THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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21 posts categorized "Hinduism"

11 September 2020

eReading Karma in Snakes and Ladders: two South Asian game boards in the British Library collections

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This guest blog post is by Souvik Mukherjee, an Assistant Professor and Head of the Department of English at Presidency University in Kolkata. His research looks at the narrative and the literary through the emerging discourse of videogames as storytelling media and at how these games inform and challenge our conceptions of narratives, identity and culture. 

Salman Rushdie, in his novel, Midnight’s Children, writes about the game of Snakes and Ladders that ‘all games have morals; and the game of Snakes and Ladders captures, as no other activity can hope to do, the eternal truth that for every ladder you climb, a snake is waiting just around the corner; and for every snake, a ladder will compensate’ (Rushdie 2016, 160). Whether Rushdie is aware one does not know but Snakes and Ladders indeed has its beginnings as a game of morals, or even more than that – a game about life and karma. When Frederick Henry Ayres, the famous toymaker from Aldgate, London, patented the game in 1892, the squares of the game-board had lost their moral connotations. There were earlier examples in Victorian England and mainland Europe that had a very Christian morality encoded into the boards but the game actually originated in India as Gyan Chaupar (it had other local variations such as Moksha Pat, Paramapada Sopanam and other adaptations such as the Bengali Golok Dham and the Tibetan Sa nam lam sha). Victorian versions of the game include the Kismet boardgame (c.a. 1895) now in the Victoria and Albert Museum’s collection (fig. 1). There were other similar games such as Virtue Rewarded and Vice Punished (1818) and the New Game of Human Life (1790) although the latter did not contain snakes and ladders on its board.

http://media.vam.ac.uk/collections/img/2006/AU/2006AU4145_2500.jpg
Fig. 1. Kismet, c.1895. Chromolithograph on paper and card. Designed in England, manufactured in Bavaria. Victoria & Albert Museum, MISC.423-1981. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

    In the Indian versions, it was not a racing-game as it became in its Western adaptations. It was a game that did not end in square hundred but one that people could play over and over until they reached Vaikuntha (the sacred domain of Vishnu) after journeying though many rebirths and corresponding human experiences. Every square in the game signified a moral action, a celestial location or a state of being all of which were important in the Karmic journey. Here is the story of two game-boards in the British Library’s archives and how an Indian game designed to teach the workings of Karma and religion became the Snakes and Ladders that children play the world over, today.

    One of the oldest Gyan Chaupar boards that have been traced so far is now in the British Library (Topsfield 1985, 203-226), originally in the collection of the East India Company officer Richard Johnson (1753-1807) (fig. 2). There are claims that the game originated much earlier – in the Kridakaushalya section of his 1871 Sanskrit magnum opus Brihad Jyotish Arnava, Venkatarama Harikrishna of Aurangabad states that the game was invented by the Marathi saint Dnyaneshwar (1275 – 1296). Andrew Topsfield lists around forty-four game-boards in his two articles published two decades apart and these boards belong to multiple religious traditions, Hindu, Jain and Muslim (Sufi). Topsfield mentions older boards that date back to the late 15th century and also ones that have 128 squares, 84 squares or a 100 squares instead of the 72 squares as on the Johnson board. There is, however, another board in the British Library that has probably not been written about yet. Listed as the Paramapada Sopanam Pata (fig. 3), it is described in the catalogue as: ‘Lithograph in Blockwood printing. of the game Paramapada sōpānam, a traditional Indian indoor game: in a chart titled: Paramapada Sopanam, in which the highest ascent indicates reaching Heaven and anywhere else where the pawn lands indicate various worlds according to Hindu mythology. Language note: In Kannada and Devanagari’. These two boards tell the story of the transculturation of a game that started out as a pedagogical tool to teach the ways of karma and ended up as Hasbro Inc.’s Chutes and Ladders.

Snakes and Ladders board game on paper from Lucknow
Designs for a game of snakes and ladders, gyan chaupur, commissioned by Richard Johnson, Lucknow, 1780-82. Johnson Album 5,8.  CC Public Domain Image

Snakes and Ladders board game, printed on paper, from Karnataka, 19th century
Paramapada Sopanam Pata, board game printed in Karnataka, c. 1800-1850. British Library, ORB 40/1046. CC Public Domain Image

