Baz Bahadur and Rupmati

The legendary love between the 16th century Sultan Baz Bahadur of Malwa and his Hindu mistress Rupmati became a popular theme of painting in the later Mughal period. The lovers are often shown riding together, with Baz Bahadur carrying a hawk.


  • Catalogue text

    The love of the 16th century Muslim prince Bāz Bahādur and his Hindu mistress Rūpmatī was a popular theme of poetry and song in Mughal India. During the 18th century the legendary couple were frequently depicted by artists at the provincial Mughal courts and at the Rajput courts of the Punjab Hills, especially Kulu and Garhwal. They are most often shown riding together, gazing into one another’s eyes, either in the stillness of a moonlit night, or as here, on a hawking expedition. Such romantic scenes had a strong appeal for the Muslim and Hindu nobility alike, for whom the convention of purdah allowed little association between the sexes.

    Bāz Bahādur was the King of Malwa in Central India (1554-61) before its conquest by the armies of the emperor Akbar. A pleasure-loving cultured prince, he was devoted to music and poetry and the company of singers and dancing-girls, his favourite being the celebrated beauty Rūpmatī. But in 1561, Bāz Bahādur was defeated by the Mughal general Adham Khān, and his harem along with his treasure and elephants fell into enemy hands. Soon after, Rūpmatī took poison to escape the lust of Adham Khān. After nine years as a fugitive, Bāz Bahādur submitted to Akbar and joined the Mughal court, where he became famous for his skill as a singer.

    In this painting the lovers’ wild-eyed, mettlesome horses advance in step, while Rūpmatī turns in the saddle to gaze at the spellbound Bāz Bahādur. The figures are silhouetted against a cool grey ground, around which tightly drawn bushy trees cluster in pairs entwined with sinuous creepers. The conventional scene off the couple riding together is imbued with a certain eery tension often found in Kulu painting.

    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. 91 on pp. 81-82, pl. 18 (colour) & p. 82

Topsfield, Andrew, Indian Paintings from Oxford Collections, Ashmolean Handbooks (Oxford: Ashmolean Museum in association with the Bodleian Library, 1994), no. 27 on p. 58, illus. p. 59

Reference URL

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