THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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15 posts categorized "Hinduism"

26 September 2016

Where’s Arjuna? Renaming the Monoliths of Mahabalipuram

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The ancient capital of Mahabalipuram stands on India’s Coromandel coastline, facing one of ancient Asia’s most famous and lucrative shipping channels. Its formidable 7th-century stone monuments, many of which were hewn from single granite boulders, were created under the Pallava Dynasty over 1300 years ago. These caves, temples and monoliths all bear witness to the power and wealth of the Pallava kings responsible for their construction. Today, Mahabalipuram is classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Many of the monuments at Mahabalipuram show scenes from stories and legends that were important to the Pallava kings. One of these scenes, taken from the Mahabharata, shows the actions of Arjuna, one of the story’s five Pandava brothers.

Two monuments at Mahabalipuram relate to Arjuna. The first of these is the massive sculpted cliff face showing Arjuna performing penance to Shiva, in order to receive “weapons” to augment his warrior abilities. The second monument dedicated to Arjuna is one of the five monolithic stone “rathas” (chariots) which stand in a group on Mahabalipuram’s beach. Unlike the sculpted cliff face, this second monument doesn’t bear any visible narrative connection with Arjuna from the Mahabharata. Why is this?

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View of the Five Rathas at Mahabalipuram, 23 July 1816. British Library, WD 2625 Noc

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Sculpted Cliff Face at Mahabalipuram, 1808. British Library, WD 2624 Noc

Two of the earliest written accounts from Mahabalipuram, written in 1799 and 1803, provide an astonishing explanation for the seemingly random naming of the Arjuna Ratha. The monument that is today called the Arjuna Ratha was only given this name a little over 200 years ago. Previously, the same ratha was named after Sahadeva, Arjuna’s youngest brother in the Mahabharata. Before this change occurred, there was another ratha named after Arjuna at Mahabalipuram, but it was nowhere near the group of five rathas on Mahabalipuram’s beach. It was a solitary monolith located on a rocky hill, close to the sculpted cliff face showing the “Arjuna’s Penance” relief.

In 1799, the old Arjuna Ratha was described as “cut out of one stone from bottom to top: & a Lingum placed in it... the people told me that Rajah Arjoon prayed to this image of Seevoo for a considerable time when he was here...” The Arjuna Ratha of the 18th century was connected with the famous sculpted cliff face showing Arjuna doing penance to Shiva. The precious linga inside the original Arjuna Ratha, alongside the incredible sculpted cliff face, worked together to localise the narrative of “Arjuna’s Penance” amidst Mahabalipuram’s rocky, seaside landscape.

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The original Arjuna Ratha (now called the Ganesha Ratha) at Mahabalipuram. British Library, Photo 472/1(28) Noc

The old Arjuna Ratha was renamed the Ganesha Ratha in the early 19th century. The account of the site gathered in 1803 explains why:
“... [In]the Chariot of Arjoonoo, [which is] cut out of one stone the people say that herein formerly was one Image of Seevoo: but some years ago an English Gentleman carried it away [and] afterward the village Bramins placed a Ganasa in its place...”
Thus at some point between 1799 and 1803, the linga inside the old Arjuna Ratha was stolen. This meant that the old Arjuna Ratha could no longer fulfill its distinctive narrative function as the place where Arjuna worshiped Shiva. The linga’s replacement with an image of Ganesha is poignant because Ganesha, “the remover of obstacles”, is the deity that people appeal to in times of difficulty.

In response to the linga’s loss, Arjuna’s location at Mahabalipuram shifted to the stand of five rathas on the beach. The ratha that had been occupied by Sahadeva, the youngest of the Mahabharata’s five Pandava brothers, was renamed the Arjuna Ratha in the early 19th century, and Sahadeva ended up moving into the same ratha as his older twin brother, Nakula. This explains why the monument called the Nakula Ratha in the 18th century was renamed the Nakula-Sahadeva Ratha in the 19th century.

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The original Sahadeva Ratha (now called the Arjuna Ratha) at Mahabalipuram. British Library, Photo 1003/(2226) Noc

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The original Nakula Ratha (now called the Nakula Sahadeva Ratha) at Mahabalipuram. British Library, Photo 27/(64) Noc

Two Telugu Brahmins, who also happened to be brothers, gathered the accounts at Mahabalipuram that recorded these changes. Now part of the British Library’s Mackenzie Collection, the accounts gathered by Kavali Boriah in 1799, and Kavali Laksmiah in 1803, prove that the names of monuments at Mahabalipuram were not fixed, and that the meaning behind Hindu temples, even when they are carved out of solid stone, can always be reinterpreted.

Further reading:

Dalrymple, William. “A History of Indian Art Through Five Monuments. Part 2: Mahabalipuram.” Sutra Journal, February 2016.

Dehejia, Vidya. “A Riddle in Stone: Pallava Mamallapuram.” Chapter 8 in Dehejia, V. Indian Art. London: Phaidon, 1997.

Howes, Jennifer. “Colin Mackenzie, the Madras School of Orientalism, and Investigations at Mahabalipuram”. Chapter 3 in Trautmann, T. The Madras School of Orientalism: Producing Knowledge in Colonial India. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Kaimal, Padma. “Playful Ambiguity and Political Authority in the Large Relief at Mamallapuram.” Ars Orientalis, 24, pp. 1-27.

Kavali, Venkata Boriah. “Account of the Ruins & Sculptures at Mahavellyporam by Cavely Venkata Boria Bramin sent to Captain Colin Mackenzie to explain them.” December 1799. British Library, Mss Eur Mackenzie General 21, ff.281-286.

Kavali, Venkata Laksmiah. “Particular List of the Gods Goddesses Radums or Chariots, Muntapums nd other Sculptures now remaining at Mahavellyporam. “ May 1803. British Library, Mss Eur Mackenzie General 21, ff. 299-314.

Jennifer Howes, Independent Art Historian Ccownwork

15 August 2016

Ascetics and Yogis in Indian painting

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Being invited to give a series of three lectures on this wide ranging topic at a seminar at the Universita di Ca’ Foscari in Venice in July 2016, it seemed a good opportunity to write a blog highlighting the interesting material in the British Library. Here are discussed such images in Mughal and Deccani painting.

Yogis and other types of ascetics are found in Mughal illustrated historical manuscripts showing encounters recorded in Mughal histories between the emperors Babur, Akbar and Jahangir; and also in indivdual album paintings. From the Mughal point of view more or less all Hindu ascetics were classed as yogis since they all practised bodily asceticisms of some kind or another. The Mughal concern with naturalism towards the end of the reign of Akbar to some degree accounts for what appears to be the accuracy of the early Mughal images of ascetics and yogis. Early Mughal pictorial representations of yogis have as Jim Mallinson points out (Mallinson, “Yogis in Mughal India”) enormous value as historical documents on account of the accuracy and consistency of their detail, overwriting in many instances what can be gleaned from the conflicting literary traditions. It is obvious, he writes, that a variety of traditions shared ascetic archetypes and freely exchanged doctrines and practices.

