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  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    Calcutta (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1890 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Painted in watercolour on paper

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

This is an example of a Kalighat painting, a type that derives its name from the Kalighat Temple in Calcutta, where such images were created by scroll painters who began to migrate there from rural Bengal in about 1830. The themes depicted were mainly stories from the Hindu epic, the Ramayana, as well as scenes from the life of Krishna and the incarnations of Vishnu, besides traditional themes of musicians and courtesans.

This picture, however, depicts the scandalous Tarakeshwar Affair of 1873, which concerned the forbidden relationship between a Brahmin priest and Elokeshi, the young wife of the Bengali government employee Nabin Chandra Banerjee, who took his revenge by severing his wife’s head with a fish knife. Here Elokeshi is shown offering betel leaf (an evergreen leaf that is chewed as a stimulant) to the priest, who is holding a huqqa (a hubble-bubble or smoking pipe) while seated on a chair. The priest has the appearance of a 19th-century Bengali Babu – a Hindu gentleman who had adopted aspects of European culture – or an English dandy, while Elokeshi is portrayed as a courtesan.

Physical description

Painting, in watercolour on paper, depicting an episode of the Tarakeshwar Murder. Elokeshi is offering betel leaf to the Mahant (priest) who is holding a huqqa pipe whilst seated on a chair. The priest appears to have the appearance of a 19th century Bengali Babu or English dandy whilst Elokeshi has the appearance of a courtesan.

Place of Origin

Calcutta (made)


ca. 1890 (made)



Materials and Techniques

Painted in watercolour on paper


Height: 454 mm, Width: 276 mm, Height: 490 mm paper onto which object mounted, Width: 320 mm paper onto which object mounted

Object history note

The Tarakeshwar murder case of 1873 was a public scandal in Calcutta based on an affair between Elokeshi the young attractive wife of Nabinchandra Banerji and the mahant or chief priest of the Shiva temple at Tarakeshwar. Upon discovery of the affair, on 27 May 1873 her jealous husband Nabinchandra Banerji cut Elokeshi's throat with a fish knife. In the trial that followed Nabin was sentenced to life imprisonment and the Mahant was fined and imprisoned for 3 years. Different variations of this affair favouring the various characters occur in several Bengali plays and Kalighat images between 1875-80. See Archer p12.

Historical significance: Calcutta was the capital of British India from 1833-1912. By the 1830s, artists had arrived from rural villages in Bengal and began to produce paintings that reflected local history, mythology, customs and conflicts of a colonised society. As a popular art form, these artists are recognised for their use of brilliant colour, simplified images and swift brushstrokes that became the hallmark of Kalighat painting in the 19th and early 20th century.

Descriptive line

Kalighat painting, Elokeshi offering a betel leaf to the Mahant, watercolour on paper, Kolkata, ca. 1890

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

p.83 and p. 38
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.
pl. no. 31, cat. no. 31, xxxii, p.91.
Kalighat paintings : a catalogue and introduction / by W.G. Archer. London: H. M. Stationery Office, 1971 Number: 0112900291 :


Water-colour; Silver; Paint; Paper



Subjects depicted

Huqqa; Priest


Paintings; Bonita Trust Indian Paintings Cataloguing Project; Folk Art


South & South East Asia Collection

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