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Preparation for the Nuth Uterwai ceremony at a courtesan's kotha. Awadh, circa late 18th century. Opaque watercolour with gold on wasli, laid down on later thin card. Folio 36.2cm by 23.9cm; image 19.3cm x 13.3cm

On the terrace of a kotha (where courtesans entertain clients) pavilion, the central figure of a naika (approximating a brothel madam) smokes a huqqa. Around her tawaifs (courtesans) sing as part of a Nuth Uterwai ceremony in which the reclining young virginal woman wearing a flower garland will be deflowered and hence initiated into her new profession.

The folio was at some time after its production inscribed on front and back with fanciful attributions: below the inner borders red Persian script "Pashahi Zadeh badr al-nisa Begum"; at the foot in English: "No.40 Budoorul  Nisa Begum of Bagdad"; on the reverse: "Pashazadi Badranisha". Each is a reminder to dealers and collectors of the problems inherent in inscriptions on Indian miniatures which were often added at a later date and as nothing more than guesswork entirely without foundation. Perhaps in this case a dealer hoped the painting might more easily find a buyer if it was showing not a courtesan but a more exotic Oriental figure, a begum of Baghdad.

With thanks to Ali Raza Khan for providing information with regard to the subject of this painting.

Ref: Awadh 000501

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Images and text © Peter Blohm