The Story of Madhava and Kandala in Miniature Paintings


A group of women in a trance before Madhava, from Bilaspur, dated to circa 1690. Wikimedia

#Didyouknow that an ancient love story, initially in oral form, later composed in Sanskrit verse and prose, has been illustrated in Indian miniature painting? We are talking here of the story of Madhavanala and Kamakandala. This story has been in circulation since the 12th century. Madhava was a handsome and accomplished young man from Pushpavati in Central India. He was very talented and the music of his vina managed to mesmerise people, especially women and kept them away from work, hence he gets called by the king Govindachandra who wants to check his talent. Madhava can also chant beautifully. He impresses the king but his queen is also too enthralled by this young man’s performance. The king is not very happy with this and he banishes Madhava from his kingdom. Madhava then reaches the court of King Kama Sena, the ruler of Kamavati. There he watches the bewitching courtesan Kamakandala performing. The two fall in love, but royal politics ensures that the lovers part. What happens next? 

This very interesting love story of Madhava and Kandala has not only been translated but illustrated as well by artists from Pahari and Rajasthani Schools of Indian painting. Let us check out more details and paintings from this fascinating tale of yore. 

Madhava plays his vina before five women drawing water from a well, from Bilaspur, dated to circa 1700. Wikimedia

The oldest recorded manuscript of the story is dated to Samvat 542 (Nepal era), around circa 1422 A.D, housed in the Durbar Library of Nepal. There are 43 other Sanskrit manuscripts dating from 16th to 19th century and are housed across different libraries in places like Thanjavur, Pune and Varanasi. It has been called a katha, meaning story and nataka katha which indicates that this story has been used as a play as well. The author of the composition is not very clear, only 14 manuscripts mention the names of Vidyapati, Kavishvara and Kanakasundara.

Miniature-painting Madhava enthralls the court of King Govinda-chandra with his music
Madhava enthralls the court of King Govinda-chandra with his music, painting from Mandi or Guler, dated to circa 1845. Wikimedia

As already narrated, once banished from his home city, Madhava goes to the city of Kamavati where he sees a courtesan dancing in the court of Kama Sena, the ruler and is smitten with her. He himself impresses the ruler with his knowledge of music, and is given gifts by the king. He, however gifts the same to Kandala. Seeing this the ruler, feels insulted and banishes him from the court of Kamavati. 

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The most popular version of the romance during the 17th century was a Hindi text by the poet Alam (fl. 1658–1703) in which Madhava does not actually faint at the sight of his beloved. Several paintings exist in which the artists depict him so overcome with feeling that he collapses. Depicted here is a painting from Mewar of Madhav swooning at the sight of Kandala, attributed to artist Chokha. The paintings are generally from a ‘Madhavanala Kamakandala’ series from different schools. Bilaspur School seems to dominate on illustrations to this story.

Left – Swooning at the sight of the beautiful Kamakandala, by artist Chokha, from Mewar, dated to circa 1785. Wikimedia. Right – Madhava and Kamakandala meet in the forest, dated to circa 1610, probably Bilaspur, San Diego Museum of Art, U S A. Wikimedia

However, Madhava meets Kandala and goes to her house who also is smitten with him. They spend the night in amorous conduct and impressing each other with games and puzzles. Madhava has to leave the next morning and Kandala is distressed. They send messages full of longing to each other as Madhava moves from place to place. Finally, he come to Ujjayini and takes shelter in the temple of Mahakala. He inscribes in verse the pain and agony of separation from Kanadala on the walls of the temple. 

Suggested Read – Gita Govinda – Enchanting Paintings of An Epic Text from the Pahari School of Paintings

The verses written by Madhava are seen by King Vikramaditya. But the king wants to check for himself whether Madhava really is in love with Kandala. He locates Madhava with the help of a courtesan, and Madhava is told by the king that Kandala is dead. 

Miniature-painting-Madhava in a tent before King Vikramaditya, from Bilaspur. dated to 1690
Madhava in a tent before King Vikramaditya, from Bilaspur. dated to 1690. Wikimedia

On hearing this Madhava too dies. Learning about her lover’s demise Kandala swoons and dies as well. The king is very upset and contemplates suicide himself. But the familiar spirit Betal comes to the rescue. He brings the nectar of immortality and brings both Madhava and Kandala to life! King Vikramaditya asks the king of Kamavati to release Kandala and this happens only after a battle. 

Miniature-painting Kandala faints on hearing bad news, from Bilaspur, dated to circa 1700
Miniature-painting Kandala faints on hearing bad news, from Bilaspur, dated to circa 1700. Wikimedia

Both Madhava and Kandala go back with him to Ujjayini and lead a life together. The King Vikramaditya engages Madhava in services at his court.  Thus, we see a happy ending to a unique love story.

References –

Haskar, A N D, tr./Madhav and Kama: a story from ancient India, New Delhi: Roli Books, 2006. (accessed on 28.05.2022)

Image credits: The copyright for the images used in this article belong to their respective owners. Best known credits are given under the image. For changing the image credit or to get the image removed from Caleidoscope, please contact us.


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