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And That’s How You Play Holi: Indian Miniature Paintings Celebrating Courtly Colours

One of India’s most colourful and extensively observed holidays is Holi, sometimes called the Festival of Colors. It heralds the coming of spring and the triumph of right over wrong. Usually falling in February or March, the event is held on the full moon day (Purnima) of the Hindu month of Phalgun. The joyful dousing of loved ones, acquaintances, and even strangers with coloured powder and water is one of Holi’s most iconic customs. This happy pastime represents the dismantling of societal barriers and the celebration of variety and unity.

Indian miniature art is well recognized for its rich hues, dexterous details, and representation of diverse religious and cultural celebrations. The celebration of colours, Holi, is a common theme in Indian miniature paintings. Throughout history, painters have portrayed Holi scenes in various ways that reflect the aesthetics and cultural quirks of the times and places in which they were created.

Jehangir celebrates the Hindu festival of Holi, unknown artist, c 1635. credit: Wikimedia Commons.
The Mughal Emperor Muhammad Shah celebrating Holi, by Bhupal Singh c 1737. Photo credit: Asia Society
The Holi festival, by Mir Kalan, 1734-1735. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Maharaja Bakhat Singh rejoices during Holi, Nagaur, c 1748-50. Photo credit: Mehrangarh Museum Trust.
The emperor Jehangir celebrated Holi with the ladies of the Zenana, c 1800. Photo credit: Chester Beatty Library.
Prince celebrating Holi in a harem, Golconda, c 1800. Photo credit: National Museum, New Delhi.
Lord Krishna Playing Holi with Radha and Gopis / Credit: exoticindiaart
Radha Krishna Playing Holi in Vrindavan / Credit: exoticindiaart
Asaf-al-Daula-celebrating-the-spring-festival-of-Holi-with-the-ladies-of-his-court / Credit: SOTHEBYS
Women celebrating Holi, Mughal, Lucknow 1780 / Attributed to Mihr Chand / Credit: Sothebys
Emperor Muhammad Shah (Reigned 1719-48) Presides Over Celebrations Of the Spring Festival of Colours (HOLI UTSAVA)
Radha and Hindu God Krishna Celebrating the Festival Holi / C.1800-1810/ Pahari Hills, Bilaspur School / Cleveland Museum of Art / CC0



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