Not a tray of ‘gulal’ – coloured powder with ground mica mixed, or a pot of coloured water and pipe, the usual paraphernalia of celebrating Holi, the maid attending upon the princess is carrying the tray filled with red petals of flowers, obviously the traditional ‘Palasha’ or ‘Dhaka’ flowers. Abounding in rare ethnicity and revealing medieval flavour the presence of ‘Palasha’ affords to the painting far greater medieval character than its miniature format does. ‘Palasha’ flowers are still used, at least in regions where the species grows, sometimes in the form of colour extracted from them and sometimes the flowers itself, the elite using it symbolically, and the poor tribes as their main source of colour, in celebrating Holi. The rural elite would use, almost as a rule, the ‘Palasha’ colours when playing Holi with persons they held in reverence, elders, teachers, priests, even former nobles or rulers among others.
As is the theme of this painting, while playing Holi with the loved one, not its colour but the lover would smear on her face the petals of ‘Palasha’ rubbing them on her cheeks adding to her gold-like lustre the red-tint of the flower. The miniature has romantically dramatized its theme – the celebration of Holi, and also the entire perspective: the celebrating couple’s solitude in contrast to the nature of the festival that mass-participation defines. As is obvious, along with a maid carrying ‘Palasha’ petals in a tray, the princess designs to silently slip into the chamber of the prince and before he could anticipate or know anything smear his face from behind with Palasha petals and greet him on the festival. However, knowing well that she would come the prince seems to have been fully alert and when she comes, frustrating her designs to smear his face holds her to his bosom and fully absorbed looks at her.
Unlike the pavilions overlooking a lush green garden, the usual perspective of such themes in a Rajasthani miniature, Jaipur or any, the terrace where the drama is being staged has in the background a palace-part, a chamber with a verandah attached to it, in all probabilities the prince’s bed chamber with entire wall space clad in incised marble with a couple of panels inlaid with precious stones. With amour in eyes the prince has dragged his sweet heart close to his bosom and overwhelmed by the expression of his love the abashed princess completely submits to his wish. Though neither the prince nor the princess has anything in their hands indicative of Holi : a colour pipe or whatever, the floor with colours scattered all over, trays of ‘gulal’, pots of colour-solution and the tray of ‘Palasha’ flowers in the hands of the maid are indicative of Holi.
The figures of both, the princess and the prince, slender and tall, have been conceived with fine features, sharp pointed noses, well-fed cheeks, moderately sized amorous eyes, well defined necks and fine fingers. On the orangish colour of the prince’s face his well trimmed moustache line and the black of the beard, though completely shaved, create magic of colours-contrast. The prince is putting on an off-white tight-fitted full sleeved kurta, a light purple skirt over a deep magenta pajama, a golden sash and red turban; and the princess, pinkish purple lehenga with golden leggings, green blouse and golden odhini with elaborate gold work. Both figures have been elegantly bejeweled. Besides other ornaments a gold necklace designed with ‘phalis’, flower-petals that the princess is putting on, has a rare traditional touch.
This description by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr Daljeet. Prof. Jain specializes on the aesthetics of ancient Indian literature. Dr Daljeet is the chief curator of the Visual Arts Gallery at the National Museum of India, New Delhi. They have both collaborated on numerous books on Indian art and culture.