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7.10.6 Painting

Painting. Portrait. A sikh chieftain with his gun and attendants. Painted on paper.

Pahari School
early 19th century
British Museum

Painting. ca. early 19th century, © The Trustees of the British Museum,

This illustration shows an audience given by a Sikh chieftain in the early nineteenth century. The chieftain was a local official. Officials and rulers often allowed common people to come speak to them at audiences. At an audience, people expected the rulers to give justice, and they hoped for favors. There is no record of the name of this Sikh chieftain. Which figure in the portrait do you think is the chieftain, and why? What does this tell you about the social position of Sikhs in nineteenth-century India?

The main figure of this portrait is the one sitting on the right side with the golden waist embellishment. He can be identified as the chieftain due to the particularity of his dress (the only one with gold, which likely signifies his wealth and power), and that he is sitting on top of a round rug and resting on a blue-patterned chair. The painting appears to depict the chieftain sitting in front of a line of locals who would likely be petitioning him for help in a variety of issues, such as disputes, for example. The fact that Sikhs served as chieftains demonstrates the high positions they reached. This style of portrait was done by the Pahari School of painters who worked in northern India from the seventeenth through the nineteenth centuries.