in Team 5

Mapping Asia – Individual Object Label Draft 3

Ravi Varma -Shakuntala

Shakuntala looks back at Dushyanta

Oil on canvas




This painting portrays the scene where the lovers -Shakuntala and Dushyanta, parts after their first meeting. Ravi Varma constructed a romantic and desirable feminine image of Shakuntala in the woods as she is seen looking back at her lover, Dushyanta while pretending to remove a thorn from her feet. She appeared to be caught between her companions and her lover Dushyanta as her arm was on one of her companion’s shoulder while her gaze was on her lover.


A white clad figure at the far left of the painting is known to be a senior female ascetic named Gautami, appears to be leading the path that Shakuntala and her companions are following. The positions of these characters represent the hierarchy in which the older one leads and orders while the younger ones follow. Thus, Shakuntala’s body gesture depicts the struggle and the break she needs to make between the tradition of following orders and the modernity of choosing a man of her choice.


Through this representation of Shakuntala, Ravi Varma appears to portray on the debate of social reform of women in India; where the female body in his painting is not merely an object for aesthetic pleasure but also carries a hidden social message. In addition, it also reflects on the result of the social exhchange at railways that leads to the idea of modernity.


The idea of tradition versus modern as well as the influence of British on India’s economy, art and social culture affected Ravi Varma as an artist and the depiction of his subjects, from the use of medium to the multiple meanings in his painting.

  1. Which museum owns the painting? The posture is reminiscent of apsara figures in Khajuraho who also are portrayed removing something out of their feet, I believe. Ravi Varma seems to be working within tradition, while he engages with modernity. But, how can we say that it is modernity that allows us to choose the man of our choice? Shakuntala was written by Kaliadasa. When Sita marries, she chooses Rama at her Svayamvara. Otherwise the label seems fine.