There Comes Papa

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There Comes Papa
Raja Ravi Varma, There Comes Papa (1893).jpg
ArtistRaja Ravi Varma
TypeOil on canvas

There Comes Papa is an 1893 painting by the Indian artist Raja Ravi Varma. The painting focuses on Varma's daughter and grandson, looking towards the left at an approaching father. Evoking both Indian and European style, the painting has been noted by critics for its symbolism regarding the decline of the Nair matrilineal practices.


The Nair people of Kerala followed a matrilineal system of inheritance based on a large joint family called the Tarawad.[1] The system allowed men and women to enter and leave relationships with very little difficulty. Men would visit the woman's household and present her with clothes and gifts, and after obtaining the consent of both the family and the woman herself, the men could enter into a relationship with the woman.[2]

The mid nineteenth century to the early twentieth century saw the disintegration of this system. The cultural creation of a new morality, coupled in addition to legal infringements, required a redefinition of the once polyandrous and matrilocal system of kinship. Over time, legislation such as the Malabar Marriage Act served to change the old order. [3][4] Ravi Varma's paintings of Nair women were reflective of this newfound redefinition of societal roles, combining European influence and native tradition. [5]


The painting depicts Raja Ravi Varma's daughter holding her child in the central frame. Both characters, as well as the dog, look out from the frame towards an approaching figure. The painting gathers the viewer's focus and evokes investment through participation, [6] while showing elements of Ravi Varma's imagination and European influence. An example being that of the inclusion of the dog, an animal regarded in Indian culture to be unclean, the dog correlates to the European idea of domesticity.[7] The figure of his daughter, believed to be modelled from a photograph,[7] is dressed as was typical for an upper class Nair, but the woman's stance is evocative of European styles. [8] The home in which the father is implied to be in is representative of a quiet private place that would not only be a mere domestic setting, but rather an interior for the unwinding of a private personal life.[9]

Social and cultural historian G.Arunima describes how the painting could evoke many thematic representations to the viewer; for some, the painting would be symbolic of combined Eastern and Western artistic technique, while for others the painting would represent an upper class Nair woman in a domestic Kerala setting.[6] According to Arunima, for the audience of the late nineteenth century, these representations would mean something more. The absent but approaching father (who without the title the audience would not know was approaching ) represents the decline of the Nair matrilineal system. The subject being of a nuclear family acts as a call for the end of matrilineality. [6][10] Critic Niharika Dinkar notes:

"With the dog on her right, it is clearly a bourgeois offshoot of contemporary Victorian images of the expectant mother waiting for the father to complete the picture of the small, happy nuclear family. The central figure in the painting was Ravi Varma’s own daughter,someone whose own life was spent within the traditional tharavad,yet she is represented here as an icon for the new family ideal."[9]

The absence of male figures in Raja Ravi Varma's paintings are signifciant. The behavior between men and women were distant and formal. As part of the matrilineal system, fathers were usually insignificant to the larger household and had little emotional connection to the 'wife' or kids. Varma's inclusion of women yearning for their husbands signified a new emotional investment between spouses. [9]


The painting was part of a series of paintings titled "The Life of Native Peoples" that were shown in the Chicago 1893 World's Fair.[7]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Jeffrey 1994, p. 15.
  2. ^ Jeffrey 1994, p. 16.
  3. ^ Jacobsen 2015, p. 376.
  4. ^ Arunima 1995, pp. 162-163.
  5. ^ Arunima 1995, p. 162.
  6. ^ a b c Arunima 2003, p. 1.
  7. ^ a b c Pal 2011, p. 125.
  8. ^ Arunima 1995, p. 167.
  9. ^ a b c Dinkar2014, p. 8.
  10. ^ Jacobsen 2015, p. 377.



  • Arunima, G. (2003). There Comes Papa: Colonialism and the Transformation of Matriliny in Kerala, Malabar, C. 1850-1940. Orient BlackSwan. ISBN 978-81-250-2514-6. Retrieved 2018-06-30.
  • Jacobsen, K.A. (2015). Routledge Handbook of Contemporary India. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 978-1-317-40357-9. Retrieved 2018-07-01.
  • Jeffrey, Robin (1994). The decline of Nair dominance : society and politics in Travancore, 1847-1908. Manohar. ISBN 978-81-7304-065-8. OCLC 32440556.
  • Pal, D. (2011). The Painter. Random House Publishers India Pvt. Limited. ISBN 978-81-8400-261-4. Retrieved 2018-07-01.