Indian, Himalayan & Southeast Asian Art

Tales from the Epics

New York
Discover tales from the epics in Sotheby's Indian, Himalayan & Southeast Asian Works of Art auction, taking place 22 September in New York.

T he Ramayana and Mahabharata, India’s timeless and beloved Epics with their palimpsest of interwoven fables and parables, have been a rich source of material for visual and performing arts in the Subcontinent and neighboring Southeast Asian region throughout the centuries. Pictorial representations of the tales in the Bhagavata Purana, a quasi-historical narrative centering around the life of the Hindu deity Lord Krishna, became an immensely popular subject in Indian court painting during the late medieval period and after. The following works from our upcoming sale illustrate the diversity of style and technique employed by different court ateliers across a four hundred year span, to narrate well-known tales from this cherished chronicle.

AN ILLUSTRATION TO A BHAGAVATA PURANA SERIES: KRISHNA APPROACHED BY AKRURA IN THE GOLDEN PALACE OF DWARAKA, INDIA, DELHI-AGRA REGION, CIRCA 1520

Created in the Delhi Agra region of North India in the early Sixteenth century, this painting is from the earliest known Bhagavata Purana album. Works from this album are rare and instantly recognizable by their planar treatment of space, simplified compositions, and saturated jewel-toned colors, especially red.
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AN ILLUSTRATION TO A BHAGAVATA PURANA SERIES: AKRURA TRAVELS TO HASTINAPURA TO MEET KUNTI, BIKANER, INDIA, CIRCA 1690-1710

This Seventeenth century painting from Bikaner, Rajasthan, also very rare, is notable for its precise detailing and extensive use of white. It relates a contiguous story involving the same character, Akrura, but is diametrically opposite in style from the previous example. A river bisecting the painting vertically, is used as a narrative device.
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AN ILLUSTRATION TO A BHAGAVATA PURANA SERIES: THE EXCHANGE OF THE BABIES, INDIA, GULER, CIRCA 1760-1765

In this late Eighteenth century painting from Guler in the Punjab Hills, a diagonal is used to separate time and space and establish the narrative. The tale being told here is the miraculous birth of Lord Krishna. Delicate outlines and a restrained color palette are hallmarks of paintings from this region.
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AN ILLUSTRATION TO THE MAHABHARATA: THE PANDAVA AND KAURAVA ARMIES FACE EACH OTHER IN COMBAT, INDIA, KANGRA, CIRCA 1810

This early Nineteenth century painting from Kangra, also in the Punjab Hills, depicts one of the penultimate scenes from the Mahabharata - the cataclysmic battle of Kurukshetra. The forces of good and evil are engaged in mortal combat as clashing armies unleash a hail of arrows at each other. The painting is attributed to the artist Purkhu who is known to have identified his protagonists with inscriptions on their armor or above their faces.
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