Nari-Kunjar, a Unique Genre of Art

Nari-Kunjar a remarkably unique art genre which started trending amongst the Indian artists, starting early 17th century was a result of the influence of an art-style from Persia. The main composition of the artform is a framework of a Kunjar, a Sanskrit word, which means, the Elephant, within the shell, figures of women, nari, are artistically intertwined and seated in a creative manner. The figures are generally dancers, musicians or just a jubilant group of women. The creativity of the artist lies in the acrobatic postures used for the figures, their adjustment within the composition and their voluptuous form.

Shown below is a Persian (Left) and an Indian painting (right) of Composite elephant. Its evident, how much the Indo-Islamic artform influenced the Indian artstyle. The difference is the Persian painting is a Pashu-Kunjar (composite elephant made of animals) and the Indian style is Nari-Kunjar (composite made of women).
Composite Elephant, Persian painting, 1600 (circa)

Victoria and Albert Museum, 1800 (circa)

The composition typically followed a set pattern of nine women dressed ostentatiously. Four of the figures formed the beasts’s legs. The plait of one of the woman played the role of the elephant’s tail. The figure which served as the trunk, took the most difficult acrobatic posture. The tusks were generally formed by a figure carrying two similar items like swords or fans, depending on the subject of the painting.  The deity riding the elephant mostly carried an ankusha (elephant goad). The remaining female figures formed the back and the belly, one of whom would typically be playing an instrument called mridanga (double-headed drum).

Shown below is a Nari-kunjar painting from Rajasthan School, Sitting astride the elephant is Krishna, the gopi’s intertwined bodies form legs, body, and tusks of the elephant. The composition depicts the spiritual union of the gopi’s with their lord.
19th Century , The British Museum

These charmingly unusual compositions were a metaphorical depiction of different theories and philosophies. Paintings from Rajasthan school were mostly creative manifestations of the devotion and love of the gopi’s for their Lord Krishna. Mughal paintings depicted the splendor and flamboyance of the royal courts. The series created in South India depicted God of love Kama with his flashy attendants serving as a kunjar (Elephant), symbolizing the passion and romance associated with him.

Shown below is a Mughal painting, it illustrates a kingly figure riding an elephant formed by dancers and musicians, he is shown to control the beast with an elephant goad, and a woman behind him holds a fan over him. The painting is a symbolic demonstration of the pomp and show of the royal court.
Early 17th century, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Nari-kunjar shown below is delightfully intriguing and diverse from the rest, a cobra coiled around the legs of the dancer interestingly makes the trunk more comprehensive. Ducks are cleverly used by the artist to appear as shoes for the dancers serving as the legs of the elephant.
circa 1750, Sothebys collection

Lord Vishnu riding an elephant composed of female orchestra and acrobatic dancing girls.
1800 (circa), The British Museum

Manmatha or Kama Dev, the God of Love, mounted on an Elephant composed of nine women
1820 - 1825, Victoria and Albert Museum

Composite elephant made of beautiful Apsaras at a Vishnu temple in Tamil Nadu


A contemporary painting of Nari-Kunjar made by Baani Sekhon. 
Media- oil on canvas, Size- 30”x36” inches, year-2017

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Masterpieces with Single Tree Composition

Fundamentally, all landscape paintings have a focal point, which draws the viewer’s eye to the heart of the paintings composition. For instance (as shown below), the cypress trees serve as the focal point in Vincent van Gogh’s painting ‘Wheat Field and Cypress Trees’, the sun in Claude Monet’s painting ‘Impression’ and the central tree in the painting ‘Banks of the Marne’ by Paul Cezanne.


But what if the composition of the painting comprises of a single tree, the focal point diminishes and the central figure is the lone subject of the painting. Which genre would the artwork fall under – Landscape, subject study or symbolic art? The theme sounds vague, boring and bland but surprisingly this rare composition has been captured beautifully by many master artists. We explore few such masterpieces that aesthetically illustrate this atypical theme.

The Mulberry Tree by Vincent van Gogh-
The isolated tree shown against a rocky terrain has its branches spread out with a blast of fiery colors. Vincent managed to create a magical autumn experience by means of just a single tree.

