The artist has captured the story of the deer hunt with the fewest possible elements, in a way that is instantly recognizable and yet takes liberties with the classical tale. The forest is represented by two trees and a few sprays of foliage; the deer is a mundane gray, not magical gold; and Sita waits anxiously in a white marble pavilion, rather than a thatched hut. The vibrantly colored backgrounds divide the composition into zones that create mood and organize the narrative.
This scene portrays a dramatic moment in the Ramayana. The blue-skinned Rama (a human manifestation of the Hindu god Vishnu) had been unjustly exiled from his father’s kingdom to the forest, where he dwelt with his brother Lakshmana and his wife, Sita. One day a beautiful golden deer appeared and lured the men away from their forest dwelling. When Rama shot the deer, it reverted to its true shape as a demon—shown dying in the lower part of the painting. Realizing that they had been duped, the brothers raced back to the hut to find that Sita had been abducted in their absence.
Balbir Sen of Mandi sits with his legs tucked under him against a purplish bolster on an oval orange carpet with a green border. He wears a white garment with green borders and some jewelry: a ring, bracelets, an armlet, necklaces, earrings and wears a green turban with a turban jewel across the front, surmounted by a black feathered aigrette. A sword signifying his rank lies across his body. He sits in strict profile with a heavy black beard and mustache. The paper is plain and uncolored except around the figure, which is painted against a white wash taking the shape of the seated man and his setting.
Inscriptions in devanagari script are above the painting.
Balbir Sen (ca. 1817–1851; r. 1839–1851) was born into a family that had ruled the small state of Mandi, in the foothills of the Himalaya, since the early sixteenth century. In this portrait he is shown seated on an orange rug, with a purple bolster pillow at his back. He is dressed in simple white robes, with only a few appurtenances of rank: a sword, a few pieces of modest jewelry, and a perky feather in his turban. Without resorting to fussy detail, the artist has convincingly portrayed a distinct personality. Although the almost geometric shapes create a flat pattern, there is nonetheless a sense of mass to the figure.
Fresh greens for the foliage and dark blue clouds sprinkled with lightning set the rain celebration scene. Court ladies have gathered on the lawn, and some swing under a blossoming tree, while the raja and a woman watch the exciement below from a balcony of his white palace.
In India, the monsoon season is welcomed with joy, for it brings a refreshing end to a long period of heat and drought. The artist has perfectly captured the moist atmosphere of the monsoons, with fresh greens for the foliage and dark blue clouds sprinkled with lightning. Caught up in a festive mood, court ladies have gathered on the lawn to take turns at the swing under a blossoming tree, while the raja and his paramour watch from a balcony of his palace.