The Indian Monalisa:Kishangarh School of  Painting

Dear readers, I would like to thank Mr Dayal Singh Silari for inspiring me to write this post. Thank you , Mr Singh! 

Coming to the subject directly, the state of Rajasthan of India has not just contributed towards the rich history of the country in terms of heroic and hauntingly beautiful tales of valour and romance. It has had a rich heritage of cultural past too in terms of art, music and dance. 

The kings of Rajasthan were Rajputs and like many other kings of India had several maids as well. Most of these maids were girlfriends or concubines, actually. Called dasees or golees, these  ladies had a significant influence over the affairs of the state and they have left behind some really hauntingly beautiful, often tragic , tales of their lives. One such take has been shared in my earlier post on the Mughal emperor Jahandar Shah and his girlfriend, Lal Kunwar. 

Today, we will talk about Bani Thani. She was the mistress of Raja Savant Singh of Kishangarh, a small kingdom in Rajasthan sandwiched between Ajmer and Jaipur. We are talking about the mid 18th century.

Let us understand the historical context of this period to appreciate this context. 

After a relentless struggle spanning 7 centuries against the Turk and other Muslim invaders, the Rajputs had exhausted their physical vigour and one Raja after the other was constructing some extremely luxurious palaces like in Jaipur and Udaipur. Their principal foes, the Mughals were also decaying. It was a period to celebrate life for the well off Rajput Rajas. 

It was in this context that Satwant Singh picked up the paint brush and made Bani Thani as his muse. As is evident from the picture, the lady had sharp facial features and prominent  and expressive eyes. The Raja went on to paint extensively on his subject Bani Thani. 

Bani Thani means in Hindi bejewelled and bedecked. 

The subjects of Kishangarh started to see the Raja and his muse as Lord Krishna and Radha ji. Lord Krishna is one of the avatars of Lord Vishnu. 

The Raja became known by various names like Nagari Das and his muse by Kalawanti.   

 Over a period of time, this style of painting came to be called as Kishangarh style of painting. 
The name Bani Thani today is much popular among the North Indian ladies. Shops selling wedding trousseau call their products Bani Thani.  Today, this noun has become an adjective! So much so for the popularity of the Kishangarh style of painting! 

Is’nt it a hauntingly beautiful tale of romance?  

 

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