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Four Hares in the Hadi Rani Mahal

Nagaur, c1750

The rabbits / hares are four in number and painted as a central roundel on the ceiling of the loggia and are surrounded by apsaras with angel wings. These apsaras are more Sasanian and Persian in origin than Indian, though they do occur in both Dunhuang and in Alchi. Apsaras are a common theme and can be houris or angels depending on where you come from. Here they are beautiful, gyrating and voluptuous dancing girls with tassels, bangles and bells; strong women with attitude – just right for a Maharajah. The four hares/rabbits are also gyrating clockwise and have a rather bemused expression on their faces, as if they know something we don’t. They may well be connected to festivals held on the full moon. Maharajahs got up to all sorts of things on the full moon which left little to the imagination.37 Such is the heat of the desert nights.

Four hares and Asparas, Hadi Rani Mahal Loggia

Four hares and Apsaras, Hadi Rani Mahal Loggia, Nagaur, Rajasthan, c1750 Photo: Carol Trewin 2005

Each of the apsaras is making an offering to the hares/rabbits, and this may hold the clue. Each of the apsaras has angel wings and they are all very dexterous. It is as if fertility and erotic wisdom have combined in a sacred dance that spirals round and round in the heavens for all time. In all probability they are offering pomegranates – an ancient symbol of fertility and wisdom, that in the west has been replaced with the apple.38

The Apsaras were female spirits of the clouds and waters in Hindu and Buddhist mythology: beautiful, supernatural female beings, youthful, elegant and superb in the art of dancing.39 There is a very appealing description which defies the notion that the supposedly innocent rabbits and apsaras look as if butter wouldn’t melt in their mouths. According to the Mahabaratta the apsaras are possessed of ‘eyes like lotus leaves and are employed in enticing the hearts of persons practicing rigid austerities. They have slim waists and fair large hips, and when they dance they begin to perform various evolutions, shaking their deep bosoms, and casting their glances around, and exhibiting other attractive attitudes capable of stealing the hearts and resolutions and minds of the spectators.’

Four hares and asparas detail

Four Hares and Apsaras, Hadi Rani Mahal Loggia, Nagaur, Rajasthan, c1750 Photo: Carol Trewin 2005

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