Maharana Jagat Singh II of Mewar Holds a Feast for Yogis

Attributed to Syaji, India (Western India, Rajasthan)

Geography:
Made in Udaipur, Rajasthan, Mewar Region, India, Asia

Date:
c. 1743

Medium:
Opaque watercolor, ink, gold, and silver-colored paint on paper

Dimensions:
20 5/8 x 34 inches (52.4 x 86.4 cm)

Curatorial Department:
Indian and Himalayan Art

Object Location:

Currently not on view

Accession Number:
2004-149-57

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

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Label:
This painting depicts a great feast that was hosted by Maharana Jagat Singh II, ruler of Mewar, who is shown at the far right with a halo. This feast was for a group of 130 yogis, venerated devotees of Shiva who lived in a forest monastery and regularly undertook rigorous physical austerities for their spiritual conditioning. The painter clearly took great delight in depicting the assorted bodies and poses of the naked, ash-covered yogis, and he painted many of them from the rear to exhibit their elaborate matted hair.

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

    It is, at first, a most incongruous sight, this throng of naked yogis who daily undertake rigorous physical austerities for their spiritual conditioning, now partaking of a banquet held in a sumptuous palatial setting. In India, however, kings have always recognized that their own authority is only enhanced by association with those credited with spiritual enlightenment, and thus they have made a habit of seeking the counsel of various religious groups and individuals. In this large painting, Maharana Jagat Singh II (reigned 1734–51) is depicted upholding the custom established by his predecessors of paying respects to the leaders of a group of ascetics devoted to Shiva.1 Rather than journeying to their spartan retreats or receiving only the most eminent members of the sect at court, the maharana hosts a feast for an entire chapter of ascetics in the spacious refectory of his own palace.

    The esteem in which Jagat Singh II holds his guests is conveyed in the broad composition, which is so evenly packed and unhierarchical in appearance that for once the sovereign seems to have eschewed most of the privileges of the throne. He is still nimbate, of course, but occupies little more space than other members of the royal entourage, and does not even command their attention. Even the bay that frames him at the right end of the painting is only marginally wider than the nine others that stretch endlessly across the composition. In fact, what draws us to him visually is the concentration of color and gold on the royal figures and the termination of the wavering rows of yogi hair and colorful platters.

    Three senior yogis—identified in a long inscription on the reverse as Necalnathji, Kisangirji, and Santhok Puriji—sit to the maharana’s right and converse among themselves, while Jagat Singh II directs his gesture of respect toward the two young disciples opposite him.2 Among the five princes and nobles beside and opposite Jagat Singh II are his brother, Nathji, and his son, Prince Pratap Singh. Pratap Singh’s presence in such a favored position suggests that this is an event that occurred in or shortly before 1743, when he was imprisoned for rebellion.3 A few trusted fly-whisk-bearers, their mustaches and sideburns grown white over years of service, stand immediately below.4 Two musicians serenade the ensemble, while only three servants attend to the task of plying the visitors with food. These two ancillary groups are balanced by Rawat Sangram Singh and his attendants, who arrive late but unobtrusively. The four trees flanking the gateway to the compound and the steps to the hall are an attempt to anchor the painting at its center, but these small patches of dark color are simply overwhelmed by the overall lightness of the gleaming white edifice and the vast array of ashen-bodied yogis.

    The artist takes obvious delight in the yogis’ unusual physical appearance. All are naked, a state mitigated in all but a few instances by strategically crossed legs and extended arms. Some figures are depicted in frontal view, a technically difficult view rare in most periods of Indian painting; others are shown directly from the rear. The artist celebrates their variety, whether in body type, which ranges from bony to plump and from smooth to hairy, or in facial hair, which runs from wispy to dense. And for figures who disdain the distractions of the world, they sport an incredible array of hairstyles. All are matted and colored with dung, to be sure, but some are piled high in a tight snail-shell coil, others fashioned into flattened coils set to one side, and still others layered in a shag cut. Perhaps the most fetching coiffure of all is the splayed set of bristles found on a figure who throws his head back to drink in the lowermost row to the right of the staircase.

    These individualized figures are marvels that reward prolonged examination, and collectively they leaven what otherwise might have been a tedious composition. But they also had pragmatic implications as well, for their sheer number transformed the painting from a modestly priced work to one that commanded the high value of 130 rupees. The inclusion of portraits of Jagat Singh II and the rest of his royal party was certainly a major factor in this assessment as well, but given the relatively small size of these figures, it is very likely that the elevated value is a nod to the amount of labor involved in painting 135 different yogis.

    As in many Mewari paintings of this period, the name of the artist, Syaji, is included in the lengthy inscription on the reverse. Syaji is known from at least five other paintings, the latest of which is dated 1760.5 In most cases, however, he collaborated with one or two other artists. This efficient workshop habit, apparently common in the mid-eighteenth century, has impeded thus far the study of the personal styles of artists active at the Mewari court. John Seyller, from Intimate Worlds: Indian Painting from the Alvin O. Bellak Collection (2001), pp. 150-151.

    1. For a reference to images of Mewari rulers and ascetics, see Andrew Topsfield in Spink & Son Ltd., London. Indian Miniature Painting. November 25–December 18, 1987, no. 42.
    2. The inscription, as translated by Andrew Topsfield, reads:

    Shri. Shri Maharajadhira Maharanaji Shri Jagat Singhji [is with] the Jogesvari Math [?] in the Rasora [refectory], [with] Necalnathji, Kisangirji, and Santhok Puriji; the Maharana [Shri Hazur] is seated next to Maharaja Nathji and Maharaja Bakhat Singhji; seated with [or opposite] them are Maharaja Takhat Singhji and Shri Kunvar Pratap Singhji; seated in the middle [of this group] is Thakur Sirdar Singhji. Standing below are the camardar Tulsidasa, the camardar Manji, the paryar Lalji, the derasari [?] Harihara, the tarvari [or talwari (?)/sword-bearer] Ghansyam, the dhabhai [foster brother] Devaji. Rawat Sangram Singh arrives in the Presence [with] the bhai Goradhan, the chauridhar [fly-whisk-bearer] Pitho. By the artist Syaji.

    3. Topsfield in Spink 1987, no. 42. 4. One of these figures, Tulsidasa, also appears in a painting made about twenty-five years earlier (cat. 58).
    5. In addition to those paintings listed by Topsfield in Spink & Son Ltd., London. Indian Miniature Painting. November 25–December 18, 1987, no. 42, another is published in Andrew Topsfield. The City Palace Museum, Udaipur: Paintings of Mewar Court Life. Ahmedabad: Mapin Publishing, 1990, p. 53, no. 16.