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A Portrait of the Hindus: Balthazar Solvyns & the European Image of India 1760-1824
Robert L. Hardgrave, Jr.  
(Oxford University Press and Mapin Publishing, 2004).

All prints are from the collection of Robert L. Hardgrave, Jr., unless otherwise noted, and may not be reproduced without the owner's permission.
For further information and more prints turn to Solvyns Online and The Solvyns Project.


91. Aghori.  Female Ascetic (pp. 258-59).
Solvyns, A Collection of Two Hundred and Fifty Coloured Etchings (1799),
Sec. IV, No.  8. "An Agoree."
135. Paramhamsa (pp. 314-15).
Solvyns, A Collection of Two Hundred and Fifty Coloured Etchings (1799),
Sec. VII, No. 1. "A Purum Hungse."
136. Dandi (pp. 315-16).
Solvyns, A Collection of Two Hundred and Fifty Coloured Etchings (1799),
Sec. VII, No. 2. "A Dundee."
137. Sannyasi (pp. 316-18).
Solvyns, A Collection of Two Hundred and Fifty Coloured Etchings (1799),
Sec. VII, No. 6. "A Soonassey."
138. Baisnab Vaisnava (pp. 318-19).
Solvyns, A Collection of Two Hundred and Fifty Coloured Etchings (1799),
Sec. VII, No. 7. "A Veishnub."
139. Nanak Panthi (pp. 419-21).
Solvyns, A Collection of Two Hundred and Fifty Coloured Etchings (1799),
Sec. VII, No. 8. "A Naunuck, Punthy."
140. Udbahu, Urdhvadahu (pp. 322-24).
Solvyns, A Collection of Two Hundred and Fifty Coloured Etchings (1799),
Sec. VII, No. 10. "An Ooddoobahoo."
141. Avadhuta (p. 325).
Solvyns, Les Hindoûs: II.5.2.  
"Ab'dhoot, A Penitent Naked."
[Solvyns's description of the Avadhuta: II.5.2.]
I have still to describe many singular sorts of Faquirs or devotees, to which I shall give up the remainder of this number; beginning with the Ab'dhoot, who attracts notice by the frightfulness of his exteriour appearance, as the engraving shews. A horrible air seems to be the great object of all the Faquirs, or to make at least an impression upon the multitude by any means.  The Ab'dhoots obtain this end by painting their faces and their bodies in the strangest manner, but always differently from any other Faquirs; for every class of them has its peculiar mode of painting, of arranging the turban, the beard and the several parts of their adjustment.  An Ab'dhoot is particularly careful not to resemble in his outward appearance to a Soonassee, as this last would not on any account resemble him or any other Faquir.
The Ab'dhoots generally go together in bands, and are cleanly and well made.  The one I have drawn has in his hand a little stick, one end of which is carved into the shape of a hand: this serves him to scratch the different parts of his body.  The Ab'dhoots are remarkable for the great veneration and blind confidence with which they inspire the women, who implore them that their marriages should not prove sterile: but the manner in which this hommage is paid is so disgusting and indecent, that delicacy forbids to describe it.  I must however say that the Ab'dhoot remains insensible to all these marks of extravagant adoration, and distributes quietly his benedictions among the women, without ever abusing of their excessive confidence.  They are generally married, and have many children.

[Comment by Hardgrave:] The central figure of the avadhuta [ ] stands nČked. [In] the background of [this] etching [ ] he portrays a group of five women gathered around a nČked avadhuta. The "indecent" manner by which the women pay homage to him [ ] is depicted, with a woman kissing the advadhuta's p-.-. as he blesses her with his hand upon her head. Similarly, Picart in his 1729 engraving depicts a gathering of ascetics in which a kneeling woman is shown kissing the p-.-. of a nČked sadhu. 

[Dolf Hartsuiker's comment:] The strange thing about this avadhuta is that he bears the marks (tilak) of a Ramanandi, not entirely impossible, but one would either expect no marks at all, as avadhutas are 'free' of everything, including sectarian affiliation, or Shaiva marks, since they are (were) usually found in that section. 
[By the way, the 'sadhus' I met in recent years who called themselves 'avadhut', I usually found to be fake-sadhus, riksha-wallas dressed in orange. But in those days it still meant something.]

About this p-.-. kissing as depicted by Solvyns, however, I wonder if he really witnessed it himself, or if he heard rumors about it (e.g. from Tavernier), or saw it depicted (e.g. in Picart). 

[Comment by Hardgrave:] Solvyns is emphatic about portraying and describing only what he has seen with his own eyes or of which he has first hand knowledge, but I have found several instances where he clearly has drawn from outside (and not always reliable) sources.

I always wondered about Tavernier's observation too, for that matter, as I wrote on Picart's page: "I've never come across any mention of the kissing of the ph.—.s in Indian literature."

Sun temple, Konarak, Orissa. 11th-12th century.

So did he really see it? Or did he perhaps see some 'erotic' temple sculpture?
Isn't the scene (above right) much like the scene in Solvyns' (and to a lesser degree Picart's) print? Even the hand on the woman's head.
And does this relief prove these things really happened, or was it just an artist's phantasy, or did it only have symbolic significance, etc.
On the other hand, these practices took place apparently not only in India but also elsewhere. Flaubert, in his book “Voyage en Orient”, seems to have witnessed this peculiar ritual in Damascus, in 1850, although it seems he has the more extreme event from hearsay.

On a square, the tomb of a santon [an interesting word Flaubert uses for a samadhi and a fakir]: behind a fence, you see canes, crutches, hats, caps, all rags and tatters against the walls. A monk walks about stark naked, a kind of idiot who makes grimaces and runs around screaming; the barren women come to kiss his member; recently there was a monk who simply mated with them in the middle of the bazaar; immediately pious Turks came to stand around the couple and concealed them with their broad vestments from the prying eyes of passersby.

From Flaubert’s observation we gather that the practice wasn’t just worship, but that it was meant to promote fertility.

142. Ramanandi (pp. 326-27).
Solvyns, A Collection of Two Hundred and Fifty Coloured Etchings (1799),
Sec. VII, No. 3. "A Ramanundy."
143. Brahmacari (pp. 327-28).
Solvyns, A Collection of Two Hundred and Fifty Coloured Etchings (1799),
Sec. VII, No. 4. "A Bermacharry."
144. Naga (pp. 328-29).
Solvyns, A Collection of Two Hundred and Fifty Coloured Etchings (1799),
Sec. VII, No. 9. "A Nauga."
145. A Fakir at his Prayers (pp. 329-30).
Solvyns, Les Hindoûs:  II.5.6.  
"A Faquir at his Prayers."


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