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Rose bushes under the Trees by Gustav Klimt-
The canvas is like a confetti explosion of various shades of greens and yellows. Klimt’s unique composition of a single tree with rich foliage, depicted with tiny specks of brush strokes is one of his most popular masterpieces.

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The Tree Series by Piet Mondrian-
The solitary trees in the series are depicted in their most basic and simplistic form, true to Mordrian’s art movement ‘De Stijl’ / ’The Style’. Cleverly angled brush strokes, and limited palette void of greens are the unique characteristics of this series.


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The Bonaventure Pine by Paul Signac-
Painted in pointillism style a huge Umbrella Pine tree stretches across the canvas. The subdued background highlights the majestic form and the interesting shape of the tree. Following the pointillism technique of small dots applied in patterns, pixels of lighter tone sprinkled around the tree, suggest sunlight filtering through the leaves, adding a dreamy feel to the painting.

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Autumn trees by Egon Schiele-
The bare lone trees made by the expressionist artists are metamorphic, the series deal with the themes related to death and rebirth. Grey palette, twisted trunk, cloudy sky and entwined branches are a compelling portrayal of a stormy winter, allegorical of misery and loneliness.

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Pine Tree near Aix by Paul Cezanne-
The composition of this artwork differs from the rest, it’s unique and abstract, much like the other artworks of the post impressionist artist. The central figure (i.e. the pine tree) gets cut from all sides and is used as a frame for the painting. The mesh of the branches connecting the sides, combine all the elements to the center of the composition.

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The Oak by Edvard Munch-
The artwork has an interesting color scheme, cool sky tones gradually descend to warm earthy color, diagonally from top left to bottom right. Though the color gradient of the tree is reflected on the background, yet Munch successively managed to highlight the tree as the central figure.               

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The Pink Peach Tree by Vincent Van Gogh-
The painting depicts a peach tree in bloom during springtime, despite being painted with subtle and pastel shades the artwork looks vibrant and spirited. The perspective exaggerated by the tapering flow of the brush strokes helps in highlighting the tree as the main subject.

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Th.V. Doesburg, Drei Haeuser by Juan Gris-
The abstract treatment represents the tree as a three-dimensional form viewed from a single perspective. The cubist artist’s composition despite its simplified geometric forms retains the look and feel of a landscape.

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Tree in flower near Vetheuil by Claude Monet-
The father of impressionism’s technique of capturing light and its effect on the color of the object is at play in this painting. The light and shade on the solitary tree are represented brilliantly with precise dabs and dashes of varied tones.
  
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Little Oak Tree by Franz Marc-
The simplicity of the painting is reminiscent of ‘The Mulberry Tree’ by Vincent van Gogh (first painting on the top), spirals of fresh green leaves are highlighted by the brilliant blue sky and animated strokes of the ground.

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The Fig Tree by Paul Klee-
The lone trees’ composition, monochromatic tones and the arrangement of the colored shapes reflect the artists experience in stain glass.

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L'Arbre (The Tree) by Pablo Picasso-
Picasso’s neutral colored artwork illustrates a stylized tree, with array of bold strokes and distorted shapes, the composition is compact with interlinked forms.

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A Great Tree by  J. W. Turner-
The Watercolor artwork projects a powerful and majestic tree, the composition partly cuts the tree from the sides, highlighting the sunlit part of the tree as the focal point.

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Yoga: An Art Chronicled

Yoga, as we know it today, is practiced daily by millions of people though very few understand the essence of it. Dating back to the pre-vedic period, Yoga originally was a means of spiritually uniting one with the Divine, within oneself.

To achieve this harmony of mind and body, Yoga has seven primary schools of physical, mental and spiritual disciplines. Today, the Yoga we take pleasure in and identify the most with is Hatha Yoga, which is one of the seven paths, its primarily about physical discipline, the other forms include Raja, Gyana, Bhakti, Karma, Mantra and Tantra Yoga.

