Maharana Sarup Singh receiving Sir Henry Lawrence in durbar 1855

Maharana Sarup Singh ruled the Rajput kingdom of Mewar, centred on Udaipur, from 1842 to 1861. This painting depicts a durbar, or meeting, held to mark the signing of a treaty between the Maharana and his thakurs (chiefs). Sir Henry Lawrence was the British Governor General’s agent for Rajputana (Rajasthan) and acted as a mediator between the Maharana and his chiefs. His intervention illustrates the extent of British influence in the politics of the Rajput states following the signing of a treaty between the British and the Rajputs in 1818.

This painting, by the Maharana’s chief court artist Tara, displays many features of the Rajput school. The popular durbar theme can be considered an extension of the portrait genre in Rajput painting and forms a compositional link between portraits and large, complex depictions of festivals, hunts and other entertainments, known as tamasha scenes. The pre-eminent role of the Maharana was reinforced by court paintings in which the ruler is consistently portrayed as larger than those surrounding him, and distinguished by a nimbus and/or the crescent moon of Shiva, which both refer to his divine descent. The Maharana’s divinity was also inferred by specific court regalia, including morchal (a fan of peacock feathers) held by his attendants.

Highly valued characteristics in Rajput society were valour, loyalty to the Maharana and the Hindu Rajput kingdom, and military prowess. These values were signified in Rajput portraiture by weaponry such as the kartar (two-handled dagger), shield and talwar (sword). The group of sardars is mirrored by the British delegation, and the rank of each individual is conveyed by his relative size.

Artwork: TARA Indian active 1836 – (c. 1866). Maharana Sarup Singh receiving Sir Henry Lawrence in durbar. 1855, Udaipur, Rajasthan, India. Opaque watercolour and gold paint on paper.