Savarna Manu

Attributed to Manaku of Guler
Guler, Punjab Hills, India, c. 1740
Brush drawing on paper
20 x 30.5 cm

This drawing is from an unfinished Bhagavata Purana manuscript attributed to Manaku of Guler. The son of the artist Pandit Seu and older brother of Nainsukh, Manaku was a member of one of the most celebrated painter families of the Pahari Hills. In their extensive research on the artists of this region, B.N. Goswamy and E. Fischer have attributed three major sets to his name: ‘The Siege of Lanka Series’ (from a Ramayana circa 1725), the Gita Govinda (circa 1730) and this Bhagavata Purana.

The manuscript was an ambitious project consisting of hundreds of folios incorporating scenes with little iconographic precedent. They reveal Manaku’s consummate skill as a draughtsman, translating text to image, creating arresting compositions and animated characters. While the early folios are fully painted, the majority remain as brush drawings.

Inscription in takri: ‘Savarna Manu’

Three men, each wearing three-pointed crowns, sit in a garden pavilion. Tall stems with flower buds, a twisting tree and sweeping clouds are sketched delicately in the background. Manu, the first king of the world, sits cross-legged on a throne in conversation with a man that is seated before him. Notable are the sweeping stokes of Manaku’s brush, allowing us to appreciate his process as an artist. The strong arching brows and masterful portraiture translate the age and countenance of Manu with ease. The influence of Mughal painting is clear in the naturalism of the figures and their faithfully rendered clothes and accoutrements.

Private collection, Lahore, 1960s.
Private collection, London.

Bryant, Edwin F. Krishna: The Beautiful Legend of God. Srimad Bhagavata Purana, Book X. London: Penguin, 2003.
Goswamy, B.N and Eberhard Fischer. Pahari Masters: Court Painters of Northern India. Zurich: Artibus Asiae, 1992.

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