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A painting from a dispersed Nayika series: Abhisarika Nayika
A painting from a dispersed Nayika series: Abhisarika Nayika


A painting from a dispersed Nayika series: Abhisarika Nayika
India, Guler, circa 1810-1820
Depicting the heroine at right braving the dark, turning back to a female ghoul at left who holds a child and gestures a warning to the nayika, her jewelry coming loose as cobras take the place of her anklets, with thunder and golden lighting behind ominous clouds at upper left, two birds sleeping with their heads tucked under their wings in the tree at right, all surrounded by a golden floral border and speckled blue margins, an extensive description of the story on verso
Opaque pigments and gold on paper
8 1/8 x 6 1/8 in. (20.5 x 15.5 cm.), image
11 3/8 x 9½ in. (29 x 24.2 cm.), folio
Private Collection, London, acquired at Sotheby's London, 22 March 2007, lot 157

Lot Essay

Of the eight nayika (heroine) love stories, the abhisarika nayika offers the most dramatic subject for painting. Despite a gathering storm and the dangers of a dark forest, the nayika is compelled by her desire to brave snakes, ghouls and other terrors to meet her lover, knowing that the passion of their encounter will be reward enough for facing the hazards of her journey. For her unswerving commitment to love, Keshavadasa calls her Kama Abhisarika:

"Serpents twine about her ankles, snakes are trampled underfoot, diverse ghosts she sees on every hand,
She takes no keep for pelting rain, nor hosts of crickets screaming amidst the rolling of the storm,
She does not heed her jewels falling, nor her torn dress, the thorns that pierce her breast delay her not, ---
The goblin-wives on the way are asking her: 'Whence have you learnt this yoga? How marvelous this trysting, o Abhisarika!'"

Unlike many paintings of the same subject which omit the depiction of the goblin-wives, the artist has chosen to fully illustrate Keshavadasa's verse to great effect; compare with similar works by Purkhu in B.N. Goswamy and E. Fischer, Pahari Masters, 1992, p. 386, no. 170, J. Cummins, Indian Painting from Cave Temples to the Colonial Period, 2006, p. 197, plate 109 and p. 102, plate 53, all Pahari works with no goblins and far less dramatic lighting.

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