3, 5, 7–10.


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