Soldiers at the hookah stall and commotion in the bazaar


National Museum - New Delhi

National Museum - New Delhi
New Delhi , India

Painted scenes depicting inebriated people or persons engaged in drug imbibing habits are a common theme in Indian painting. The artwork depicts a scene from an ordinary street of the bazaar, where two women have set up a hookah stall outside their modest hut.

A conglomeration of all sorts of people throng near the hut, perhaps during the time of their work break. Men of all ages, ethnicities, creeds and occupations jostle for space, raising their hands to grab the attention of the pretty hookah seller - the love for tobacco bridging all differences. The variety of the multitude is reflected in the distinct attires that the men wear. We can make out a dark skinned Maratha patiently gesturing for a huqqa, while another man, either a Rajput or a Maratha, in a pale yellow jama, grasps at the hookah pot with eager anticipation. A mulla in a green fur-lined coat distinguished by a white flowing beard stands hesitantly in the centre of the commotion, his education and bearing inhibiting him from voicing his active demand for the huqqa as vociferously as others in the crowd do. Next to him stands a man of Central Asian descent, distinguished by the Kashghar cap that he wears. A pair of Iranians enter to add to the crowd, wearing a style of turbans with their distinct coils barely contained as they cascade downwards, one of them seems to exclaim his astonishment on witnessing the huge crowd.

The right and the left sides of the composition are carefully contrasted. The intensity of the right half of composition is dramatic and powerful with the frantic gesturing of the crowd, a tumult of colours and directional gazes, while the left half is calm, ordered and uncluttered.

The idealised beauty of the women on the left is contrasted by the plebeian realism of the men who are individualistically rendered. A haloed lady whose features are similarly idealised as the hookah sellers is depicted in a gesture of holding a flower that signals her refined tastes; she watches the rumpus below with cool detachment, gazing from the window of her palace.


  • Title: Soldiers at the hookah stall and commotion in the bazaar
  • Creator: Unknown
  • Date: 1775/1800
  • Location: Hyderabad, Deccan
  • Physical Dimensions: h25 x w35 cm
  • Accession Number: 55.24/64

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