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Battle at Thaneshwar
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The renouncer in black cloak and hat is a Nath yogi; the yogi with a saffron robe and jata (dreadlocks) piled atop his head is a Sannyasi devotee of the god Vishnu. Both renouncers are depicted with gray ash covering their bodies.

This bifolio was composed for an illustrated Akbarnama, the history of the reign of the third Mughal emperor, Akbar, who appears here with his characteristic droopy mustache and small turban. The scene represents a battle that Akbar, returning from a hunting expedition, observed at Thaneshwar, a Hindu holy site on the banks of the Saraswati River about 99 miles north of Delhi, in 1567.

The tide of battle turned when the leader of one of the ascetic groups, Anand Giri, was beheaded. The artist emphasized the culminating moment of the conflict by splaying out Anand Giri’s body so that it contrasts with the frenetic movements of the militant ascetics.

Yoga: The Art of Transformation

Battle at Thaneshwar

left folio
On auspicious days, yogis secure prime bathing spots at Hindu holy sites to increase the fruits of their practice and garner the lion’s share of alms. These paintings from an imperial Mughal chronicle represent two armed bands of yogis at the sacred site of Thaneshwar (not far from Delhi) during a solar eclipse in 1567. With swords, spears, bows, sharp iron discs, axes, clubs, and daggers, they battle for the choicest location—the diamond-shaped tank in which lay pilgrims offer gifts with outstretched arms.

right folio
Armed ascetics, who provided protection for their orders or served as mercenaries, were a phenomenon from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century. They are commonly assumed to be followers of Shiva. However, most of the yogis in the painting wear the V-shaped forehead marks of Vishnu’s devotees. The folios add to a growing body of textual evidence that at least some militant ascetics were Vaishnava.

Battle at Thaneshwar
bifolio from the Akbarnama
Composed by Basawan; left folio painted by Basawan and Tara the Elder; right folio painted by Asi
India, Mughal dynasty
Opaque watercolor, gold, and ink on paper
Victoria and Albert Museum, London IS.2:61-1896, IS.2:62-1896

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