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A Sikh nobleman makes an offering of mithai (sweets) to holy man Bhai Meha who rests on a tiger skin. Jaipur, circa 1820. Opaque watercolour with gold on wasli. 29 x 22.2cm
The inscription in Gurmukhi names the holy man. He wears attached to his ascetic's gudri (patchwork) cap a khagri (plume) emblematic of Sikh warriorhood - the same gold-bound black heron feathers were worn on the helmets of Sikh warriors. His elevated status is indicated by his size in the picture - in Indian miniatures a figure's size is often according to hierarchical position. The reverence in which he is held is revealed by gifts which can only have been bestowed upon him by wealthy devotees: his warrior's gold-bound khagri with rare feathers (a heron has only one black feather per wing), the tiger skin entitled to accomplished holy men indicating conquest of lust and desire and an intricately patterned or inlaid yoga-danda (meditation staff). The nobleman's social status is clear from his ornate, gold-patterned jama and turban which is of a type worn by Sikhs in the 19th century as in this link: The Ten Sikh Gurus. He acts deferentially and with generosity toward Bhai Meha as have others before him. His genuflection is emphasized by his kneeling down and leaning slightly forward, holding with outstretched arms his offering, a gold bowl filled with mithai.
Whereas most paintings with Sikh subjects such as this originate from the Punjab hills or Plains, and Jaipuri examples are uncommon, ' The analysis of Sikh sources confirm that Sikh Gurus enjoyed cordial relations with the Rajput chiefs, especially of the Jaipur house.' The Sikh-Rajput Relations During the Eighteenth Century, Dr. Balwant Singh Dhillon, Journal of Sikh Studies, Vol. XXXI, 2007, p.33
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Above: gilt detail reflecting light
Images and text © Peter Blohm