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Rao Mihr Serves a Lavish Feast to the People of Govar
Page from a Dispersed Manuscript of the Chandayana (Tale of Chanda) of Da'ud

Artist/maker unknown, Indian

Made in Madhya Pradesh, India, Asia
Probably made in Mandu, Madhya Pradesh, India, Asia

c. 1540

Opaque watercolor and gold on paper

Image: 7 3/4 × 5 3/4 inches (19.7 × 14.6 cm) Sheet: 10 1/16 × 7 5/8 inches (25.6 × 19.4 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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This painting illustrates a scene from the Chandayana, a Persian-language version of an Indian folk romance. The manuscript for which it was made was probably created for the Muslim ruler of the Sultanate of Mandu in central northern India. It is a splendid fusion of Islamic and indigenous Indian pictorial traditions. By dividing the page into horizontal rows, the artist adapted the vertical format typical of Islamic illustrations to suit the indigenous Indian preference for horizontal compositions. Another distinctive feature is the blue-and-green floral carpet in the immediate foreground, which hangs flush with the picture plane. As a result, the figures appear to balance precariously on the textile’s edge.

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

    This painting illustrates a quiet scene from a manuscript of the Chandayana, a literary reformulation of an Indian folk romance that tells the tale of Chanda, a young woman bound in wedlock to a blind and impotent spouse. The great beauty that brought her this lamentable fate also releases her from it, for the unhappy maiden catches the eye of a wandering ascetic, who sings her praises wherever he wanders. Eventually these songs arouse the lust of a king, who attempts to seize this legendary beauty by force, but is repulsed by an alliance headed by the hero Laurak. Though mighty in battle, Laurak is laid low by the incapacitating beauty of Chanda, whom he glimpses during his victorious procession through her city. From this point on, the two are consumed with passion for each other. Such rapture rarely staves off interruption for long, and the lovers are forced to overcome obstacles ranging from their own irate spouses to thieves and poisonous snakes. To judge from the incomplete text, the lovers’ plight is resolved not with the drama of confrontation but with the ambivalence of accommodation, and Chanda becomes Laurak’s second wife.1

    Many illustrations in each copy of the text repeat certain basic imagery, such as figures conversing, Chanda feuding with Laurak’s wife Maina, or Laurak bemoaning his snake-stricken lover. This scene of Laurak distributing pan, a popular Indian digestive, to a group of six armed companions, has no parallel in this or any other copy of the text. The uniqueness of the illustration and the absence of foliation in the dispersed manuscript make it difficult to locate the episode within the text, but the fragmentary text on the reverse suggests that it is an event late in the story, when Laurak returns to his native city, an act that alarms his compatriots and agitates Chanda.

    The bulk of the manuscript to which this painting belongs—seventy-three pages in all—is preserved in the Prince of Wales Museum in Mumbai. Twenty-eight paintings are in public and private collections across the world. The text was composed by Mawlana Da’ud in 1379, and dedicated to the minister of the ruler of the Delhi sultanate, Firuz Shah Tughluq. Da’ud, from a town near modern Kanpur, wrote his version of this popular romance in a vernacular language known as Avadhi Hindi. The geographical range of this language, sometimes asserted to be limited to a region of northern India corresponding to the modern states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, has been used to argue that all five illustrated manuscripts of the Chandayana were produced in this region, a tenuous conclusion that does not account for the significant differences in their painting style. The text of this manuscript is written by at least two scribes in a vigorous if inelegant brand of Naskhi script, with a typical arrangement of seven couplets spread over twelve lines. The written page is embellished by red and black ink used for alternate pairs of lines.

    The paintings themselves have long been heralded as one of the most beautiful fusions of the Islamic and indigenous Indian pictorial traditions. The artists adapt the vertical format of the Islamic tradition to Indian aesthetic sensibilities by dividing the full-page compositional field into two or occasionally three registers. By reducing the height of each register to that of a standing figure, they simplify enormously the task of organizing figures into easily legible and spatially coherent groups. Figures are habitually presented in evenly spaced series, and overlapping forms are avoided assiduously, so much so that the minor overlap of elbows on the left side of this scene is among the most spatially complicated gestures in the manuscript. Landscapes retain a Persianate flavor, being organized as a single field marked by a high, curving horizon and dominated by a lone tree with a swaying trunk and a circular mass of foliage. The narrow-waisted and somewhat large-headed figures are depicted in strict profile, a feature common in most varieties of indigenous Indian painting. One concession to the Islamic tradition lies in the narrowing of the eye, which in more purely indigenous expressions is commonly large and leaf-shaped. As in many contemporary Chaurapanchasika-style series, the paintings’ draftsmanship is perfunctory at best.

