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Celebrating Budhva Mangal, the Great River Festival of Benaras

Celebrating Budhva Mangal, the Great River Festival of Benaras

Item Description:

Property from the Collection of the late Dr. Moti Chandra

REGISTERED ANTIQUITY - NON-EXPORTABLE ITEM (Please refer to the Terms and Conditions of Sale at the back of the catalogue)

Oil on canvas

c. 1830

32 3/8 x 51 in. (82.3 x 129.5 cm.)

Another example of Company School oil paintings, the current work shows the famous Benaras boat festival supported by the descendants of Bharatendu Harishchandra under the patronage of the Maharaja of Benaras. It is one of the few remaining examples that capture both the historical relevance as well as the atmosphere of this festival so accurately.


Benaras, with the Ganges flowing through it, is one of the most important pilgrimage destinations in Hindu religion. They believe that Benaras, (now Varanasi) is the oldest living city in the world, and those that are fortunate enough to die in this Holy City will attain salvation and freedom from the cycle of rebirth. In addition to being of religious significance, the city has a rich cultural history and is a major seat of learning. Several important poets, musicians and playwrights chose to live and draw inspiration from this blessed city. In particular, Hindi theatre and poetry thrived here, with Bharatendu Harishchandra and his family contributing significantly.


Budhva Mangal is the river festival of the sacred city of Banaras that lasts for a few days from the second Tuesday after Holi. Beautifully decorated boats belonging to prominent members of the community float on the river, serving as sites for music, song, dance and general merriment. The festival is headed by the Maharaja of Benaras whose impressively adorned boats lead the rest. The festival seems to have originated during the time of Mir Rustam Ali Khan, the cultivated ruler of Benaras in the mid-18th century, whose patronage of cultural activities was legendary.


In the current work, the numerous boats are shown in three irregular rows, the largest boat located in the centre. The two tall pennants flying from this boat seem to be decorated with a white fish against a red background. Sitting on the deck is a ruler-like figure watching a dance performance. In the row ahead is an elaborate boat with its prow shaped in the form of two prancing horses and double pavilions with ornamented domes on the deck. A similar boat with a peacock-shaped prow is behind. The boat immediately in front of the principal boat, interestingly enough, bears the flag of the East India Company which was paramount in Benaras around this time.


Most boats in this colourful flotilla have ongoing musical and dance performaces on deck, and are prettily decorated with lights. Some of the smaller boats ferry supplies and observers around the festive area.


The ghat or river bank is occupied with palatial buildings and temples in a continuous row interspersed with green trees that provide relief from the stone masonry. They stretch through several well known areas in the heart of the city that exist to the present day, including Manikarnika ghat, Panchganga ghat, Aurangzeb's mosque and Durga ghat. The rendering is architecturally picturesque yet remarkably accurate with the unique features of each ghat being clearly depicted. For example, there is a corpse draped in white being cremated at Manikarnika ghat and the slender towers of Aurangzeb's mosque are also visible. Some of the building are also identified with crudely written Hindi labels. Interestingly, the date of the painting can also be ascertained through the particular buildings that have been shown. A shattered tower in the area known as Scindia ghat was said to have been built around 1820 by Baiza Bai, the wife of Daulatrao, ruler of Gwalior (1794 - 1827) but began to collapse very soon after its construction. As the building is shown in disrepair, the work could have been painted shortly after its construction.


The large number of viewers on the banks have been impressionistically rendered with quick brushstrokes. They cover every inch of the ghats, looking down onto the water from every vantage point available.

About The Artist:

COMPANY SCHOOL, BENARAS

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Celebrating Budhva Mangal, the Great River Festival of Benaras

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