    Around 1832, a Captain Henry Dundas Robertson would present what he called the Shastree’s Game of Heaven and Hell to the Royal Asiatic Society in London where the 128-square Vaishnav Gyan Chaupar board can still be seen. Around 1895, when the game was being sold in England as a children’s game, the civil servant Gerald Robert Dampier was sending a detailed report on the game to North Indian Notes and Queries. Around a century before Dampier and fifty years before Robertson, Richard Johnson’s possession of a Gyan Chaupar board around 1780-2 is in itself a curious affair. This board is now part of the British Library’s collection. Johnson, the deputy resident at Lucknow, is among the lesser-known Orientalists despite his prodigious collection of Indian art and his close connection with orientalists of greater repute such as Sir William Jones. Johnson was supposedly a competent official but he made a fortune through corruption and was called ‘Rupee Johnson’; he was also involved in Warren Hastings’s infamous looting of the Begums of Oudh. In his two years in Oudh (1780-82) Johnson was, however, seems to have been popular and was given the title Mumtāz al-Dawlah Mufakhkhar al-Mulk Richārd Jānsan Bahādur Ḥusām Jang, 1194 or ʻRichard Johnson chosen of the dynasty, exalted of the kingdom, sharp blade in war’, 1780 together with a mansab and an insignia by the Mughal Emperor Shah Alam. Johnson was also an eclectic collector and commissioned work by many Indian artists and scholars  of which 64 albums of paintings (over 1,000 individual items) and an estimated 1000 manuscripts in Persian, Arabic, Turkish, Urdu, Sanskrit, Bengali, Panjabi, Hindi and Assamese form the ‘backbone of the East India Company library’ (now at the British Library, see Sims-Williams 2014). While other orientalists such as Jones and Hiram Cox wrote on Chess, Johnson seems to have been interested in other games. Besides the Gyan Chaupar board, the Johnson collection contains the Persian game of Ganj (Treasure) and sketches for Ganjifa cards – the round playing cards that were common in India before the advent of European cards (British Library, Johnson Album 5).

    Johnson’s contribution to boardgame studies is no less important than that of the other orientalists although it has taken over two centuries to appreciate this. The Gyan Chaupar board was in his possession a good century before the game was imported to the West and transformed into a race-game. Johnson seems to have been interested in the original game and besides the Devanagari script, each square also contains a farsi transliteration. The words are not Persian but the script is.[i] It is difficult to identify the painter or the source – Malini Roy points out that ‘artists affiliated with Johnson’s studio include Mohan Singh, Ghulam Reza, Gobind Singh, Muhammad Ashiq, Udwat Singh, Sital Das, and Ram Sahai’ (Roy 2010, 181). Whether Johnson read the game-board is a moot question but he certainly cared to get the words transliterated into Persian. Beginning the game on utpatti or ‘origin’, the player can move to maya or ‘illusion’ (square 2), krodh or lobh – ‘anger’ and ‘greed’ respectively (squares 3 and 4) and ascend higher towards salvation via the ladders in the squares that represent daya or mercy (square 13) or Bhakti or devotion (square 54). Bhakti will take the player directly to Vaikuntha and salvation from the cycle of rebirths and the game ends here. For a game purportedly invented by a major figure of the Bhakti Movement, this is no surprise. If the throw of the dice takes the player beyond square 68, then the long snake on square 72 brings the player back to Earth and the cycle of rebirths continues. Johnson’s board is unique among the Gyan Chaupar boards that are known to scholars in that it contains two scorpions in addition to the snakes and the ladders also look somewhat serpentine.

    One more detail is not obvious from the board. None of these boards comes with playing pieces or dice but writing in 1895, Dampier claims that the game was played with cowrie shells as dice and he also adds that the game is ‘very contrary to our Western teachings […] it is not clear why Love of Violence (sq. 72) should lead to Darkness (sq. 51)’. Dampier notes that the game has been ‘lately introduced in England and with ordinary dice for cowries and [with] a somewhere revised set of rules been patented there as a children’s game’ (Dampier 1895, 25-27).

    Dampier’s short but detailed account of Gyan Chaupar provides a clearer entry point into how and why an ‘oriental’ game of karma needed to be Westernised as a children’s game. The transition from the karmic game to the game on Christian morality and then to a race-game for children embodying competition rather than soul-searching is evident from his pithy notes sent to the journal North Indian Notes and Queries. One might assume that the principles working here would have been very different from Johnson’s approach to the game. The story, nevertheless, does not end here. I was fortunate to discover another game-board in the British Library as I mention above. The Paramapada Sopanam or the Ladder to Heaven is similar to the Johnson board in most ways except that there are only snakes on the board. Some snakes help the player ascend and the others are for descent (I purposely eschew terms like ‘good’ and ‘bad’ here). Square 54 or Bhakti, a many-headed serpent leads the player to Vaikuntha (the board is damaged here) and one might assume that it is Ananta, the celestial snake on which Vishnu reclines. There are some differences with the Johnson board although both relate to the Vaishnav sect of Hinduism. While Gyan Chaupar is largely forgotten in Northern India (except in the Jain tradition where it is reportedly played by some during the Jain festival Paryushan), Paramapada Sopanam is regularly played on the festive day of Vaikuntha Ekadasi in the Indian states of Telengana, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. In fact, Carl Gustav Jung supposedly obtained a copy of the game when he visited Tamil Nadu in 1938 and took it back to Zurich; Sulagna Sengupta concludes that Jung read the matrix of the game as the play of opposites in the psyche (Sengupta 2017).