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Ascetics being shaved at Gurkhattri in 1505. Detail from painting by Gobind from a copy of  ʻAbd al-Rahim Khan’s Persian translation of the Baburnamah, 1590-92  (British Library Or.3714, f.197r)
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In the account in his autobiography, the Baburnamah, of his first raid into Hindustan in 1505, Babur, the founder of the Mughal dynasty in 1526 when he overthrew the Lodi Sultans of Delhi, mentions the well-known cave of Gurkhattri near Bigram (Peshawar) with its then-famous great banyan tree: ‘It was a holy place for yogis and Hindus, who came from faraway places to cut their hair and beards there’[1], but did not visit it at that time.

In 1519, in the course of another incursion, he managed to visit it.

... reaching Bigram, went to see Gurh Kattri. We entered a small, dark chamber like a monk’s cell and after passing through the door and down two or three steps, we had to lie down to get in. It was impossible to see without a candle. All around was an unending pile of hair and beard that had been clipped there. Many chambers like the ones in madrasas and caravansaries surround Gurh Kattri. The first year I came to Kabul ... I went to the great banyan tree in Bigram and was sorry not to have seen Gurh Kattri, but it turned out not to be much to be sorry for.[1]

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Ascetics at Gurkhattri in 1519. Detail from painting by Kesu Khurd from  the Baburnamah, 1590-92  (British Library Or.3714, f.320v)
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The sacred site at Gurkhattri was clearly in the hands of the Nath yogis, followers of Gorakhnath’s Hathayoga system. Nath yogis can be distinguished by the horn worn suspended round the neck, by the fillet worn round the top of the head and in their leaders by the necklace suspended from the shoulders to which are attached strips of cloth. They also wear cloaks often patched, but they do not have any sectarian marks, although they later became Shaivas. Note that at this stage Nath yogis wear hooped earrings through their earlobes and have not yet become the Kanphat or Split-ear yogis who split the actual cartilege of the ear. Other characteristics that mark them out is their long matted hair, piled up into jatas or loose, their nakedness or nearly such, and the smearing of their body with ashes. Note also the yogapattas or meditation bands and the fact that some seem still to wear the sacred thread.

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A shepherd offers flowers to a holy man. Attributed to Basawan, c. 1585 (British Library J.22, 13)
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Alongside these historical manuscripts individual album paintings were also being produced in the Mughal studio in Akbar’s reign. Some of them poke fun at the ascetic tradition as had long been traditional in Indian culture, as in Basavan’s study from around 1585 of a poor shepherd offering flowers to a grotesquely bloated ascetic as he stalks by unheeding; he is followed by an acolyte whose body is as thin as his master’s is the reverse.

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A Nath yogi as a border decoration. Mughal, 1605 (British Library Or.14139, f. 100v)
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By 1605 studies of yogis had become so commonplace that they could be added to the marginalia round illustrated manuscripts, as with this nearly naked Nath yogi tending his fire, complete with horn and earrings, from a manuscript of the Divan of Hafiz that was copied by Sultan ‘Ali of Mashhad but beautified with marginal studies at the beginning of Jahangir’s reign. Pictures of yogis were especially useful for Mughal artists since their nakedness could be used as an exercise in depicting the volumes of the human body or alternatively their voluminous robes for an exercise in modelling.

Although Akbar was interested in all religions and especially those of his Indian subjects and of course had numerous Sanskrit texts translated into Persian, it is his son Salim afterwards Jahangir who seems to have had a specific interest in yoga and ascetic practices, although the Library has no representations relevant to Jahangir here. Instead there are several studies of Nath yogis and other ascetics living in remote places (for example Falk and Archer, Indian Miniatures in the India Office Library, nos. 25-27, 45-46).
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Two ascetics from the Album of Dara Shikoh. Attributed to Govardhan, c. 1610 (British Library Add.Or.3129, ff.11v, 12r)
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It was Jahangir’s grandson, Dara Shikoh, the eldest son of Shah Jahan, born in 1615, who was most famously involved with Hindu philosophy and ascetics. Here are two facing pages from Dara Shikoh’s Album, compiled in the early 1630s just before his marriage, showing two ascetics in yogic postures, attributed to the great artist Govardhan early in his career around 1610. Both wear long beards and have their uncut hair twisted up on to their head: the one of the right has a Vaishnava sect mark and holds up a manuscript page, the one on the left holds a rosary.

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A group of Nath yogis. Ascribed to Mas’ud, Mughal, 1630-40 (British Library J.22, 15)
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Govardhan’s famous study from the 1630s, formerly in the Cary Welch collection, of four nearly naked ascetics seated beside a fire seems to have served as inspiration for this study of Nath yogis by Mas’ud, which reproduces in mirror reverse Govardhan’s shrine on the hill and the tree with a group of ascetics seated before a fire. A young ascetic is bringing them food.

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An imaginary meeting between Dara Shikoh and Kamal, the son of Kabir. Mughal, early 18th century (British Library J.19, 1)
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Dara Shikoh is often represented in later paintings meeting ascetics, normally Muslim ones such as Mian Mir and Mulla Shah, but occasionally also Hindu as here. The accompanying inscription suggests that this is Dara Shikoh with La‘l Sahib, who was born in Malwa in the reign of Jahangir, among whose disciples was Dara Shikoh. The ascetic however in his white robe patched with pieces of variously coloured cloth, his sacred thread and his particular turban with a black fillet wound round a white kulah appears again in an important mid-17th century painting in the V&A Museum showing ten earlier Hindu mystics seated outside a Sufi shrine, where he is named as Kamal and seated beside his supposed father, the 15th century religious reformer Kabir. Both paintings are reproduced in Binyon and Arnold 1921, pls. XVII-XIX and XXII, who note that the two figures are the same but separate their identities according to the inscriptions. Kamal is mentioned in various hagiographical accounts of Kabir’s life and appears more of a spiritual than a biological son, but if he lived it was certainly earlier than Dara Shikoh. His presence here with Dara Shikoh adds weight to Elinor Gadon’s supposition (Facets of Indian Art, p. 157) that this prince was the patron of the V&A picture.

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A royal ascetic. Deccani, Bijapur, c. 1660 (British Library, J.16, 2)
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Artists in the Deccani studios were no less interested in portraying yogis than their Mughal counterparts, and they also developed the artistic idea of the female yogi or yogini. The Library’s only 17th century image of a Deccani yogi is this magnificent and engimatic study of a royal ascetic wearing the patchwork robe of a yogi, seated on a tiger skin beside a fire and with the crescent moon linking him with the great yogi Shiva himself. His sword, dagger, club and fakir’s crutch (no less useful as a weapon than a support for meditation) suggest he might be one of the warrior ascetics who roamed India in bands in the 17th and 18th centuries.

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A female ascetic with devotees. Farrukhabad, c. 1770 (British Library J.66, 5)
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Yogis and ascetics continued as the subjects of paintings in the late 18th century, but now from the schools of Bengal and Awadh. Images of female ascetics became increasingly common in the later 18th century. They normally wear long gowns and have their hair piled up on top of their head or wear a turban. They live out in the open with other yogis and attracted devotees just as did their male counterparts, as in this example from the variation of the Awadhi style from Farrukhabad in western UP. Here a group of women have brought fruit and flowers to such a one, watched by other ascetics. A small śivalingam beside her being perpetually lustrated indicates her orientation.

