The festival of Holi celebrates the love of the Hindu god Krishna for the milkmaids [gopis]. Based on ancient fertility rites, it takes place at the beginning of spring. Revellers throw coloured powder and spray dye-tinted water at each other in an atmosphere of merriment and light-hearted mischief.
Painted long after his death, this image shows the Mughal emperor Jahangir (1569–1627, ruled 1605–27) embracing one of his wives, perhaps his favourite, Nur Jahan. Women of the zenana, female quarters, play with syringes of coloured water. The emperor is depicted in profile with a halo signifying his divine right to rule. With a long history in the arts of India, Iran and beyond to Europe, the halo began to be used in portraits of India’s Mughal emperors during Jahangir’s reign.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2011
From: Asian gallery extended display label