Ascetic practicing various techniques of Yoga (1825)

Leaving aside the spiritual aspects of the practice let’s focus on how the physical path ‘Hatha Yoga’ which is most loved and practiced across the world was chronicled down the centuries with beautiful paintings, sculptors and illustrations. Starting from Veda’s, in the course of history there have been numerous textual manuals for Hatha Yoga, most comprehensive being- Hatha Yoga Pradipika and Shiva Samhita. However, unquestionably, humans are visual creatures, illustrative documentation of Yoga was inevitable. Starting 16th century, the visual recording of Hatha Yoga gave result to remarkable artworks.

Bahr al-hayat or Ocean of Life (16th-century)- is the earliest known encyclopedic manuscript with brilliantly illustrated Asanas accompanied with detailed descriptions. Commissioned by the Mughal Emperor Jahangir the creative piece was composed by Sufi master Muhammad Ghawth and illustrated by renowned artist Govardhan. The Sufi masters’ motive was to teach his disciples Hath Yoga to gain meditative power. The artworks depict ash-smeared Yogi’s in various postures complemented with scenic backgrounds and detailed items used by the Yogi’s in their daily life. The miniature drawings follow a subdued palette highlighting the pensive mood and austerities of a Yogic life.

Shown below are few leafs from the manuscript

Khecari and Sthamba Mudra

Nad and Sunasana Mudra

Uttanakurmasana and Akunchan Mudra


Miniature paintings (17th century)- A rich collection of Miniature paintings of Asana’s based on Hatha Yoga Pradipika, a classic Sanskrit manual on Hatha Yoga. This brilliantly colored manual is graphically impressive with accurate postures paired with well-defined angles.

Shown below are few paintings from the collection





Miniature Pahari painting (17th century)- Saptarishi (sons of Brahma) shown in different Yogic postures. Legend has it that Lord Shiva shared his knowledge of Yogic science with seven distinguished rishi’s and laid different characteristics of Yoga into each one of them, these aspects became the seven basic forms of Yoga. Even today, Yoga maintains these seven distinct forms.



Watercolour on paper (17th century)- Lord Shiva, the Adiyogi or the first Yogi, regarded as the founder of Yoga is shown seated in Eight Yogic Postures on a tiger skin, against a green background. Painted in opaque watercolors on paper, the artwork projects a meditative and serene feel.



Murals in the Dalai Lamas’ private meditation temple (17th century): The details of a brilliantly colored and animated mural in the Lukhang temple, or “Temple of the Water Spirits” located in Lhasa, portrays Yogis in 23 Yoga positions with brief description, titled “The Secret Keys of the Channels and Winds.” The temple was a secret space created by the fifth Dalai Lama in the 17th century – and reserved for the private meditation for his successors.

Image copyright: Thomas Laird (Source: hyperallergic.com)


Engravings by Mrs. Belnos (1832): Hand-colored engravings by Mrs. Belnos are believed to be the earliest visual record of Yogic practice’s followed during colonial India. The series of twenty-four graphic plates were prepared by author Mrs. Belnos’s French lithographer husband J.J. Belnos. The intricate drawings demonstrate different signs and postures performed during morning devotional ceremonies.





Sritattvanidhi (19th century): An ancient Kannada treatise, "The Illustrious Treasure of Realities" has one of its sections that includes instructions and illustrations of 122 postures, making it by far the most elaborate visual text on Asanas in existence before the twentieth century.

Image source: fearless.yoga


Sculptors, Murals and Frescos of Yogi’s and Yogini’s, richly adorn the Indian historical temples, these ancient artworks narrate mythological scenes and symbolic themes from sacred texts like Vedas and Upanishads.

Yoga-Narasiṃha, a man lion, is one of the several forms of Vishnu's incarnation where he appears sitting cross-legged in a Yogic posture. On the request of his devotee, Prahlada, He took this Yoga form to calm the heat emanating from Him. This avatar of Lord Vishnu has been one of the favorite subjects for the artworks in ancient South Indian temples. 

Yoga Narasiṁha form at a temple in Vijayanagara, Hampi (13th and 17th centuries) is the most creatively striking art-piece amongst them all.