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A noblewoman visiting a group of ascetics. Murshidabad, c. 1770 (British Library Add.Or.5607)
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In another painting from Murshidabad, a noblewoman has brought her child to a hermitage where live two male ascetics, one old the other young, who sit there telling their beads, while a female ascetic, naked to the waist, supports herself on a swing and smokes from a nargila. The fire beside her suggests she is undergoing mortification, standing up supported by the swing while she exposes herself to the heat of the fire. Female ascetics leaning on swings are a feature of several other late 18th century paintings. The whole concept of Hindu female asceticism in India has only fairly recently become the focus of scholarly attention, specifically of anthropologists studying modern communities, but unless we are to believe that these pictorial studies are fantasies, then it clearly is a phenomenon known for several centuries.


Further reading:
Binyon, L., and Arnold, T.W., The Court Painters of the Grand Moguls, Oxford, 1921
Diamond, D. ed., Yoga: the Art of Transformation, Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Washington, DC, 2013
Losty, J.P., Ascetics and Yogis in Indian painting: the Mughal and Deccani tradition, 2016
Mallinson, James, ‘Yogis in Mughal India’, in Diamond, D. ed., Yoga: the Art of Transformation, Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Washington, DC, 2013, pp. 68-83
——— ‘Yogic Identities: Tradition and Transformation’, 2013
Skelton, R., et al. eds., Facets of Indian Art: a Symposium held at the Victoria and Albert Museum April-May 1982, London, 1986
Falk, T and Archer, M., Indian Miniatures in the India Office Library, London, 1981

J.P. Losty, Curator of Visual Arts, Emeritus
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[1] W. M. Thackston. The Baburnama: Memoirs of Babur, Prince and Emperor (Washington D.C., 1996), pp.186 and 285

08 December 2014

William Beckford's albums on Hindu mythology

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The English novelist and noted bibliophile William Beckford is highlighted in the British Library’s current exhibition ‘Terror and Wonder: the Gothic Imagination’. Exhibition curators (Greg Buzwell, Tanya Kirk and Tim Pye) feature Beckford’s Gothic novel Vathek as one of the earliest examples in this style. Beckford’s masterpiece expressed the ‘orientalist vision of hell’ and Beckford achieved this by combining ‘the fantastical, the perverse and the demonic to produce a remarkable Gothic novel’.

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William Beckford by Sir Joshua Reynolds
Oil on canvas, 1782. National Portrait Gallery, NPG 5340
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Visitors to the exhibition and readers of this blog may be interested to learn that Beckford (1760-1844) was an avid collector of prints, drawings, paintings and travel accounts relating to the Indian subcontinent and China. In fact, after Beckford’s first edition of Vathek was printed in 1786, he acquired an extensive collection of albums of Indian miniature paintings from the collection of the Swiss mercenary Antoine-Louis Henri Polier (1741-95), who was employed by the East India Company. Allegedly, the acquisition was arranged through the artist Vincent Brandoin, a friend to both Beckford and Polier, possibly around the time of Polier’s death. Lucian Harris, who researched the history of Beckford’s collection of Indian paintings, suggests that Beckford’s ‘albums of Indian miniatures probably constituted the largest body of such material in private ownership in Britain in the early nineteenth century’ and by 1819 ‘he owned about twenty-three or twenty-four albums of Indian material’.

Reputed to be one of the wealthiest men in England after inheriting a fortune at the age of ten, he amassed one of the greatest collections of art and books. Due to financial difficulties relating to his plantations in Jamaica, a major part of his library at Fonthill Abbey was disposed at auction between the years 1807-1823.  At the sale of 6 May 1817, the highest price paid for a single lot was obtained for the two volumes of miniatures ‘representing the system of Indian Mythology’, from the personal collection of Colonel A. L. H. de Polier, £267.15s0d’ (Gemmett 1972, p. 52). These albums changed hands several times, purchased by Beckford’s solicitor Mr. White in 1817 and later sold by a Mr. G. Baumgartner in 1894 to the British Museum (see Losty 1982, p. 150).

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An opening from Volume 1 on Hindu mythology showing Varaha the boar avatar, bearing on the tip of his tusk the Earth depicted as a cone containing mountains and sky with the goddess within it, the demon Hiranyaksa lying supine below, his arms cut off. Lucknow, c. 1780. British Library, Or.4769, f. 11  noc

Antoine Polier is one of the most significant patrons of late Mughal painting in the 18th century in northern India. In 1773, Polier was assigned by the Company to the court of Navab Shuja al-Daula of Avadh serving as the chief engineer and architect. In the town of Faizabad, Polier established a small studio of artists who worked at his residence. According to Polier’s letters at the Bibliothèque nationale de France, the studio was led by the painter Mihr Chand and supported by two other junior artists, whose names have yet to be corroborated with artistic evidence. Mihr Chand and his colleagues were commissioned to paint portraits of the provincial governor Navab Shuja al-Daula, portraits of Mughal emperors, topographical views of Agra, Kashmir and Delhi, as well as copies of seventheenth century Mughal and Deccani paintings acquired by the French mercenary and Faizabad resident Jean-Baptiste Gentil. Between 1773-86, the studio assembled at least fifteen albums of paintings featuring early Mughal and Deccani paintings purchased by Polier and the new commissions. An example of Mihr Chand's style is featured below.
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Portrait of Asaf al-Daula, Navab of Avadh by Mihr Chand, 1773-75. British Library, Add.Or.4390 noc

Antoine Polier also commissioned the two volumes on Hindu mythology (mentioned above) between 1773-86. Each volume (British Library Or.4769 and Or.4770) contains 32 folios with miniature paintings surrounded by decorative floral borders. The floral borders are consistent with other albums prepared for Polier. Inside the first volume (Or.4769), there are 9 pages of text by Polier describing each of the paintings and entitled ‘Explanation of the drawings of Hindu Mythology’. These two volumes have significant art historical value as they cast light on Polier’s personal interest in the subject and his role as patron. None of the other albums that were commissioned by Polier include such detailed notes on the individual works. Nor is such information included in Polier's correspondence.

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Polier's notes inside the first volume on Hindu mythology, British Library, Or.4679.  noc

In viewing the paintings in the Hindu mythology volumes, it is immediately evident that these are incongruous to the style of paintings by Mihr Chand included in Polier’s albums. While the subject matter and delineation of the figures are traditional, the background landscapes are more simplistic; pale washes of colour are used to represent the sky or ground. Additionally, a formulaic approach is taken to casting shadows; thin dark shadows are drawn projecting behind figures. The overall compositional format is suggestive of European intervention. Although none of the paintings are signed and are by at least two different artists, they are stylistically similar to other paintings produced in Lucknow in the 1780s (see works commissioned by Richard Johnson).

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Karma, standing four armed, haloed, bearing conch, discus, lotus and club, purple in colour with yellow dhoti and gold ornaments.  Lucknow, c. 1780. British Library, Or.4769, f.2.  noc

It is rather curious that William Beckford opted to sell these two volumes on Hindu mythology in 1817 while keeping many of the others. Although the contents of Beckford's library at Fonthill Abbey were up for sale over the years, the finest albums he acquired through Polier's collection were never sold. After his death in 1844, the albums were transferred to his daughter Susan, the Duchess of Hamilton, and kept at Hamilton Palace Library (Scotland). In 1882, the twelfth Duke of Hamilton privately sold twenty albums of Indian miniatures (along with other contents of the library) to the Kupferstichkabinett in Berlin. Today, the Polier-Beckford-Hamilton albums can be viewed in the Museum for Islamic Art in Berlin. The two Polier-Beckford albums on Hindu mythology are kept in the British Library.