    Yet it is the unusual pastels and exquisite, sometimes even exuberant patterns overlaid on cloth, architecture, and sky that impart the sense of refinement that sets this manuscript apart from nearly every other variety of sixteenth-century Indian painting. Hardly a surface is left unembellished. Delicate scrollwork traverses lintels, swags, and skirts; floral sprays and golden dashes animate otherwise plain settings; and ribbonlike clouds flutter across streaky skies. By these means the artists transform simply bifurcated compositions into complex interplays of color, shape, and visual texture. This work, for example, is sustained not by the figures’ arrangement or gestures, but by the juxtaposition of lavender, mustard yellow, and green zones; the rhythmic repetition of black swords against light clothing; and the contrast of a squadron of brilliant miniature golden clouds below with the more structured and subdued tiles above.

    The stylistic consistency of the illustrations suggests that the manuscript was produced in a workshop established enough to have fashioned a cohesive style. At the same time, the extensive number of known paintings allows us to identify the visual tendencies of a limited number of artists, probably no more than five in all. The anonymous artist of this painting, for example, is recognized by his figures’ heads, which have relatively large eyes, heavy jaws, and prominent sloping noses; these are quite distinct from the blockish heads with rounded features favored by several of his colleagues. All males sport a mustache, but this artist prefers a stiff bristle that sweeps straight back rather in a tapered curve, and usually combines it with a jaw grayed with stubble. Similarly, the golden hooks seen here in the lower register are well defined, and never descend to the level of slapdash marks or squiggles as they do in another artist’s work. A few details show a casual attitude toward physical description, as, for example, the series of black dots distributed almost freely across the front of the turban, a detail that in other hands is either rendered more convincingly as the latticework pattern created by turban cloth over a dark cap or eschewed altogether. And while another artist uses assertive, Y-shaped tilework to fill passages of architectural space, this painter organizes his tilework in more subtle, interlocking patterns.2

    Several elements in this mid-sixteenth-century manuscript point to a connection with Mandu. Although the manuscripts produced there at the end of the fifteenth century are derived more obviously from Persian models, certain female figural types and landscape elements seen in the Ni‘matnama continue in this Chandayana manuscript, which was probably created some forty years later, when only vestiges of the once-dominant Persian tradition remained.3 Moreover, the striped domes and white crenellations silhouetted in black seen in this manuscript and its major stylistic successor, a Chandayana of c. 1560 in the John Rylands University Library in Manchester, England, bear an uncanny resemblance to architectural forms of later Central Indian painting of the mid-seventeenth century.4 The rounded profiles and horizontally banded skirts in this Chandayana also recur consistently in Malwa painting. In this light, the discovery of the manuscript at nearby Bhopal in the 1950s may further support a provenance in Central India. John Seyller, from Intimate Worlds: Indian Painting from the Alvin O. Bellak Collection (2001), pp. 50-51.

    1. Karl Khandalavala, Moti Chandra, Pramod Chandra, and Parmeshwari Lal Gupta. "A New Document of Indian Painting." Lalit Kala, no. 10 (October 1961), pp. 45-54.
    2. Other paintings by this same artist are Prince of Wales Museum (PWM), 57.1/11 (Khandalavala and Chandra 1969, fig. 166); PWM, 57.1/25 (ibid., fig. 157); PWM, 57.1/61 (Khandalavala and Chandra 1959–62, fig. 21); PWM, 57.1/36; PWM, 57.1/37 (Khandalavala and Chandra 1969, fig. 171); PWM, 57.1/42 (Losty 1982, p. 69, no. 45, color plate XVI); PWM, 57.1/64; Brooklyn Museum of Art, 78.198 (Poster et al. 1994, pp. 52–53, no. 17); The Cleveland Museum of Art, 81.55 (Leach 1986, pp. 18–19, no. 7); The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1990.82; Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, 81 D33.2 and 81 D33.3 (Khandalavala 1985); and the Khalili Collection, MSS. 961.1 (Leach 1998, no. 1).
    3. Jeremiah P. Losty. The Art of the Book in India Exh. cat. London: The British Library, 1982.
    4. Goswamy with Bhatia 1999, no. 69, reproduces a page of a ragamala series, in the Goenka Collection, which is closely related to the style of this Chandayana. For a fragment of another painting from the same series, see Mark Zebrowski. Deccani Painting. London: Sotheby Publications; Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press 1983, plate III.