Image copyrights: T. P. Jayaraj


Temple Nataraj (Chola Era 10th-12th centuries) is where Sage Patanjali wrote Yoga Sutras. The temple hosts carvings, sculpture and other allied arts of Yogi’s and Yogini’s in different Hath Yoga postures.

Image source: 1000yearsblog.wordpress


An ancient sculpture of Patanjali depicted in half-man, half-serpent form, signifying his enlightenment. In Yogic science a snake is symbolic of kundalini energy.



Srirangam Temple (6th to 9th centuries AD): Bas reliefs depicting Yogi’s performing various Hatha Yoga Asanas.

Shown below are ‘Tree posture’ (Vrksa Asana) and ‘Bhujapid Asana’.

Image copyright (rt): Rob Linrothe, (Left) mahavidya.ca


Jambukeswaram temple (2nd century AD) 

Shown below are some Hatha Yoga reliefs carved on pillars and walls of the temple.

Image copyright: Hari Prasad Nadig


Ranganathaswamy Temple (6th to 9th centuries AD): Stone carvings of Yoga Asanas.
Image copyright: Nicolas Mirguet


Mahabalipuram: Ancient stone carving of Vrks Asana
Image copyright: Linda-Sama


Yoga Guru Shobhna Juneja, elaborates on the powerful connection between ‘Art’ and ‘Yoga’.

“The system of Yoga is so vast and generous that deriving creative expression from it is natural for the artists. Although the yoga discipline is strictly an internal experience but sometimes yogis creatively 'digress' from it and start enjoying the artful dimensions of yoga mudras. No wonder then we see yoga as artful and glossy.

Yoga has been preserved through Guru Parampara (from Guru Lineage) whereas artworks inspired by Yoga have 'glorified' this ancient inner science (yoga). More so, if one sees these masterpieces, one wonders that 'Yoga is beautiful' and it’s a path to ‘Pure Love and Liberation

Connect with Shobhna-    INSTAGRAM   I   MAIL

When Art inspired Art

It has been a common practice for artists to replicate the composition of the paintings made by their favorite master artists.  These replicas have been a result of sincere admiration and genuine inspiration. We have listed few such reproduced artworks that have been created with similar theme as the original masterpiece but yet each the copied painting retains its own uniqueness made with fresh creativity.

Vincent van Gogh made over 30 copies of artworks made by his favorite artists- Delacroix, Jean-Francois Millet and Rembrandt. These replicas are not ‘plagiarized ideas’, he reproduced the paintings infusing his own originality with new art techniques and symbolism.

Noon Rest from Work by Jean-Francois Millet (Original)

Noon - Rest from Work by Vincent van Gogh


Portrait of Young Woman with Unicorn’, a painting made by Raphael was inspired by the ‘Mona Lisa’, painted by Leonardo da Vinci. The landscape in the background, three-quarter cut of the portrait and the subjects pose, clearly takes on the composition of the masterpiece made by Leonardo da Vinci. However Raphael’s model has naivety and innocence in contrast to the mysterious Mona Lisa.

Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci (Original)

Portrait of Young Woman with Unicorn by Raphael


Silk-screen prints of Kate Moss by the British artist Banksy are reminiscent of Andy Warhol's portraits of Marilyn Monroe. The graffiti artist has given a contemporary makeover to the classic masterpiece with superimposed hairstyle and vibrant backgrounds.

Andy Warhol's portraits of Marilyn Monroe (Original)

Banksy's portraits of Kate Moss


‘The Balcony’ a painting by Edouard Manet was inspired by ‘The Majas at the balcony’ made by Francisco Goya. Manet applied an interesting color contrast, the three models are Manet’s friends shown in a casual setting. Goya’s theme on the other hand is rather tense, two elegant women are watched over by hostile male figures in the background.