On a side note, William Beckford's Gothic revival country house Fontill Abbey which was demolished in 1846, is now featured in a video game - which allows gamers to explore the country house through an underwater journey. Perhaps this may be of interest to readers and Beckford fans.

Further reading:

Alam, M. and Alavi, S. (ed). A European Experience of the Mughal Orient: The I'jaz-i Arsalani (Persian Letters, 1773-1779) of Antoine-Louis-Henri Polier, Oxford University Press, Oxford & New Delhi, 2001.

Gemmett, R.J. (ed). Sale Catalogues of Emminent Persons, Volume 3, Sotheby Parke-Bernet, London, 1972.

Gemmett, R. J. (ed). The Consummate Collector: William Beckford's Letters to His Bookseller, Michael Russell Publishing, Norwich, 2000.

Harris, L. 'Archibald Swinton: A New Source of Albums of Indian Miniatures in William Beckford's Collection, The Burlington Magazine, Vol. 143, No. 1179, (June 2001), pp. 360-366.

Harris, L.  British collecting of Indian art and artifacts in the 18th and early 19th centuries (University of Sussex, 2002)

Losty, J.P., The Art of the Book in India, British Library, London, 1982.

Roy, M., "Origins of the late Mughal painting tradition in Awadh" in Markel and Gude, India's Fabled City: The Art of Courtly Lucknow, Prestel, 2010.

Roy, M., 'Some Unexpected Sources for the Paintings by the Artist Mihr Chand, son of Ganga Ram', South Asian Studies, Vol. 26: 1 (2010) pp. 21 — 29.

 

Malini Roy
Visual Arts Curator 

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13 October 2014

Indian Music in the Persian Collections: the Javahir al-Musiqat-i Muhammadi (Or.12857). Part 2

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The second of two posts on the Bijapur manuscript Javāhir al-mūsīqāt, c.1570/c.1630 by guest blogger Katherine Butler Schofield of King’s College London. This manuscript has now been digitised and is available to read online on British Library Digitised Manuscripts. Follow the links below to go directly to the relevant folios.

This manuscript has now been digitised and is available to read online on British Library Digitised Manuscripts. Follow the links below to go directly to the relevant folios. - See more at: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/asian-and-african/#sthash.TcGz4966.dpuf

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The replacement frontispiece of the Javāhir al-Mūsīqāt-i Muḥammadī, reused from elsewhere. (British Library Or.12857, f. 1v)
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In my last post, I concluded that Shaikh ‘Abd al-Karim’s musical masterwork, the Javāhir al-Mūsīqāt-i Muḥammadī, is a multilingual palimpsest of three treatises: a translation c. 1570 of the 13th-century Sanskrit Saṅgītaratnākara into 16th-century Dakhni, probably for ‘Ali ‘Adil Shah of Bijapur (r.1558-80), which was split apart and its paintings reused by Shaikh ‘Abd al-Karim to form the central thread of a more elaborate 17th-century Persian translation dedicated to ‘Ali’s great-nephew, Muhammad ‘Adil Shah (r.1626-56). This unique work is culturally significant for several reasons. For one thing, when placed in wider geographical context it testifies to a significant vernacularisation of Sanskrit music theory in the 16th century, preceding by nearly a century its recodification in Persian under the Mughals (see Brown below).

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Deskar, the fourth rāginī of Megh (British Library Or.12857, f. 119r)
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A number of other noteworthy vernacular music treatises made their appearance in this century: e.g. a miniature Awadhi verse treatise inserted into Qutban’s Sufi romance the Mṛgāvatī (1503) produced in Jaunpur (Behl, pp. 131-133); a Braj rāgamālā called the Mānakutūhala, traditionally attributed to Raja Man Singh of Gwalior (d.1516)[1]. ; and a Marathi translation of the Saṅgītaratnākara with paintings of very similar style and date to the Jawāhir (Zebrowski, pp. 60-4). The production of a substantial Dakhni recension of the Saṅgītaratnākara in Bijapur thus confirms a growing picture of a vernacularising 16th century in north and central India’s independent courts.

But a major reason this work is of importance to music and cultural history is Shaikh ‘Abd al-Karim’s systematic integration of ideas from the Islamicate sciences about the power of sound and its effects in human affairs into a work of Indic musicology. We already know from work done on the great astrological treatise written in Persian for ‘Ali ‘Adil Shah, the Nujum al-‘ulūm (1570) – whose paintings are used to date the Jawāhir’s – that ‘Ali ‘Adil Shah, and later Ibrahim ʻAdil Shah II (r.1580-1626), freely mixed Hindu and Muslim symbology and theories of supernatural power, including those associated with music, and incorporated them into their courtly ideologies (see Flatt; Leach, v.2, pp. 819-89; Hutton, pp. 51-2 and fig. 2.14; Zebrowski, pp. 60-4).

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Asavari, the second rāginī of Malkausik (British Library Or.12857, f. 102r)
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Although Muhammad ʻAdil Shah is sometimes characterised as more narrowly orthodox, this generous attitude remains primary in Shaikh ‘Abd al-Karim’s vision. Strikingly, with respect to music’s origin myths and explanations of its power to regulate the universe, he treats the philosophies of “ ‘Arabia, ‘Ajam and Hind” as effectively equal in truth value (f. 5v).

More important, though, is his systematic appropriation of the Indian rāgas into the Greco-Islamicate system of humoral medicine known as Unani ṭibb. Every rāga and rāginī in the Indic system is supposed to have a specific effect on the listener’s psychological state, their physical wellbeing, or indeed on the wider natural world. Rāginī Dhanashri, for example, is supposed to evoke feelings of loss and longing caused by the absent beloved. Rāg Megh, one of the six main rāgas, has the power to bring the monsoon rains; the coming of the rains is furthermore associated with the joy of union with the beloved.

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Rag Megh, the third rāga (British Library Or.12857, f. 112v)
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In Shaikh ‘Abd al-Karim’s rāgamālā he systematically attributes the essential emotional flavour of every rāga to one of the four elements of Islamicate natural sciences – fire, earth, air and water. He furthermore describes the effect of each of the four kinds of rāga on the physical and mental state of the listener in terms borrowed from Sufi teaching and ethical literature (akhlāq): fiery rāgas ignite passionate love (‘ishq) in the listener’s heart; earthy rāgas enlighten the listener with the mystical knowledge (‘irfān) of their true selves; airy rāgas overwhelm the listener with longing for the absent beloved (firāq); and watery rāgas annhilate the listener in union (viṣal) with the great Existence (ff. 66v-8r). 

