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Madhavchandra Giri (the Mahant)

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    Kolkata (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1875 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Painted in opaque watercolour and tin alloy on paper

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

Physical description

Painting, watercolour and tin alloy details on paper, from a series illustrating the Tarakeshwar murders, the trial of the Mahant. The composition of the picture is highly conceptualised scene of the court. To the right of the foreground, behind a black railing, stands the Mahant, bearded, and dressed only in an orange and silver dotted dhoti. To the left, stands Nabin Chandra Banerjee, the husband and murderer, closely guarded by a uniformed policeman. The details include the decapitated head and body of Elokeshi as well as the aish-botior fish chopper which was used to murder her. This trial took place well after her husband Nabin was convicted. Besides being unnecessary for this trial, given the lapse of time it would have been difficult to produce her body at the court. The Kalighat painter has depicted a proverbial court scene detailing the English judge in black top hat and the Mahanta, Madhav Giri, standing behind a bar. The court clerk on the left is shown taking notes and the pleader on the right is shown putting his case with animated gestures, both attired in contemporary outfits. A havildar or police officer leads Navin into the court. A pankha or fan overhead is depicted.

The Tarakeshwar murder trials had all the elements of a popular drama and provided the Kalighat painters a variety of subject matters.
The Mahanta's trial was over by the end of 1873, therefore the correct dating of the painting should be after the trial.

Place of Origin

Kolkata (made)


ca. 1875 (made)



Materials and Techniques

Painted in opaque watercolour and tin alloy on paper


Height: 448 mm maximum, Width: 275 mm maximum

Object history note

A bequest of late Dr Otto Samson.

Historical significance: The temple of Kali had been built in the seventeenth century at a 'Pithasthan', the location where toes of Sati, a consort of Shiva, were supposed to heve fallen, on the east bank of the 'Adi Ganga', an original course of the Hugli River or the Ganges and rapidly became a place of pilgrimage. Subsequently the temple was rebuilt and an enlarged, the present, 'atchala' structure was completed around 1809. It became customary for pilgrims to visit the Kalighat shrine throughout the year. Its location south of Calcutta, encouraged a small settlement to grow up. Eventually a brisk trade developed in pilgrim's souvenirs such as wooden dolls and terracotta figures. With the arival of 'patuas' (folk painters) in the early nineteenth century, the souvenirs also included watercolour pictures of mainly religious and mythological subjects. As the local style developed and the demand changed so did the subject matter. Repertoire of the 'patua' included contemporary subjects such as the evil of modern age, social satire and study in Natural History. As a popular art form, the Kalighat artists are recognised for their use of brilliant colours, simplified and bold brushstrokes.

Descriptive line

Painting, Tarakeshwar murder case, trial of the Mahant, opaque watercolour and tin alloy on paper, Kalighat, Kolkata, ca. 1875

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Archer, W.G., Bazar Paintings of Calcutta, London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office 1953, pl.7

Archer, W.G., Kalighat Paintings, London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office 1971, p.25, pl.38

Jain, Jyotindra, Kalighat Painting, Ahmedabad: Mapin Publishing Pvt Ltd 1999, p.137, fig.127

Sinha, Suhashini, and Panda, C, eds. Kalighat Paintings from the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London and Victoria Memorial Hall, Kolkata. London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 2012. ISBN 1851776656.
Arts of Bengal : the heritage of Bangladesh and eastern India : an exhibition organized by the Whitechapel Art Gallery in collaboration with the Victoria and Albert Museum : 9 November-30 December 1979, Whitechapel Art Gallery ..., 12 January-17 February 1980, Manchester City Art Gallery ... . [London]: Whitechapel Art Gallery, [1979] Number: 085488047X (pbk.) :


Opaque watercolour; Paper; Paint; Tin alloy



Subjects depicted

Priest; Police; Court; Trial


Paintings; Folk Art; Bonita Trust Indian Paintings Cataloguing Project


South & South East Asia Collection

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