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Scene from the Virata Parva of the Mahabharata: the transgender Arjuna with brother Nakula before King Virata. Jaipur, circa 1820. Opaque watercolour with gold on wasli. 28cm by 37.7cm

The Pandava brother Arjuna is cursed for rebuking an apsara's amorous adavances by being made transgender so that he must spend time with women as would a eunuch. As part of a loss during gambling the Pandava brothers spent 12 years in exile and needed to spend one more incognito to complete their debit. Arjuna and brother Nakula decide to spend it at the court of King Virtata. They go to Virata with the request that Arjuna become the instructor in music, song and dance to the king's daughter and ladies of the court, winning over over the king and being appointed, with his brother appointed to take charge of the royal horses.

Another from this same series either immediately preceding or following the scene here and also showing Arjuna with brother Nakula before King Virata - but incorrectly catalogued - was sold at Bonhams, London, 14 June 2012 (lot 281).

With thanks to the kindness of Tarun Pant and R Vaidyanadhan for identifying the subject.

Inventory: LC 000054


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Above: gold detail reflecting light

Images and text © Peter Blohm