Swami Devakinandan with Raja Sujan Singh of Bikaner and Prince Zoravar Singh

Artist/maker unknown, Indian

Made in Bikaner, Rajasthan, India, Asia

c. 1712

Opaque watercolor and gold on paper

Sheet: 8 7/16 × 5 7/8 inches (21.4 × 14.9 cm) Mount: 13 7/16 × 9 inches (34.1 × 22.9 cm)

Curatorial Department:
South Asian Art

Object Location:

Currently not on view

Accession Number:

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

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Kings often made pilgrimages to see swamis (holy men) to gain spiritual knowledge and receive the great honor of associating with these venerable individuals. In this exquisite painting, however, the palatial terrace covered in a sumptuously embroidered floorspread indicates that Swami Devakinandan has come to visit the raja (king) of Bikaner and his young son at the royal court. As a mark of his revered status, the swami is shown seated on a sumptuous pile carpet whose design recalls the luxurious and highly prized lattice-and-flower pashmina (cashmere wool) rugs made for the Mughal court during the mid-seventeenth century.

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

    Raja Sujan Singh (reigned 1700–1735) and his son Zoravar Singh (reigned 1736–46) sit neatly before the Brahmin Swami Devakinandan Maharaj on a terrace overlooking a garden.1 Father and son wear much finery, including pearl, ruby, and sapphire jewelry, aigrettes in their turbans, and long, formal, striped patkas (sashes) that curl over their knees. Zoravar Singh’s outfit is identical to Sujan Singh’s but a smaller size; they have the same black shield, small sword, and even earring. The two sit with their hands folded in an attitude of great respect as they listen to the swami expound upon the contents of the book in his left hand. The swami holds his other hand in the traditional mudra (gesture) for teaching. The inscription on his book (“Shri Rama Shri Rama Shri Rama Shri Rama”) is used as a mantra to call upon the deity of that name, but also serves as an abbreviated indication of a religious text in a painting.

    Swami Devakinandan wears his sacred thread over his left shoulder, beneath his garland of jewels and chain with a large gold pendant, and a smaller pendant on a third necklace at his throat above his hairy chest. Earrings, finger rings, several sets of bracelets on each wrist, and armbands complete his jewelry outfit, but his relatively austere clothing consists of a simple saffron-colored shawl around his shoulders and a saffron dhoti with a thin red border. His long hair is twisted into a knot at the back of his head. Judging from Devakinandan’s adornments and physique, neither austerity nor self-deprivation played a significant part in his personal path to God.

    The three sit on a large white floorspread with a ground of repeated green and red floral arabesques and an arabesque border within green guard stripes. The colors and the technique of outlining and filling in the design give the floorspread the appearance of an embroidery. Beneath Devakinandan is a brown pile carpet with white geometric designs in the ground and knotted fringe along the short ends. The fringe is the indication that this is a pile carpet.

    At the edge of the terrace stands a white pavilion with tapering ribbed columns supporting three cusped arches, sloping eaves, and a superstructure of three domes of types found throughout northern India. The central dome, however, is here wonderfully askew, setting up a dance with the graceful trees on either side. An image made in 1695 by Nur Muhammad for a ragamala set in a somewhat stiff, formal, Mughalized style likewise features a central dome askew to the left, strikingly similar to the one here.2 The formal seriousness of the visit scene is also enlivened by the decoration on the white pavilion, echoing the patterned textiles spread on the terrace.

    Receiving advice and teaching from holy men is a tradition that stretches back for millennia in South Asia. Some of the earliest surviving Indian paintings show such visits,3 and the theme continued through the ensuing centuries. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries a number of paintings recorded the visits of the men and the women of the Mughal aristocracy to spiritual teachers.4 The preceptor imparted wisdom to the seeker, and the seeker acquired not only wisdom but also the spiritual aura of a true prince. Presumably here, since the meeting takes place in a palace setting, Swami Devakinandan has come to his devotees.

