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Women in Love - Love Paintings

In most of the paintings of the Rajput and Pahari schools, he main theme is love. The emphasis is exclusively on the emotions of women and how they react to this primary human sentiment.

Miniature paintings from the Rajput and Pahari states show an interest in the depiction of the Krishna legend and love seems to be their primary source of inspiration. The literature of the Bhakti cult and the sringar (love) poetry inspired patrons and poets alike to have these works illustrated with paintings. In fact the transfer to colour and lively forms gave these verbal images strikingly new dimensions. Works like Bhanudatta’s Rasamanjari and Keshav Das’s Rasikpriya and Kavipriya were a gold mine for painters who appreciated graphic descriptions of Krishna and Radha whose endearing divine qualities were fashioned after familiar human likenesses. As J.C.Harle remarks: “So pervasive was the grip upon the imagination of Krishna that in most of the nayak-nayika themes the lovers of Brindavan are either explicit or implicit.

The emphasis is almost exclusively on the emotions of the woman or on the situations in which a woman in love finds herself. This, of course, parallels the emphasis in all Vaishnava devotional poetry where it is the raptures and distresses of the soul in love with God (Krishna) that are hymned and the responses and other actions of the divinity are described through he eyes or emotions of the devotee. The identification between Radha, the supreme nayika, and the human soul enraptured with god is all pervasive.”

Keshav Das, a court poet of Orchha in Madhya Pradesh, provided vivid images and subtle distinctions to identify the different characters of nayak and nayikas. Mainly the theme is love, how one reacted to his primary human sentiment and how it shaped the vary existence of women. Nayak is the hero – the lover, and the Nayika is the heroine -- the beloved.

Krishna, the nayak, is adept in the art of love. He is proud, emotional, selfless, generous, handsome and expert in enthralling the heart and soul of his devotees. Apparently meant as a study is discriminating various attitudes of the nayak, Keshav Das mentions four categories of the nayak Anukul – who is honest in love to his beloved and loves, cherishes and obeys; Dakshina – who loves all women equally; Satha – who is false though sweet-tongued; Dhrishta – who is a shameless philandered. Krishna is t Ankul nayak – the ideal love, the beloved of all.

Women, however, provide a more fascinating study based on their natural attributes. Thus, Padmini nayika with a golden complexion is bashful, intelligent, cheerfulb eautifully dressed and is not too keen on love play. Chitrini is tremulous-eyed, smiling, loves perfumes, find arts and her lover’s portrait. Sankhini is ill-tempered, unhesitant, has luxuriant hair and likes red dresses. Hastini is fat and thick skinned, has a raucous voice and heavy body and gait. Her hair is sharp and pointed. By and large these four categories include all kinds of women. Age-wise a nayika is called Bala upto sixteen, Taruni between sixteen and thirty, Praudha between thirty and fifty-five and Briddha above fifty-five.

But the main interest of Rasikpriya lies in its classification of nayikas in their response to love: Svakiya (one’s own), Parakiya (Sweet-heart of celebrities), and Samanya (common). Savkiya has three categories – the artless the adolescent and the woman. The artless nayika is like a sleeping volcano till aroused in love and excited, extremely cold in erotic games, too obstinate and frigid to surrender in love.

The adolescent may have a blooming youth with eyes like the god of love, impassioned and unhesitant, expert in erotica and sharp-tongued. Accordingly the language of a nayika can be oblique, fickle and harsh and forthright.

The Praudha (mature) also has many categories which indicate her expertise and willingness to participate in the erotic games. Samasta-rasa-kovida is an expert in erotica; Vichitra-vibhrama has an exquisite charm; Akramita wins her lover by all means of speech, thought and action; and Labdha-pati is authoritative and is command of her lover’s household. Praudhadhira is obedient but occasionally disrespectful to her lover; Praudha-dhira-akriti-gupat is the ice-maiden with an exaggerated sense of prosperity; Praudha-adhira is intolerant of inconsistency in her lover and openly upbraids him for default.

These above mentioned categories of the Svakiya nayika have a sincere love for their beloved and their existence revolves around the nayak. In contrast, the Parakiya is the nayika who loves to be the sweet-heart of celebrities. Udha is married and Aundha is unmarried. In our cultural ethos love is related to conjugal ties and is rarely allowed outside marital bonds. Further sub-categories are blooming fast; beauty and grace; youthful and well-proportioned; one who has just tasted the pleasures of dalliance; shy and diffident.

Bhanudatta gives a detailed classification of nayikas. His study of Parakiya nayika is particularly interesting for the study of the minds of such nayikas. Of special note is the story of the nayika whose husband suggests that the forest trees be cut down. She is greatly grieved at the prospect of losing her rendezvous point with her lover so she throws the axe into the chilling waters of the pool to pre-empt the felling of trees. The Suratogpana-parakiya conceals the truth of love bites by saying that a cat attacked her.

Yet another variety of Parakiya is Vasaksajja nayika who persuades her attendant women to sleep early so that she can meet her lover without fear.

What Byron said of women “Man’s love is a man’s life a thing apart, is woman’s whole existence”—is particularly true of the nayikas whose love for the nayak has a devotional attachment. All of the eight nayikas of Keshav Das thrive on love or just languish without it. Svadhinapatika is love and admired by her lover who clings to her like a shadow. Her works are like words of scriptures to him. Utka nayika is the beloved awaiting a tryst in a garden. Sitting on a cushion of leaves, or standing beside a tree, she is the embodiment of feminine charm “like a newly caged bird, she moves restlessly in her leafy nook,” says Kshav Das. She is impatient, nervous and anxious for her lover.

The Vasaksajja nayika is an incarnation of the goddess of love (Rati). She has prepared the bed and adorned herself to welcome her lord from a sojourn abroad. When he comes, she accords a passionate welcome. To her “love in a palace is perhaps at last more grievous torment than a hermit’s fast,” as Keats put it. The wait kindles her desires and passion glows on her cheeks.

The Abhisandhita nayika estranges herself from her lover over some paltry quarrel and refuses to be appeased. In his absence she regrets her folly. But she has no ears for the nayak’s protestation of love. Khandita nayika is the one sinned against. When the lover returns the next morning after a night out with some other woman, the nayika chides him “ Are they (Krishna’s eyes) burning in the flames of separation from me, or in the fire of some other woman’s love?” she questions him. The pangs of separation which the Proshitpreyasi nayika suffers are unbearable.

He is coming back after long; she should be happy but fears and hesitation have benumbed her senses to allow any happiness on his arrival. The Vipralabdha nayika has been disappointed by the nayak. She throws away her ornaments in disgust. To her, “flowers are like arrows, fragrance becomes ill-dour, pleasant bowers like fiery furnaces…” says Keshav Das she is the jilted heroine, in the throes of disappointed love, dejected and inconsolable.

The Abhisarika is the forward nayika who “sallies out into a stormy night to meet her lover” for love, pride or passion. She undertakes perilous journeys during day, evening, dark or moonlit night. She is adamant in her determination to meet the nayak for “there is no fear in love, but perfect love casteth out fear.” Serpents, evil spirits, torrential rains and lightning, storms or evil eyes and wagging tongues cannot keep her away from the nayak. The Abhisariak superbly dressed and bejeweled, surprise the nayak by her daring and desire.

The Rajasthan and Phari schools of paintings depict these nayikas.Bundi, Kota, Basohli, Chamba and Kangra schools of miniatures have excellent collection of paintings on the nayak-nayika theme. The work of Keshav Das had a few earlier examples but none so psychologically fascinating as a study of the mind of women in love.

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