‘The Majas at the balcony’ made by Francisco Goya (Original)

‘The Balcony’ a painting by Edouard Manet


‘Women of Algiers in their Apartment’ is a depiction of a Muslim harem, the painting was created after Eugene Delacroix’s visit to Morocco. The artist was captivated by the Oriental culture, brightly colored flowing costumes, Caravans, Veiled women, and Erotic Harems. In homage to this artwork, Pierre-Auguste Renoir created ‘Parisian Women in Algerian Costume (The Harem). Later Picasso in his cubist style made a series of 15 paintings inspired by Delacroix's masterpiece.

‘Women of Algiers in their Apartment’ by Eugene Delacroix’s (Original)

‘Parisian Women in Algerian Costume’ by Renoir

Women of Algiers by Picasso


Taking inspired from the composition of ‘The Pastoral Concert’ made by Titan, Edouard Manet painted ‘The Luncheon on the Grass’. Unlike Titan’s mythological theme, Manet’s painting had a contemporary setting. In that era, the art critics considered Manet’s painting obscene, lacking any mythological theme or allegorical precedent a nude and a scantily dressed female along with two fully cloth men in an urban setting couldn’t be passed off as a respectable subject. Claude Monet further inspired by Manet’s painting made his own version of ‘The Luncheon on the Grass’.  James Tissot's version 'The Foursome' was more animated but it was much tamer and sober.

‘The Pastoral Concert’ made by Titan (Original)

‘The Luncheon on the Grass’ by Edouard Manet

‘The Luncheon on the Grass’ by Claude Monet

The Foursome by James Tissot


The composition of ‘Bedroom at Arles’ painted by Roy Lichtenstein is an exact replica of Vincent van Gogh’s painting of the same title. The technique is what gives the Pop artists painting its originality.

‘Bedroom at Arles’ by Vincent van Gogh (Original)

‘Bedroom at Arles’ by Roy Lichtenstein


‘The Third of May 1808’ is a painting made by Spanish artist Francisco Goya to honor Spanish resistance to Napoleon's armies. The artwork inspired Edouard Manet's painting ‘Execution of Emperor Maximilian’ and Pablo Picassos masterpiece ‘Guernica’. Manet’s painting portrays the execution of the Emperor of Mexico and ‘Guernica’ is and anti-war painting made by Picasso depicting the aftermath of the Nazi German bombing of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War.

‘The Third of May 1808’ by Francisco Goya (Original)

‘Execution of Emperor Maximilian’ by Edouard Manet

‘Guernica’ by Picasso


The Card Players is a series of oil paintings made by Post-Impressionist artist Paul Cezanne, depicting peasants engrossed in their pipes and playing cards. Cezanne gained inspiration from the painting ‘The Card Players’ made by one of the Le Nain brothers. While the original is highly animated and has a lot of drama, farmers in Cezanne’s artwork are calm and intensely focused on their game.

‘The Card Players’ by the Le Nain brothers (Original)

‘The Card Players’ by Paul Cezanne


Johannes Vermeer’s painting ‘The Art of Painting’ is in fact a self portrait, the artist has his back towards the viewer. Perfectly balanced composition, flawless lighting and remarkably realistic technique makes this masterpiece artwork one of the finest creation made by the artist. Salvador Dali revered Vermeer, ‘The Ghost of Vermeer of Delft Which Can Be Used As a Table’ is a surrealistic painting made by him in reference to Vermeer’s appearance in his popular painting ‘The Art of Painting’.

‘The Art of Painting’ by Johannes Vermeer (Original)

‘The Ghost of Vermeer of Delft Which Can Be Used As a Table’ by Dali


‘Woman with a Parasol’ (Mrs. Monet and their son) was painted by Claude Monet in a single session probably within few hours, the impulsiveness is clearly visible with the bold and dynamic strokes of multiple shades. Upwards perspective, windy atmosphere and the juxtaposition of Mrs Monet with her partly visible son, adds a sense of amazing depth. Inspired by this remarkable artwork, American artist John Singer Sargent, painted ‘Two Girls with Parasols’, the theme and feel of the painting is similar, it depicts a relaxed and casual outing on a sunny, fair weather day.

‘Woman with a Parasol’ by Claude Monet (Original)

‘Two Girls with Parasols’ by John Singer Sargent



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