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LOVERS IN A MOON-LIT RETREAT. Garhwal, c. 1780. Kasturbhai Lalbhai Collection, Ahmadabad

In the middle of the sixteenth century, Baz Bahadur, the last Muhammadan ruler of Malwa in central India, became enamoured of Rupmati, a Hindu courtesan. Entranced, they would ride together at night, gazing into each other's eyes. Their love lasted seven years—to be ended with the defeat of Baz Bahadur by a 'Mughal army and the subsequent capture and suicide of Rupmati. Transcending as it did the ordinary rules of Rajput society, their love-making came gradually to acquire an ideal character, satisfying by its very remoteness from accepted conduct the Rajput feeling for passionate romance.
In the picture, the lovers are resting on a hillside, their horses tethered in a copse while a young moon shows amid the stars. Rupmati is sleeping while Baz Bahadur still gazes at her eyes. Above her stretch the triple trunks of a tree—the leafless branches echoing with their sinuous curves her graceful lines. Beyond the hillside are two leopards, suggesting by their close encounter the ferocious nature of the lovers' feelings. Over the entire scene broods the entranced stillness of a summer night.