The iconography of rāgamālā paintings is supposed to intensify and enrich the rāgas’ affective associations using visual and imaginative rather than aural means. The c.1570 rāgamālā paintings of the Javāhir belong to a time when rāga-rāginī sets were clearly not yet standardised. Although it uses the same six rāgas as the contemporaneous “Painters system” – Bhairav, Hindol, Megh, Malkausik, Shri and Dipak – I have not before encountered its particular configuration of rāginīs. In addition, the classic iconography we are accustomed to was clearly not yet settled. Some rāgas had already acquired their standard form. Rag Megh, for example, is of course watery in essence, and listening to it engenders loving union; singing this rāga may cause clouds to gather in the heavens or rain to fall, powerful lightening to strike and frogs to start croaking. In the rāgamālā text and painting Megh is depicted as a dark-skinned lord dressed in green and riding a black buck, with the monsoon rainclouds gathering above his head and two pied cuckoos in the background.  Ragini Dhanashri, on the other hand, is not depicted in her now customary form: a woman consumed with longing, gazing at a portrait of her absent beloved as she is consoled by her girlfriends.  The mood of viraha or firāq is nonetheless sustained in the Javāhir pictorially by Dhanashri’s loose dishevelled hair, her chin resting disconsolately on her hand as she sits on a bed waiting for her lover’s return. And Shaikh ‘Abd al-Karim makes it explicit in the Persian text: Dhanashri is an airy rāginī, and thus listening to her overwhelms the listener with longing (ff. 99r-100r).  
Or_12857_f100r
Dhanashri, the first rāginī of Malkausik (British Library Or.12857, f. 100r)
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In this way the rāgas and their rich aesthetic and affective powers are here recruited to the service of Sufi devotion and appropriated as medicinal and supernatural formulae, thus giving excellent grounds for a Muslim ruler like Muhammad ‘Adil Shah to use the rāgas in regulating and maintaining order in the body politic. It is important to note that the elemental associations of the Javāhir rāga descriptions are not in the Dakhni text. Their relation to the paintings is thus an early- to mid- 17th-century interpretation, undertaken in a more Persianate universe. I thus want to speculate in conclusion about the impact this text, and perhaps other Bijapuri treatises like it, now lost, had on the Mughal recodification of śastric music theory in Persian during the reign of the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb ‘Alamgir (1658-1707) (see Schofield below).

The evidence is circumstantial, but cumulative and therefore tantalising. From the first brief Mughal formulation of saṅgītaśāstra in Persian, Abuʼl-Fazl’s chapter on saṅgīt in the Ā’īn-i Akbarī (1593),  Mughal music theorists all venerated the south and especially the Deccan as the arbiter of authority in Indian music.  Political and cultural emissaries were sent regularly between the Mughal and Bijapur courts from the time of ‘Ali ‘Adil Shah, and in the first decades of the 17th century the two powers came into direct conflict, and then more peaceful accommodation, over the collapse of the Nizam Shahi state of Ahmadnagar.  Akbar and Jahangir certainly knew of Ibrahim ‘Adil Shah’s musical prowess; Jahangir even made note of Ibrahim’s famous song collection, the Kitāb-i nauras, in his memoir, and welcomed one of his musicians to the Mughal court.  And Ibrahim in turn was fascinated by Akbar’s great musician Tansen and the quality of Akbar’s relationship with him. 

What, then, of Muhammad ‘Adil Shah and his connections with his exact Mughal contemporary Shah Jahan (r.1628-58) and his Deccan viceroy Aurangzeb, the future emperor ‘Alamgir? Shaikh ‘Abd al-Karim portrays Muhammad ‘Adil Shah as a great lover and connoisseur of music  – and to my knowledge, the Javāhir is the earliest extant full-scale Persian work of Indian musicology from the Mughal period. Why write it in Persian not Dakhni? We know that the miniature paintings of Muhammad ‘Adil Shah’s reign draw to an unprecedented extent on Mughal inspiration, which included importing Mughal artists.  Did Shaikh ‘Abd al-Karim’s choice to write a great treatise in Persian similarly reflect his patron’s aspirations to Mughal recognition, in a subject in which Bijapur was already renowned as the authority? Conversely, what impact did the Javāhir’s unapologetic mixing of Indic musical science with Islamicate natural and esoteric sciences and mystical and ethical teaching have on the explosion of music theory in Persian at ‘Alamgir’s court in the 1660s and 70s? It is suggestive that the first full-scale Indian music treatise in Persian for a Mughal emperor – Qazi Hasan’s Miftāḥ al-surūd (1663-4) – was written in Daulatabad for ‘Alamgir, and has many similar features.  More importantly, the humoral explanation of the rāgās’ potency is fundamental to several treatises written at ‘Alamgir’s court itself. 

We do not have the evidence to say definitively that Mughal connoisseurs and intellectuals were inspired to translate Indian music theory into Persian by what they saw coming out of Bijapur. What we can say is that the Javāhir al-mūsiqāt-i Muḥammadī is a precious landmark in Indian musicology: the earliest known musicological work in Dakhni, and the earliest full-scale Persian work on Indian music from the Mughal period still extant. Yet it is just one of hundreds of Indian musical treasures held today in the British Library’s collections.


Further reading

K B Brown [Schofield], “Hindustani music in the time of Aurangzeb,” unpublished PhD thesis (SOAS, 2003).
K B Schofield, “Reviving the Golden Age again,” Ethnomusicology 54.3 (2010), pp. 484-517
A Behl, The Magic Doe, W Doniger, ed. (Oxford, 2012).
M Zebrowski, Deccani painting (London, 1983).
E J Flatt, “The authorship and significance of the Nujūm al-‘ulūm,” JAOS 131.2 (2011), pp. 223-44.
L Y Leach, Mughal and other Indian paintings from the Chester Beatty Library (London, 1995).
D Hutton, Art of the court of Bijapur (Oxford, 2011).
J P Losty,  “Early Bijapuri musical paintings”, in An Age of Splendour, Islamic Art in India, ed. K. Khandalavala (Bombay, 1983), pp. 128-31.


With thanks to the European Research Council; and to Molly E Aitken, Yael Rice and Margaret E Walker for art-historical, codicological and dance-historical advice. Any errors are mine.

Katherine Butler Schofield, King's College London
 ccownwork

 


[1] Mānakutūhala (Oriental Institute, Central Library, Baroda, acc. no. 2125). I am grateful to Nalini Delvoye for drawing my attention to this manuscript

02 July 2014

Indian paintings in the Sir John Ritblat Gallery from July 2014

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Visitors to the Sir John Ritblat Gallery: Treasures of the British Library may have encountered our display of Indian paintings next to the entrance to the Magna Carta. As part of the conservation programme, the paintings are rotated every few months.  If you missed the display on the portraits of rulers of Rajasthan, you can still view a selection on the Asian and African Studies Blog.

Selecting paintings to display is no easy task: the library’s collection holds a diverse range of Indian paintings that date mainly from the 16-19th centuries. Popular genres and themes for the display can be drawn from portrait studies, illustrations to literary themes, religious subjects and from the 19th century onwards on architecture. In consultation with exhibitions and conservation, the selection is placed into the gallery.

