The Saka Dvipa

Illustration to the Bhagavata Purana
Attributed to Manaku of Guler
Guler, Punjab Hills, India, c. 1740
Brush drawing on paper
22 x 32 cm

The artist Manaku (c. 1700-c.1760) belongs to one of the most well known and researched families of court painters from the Pahari regions of Northern India. Paintings attributed to his father Pandit Seu date to the reign of Raja Govardhan Chand of Guler (1743-1773), who was one of the most significant patrons of art in the Hill States along with Sansar Chand of Kangra (1775-1823). Though Seu and his older son worked at Guler, the younger Nainsukh found patronage with the Raja of Jasrota, while other members of the family are known to have migrated to the courts of Chamba, Basohli, Mandi, and Kangra.

Manaku’s vast oeuvre includes some very well known and coveted sets of paintings, including the Siege of Lanka (from a Ramayana) of c.1725, the Gita Govinda of 1730, and an incomplete series of Bhagavata Purana paintings that continue into a large number of detailed brush drawings. Each drawing is numbered and contains descriptive inscriptions in the takri script to guide the artist in the later stages of the process. The text on this drawing identifies it as the illustration of the Saka dvipa as described in 20th chapter of the fifth book of the Purana. This section records the life of the famed king Priyavrata, his children and grandchildren. Also given are geographical and cosmological details of the realm of human beings, including the division of the world into seven dvipas or ‘continents’, each of which was headed by one of Priyavrata’s sons.

The Saka dvipa is named after a teak wood tree—the fragrance of which spread all over the region. Its ruler Medhatithi further distributed his territory between his seven sons: Purojava, Manojava, Pavamana, Dhumranika, Citrarepha, Bahurupa and Vishvadhara, all of who are shown here. The area was divided by its topography with the seven mountains: Ishana, Urushringa, Balabhadra, Shatakesara, Sahasrasrota, Devapala and Mahanasa, and seven rivers that ran through it. Shown here as imagined by Manaku, each grandson of Priyavrata sits in his kingdom. The individual parts stand out on their own but also fit into the landmass as a whole. Around the edges of this island wavy lines indicate the presence of an ethereal liquid.

The high quality of Manaku’s work is the culmination of his skill and creativity, effortlessly handling wondrous mythological themes and bringing them to life on the page. With little iconographic precedent for most of the texts that he illustrated, the master artist repeatedly produced enchanting paintings and drawings, transporting his audience into the magical world of gods and supernatural beings. This drawing in particular stands out as one of the rare illustrations of an abysmal subject. It has the same fluid line that appears in his other compositions, and the crowns of the kings and their thrones, the vegetation and architectural forms, are all congruous with his vocabulary. Even though this is a preparatory draft it contains a remarkable amount of detail, and even without the use of any colours Manaku is able to successfully visualise a highly abstracted landscape.

Private collection, UK.

Fischer, Eberhard. “The Painter Manaku of Guler – Works of a Great Indian Master in the Museum Rietberg Zurich.” Orientations 38/2 (2007): 128-136.
Goswamy, B. N., Eberhard Fischer. Pahari Masters. Zurich: Artibus Asiae Publishers, 1992.
Goswamy, B. N., Eberhard Fischer. “Manaku”, in Beach, Milo, Eberhard Fischer, B. N. Goswmay (eds), Masters of Indian Painting, Vol 2. Zurich: Artibus Asiae, 2011. pp 641-658.
Raghunathan, N. Srimad Bhagavatam. Chennai: Vighneswara Publishing House, 1976.

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