A commotion in the bazaar

Details

  • Catalogue text

    While Mughal period painting gives an exhaustive picture of the life of the nobility, scenes of everyday life in the teeming bazaars appear only occasionally, and then usually as background to some royal cavalcade. A slice of life such as this is all the more uncommon.

    Armed officers have caught two thieves or felons, one of whom suffers a humiliating public beating over the head with slippers. The other, his turban askew after a similar beating, is led away with a slipper held to his head. A crowd has naturally stopped to stare, the women peering from behind their veils. Elsewhere, life goes on as usual: a young couple buy cutlery or trinkets from a display spread on a cloth, and boys dance to shehnai and drum music. On the right, two boys deliberate in front of a sweetseller's shop. In the foreground, heedless of these distractions, a pink-robed Kanphata yogi meditates at a lingam shrine to the god Shiva.

    This damaged but lively and intriguing picture shows elements of the style of Nainsukh, the most gifted member of a widely influential family of artists working at Guler and other Punjab Hill courts.

    In: Topsfield, Andrew, Indian Paintings from Oxford Collections, Ashmolean Handbooks (Oxford: Ashmolean Museum in association with the Bodleian Library, 1994)

    Depictions of the daily life of the streets and bazaars are uncommon in Indian paintings before the British period, only occasionally finding a place in the background of some mythological scene with an urban setting. This damaged but lively and enigmatic picture is an exception. It was painted in the Punjab Hills around the middle of the 18th century, when a fresh assimilation of the naturalistic elements of the contemporary Mughal style followed the arrival of artists fleeing the uncertain political conditions of the Plains. It shows some elements of the style practiced by Nainsukh, the best known member of a widely influential family of Pahari artists.

    The artist’s observation of gesture and attitude is keen and revealing. In the centre of the picture a miscreant is being beaten over the head with slippers by two armed officers, while in the foreground another is lead away with hands tied and a slipper held humiliatingly over his head. As always in India, a small crowd gathers to watch the spectacle, while other figures go about their business. To the right, two boys choose sweets at a sweet shop. To the left, a husband buys a knife or jewellery from a display laid out on a cloth. In the foreground, two boys dance to music of a shehnai and drum, while a Kānphata yogi sits tranquilly before a linga shrine to the god Śiva.

    In: Harle, J. C., and Andrew Topsfield, Indian Art in the Ashmolean Museum (Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 1987)

Further reading

Harle, J. C., and Andrew Topsfield, Indian Art in the Ashmolean Museum (Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 1987), no. 92 on pp. 82-83, p. xiv, illus. p. 82

Topsfield, Andrew, Indian Paintings from Oxford Collections, Ashmolean Handbooks (Oxford: Ashmolean Museum in association with the Bodleian Library, 1994), no. 34 on p. 70, p. 7, illus. p. 71

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