Two Royal Damsels Playing Chaupara

Two Royal Damsels Playing Chaupara

Item Code: OS51
Oil on Canvas
53 inches X 35 inches
The painting, a contemporary work rendered in oil on canvas, represents two elite ladies playing ‘chaupara’, a derivative of the Sanskrit term ‘Chauranga’, one of the ancient games of India. The painting is rendered in the idiom of modern art of around 1880-1900 A.D. as practiced at Lahore, one of the main centres of Bazaar art. The recovery of a number of pieces or mans with which the ‘chaupara’ was played in excavations of Indus sites suggests that ‘chaupara’ was played in the subcontinent since Indus days, that is, since 3000 to 2500 B.C. Interestingly, the game marks its presence even in divine iconography. Besides scriptures alluding to Indra, other gods and ‘apsaras’ – celestial nymphs, playing ‘chaupara’, the ninth century Kailash temple at Ellora has a sculpture representing Shiva and Parvati as playing it. The Great War – the Mahabharata, as portrays the fifth century B.C. epic of the same name, was mainly the result of the game of ‘chaupara’. Not only the Pandavas’ kingdom but also their wife Draupadi won in the game by cheating had resulted in the Great War.

Though some of its folk transforms and variants have also been emerging from time to time, ‘chaupara’ has been since beginning an indoor game of elite, especially the people of court, male or female, played for whiling away time with or without stake, and sometimes as a means of developing skill and trying luck. Basically a game of dice, ‘chaupara’ is played usually with sixteen mans and four players, though sometimes, as here in this painting and in many other examples, such as above quoted those of Shiva and Parvati, or Yudhishthara and Duryodhana in the Mahabharata, it is also played with eight mans and two players. Each four of the mans form one group and have a distinct identity from other groups of four each.

‘Chaupara’ is played on a textile base or play-board having, besides a larger central square, four arms rising from each of the four sides of the central square. Each of these four arms is divided into three vertical columns, each having eight squares in alternating colours. Dices were made of ivory, bones and other material suiting to each one’s affordability. Each dice-piece of a set of three was marked on all four sides with dots numbering 1, 2, 3 and 6. Sometimes such dices were alternated by simple six cowries. When the game is begun, all sixteen mans are stored in the central square. Then by turn each player casts the dices and according to points gained by them moves his mans first out of the central square and then through the squares on his right protecting them from the opponent’s mans. Each man is required to travel across eighty squares before it reaches back the central square, the home. The player who succeeds in depositing first his all four mans in the central square becomes the winner.

The painting represents two ladies, one young, and other, in her advanced years, playing ‘chaupara’. A young girl is watching them playing, while an elderly maid is entering into the hall carrying in her hands a tray with a bowl in it, perhaps containing some snacks. Of the two players, the elder one appears to be one by royal birth or a rich trader’s wife, and in any case, the lady owning the house. The portrait of a prince, perhaps one in the family line, hung on the wall, the gold water-jug and glasses, character of the architecture – the hugeness of hall and drapery, all affirm her royal status. It seems that just for passing the time she has obliged the young girl, not equal to her status, by allowing her to play with her. All three ladies are seated on a large red velvet cushion with gold-line and great thickness. They are using cowries for the dices and a leather play-board with mutually alternating red and yellow squares on sides and the black ones in the middle.

This description by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr. Daljeet. Prof. Jain specializes on the aesthetics of literature and is the author of numerous books on Indian art and culture. Dr. Daljeet is the curator of the Miniature Painting Gallery, National Museum, New Delhi. They have both collaborated together on a number of books.

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