Sage Kanva Instructs Shakuntala to Move Around the Sacrificial Fire

UnknownMid 18th Century

National Museum - New Delhi

National Museum - New Delhi
New Delhi , India

Extending the narrative of the Kalidasa’s text, the artist inserts a scene where Shakuntala’s foster father Sage Kanva advises her on matters of proper conduct and propriety that she should follow for a happy married life and the challenges ahead of her that she must overcome.

The artist depicts Shakuntala with folded hands keenly listening to the old sage, while the sage Kanva expounds worldly advice, his finger raised in a gesture of instruction. Shakuntala’s companions sit behind her, while one companion patiently listens to the learned sage, the other leans towards Shakuntala’s foster mother, the wise Gautami, enquiring something from her, with an earnest expression. The ascetic Gautami clarifies Anasuya’s query in a gesture of telling.

The background is rendered lush exuberance, where delicate birds flit from trees or are perched upon them, the little daubs of colour animating the verdant green landscape. A large peacock with its resplendent blue hues is depicted on a branch of a thick leafed tree, under which the women sit and is rendered as poised to leap across in flight, reiterating the circumstance of Shakuntala’s impending departure from the hermitage.

The artist weaves a visually arresting composition of the lush foliage and skillfully eschews monotony by the artful use of the myriad shapes of the leaves of the trees, the variegated hues of greens from the dull sage and sap or olive greens, to the bright emerald greens. The artist further enlivens the scene by rendering the trees with twisted branches that wrap through, crowned by the dense leaves.

The artist also vivifies the painting by the intricate and detailed brushwork. Sage Kanva’s representation in particular is marked by individualism that brings out his personality. The fine lineaments on his face and his silvery grey of his hair and beard recall the immense experience of the wise sage. His frail arms and puny torso reveal the spartan life as an ascetic that the wizened sage has led. The fine brushwork in the feathers of the peacock, the fall and folds of the drapery, the hair of the deer skin and the string that is used to tie up the bound scripture recount the skill of the artist.


  • Title: Sage Kanva Instructs Shakuntala to Move Around the Sacrificial Fire
  • Creator: Unknown
  • Date Created: Mid 18th Century
  • Physical Dimensions: 33 x 37 cm
  • Style: Nalagarh / Hindur
  • Accession Number: 89.503/4

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