Bani Thani is one of the Indian miniature paintings from the Marwar school of Kishangarh. It portrays a woman who is elegant and graceful. She has also been labelled as India's "Mona Lisa". Bani Thani was painted by an artist by the name of Nihâl Chand. The painting's subject, Bani Thani, was a singer and poet in Kishangarh in the time of king Sawant Singh (1748–1764).
Inspired by Radha, Bani Thani is characterised by distinct features such as eyes like lotus, thin and sensuous lips, pointed nose, high eyebrows, narrow neck, etc. This painting was also featured in a stamp, issued by Indian Postage on May 5, 1973.
Bani Thani was believed to be the mistress of King Sawant Singh, and later became one of his wives. Her real name was Vishnupriya. She was a singer employed by his stepmother and he was drawn to her because of her beauty and singing. She came to be known as 'Bani Thani', which means "the decked out lady", because of the exquisite jewellery and makeup that she used to adorn herself with after becoming queen. He also wrote poetry for her under the pen name of Nagari Das. Their love bloomed due to a shared interest in singing, poetry and devotion for Krishna. She also wrote poetry under the pen name of Rasikbihari. Later, he commissioned his artists to depict their relationship in a way similar to the love between Radha and Krishna. Both lovers passed away in the 1760s. They have twin chhatris dedicated to them near the Nagari Kunj temple.
Style and theme of Painting
The Kishangarh school of art that Bani Thani belongs to was influenced by late Mughal Art, though it can be distinguished due to its extremely meticulous details, rich colours and fine technique. The patron-king Savant Singh was a member of the Vallabhācārya sect devoted to Krishna, due to which religiously themed paintings flourished in the court under his patronage. The paintings of Kishangarh school are characterised by a religious fervour and this might have been the reason why the portraiture of the queen was compared to, and is believed to have been inspired by, the figure of Radha.
The Sringara-rasa Nayika
Within the Ashta Nayika classification system of heroines, the Bani Thani is identified as the Vasakasajja Nayika type, with the element of Sringara rasa (romantic love) predominating. Hence, the painting conveys the passionate and romantic elements of the legend. She has been portrayed with all the elements of Sringara and exaggerated facial features which are unrealistic but striking. This style of portraiture later became the standard of beauty in all the later paintings of the Kishangarh school.
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