The theme for the current selection is ‘Art of the Book’ and includes elegant visualisations of the ever so popular Hindu deity Krishna with his beloved Radha, Prince Rama and his brother Lakshman pinned by serpentine arrows, and illustrations to the Indian classical music known as ragamala (garland of musical modes). Some of the highlights are featured below:

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Rama and Laksmana are pinned by serpentine arrows.  By a Pahari artist from Bahu or Kulu, from the Shangri Ramayana, Style III, circa 1700-10.  186 by 290 mm; page 215 x 316 mm. Add.Or.5696, acquired 2010.  noc - See more at: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/asian-and-african/2014/01/pahari-paintings-at-the-british-library.html#sthash.Kf5yXor6.dpuf

Radha makes love to Krishna by a grove. An illustration to a Rasakapriya of Keshav Das. Kangra, c.1820. Attributed to Purkhu and his school. Add.Or.26  noc
 

Johson 36,8
Vasanta Ragini
, Murshidabad (Bengal, India), c. 1760. Johnson Album 36,8.  noc

The Sir John Ritblat Gallery: Treasures of the British Library hosts a permanent free display of the library's greatest treasures. It is usually open 7 days a week.

Additional material held in the Visual Arts department at the British Library can be viewed by appointment in the Print Room (Asian & African Studies Reading Room). Please email apac-prints@bl.uk for an appointment. The Print Room is generally open Monday-Friday, from 2-5pm.

07 June 2014

An Album of Maratha and Deccani Paintings - Add.21475, part 2

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In a previous post (April 2014), I looked at the first three paintings in this album and explored the connections between the Maratha court in Poona and Jaipur artists.  The remaining five paintings in the album are all from a large Hyderabad-type series of the Rasikapriya, the classic text by Keshavdas on Hindi poetics that the author wrote at Orccha in 1594 for Kunwar Indrajit Singh, the brother of the ruler Raja Ram Shah of Orccha (1592-1605).  Although a literary work, it was written in the context of the Vaishnava revival in northern and western India in the 16th century.  Keshavdas took the love of Krishna and Radha out of the pastoral settings of the Gita Govinda and placed it in a courtly ambience.  He used their relationship to explore all the different kinds of literary heroes and heroines and the erotic sentiment (sringara rasa) in all its variety.

A complete set of illustrations to this text involves several hundred paintings.  Our album contains only five such paintings. If there were more, their whereabouts is not now known.   Originally the Hindi verses were inscribed in nagari in a separate box above the paintings and text and paintings were contained within gilded and coloured ruled lines, but for some reason the original text panels were cut out and replaced with other panel pasted down from the reverse.  The remains of the tops of the original aksaras are visible only on folio 7.  The pictures are not particularly specific and their subjects could apply to many of the verses and situations in the text.   On the reverse of each folio are inscribed brief Hindi labels for the subject of the painting taken from Keshavdas together with a number different from that associated with the relevant verse in its chapter in the printed editions, and a written out Persian numbering.  As noted in the earlier post, all the paintings were at some time removed from their original album pages and let into European paper frames.

Two of the paintings (ff. 4 and 8) have an oversize Krishna as the hero or nayaka, wearing a tall golden crown, which serves to locate the provenance of the paintings as southern, as do the large white palatial buildings in the background which resemble those in the Johnson Hyderabad Ragamala in the British Library of c. 1760 (J. 37, Falk and Archer 1981, no. 426).  The style of the paintings will be discussed later after dealing with the subject matter.  The inscription on the reverse is here taken as the title of the painting.  For the complete text and translation of the verses of the Rasikapriya, along with numerous examples of their illustrations, see Dehejia 2013.

 Add.21475, f.4
Nayaka ko prakasa biyoga sringara,
Krishna’s ‘open’ love in separation (Rasikapriya 1, 27-28).  301 x 217 mm.  Deccan, perhaps Aurangabad, 1720-30. British Library, Add.21475, f.4  noc

The verses on folio 4 come from the conclusion of the opening chapter, in which Keshavdas makes some general remarks about the emotion of romantic love and its two major varieties, love in union and love in separation.  Keshavdas divides his descriptive verses into ‘open’ (prakasa) or clear and ‘hidden’ (prachanna) or more suggestive.  Here the sakhi (confidante) has been to see Krishna and describes him to Radha:  ‘He is totally unresponsive and has stopped eating and drinking.  All of Braj is concerned about him and you are sitting here unconcerned.  Get up and do something about it.  This is the result of his longing for you.’  The artist shows Krishna sitting mournful and unresponsive in one pavilion while the sakhi tries to talk to him and then she goes off to find Radha, who is meant to be some way away in another pavilion.

Add.21475, f.5
Ajnata yauvana,
a youthful maiden unaware of her own flowering.  336 x 257 mm. Deccan, perhaps Aurangabad, 1720-30. British Library, Add.21475, f.5  noc

The term on the reverse of folio 5, ajnata yauvana, a youthful maiden unaware of her own flowering, comes not from the Rasikapriya but from Bhanudatta’s Rasamanjari, an earlier work in Sanskrit on the same topic.  Similarly the verse above our painting is not found in Keshavdas’s work, where the relevant verses (3, 20-21) speak about a navayauvana mugdha nayika, a maiden newly grown to adolescence.  Their purport is the same:  her waist is slimmer, her hips have expanded, her gait is more steady but she does not know why this should be so.  Chapter 3 of the Rasikapriya deals with the different types of heroine or nayika, which are classified in various waysThe artist shows the maiden sitting by a pool populated by ducks in an extensive meadow while her confidante tries to reassure her about what is happening to her body. A girl standing with flower wands perhaps signifies her impending marriage.   In the distance is a white palace set beside a garden.

Add.21475, f.6
Nayaka ko prachanna sravana darsana,
Radha’s hidden meeting [with her lover] through hearing [his name] (Rasikapriya 4, 15).  331 x 246 mm.  Deccan, perhaps Aurangabad, 1720-30. British Library, Add.21475, f.6  noc

The verse for this painting comes from the fourth chapter, on how lovers meet:  in person, through a portrait, in a dream or through hearing the other’s name.  Radha chides her sakhi for speaking of Krishna for she does not know what to do now that Krishna is so enshrined in her heart.  The artist shows Radha sitting under a canopy with her friends in a meadow with what appear to be flamingos in a pond in the foreground.

Add.21475, f.7
Radha ko prachanna citra darsana,
Radha’s hidden meeting [with her lover] through a painting (Rasikapriya 4, 8).  335 x 250 mm.  Deccan, perhaps Aurangabad, 1720-30. British Library, Add.21475, f.7  noc

From the same chapter 4, the nayika can ‘meet’ her lover through seeing his portrait.  Radha’s mind was filled with love on seeing her beloved’s portrait, but her shyness caused her to tremble.  She is shown holding a portrait and sitting on a carpeted terrace with her friends in front of a palace with flamingos again in the foreground.

