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  • Writer's pictureAkanksha Damini Joshi

Bani-Thani : Art, Love, Devotion

Oftentimes it happens. Art imitates life.

The story dates back to the mid 1700s. Rajasthan, Kishangarh. The area around Ajmer. There lived a King. His name was Raja Sawant Singh. Courageous, just, kind man. Just like his isht, Krishna. Every body knew he was a devotee, and how!

Each night the king would write reams and reams of love poems for his Lord and his Goddess, Radha.

As he wrote, it was not just the ink from his pen that flowed. No. His heart would flow through each tear of longing, each song.

But, like is it is. This devotion was a journey of solitude. Who to share it with? Akath katha prem ki.

‘मतिवारे समझै नहीं, मतवारे लैं जानि।’

The mad ones do not understand, the mad one understands.

The person pouring this devotion … was no king. He was simply, a servant of the Lord, Nagari Das.

One evening as the King’s court gathered, a woman walked in. Her form was beautiful, graceful. But Sawat Singh did not see that. He could NOT see that.

All he saw were … her eyes.

In a flash. He knew. They were deep enough for him to drown in.

The lady was called Vishnupriya. She was the new singer in the court. A poetess, a devotee, she called herself Rasik Bihari. Rasik began singing. Songs of the Lord’s leela. Nagari began listening.

In the telling, in the listening everything vanished. The court, the courtiers. Even the teller and the listener. All that remained was … devotion.

Nagari Das realised. He had found someone who was his innermost self, his Radha.

The rest, is history.

The court painter Nihal Chand witnessed the lovers as reflection of the divine couple. Made their images. And thus emerged the exquisite #KishangarhMiniatures much celebrated in the international art circles today.

But what the art circles, the critics miss is … no not the love between the lovers. But the love between the devotees. When not just the minds meet, but spirit merges.

Raja Sawant left his kingdom. It was natural. There comes a time when the ras, mmm, juice of power and that of devotion together become a deadly cocktail. Thats when one needs to choose.

जौ मेरे तन होते दोय. मैं काहू ते कुछ नहिं कहतो,मोते कछु कहतो नहिं कोय. एक जो तन हरि विमुखन के सँग रहतो देस-विदेस. विविध भांति के जग सुख दुख जहँ,नहिं भक्ति लवलेस.

एक जौ तन सतसंग रंग रँगि रहतो अति सुख पूर. जन्म सफल करि लेतो रज बसि जहँ ब्रज जीवन मूर. द्वै तन बिन द्वै काज न ह्वै हैं,आयु तो छिन छिन छीजै. नागरीदास एक तन तें अब कहौ काह करि लीजै.

If only i had two bodies. One would indulge in the pleasure of the world. Another would drown in sat-sang, devotion. Each day life is decreasing. With just one body, what can Nagri Das do?

He chose. Not the Raja. But the Das. The servant.

Together with Rasik Bihari, his beloved, his friend he went to Vrindawan. They lived, played, loved, sang there. And died there too.

I hear in a temple in Vrindawan there still are two chhatris that go by the name of the devotee-lovers.

Come to think of it. Art imitates life. But poorly. It misses the third dimension that comes from tasting, from living. Jo chakhe, so jaane.

PS: Another name for Vishnupriya was Bani Thani. Which the Hindi speakers know means “mighty finely dressed”. Thats another name the miniatures are known by, #BaniThani.

So next time someone pulls your leg, “Kyun bhai, itni Bani Thani kahan jaa rahi hai?!” (Where are you going all dressed up?!)Remember the story. Smile. And if your heart feels like? Send a prayer for such rare devotee-lovers.

Jai Shri Radhe!


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