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Folio from a series depicting castes and their characteristics: Kurmin Nar (Kurmi woman) Bundelkhand, circa 1720. Opaque watercolour with gold on wasli. Couplet to the reverse written in Hindi in Bundelkhandi dialect. 34.5 x 24.9cm
The Kurmi Jati (caste) is a one of agriculturalists, particularly cultivators and market gardeners. However they believe their place in society is higher than that of the agriculturalist because it is said they originate from Kshatriyas, the warrior caste ranking second of four in caste hierarchy. There is a Hindu saying about their women folk: 'The Kurmin (female Kurmi) is a good kind of woman. She has a weeding blade in her hand, and along with her husband, weeds her field.' K P Bahadur 'The Neglected Kurmin' in One Hundred Rural Songs from India, Motilal Banarsidass, India, 1972, pp. 176-8. This concurs with the couplet to the reverse saying that the Kurmin having become married and whose husband is living (i.e. she is not a widow) has the looks of a beautiful damsel, like 'Rati (wife of Kama, the Hindu Cupid), Rambha (queen of apsaras, divine beauties) of heaven'; that she is fortunate because she enjoys pleasures with her husband in the home as well as the fields. In the painting's upper register Radha and Krishna dance to music from percussion instruments played by female musicians; in the middle register's compartments the Kurmin is seen with husband in a chamber to the right, in the centre her husband converses with another, to the left he leaves his wife to return with his yoked cattle to the fields.
The series previously has been attributed to Marwar (Bonhams, New York, 18.3.13, lot 84), Malwa (Prahlad Bubbar, http://www.prahladbubbar.com/miniature/krishna-the-divine-lover, accessed 3/12/13), Malpura (Sothebys, New York,15.9.11, lot 81) and until now on this page to Raghogarh. Indian independent scholar and author Narmada Prasad Upadhyaya has established the nature and origin of the series and has prior to his monograph on paintings from Bundelkhand kindly granted permission for this website to publish for the first time his findings. These are that the series was painted by a single artist from Bundelkhand with Bundelkhandi the dialect of the couplets inscribed on the reverse of some if not all folios. Each painting employs the same format of three horizontal registers. The upper register always features Radha and Krishna in a variety of postures. This is due to the rulers under whose patronage these paintings were produced and the artists who created them both doing so as an act of devotion to Krishna and Radha. The middle register depicts a female member of one of the castes of India in a scene relating to caste characteristics, in this instance of a Kurmin, in Sotheby's (N.Y. 15.9.11, lot 84) a Bhilani (Bhil tribeswoman), and in a currently unpublished example in my possession a Joharin (jeweller caste). The lower register always features a building with onion-domed roof standing on pink rocks flanked on either side by similar rocky outcrops.
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Images and text © Peter Blohm 2014