Add.21475, f.8
Madhya adhira nayika,
the plain speaking experienced heroine (Rasikapriya 3, 48).  340 x 250 mm. Deccan, perhaps Aurangabad, 1720-30. British Library, Add.21475, f.8  noc

In chapter 3, heroines can be mugdha, madhya or praudha (adolescent, experienced or mature).  The madhya heroine is subdivided various ways, of which one is according to the way she speaks to her lover, which can be dhira, adhira or adiradhira (firmly, harshly or scoldingly).  Here the heroine is unable to restrain her indignation at her lover’s fickleness and speaks harshly to him with words capable of two meanings: “Your body is like that of your father [for just as he shakes on account of old age so do you tremble for fear that your secrets will be out].  In strength you resemble your brother Balaram [for just as he is intoxicated with wine you are intoxicated with love].  Your face is like your mother’s [she has a tilak on her forehead and you have a love mark] and just as her mind is full of motherly love you are infatuated with thoughts of love.  Your temperament is stable like that of the earth [for you are able to sustain the frailties of others].  Your mind is restless like the wind and pure like water.  Your mouth [on account of chewing betel] is red like fire.  As is the sky full of space and sound, you who are dark as the cloud and your words that speak of your misdeeds prevail in every home.  Like Rati [the consort of Kamdev] is your love [for separation torments you as it affected her].  Your form is pleasing like that of Rati’s lord.  Tell me, Lord, how did you learn to speak such lies?” (adapted from Dehejia 2013, p. 60).

The artist sets the scene in the countryside with a pavilion in which Radha is upbraiding Krishna for his fickleness.  Beside the stream with its birds and flowers in the foreground a cowherd is milking a cow, with a gopi standingready to churn the milk into butter, while on the hill in the background a prince, presumably meant to be Balarama as he is white, is sitting with a woman.  The latter reference is easy to pick up, although there is no sign of wine, but the pastoral activity in the foreground is possibly a reference to Krishna’s being like the earth.

The style of the five paintings in our album relates to eighteenth century Hindu Hyderabadi painting, in which Krishna wears the tall crown typical of that style.

 J.45,39 Hyderabad c. 1770
Krishna, a peacock, cows and a devotee.  Hyderabad, c. 1770.  British Library, J.45,39. noc

See Falk and Archer 1981, no. 472iv for another example of this style.  Some of the most important paintings from 18th century Hyderabad are found in a group of Ragamala sets, of which Richard Johnson’s album in the British Library J.37 is typical.

J.36,6 2
Vasant raga
from the Hyderabad Ragamala, Hyderabad, c. 1760.  British Library, J.37, 6. noc

Exquisite figures male and female disport themselves on palatial terraces or in idyllic visions of the country.  This fine set of 36 paintings was collected by Johnson during his appointment as Resident at the court of Nizam ‘Ali Khan in Hyderabad from 1784-85.  Nizam ‘Ali (1762-1802) was a patron of music, poetry and painting and Johnson apparently came to know him well, since he was constantly espousing the Nizam’s interests as against those of his superiors in Calcutta which resulted in his early recall.  These sets are famous among other things for their perspective views of architecture with semi-naturalistic vanishing points, in contrast to our album paintings where all the buildings are viewed frontally.  Nonetheless it is possible to see the resemblances in the architecture:  the white chunam-covered buildings tend to have a tall ground storey with smaller pavilions on top.  The beautiful canopied pavilion on folio 6 is also found several times in the Ragamala set.  Yet the treatment of landscape, flowers and birds do differ, for here in the album the artist is very free.  By the 1760s the Hyderabad landscape style was turning harder with conceptualised hills and meadows criss-crossing each other to suggest depth, while our artist takes a more naturalistic approach to recession, as in the exquisite meadow of folio 6 and in the various naturalistic clumps of flowers as opposed to the regimented rows in the Ragamala.  More open landscapes were a feature of Deccani painting in the first quarter of the 18th century (see Zebrowski 1983, ch. 11) and it is at the end of that period that our five album paintings seem best placed.  Bold distortion of forms in our album as in the overlarge Krishna figure, the tiny steps and minuscule foreground trees are all features found in the earlier style. Only one other painting has so far been identified as related to the style of our five paintings, showing a prince seated on a carpet amidst flowers and miniscule trees in a meadow leading back as in f.5 of our set to white palatial buildings on the horizon.  This was formerly in the William K. Ehrenfeld collection in San Francisco (Ehnbom 1985, no. 36, where it is called Golconda, 1660-70) and its whereabouts is not now known.

As to the set’s patron, the fall of Bijapur and Golconda to Aurangzeb in 1686-87 released many of their artists for patronage elsewhere, as is well known for various Rajput courts, but many others stayed locally to work for the local nobility of the former Golconda kingdom as well as for Mughal or Rajput patrons depending on their appointments to positions within the new Mughal subahs of the Deccan.  Aurangabad (now in western Maharashtra) remained the principal Mughal capital in the Deccan and even Asaf Jah, the first Nizam of the newly independent Hyderabad state from 1724, was based there before his successors moved the capital to Hyderabad.  This distinctness from Hyderabad proper is perhaps reflected in the Hindu costume of skirt, bodice and orhni worn by nearly all the women as distinct from the more Muslim costume (paijama and peshwaj) of the Hyderabad Ragamala sets done later under Nizam ‘Ali’s patronage.  A provenance from Maharashtra would thus put the five paintings within the orbit of the Peshwas based at Poona and link them to the other three paintings in the album.

 

Further reading:

Dehejia, Harsha V., Rasikapriya: Ritikavya of Keshavdas in Ateliers of Love, DK Printworld, New Delhi, 2013

Ehnbom, D., Indian Miniatures:  the Ehrenfeld Collection, American Federation of Arts, New York, 1985

Falk, T., and Archer, M., Indian Miniatures in the India Office Library, Sotheby Parke Bernet, London, 1981

Losty, J.P., http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/asian-and-african/2014/04/an-album-of-maratha-and-deccani-paintings-part-1.html

Zebrowski, M., Deccani Painting, Sotheby Publications, University of California Press, London and Los Angeles, 1983

 

J.P. Losty, Curator of Visual Arts (Emeritus) ccownwork

 

15 May 2014

The Ramayana in Southeast Asia: (4) Indonesia and Malaysia

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The final installment of our survey of the Ramayana epic in Southeast looks at its dissemination in the island world. That the Ramayana was already well known in Java by the end of the ninth century is evident from the magnificent series of reliefs carved into the walls of the temples of Prambanan in central Java around 900 AD.  However, the the first literary version in Old Javanese, the Ramayana Kakawin, appears to date from a century later. It is based not directly on Valmiki’s Ramayana but on a later Indian poetical version, the so-called Bhattikavya, a Sanskrit poem written by Bhatti (6/7th century), which both tells the story and illustrates the rules of Sanskrit grammar.  The first five cantos are a fairly exact translation, while the remainder is a much freer version.

COLLEC~1
The abduction of Sita by Ravana, depicted in stone reliefs at Prambanan temple, central Java, ca. 900.  Photograph by W.G.N. van der Sleen, 1929. Tropenmuseum.  noc

With the spread of Islam across Java from the fifteenth century onwards, the strongly Indianised Old Javanese culture and traditions retreated eastwards to the island of Bali, which today remains the only majority Hindu region outside India.  Nearly all Old Javanese literary compositions or kakawin survived only in Bali, although their stories continued to be known in Java through the shadow-puppet tradition. The late 18th-century renaissance of literature at the central Javanese courts of Surakarta and Yogyakarta saw the rewriting of the Ramayana Kakawin in modern Javanese.  In Bali, the story of Rama still plays a central part in the religious and cultural life of the island, and in the twentieth century became a popular subject for illustrated palm-leaf manuscripts.

