Gautami Sprinkles Holy Water Upon the Ailing Shakuntala

UnknownMid 18th Century

National Museum - New Delhi

National Museum - New Delhi
New Delhi , India

The ascetics of the forest perturbed by Shakuntala’s affliction, ask Gautami, an aged ascetic who has raised and nurtured Shakuntala with tender affection and love, to sprinkle some holy water to help alleviate her condition.

Dushyant and Shakuntala are interrupted in their tryst as they discern the approaching footsteps of Gautami. Shakuntala, flustered by Gautami’s imminent arrival, asks Dushyant to hide himself behind the trees.

Gautami, worried by Shakuntala’s apparent fever due to a heatstroke, sprinkles the holy water on Shakuntala’s head from a small bowl fashioned out of leaves. The artist chooses this precise moment of the narrative to capture and heighten the varying mental states of the protagonists.
Dushyant, still hiding behind the trees, awaits the departure of the elderly sage, so that he can resume his rendezvous with Shakuntala.

Shakuntala sits upon the stone slab with her head bowed down, her residual feelings of bashful fluster make her unable to meet Gautami’s gaze. Gautami, meanwhile assumes that Shakuntala’s stance of bowed head is due to her listlessness and the frail condition wrought by the debilitating heat of the sun. She raises her hands to touch Shakuntala’s forehead and anoints her with the cooling holy waters sent by the sages.

The saffron garments of Gautami mark her as the most conspicuous figure in the painting, while Shakuntala’s attire of mellow mauves and Dushyant’s half hidden figure downplays their visual impact. The artist contrasts Shakuntala’s youthful beauty to the aged countenance of Gautami, who although is depicted with black hair, the fine lines around the eyes and her wilting skin betray her age.

In the vast expanse of the jungle with exuberantly coloured lush leaves, the artist skillfully manages to emphasise the key players of the narrative. Gautami’s raised hand and her gaze upon Shakuntala renders her and Shakuntala as the focus of the visual narrative. The half-hidden figure of Dushyant however is visually connected to the two women, by placing near his hidden body multiple birds in orange, echoing the hue that Gautami is attired in. Against a verdant background of the tree that they are perched on, their conspicuous tones draw the attention of the viewer and the figure of Dushyant hiding behind the tree, whose accoutrements such as his turban and his wrap rendered in dull hues of orange-gold weave him in the visual narrative.


  • Title: Gautami Sprinkles Holy Water Upon the Ailing Shakuntala
  • Creator: Unknown
  • Date Created: Mid 18th Century
  • Physical Dimensions: 33 x 37 cm
  • Style: Nalagarh / Hindur
  • Accession Number: 89.503/25

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