I highly recommend a visit to the AGO to see the fantastic, opulent exhibition ‘Maharaja’. Before we begin, let me explain that I am a total nerd for India. I spent 8 months travelling through the Himalaya (India and Nepal) and it began an intoxicating love affair for the intricacies of the culture. So much so, I eventually began to study yoga and philosphy so I could start to make sense of it all (and work out why the blue guy in those painting with dreadlocks had three eyes and 4 arms). My journey into yoga was born from joining Diwali processions in Varanasi, the riotous colour of silk markets in Old Delhi, the meditative drone of the sarangi in Rishikesh, the serenity of holy saddhus meditating by the Ganges River, and weeks living in buddhist monastreys in Ladakh.
One of my favourite pieces in the exhibit was a 3 metre long scroll, showing the procession of Maharaja Krishnaraja Wodeyar III of Mysore on the final days of the holy Navratri celebration. What struck me in this scroll (painted around 1825) was the incredibly level of tolerance and multiculturalism depicted. You could clearly see people from many different castes and cultures in India: Sufi fakirs (saints), families with children, Rajhastani tribeswoman, Muslims, Jains, Christians, Devadasi (prostitutes), Europeans in top hats all jumbled together in the crowd along with the King and all his entourage.
Some of the paintings showed the devotional life of the Maharaja in private, including this beautiful painting from about 1870 showing the Maharaja of Jaipur, Ram Singh seated in quiet meditation in his yoga room! Many of the Maharaja comissioned their favorite artists to paint them deep in meditative contemplation in an attempt to show their subjects how close they were to god.
However, there were a few miniature portraits that showed a rare glimpse into the lives of the women. I absolutely loved this exquisite painting of Maharaja Bhup Singh and his lover snuggling under a quilt with a hookah full of, ahem, apple tobacco. It is so sweet and intimate, and really made me think how romantic reclining on a cushion with your lover and watching a DVD can be. I wonder what they were watching?