Yoginis in a Landscape
India, Mughal period, late 17th century. Opaque watercolor and gold on paper. Lent by a private collection.

In a deep landscape hazily washed with translucent blues, five yoginis, or female ascetics, wearing fine gold-edged muslin and adorned with gold ornaments, hold aloft tiny golden cups of wine while the yogini in the center also holds a stringed musical instrument. Although the artist has depicted the humble possessions of ascetics in precious materials, the yoginis' wine cups, stringed instrument, and lightly draped shawls refer to yogic practice. Ascetics usually eschew clothing, smear their bodies with ashes, and chant or sing prayers to the accompaniment of a simple instrument such as the single-string ektar shown in this painting. The vast plain depicted in the painting and the delicately limned shrines create an appropriate setting for ascetics who wander between pilgrimage sites or live in isolated retreats, while the coils of lightning in the sky add a touch of severity to the dramatic effect.

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Yoginis in a Landscape

The Persian inscription inset along the painting's lower edge seems to suggest that it was produced for Emperor Jahangir (reigned 1605-27) by the seventeenth-century artist Kesu Khurd. However, the work is not in the style of Kesu Khurd, and the inscription seems to have been added by later artists in admiration of the work of earlier master.