Art Moment: ‘A Lover’s Tryst’ (18th C. Punjab)

A Lover’s Tryst, Ragaputra Velavala of Bhairava, Punjab Hills, Basohli, c. 1710. Opaque watercolor with gold on paper, 16.4 x 16.6 cm. Art Gallery of New South Wales, Australia.

This is a lovely picture of a lovers’ tryst. The artist has taken every effort to suggest an erotic mood. The young hero is dressed in a flowing white robe and a turban with feathers and pearl strings. He is serenading with a string instrument to his lover. The heroine wears a diaphanous outer garment over colourfully stripped brocade trousers. She is in a gesture of love, offering her lover paan, a mildly intoxicating concoction of betel leaf wrapped around a mixture of spices, crushed nuts and lime. The intensity of the lovers’ mood is heightened by the orange background, orange being the color associated with erotic love in Punjabi art. It is further enhanced by the allegorical motif of pines entwined with creepers.

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