Bani Thani, India’s “Mona Lisa”

The lady in this portrait is Bani Thani, and has an interesting story behind her:

King Sawant Singh (1748-1764), the seventh ruler of Kishangarh, was an accomplished poet and artist in his own right. It so transpired that his stepmother employed a young girl as a singer in her palace. She came to the notice of Sawant Singh who fell in love with her. Her real name is not known, but she came to be called Bani Thani, which means smart and well-dressed. She was a beautiful girl who also professed interest in Hindi poetry. She became Sawant Singh’s mistress. It is conjectured that the bloom of her youth and beauty not only roused unholy thoughts in the hearts of men who saw her, but also provided inspiration to the Kishangarh artists to whom credit is given for the invention of the Kishangarh facial formula.

Bani Thani was painted by Nihâl Chand (1710–1782), the chief painter at the court during the time of Savant Singh

As “Mona Lisa”, “Bani Thani” has inspired many other versions:

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Savant Singh and Bani Thani as Krishna and Radha (detail) by Nihâl Chand

(Kishangarh, 1760)

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