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THE LADY AND THE MIRROR. Kangra, c. 1815. Victoria and Albert Museum
THE LADY AND THE MIRROR


The conceptions of ideal loveliness in women, implied by this picture, have been well expressed by an Indian art-critic of distinction, Dr Vasudeva Saran Agrawala. 'The focal point of the Kangra school’, he says, 'consists in the flaming beauty of woman. The life of an Indian woman as lived in the idyllic land of love and expressed through the twelve months, the six seasons and the twenty-four hours of the day provides the rich texture of Pahari paintings. Passionate love enriched by devotional feeling inherent in the heart of a woman towards the man she loves imparts colour to the charming brocade of the painter's art. Woman in these paintings alone is real. The man lives and shines under her light as a moth captivated by the warmth of the flame. We do not gather any lasting impression of male beauty in Kangra paintings. But the beauty of a woman's body, the delicacy of her form, the radiance of her face and the indescribable loveliness of her life are subjects in which the Kangra painters excel.'
Dr Agrawala's remarks on the interdependence of art and poetry and their common preoccupation with romance are also worth quoting. 'According to both the painters and the poets, love is the summum bonum of life, the real substance which makes life worth living. Love is conceived of as the only adorable ideal. Love alone imparts variety to life. The real beauty of living begins with the dawning of love. As vernal beauty descends on the forest and transforms it with the magic of foliage and flowers, similarly love transforms the life of a woman first stepping into youth and passing through its rich passionate experiences. Love as the basis of life's fullness is not a mere erotic satisfaction, although it is rooted in sensuous beauty and depends for its fruition on all the external paraphernalia of passionate love-making. Love is the supreme virtue of woman's heart, kindred in essence with the bhakti or devotion taught by the religious reformers. It is against this background that the lovers in the Kangra paintings are real, not as individuals but as types of Man and Woman, who in devotional terminology are known as Radha and Krishna.'