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THE ENCOUNTER AT THE POOL Illustration to the Hindu religious epic, the Ramayana. Garhwal, c. 1775. British Museum

During his exile from Ayodhya, Rama, his consort, Sita and brother, Lakshman, were besought by hermits to settle near them in the forest. As they proceeded, they reached a pool from which could be heard the sounds of singing though the singers themselves were quite invisible. The voices, they were told, came from five apsarasthe celestial enchantresses whose role was to charm both gods and men. For ten thousand years a sage had practised austerities till the gods had grown alarmed lest he should shortly achieve their own unique state. Five beauties were therefore dispatched to wean him from his purpose. Their girlish charms so aroused his passions that he renounced his spiritual ambitions and installed them as his wives. The pool was where the ascetic and the girls now lived together.
In the picture, the master-artist has illustrated the incident by actually depicting the five girls. The fingers of two are raised as if directing the singing while another is clapping her hands as if in time. The pool is suggested by the white stonework, heading a flight of steps, while its presence is further implied by the pitchers of water which three of them are carrying. With its tall slim figures the essence of stately graceits air of charmed stillness and sudden electric fascination, the picture is one of the most subtle interpretations by a Garhwal artist of the mystery of romance.