Garden and Cosmos: The Royal Paintings of Jodhpur will open at the Art Gallery of New South Wales straight from its showing to critical acclaim at the British Museum, as part of the Gallery's Indian Summer at the Gallery.
This extraordinary exhibition of 54 Indian paintings comes from the royal collection at the Mehrangarh Museum Trust in Jodhpur, established by the current Maharaja in 1972 to promote awareness of the unknown treasures in the royal store. This is the first time the rare 17th–19th century paintings have been seen outside India. Not only is their size exceptional: so too is the bold variegated palette of luminous colours in each of the paintings. Included in this exhibition is also a beautiful embroidered canopy.
There is exemplary detailing of the architecture, lavish textiles and jewellery worn by the maharajas, their family members and court, presenting the 18th–19th century luxurious court life style of the Maharajas of Marwar, a region of Rajasthan better known today as Jodhpur. Popular Hindu deities and the ash-smeared gurus worshipped by the maharajas are similarly animated by subtle colour harmonies.
"It is the paintings dealing with religious subjects that are impressive," said Jackie Menzies, Head Curator of Asian Art, Art Gallery of New South Wales. All monumental manuscripts, these paintings fall into two categories: those that have as their subject popular themes such as Krishna and the gopis (cowgirls), or the adventures of Rama and Sita from the classic Ramayana. The paintings of this category were created under the patronage of Maharaja Vijai Singh (1752-93), and Maharaja Man Singh (r. 1803-43). One of the key works in this exhibition is the painting of Krishna frolicking with hundreds of gopis in the lush forest: to quote the relevant sacred text: "… Arousing Kama [love] in the young women with jokes, smiles, and glances. Playfully scratching their breasts, girdles, thighs, hair and hands with his nails, and embracing them with outstretched arms, he gave them pleasure." The artist has depicted the smiling Krishna nine times to convey the god’s generous act of multiplying himself to convince each gopi that he is only with her.
It is under the patronage of Man Singh that the second category of religious subjects flourished. This category was inspired by Man Singh’s devotion to the Nath religious tradition of yogins, practitioners of hatha yoga. The Naths revered and emulated immortal ascetics known as mahasiddhas (great perfected beings), whose supernatural powers surpassed even those of the Hindu gods. Mahasiddhas roamed earth in the guise of ordinary yogins, covering their bodies with sacred ash, clad in saffron-coloured garments, their hair unkempt dreadlocks and wearing large earrings that required holes to be bored into their ears’ inner cartilege. Portraits of these yogins, particularly the immortal ascetic Jallandharnath of whom Man Singh was a devotee, appear in the exhibition.
Related to Nath beliefs are some of the most beautiful and cosmologically sophisticated paintings ever created. These paintings were responses to the challenge to create a new visual language to explain Nath beliefs which until this time had been oral and text-based. At the core of Nath teaching is the Absolute, a supreme, immeasurable and transcendent essence, which artists evoked with solid fields of shimmering, gold pigment, creating paintings that were both luxurious and immaterial.
"Visitors to Garden and Cosmos are sure to experience spiritual bliss," said Jackie Menzies.
Garden and Cosmos: The Royal Paintings of Jodhpur was curated and organised for its world tour by the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution, in partnership with the owner of the paintings, the Mehrangarh Museum Trust in Jodhpur, Rajasthan.
Darren Friedlander, head of marketing and group communications at HSBC Bank Australia, said: "HSBC in Australia is thrilled to be partnering with the Art Gallery of New South Wales to bring this incredible exhibition of Indian art to the Australian public. Indian Summer is a wonderful celebration of India's culture and its natural environment and HSBC’s support of this exhibition reflects our desire to encourage and promote the understanding of different cultures across the world. This partnership with the Gallery follows HSBC's recent sponsorship of Indian Summer at the British Museum.
HSBC's origins in India can be traced back to 1853 when the Mercantile Bank was founded in Mumbai. Today, as one of the fastest growing economies in the world, India plays a critical part in HSBC's strategic focus on emerging markets."