Bhima Kills Kichaka and his brothers, signed by Dhannu from Razmnama - Mughal Miniature Painting, circa 1598-99

Bhima Kills Kichaka and his brothers, signed by Dhannu - Mughal Miniature Painting, circa 1598-99

This Razmnama painting in nim-qalam style depicts Bhima killing Kichaka and his hundred and one brothers as a punishment for Kichaka's lecherous behaviour towards Draupadi. The inscription in nasta'liq below the painting reads 'Bhima killing Kichaka together with one hundred and one brothers and Draupadi pulling [herself] from the hand of [their] associates'. The text on the reverse is from the Mahabharata Book IV, 21-24, and tells the story illustrated here.

The Razmnama is the abridged version of the Hindu epic poem the Mahabharata which tells the story of a rivalry between cousins, the Pandavas and the Kauravas, for the kingdom of Hastinpura. One of the central figures is the god Krishna, who assists the Pandava brothers. This vast work was translated into Persian at the request of Akbar in 1582-83 but the presentation manuscript with 168 paintings, now preserved in the Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II Museum in Jaipur, was not completed until 1586 (for illustrations of some of them see Das in Das et al. 1998, pp.52-66).

The current illustration comes from the second copy of the Razmnama that was finished in 1598-99, the final five parts and colophon of which are housed in the British Library. However, it is not merely a replica of the imperial prototype, as less than a fifth of its paintings, including the present scene, are represented in the Jaipur Razmnama.

This full page work, along with nine of the manuscript's other paintings, is by the artist Dhannu, a prolific painter of the imperial Mughal atelier of the period 1580-1605. His earliest works can be found in the Darabnama of circa 1580, and later in the Tarikh-i Khandan-i Timuriyya, the Jaipur Razmnama, the Victoria and Albert Museum Akbarnama, the Keir Collection Khamsa of Nizami, the Jaipur Ramayana, the British Library Baburnama, the National Museum of Delhi Baburnama, the 'Iyar-i Danish, the 1596 Chingiznama and the Akhlaq-i Nasiri. The most distinctive feature of Dhannu's painting style is his treatment of the faces which at times borders on caricature. In this instance many of the faces are finely drawn, particularly that of the wild-haired Bhima, whose expression, whilst effortlessly dispatching four brothers, verges on the nonchalant. The body of the dead Kichaka burns on a pyre in the foreground. For a detailed discussion of the 1598 Razmnama see Seyller 1985. This painting is additional to the nine other paintings by Dhannu listed there.