A Group of Nathapanthi Sages


A Group of Nathapanthi Sages



This large group of sadhus (sages) in the company of devotees provides an interesting source for the study of religious sects in India. Wearing pink robes and hat-like head coverings, these sadhus belong to the Natha Sampradaya, a Shaiva sect founded by Matsyendranatha in the 8th or 9th century. Except for the landscape and the colour of the devotees’ clothing, the compositions are very similar. Some of the important figures in the central group of sages can be identified because of Devanagari inscriptions next to these figures. The person in the centre, wearing a white robe and a conical cap, is identified here as Guru Gorakhnatha. The sages to his left are Raja Bhartrahari and Raja Jalandhara, and the third to his right, slightly bent, is Raja Gopichanda.
The painting is set in the midst of a forest where this group of Nathapanthis has decided to stay awhile. There is a small temple in the background. The group of main sadhus occupies the central space around a fire. Other members of the assembly are on their left, lower left, and top right. They are shown busy with various activities like pounding and straining bhang, a popular intoxicating Indian drink made from the hemp plant, smoking huqqa and chilam (pipe), or having a siesta. Two child sadhus, a sapera (snake charmer), a caged parrot, and dogs are also a part of the group. On the lower right a group of colourfully clothed villagers have come to pay their homage to the sages. Interestingly, a sweet-seller has put up a stall near the river in the hope of some business. A landscape with leafy and dense vegetation,
hillocks, river with lotus flowers, and the inclusion of deer, birds, peacock, hare, and squirrel create a perfect crowded composition suited to the theme.
The Nathapanthis can be identified here with their typical dress code which includes choga – a terracotta-coloured
gown, sota – wooden sticks to ward off evil spirits, and khappar – bowl consisting of a piece of a broken earthen pot. But the most distinct feature is their disk-like earrings, which they wear by tearing the earlobes. The concept behind this was that the rays of the sun should pass through the hole in the ear of the “Wise Brahmin”. Therefore they are popularly known a kanphata (torn-ear) yogis.
The painting’s style presents a combination of Mughal and Rajasthani with some European influence. The washes of colour and various shades of green used to show the depth and variety of vegetation are peculiar to this combined art style.

Sir Ratan Tata Art Collection


Indian Miniature Paintings

Object Type

Miniature Painting


Opaque watercolour on paper






Early 19th century CE


Jaipur, Rajasthan


45 x 33.5 cm (with border), 43 x 32.5 cm (without border)