    The date in an inscription on the reverse of the picture, the equivalent of July-August 1748, is an inventory notation rather than the date of the painting.5 However, the approximate date can be deduced from internal evidence and from similar dated paintings. The evidence in the painting is the apparent ages of Sujan Singh and his son Zoravar Singh. Zoravar Singh was born in 1703, when Sujan Singh was thirteen years old. Since here Sujan Singh appears to be in his early twenties and Zoravar Singh appears to be about nine years old, a date of approximately 1712 is proposed for this painting. The dated, stylistically related paintings include one from 1710, by Murad;6 another, dated 1712, of three women on a terrace;7 and three paintings from a ragamala series of 1714.8 This group of paintings shares a distinctive type of textile and architectural decoration that is not seen elsewhere, as well as a similar organization of space. Stylistic differences, however, preclude suggesting that the group is by one artist. Ellen Smart, from Intimate Worlds: Indian Painting from the Alvin O. Bellak Collection (2001), pp. 134-135.

    1. Inscribed on the front on the upper margin: “Shri Devakinandanji Maharaj, son of Goswami Shri Chhota Raghunathji, before Bikaner Raja Sujan Singh Kunwar Zoravar Singhji”; on the book in the swami’s hand: “Shri Rama Shri Rama [repeats].” On the reverse is an inventory notation: “This is a likeness of Maharaj Shri Sujan Singhji Samvat 1805, the fifteenth day of the light half of the month Shravana [a.d. July-August 1748].”
    2. Sven Gahlin, The Courts of India: Indian Miniatures from the Collection of the Fondation Custodia, Paris (Zwolle: Fondation Custodia/Waanders Publishers, 1991), pp. 57–59, no. 56.
    3. For a thirteenth-century example of a painting of a Shvetambara monk instructing a princely figure, now in the San Diego Museum of Art, and a painting dated 1278 of monks preaching to women, now in The Cleveland Museum of Art, see Pratapaditya Pal et al. The Peaceful Liberators: Jain Art from India. Exh. cat. Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1994, p. 202, no. 81; and p. 200, no. 80, respectively.
    4. For instance, Jahangir, who often visited the mystic Gosain Jadrup, wrote about him, “Since I was anxious to talk to him, I went to see him and spent a long time alone with him without interruption. He is truly a great resource, and one can enjoy and derive much benefit from sitting with him” (The Jahangirnama: Memoirs of Jahangir, Emperor of India. Translated, edited, and annotated by Wheeler M. Thackston. Washington, D.C.: Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, in association with Oxford University Press, 1999, p. 313, repro. p. 312). There are women in the entourage visiting Shaykh Phul in a painting from c. 1610 in the Bharat Kala Bhavan, Varanasi (Stuart Cary Welch. India: Art and Culture, 1300–1900. Exh. cat. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1985, pp. 212–13, no. 140).
    5. Amy G. Poster et al. Realms of Heroism: Indian Paintings at the Brooklyn Museum. Exh. cat. Brooklyn: The Brooklyn Museum in association with Hudson Hills Press, 1994, p. 151.
    6. Goenka Collection. I thank Catherine Glynn for providing this information.
    7. Hermann Goetz. The Art and Architecture of Bikaner State. Oxford: Bruno Cassirer for the Government of Bikaner State and the Royal India and Pakistan Society, 1950, p. 172, no. 81.
    8. Elvehjem Art Center, University of Wisconsin, Madison, Indian Miniature Painting: The Collection of Earnest C. Watson and Jane Werner Watson (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1971), p. 108, nos. 176–77; and Brooklyn Museum of Art, 81.192.5 (Amy G. Poster et al. Realms of Heroism: Indian Paintings at the Brooklyn Museum. Exh. cat. Brooklyn: The Brooklyn Museum in association with Hudson Hills Press, 1994, pp. 151–52, no. 114). The paintings are the same sizes and identical in style; I accept the date on the Brooklyn page in view of its similarity to the dated paintings in this group. A sixth painting from Bikaner, of a prince shooting birds, is often published as being dated 1710 (Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, 1995.123; see “A Decade of Collecting: Recent Acquisitions by the Harvard University Art Museums,” Harvard University Art Museums Bulletin, vol. 7, no. 2 [Spring 2000], pp. 37–38, repro.; and Naveen Patnaik, A Second Paradise: Indian Courtly Life, 1590–1947 [New York: Doubleday, 1985], p. 92, no. 28). However, on the reverse the Harvard painting is clearly dated Samvat 1758, or 1701, and is published with that date by Milo Cleveland Beach (The New Cambridge History of India. Vol. 1, pt. 3, Mughal and Rajput Painting. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992, p. 191, no. 143).