P1030855
Serat Rama Keling, a modern Javanese version of the Ramayana, illuminated manuscript dated 1814.  British Library,  Add.12284, ff.1v-2r  noc

Or.14022-deer

Or.14022-Sita offering water
Two scenes from a Balinese palm leaf manuscript of the Ramayana, written and illustrated by Ida Bagus Adnyana of Geriya Gunung Sari, Pliatan, Bali, c. 1975. (Top) Sita sees the golden deer and urges Rama to catch it; (bottom) Ravana in the guise of an old hermit lures Sita out of the safety of her magic circle. British Library, Or.14022  noc

The tradition of shadow-puppet theatre seems to have been in existence in Java for at least a thousand years, and the stories which are used in the wayang kulit shadow puppet theatre are taken from the Indian epics of the Ramayana and Mahabharata. While the characters and the plots remain basically Indian, the way the stories have been developed over the past 1000 years in the oral dramatic tradition reflects Javanese culture rather than Indian. The iconography of the shadow puppet theatre – with heads in profile, angular shoulders, slim torsos and pivoted limbs – has strongly influenced Javanese manuscript illustration.  

Or.9333, ff.8v-9r
Hanuman (left) and Hanuman Tugangga, one of Hanuman’s sons by the Fish Princess (right). From an album of Javanese wayang characters, Java, 19th century. British Library, Or.9333, ff 8v-9r  noc

In the Malay Muslim courts of the archipelago, literary traditions now transmitted using Arabic script continued to reflect deep-seated Hindu-Buddhist roots.  The Malay version of the Ramayana, Hikayat Seri Rama, is believed to have been committed to writing between the 13th and 15th centuries.  One of the oldest Malay manuscripts in this country – and probably the oldest known illuminated Malay manuscript – is a copy of the Hikayat Seri Rama now held in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, which was in the possession of Archbishop Laud in 1635.  The Malay version originated not from the classical Ramayana of Valmiki, but from popular oral versions widely spread over southern India.  

As attested to in media ranging from the great 7th-century Ramayana stone pedestal in the Cham temple at Tra Kieu in Vietnam, to 20th-century performances of the Ceritera Seri Rama in the wayang Siam shadow puppet theatre of Kelantan and 21st-century Indonesian comics, the Ramayana has retained its position as a literary classic in Southeast Asia through the centuries.

Further reading

On the Ramayana in Javanese and Old Javanese:
P.J. Zoetmulder, Kalangwan: a survey of Old Javanese literature.  The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1974; pp. 217-233.
Theodore G. Th. Pigeaud, Literature of Java.  Catalogue raisonné of Javanese manuscripts in the Library of the University of Leiden and other public collections in the Netherlands.  The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1968. 4 vols.  

On the Ramayana in Malay:
V.I. Braginsky, The heritage of traditional Malay literature: a historical survey of genres, writings and literary views.  Leiden: KITLV, 2004; pp. 66-71.
Achadiati Ikram, Hikayat Sri Rama: suntingan naskah disertai telaah amanat dan struktur.  Jakarta: Penerbit Universitas Indonesia, 1980.

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia

05 May 2014

The Ramayana in Southeast Asia: (3) Burma

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The oral tradition of the Ramayana story in Burma is believed to date as far back as the reign of King Anawrahta (1044-77), the founder of the first Burmese empire at Pagan. Documented in Ava by the end of the 13th century, the Rama story – known as Rama Zatdaw in Burmese – continued to be transmitted orally from generation to generation up till the 16th century.  In the 18th century, the Ramayana had come to be regarded as a noble saga even among Buddhist monks. The story of Rama, based on the oral traditions of Old Pagan, may have been committed to writing between the 16th and the 18th centuries, in verse and prose as well as in dramatic form, but the first known written Burmese version of the Ramayana is Rama Thagyin (Songs from the Ramayana), compiled by U Aung Phyo in 1775.

Burmese1
Ravana (called Dathagiri in the Burmese tradition), the ten-headed demon king of Lanka (Thiho), sends Gambi in the form of a shwethamin (golden deer) to Sita (Thida) (top right). Sita persuades Rama to go and catch the golden deer for her (left), and so he leaves Sita under the protection of his brother Lakshmana (Letkhana), and goes after the golden deer (bottom right). British Library Or.14178, f.8  noc
 
The popularity of the Ramayana in Burma reached its zenith in the first half of the 19th century, when the story of Rama was depicted in a continuous series of 347 stone relief sculptures at the pagoda of Maha Loka Marazein of Thakhuttanai built in 1849 during the reign of King Bagan (1846-1853), of the Konbaung Dynasty.  

Burmese2
When Sita and Lakshmana hear Rama’s voice calling them in distress, Lakshmana makes a three-fold magic circle around their shelter to ward off evil, and warns Sita not to venture out of the circle (left). As soon as Lakshmana goes to look for Rama, Ravana changes himself into an old hermit and came to Sita and begs for alms of fruits. Sita forgets her brother-in-law’s warning and steps out of the magic circle to give Ravana food and water, believing him to be a real hermit (top right). British Library, Or.14178, f.9  noc

Thakin Min Mi, the Chief Queen of Singu Min 1776-1781, was a poet and writer who encouraged the performance of the Ramayana. The Rama play was performed on the stage in full splendour in the royal palace beginning with the reign of King Bodawpaya (1782-1819). During the reign of Tharrawaddy Min (1837-1846) and his son Pagan Min (1847-1853) the Rama Zatdaw regained its popularity and became established as part of traditional court entertainment. In the 19th century stage performances and marionette performances of the drama of the Ramayana were presented in the palace by royal troupes of professional artists. During the reign of Mindon (1853-1878), the Rama Zatdaw was rarely performed in its entirety, with favourite episodes only usually being presented to please the court.  

The king’s minister Myawady Mingyi U Sa converted the Ramayana Jataka into a typical Burmese classical drama, and he also composed theme music and songs for its performance. Ever since then, Ramayana performances have been very popular in Burmese culture, and Yama zat pwe (dramatic performances of the Rama story) marionette stage shows are often held. Scenes from the Ramayana can also be found as motifs or design elements in Burmese lacquerware and wood carvings.  By the late 19th century, the Ramayana story was being printed in Burmese: an early example in the British Library is Pontaw Rama (Part 1) by Saya Ku, published in 1880 (14302.e.3/5).

Burmese3
Ravana returns to his own form of a horrible giant with ten fearful heads and twenty great arms and begs Sita to come with him to his kingdom. When she refuses, Ravana summons his magic chariot and sweeps Sita up and away, into the sky and over the forests (top). When Rama and Lakshmana finally find their way home Sita is gone (bottom). British Library, Or.14178, f.10  noc

The images shown here are from a Burmese folding book manuscript or parabaik (Or. 14178) dating from around 1870, which has 16 pages with painted scenes of the Ramayana story with brief captions in Burmese. The paper covers are painted in red, yellow and green with floral borders and prancing lions. One cover has an inscription in black ink in Burmese, giving the title, Rama Zat, and a brief identification of the contents.  The manuscript has been fully digitised and can be read here.

Further reading
U Thein Han, The Ramayana in Burma. Rangoon: Burma Historical Commission, 1971.

San San May, Curator for Burmese