    From the karmic game to Jung’s model for the play of psychological opposites, Gyan Chaupar in its many forms is certainly much more than the race game that it has been changed into after its appropriation by the colonial apparatus. Recent research has been able to identify many of these game-boards and these two boards in the British Library are crucial for the ‘recovery research’ into Gyan Chaupar and its variants as well as the cultures in which they were conceived. Recent research on games talks of ‘gamification’ or the application of ludic principles to real-life activities – a closer look at the original Gyan Chaupar will show its merit as a gamified text, an instructional manual on the ways of life and on Indic soteriology.

 

Notes
[i] I am indebted to Ms Azadeh Mazlousaki Isaksen of the University of Tromso, Norway, for the translations. Ms Isaksen initially struggled to translate the words as she found them unfamiliar. The reason was that these were Hindi or Sanskrit words written in the Persian script.

 

Bibliography
Cannon, Garland, and Andrew Grout. “Notes and Communications.” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, vol. 55, no. 2, 1992, pp. 316–318. 

Dampier, Gerald Roberts. “A Primitive Game.” North Indian Notes and Queries V (1895): p. 25-27.

Roy, Malini. “Origins of the Late Mughal Painting Tradition in Awadh.” India’s Fabled City: The Art of Courtly Lucknow. Ed. Stephen Markel and Tushara Bindu Gude. Los Angeles: Prestel, 2010.

Rushdie, Salman. Midnights Children. London: Random House, 2016.

Sengupta, Sulagna. “Parama Pada Sopanam : The Divine Game of Rebirth and Renewal.” Jungian Perspectives on Rebirth and Renewal: Phoenix Rising. Ed. Elizabeth Brodersen and Michael Glock. London ; New York, NY: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group, 2017.

Sims-Williams, Ursula. “‘White Mughal’ Richard Johnson and Mir Qamar al-Din Minnat.” British Library Asian and African Studies Blog, 1 May 2014.

Topsfield, Andrew. “The Indian Game of Snakes and Ladders.” Artibus Asiae, vol. 46, no. 3, 1985, pp. 203–226. 

 

By Dr. Souvik Mukherjee CCBY Image

26 April 2019

Vijayanagara Research Project at the British Library

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In January 2019 the British Library began a new research project with the Centre for Art and Archaeology (CA&A) at the American Institute of Indian Studies in New Delhi, focused on our Visual Arts collections. The project has been funded through a grant from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the project is part of  the Rutherford Fund – a major UK Government investment launched in 2017 to promote international research collaboration.

The Vijayanagara Research Project examines both the Visual Arts collection of material (prints, drawings and photographs) related to Hampi Vijayanagara, a UNESCO World Heritage site in south India, including a recently acquired collection of modern architectural and topographical plans of the site produced by Dr George Michell and Dr John Fritz over a 30 year period. Sagera Kazmi, the Rutherford Fellow hosted by the British Library is researching and editing the metadata for the collections that will be made available later this year through Explore Archives and Manuscripts catalogue.

Photograph picturing Sagera Kazmi with John Fritz (left) and George Michell (right) reviewing the original drawings in February 2019.
Sagera Kazmi with John Fritz (left) and George Michell (right) reviewing the original drawings in February 2019.

On 25th March, we hosted a a day long workshop to bring together colleagues and researchers from relevant institutions who work on Hindu temple architecture and sacred spaces in South Asia. Participants included Dr Purnima Mehta (Director General, AIIS), Dr Vandhana Sinha (Director, CA&A), Rizvi Syed (Librarian, CA&A), George Michell, John Fritz, Richard Blurton (British Museum), Nick Barnard (V&A), Crispin Branfoot (SOAS), as well as colleagues from the British Library. The aim of the workshop was to introduce the project and provide a forum to discuss how the VRP can have an impact on future academic research, digital humanities and cultural heritage management.

Photograph Sagera Kazmi introducing her research at the British Library's workshop. Also pictured, Luisa Elena Mengoni (Head of Asian and African Collections, BL), Alan Sudlow (Head of Research, BL), Crispin Branfoot (SOAS), and Nick Barnard (V&A).
Sagera Kazmi introducing her research at the British Library's workshop. Also pictured, Luisa Elena Mengoni (Head of Asian and African Collections, BL), Alan Sudlow (Head of Research, BL), Crispin Branfoot (SOAS), and Nick Barnard (V&A).

Photograph showing John Falconer (British Library), Vandana Sinha (CA&A) and Purnima Mehta (AIIS) looking at photographic collections.
John Falconer (British Library), Vandana Sinha (CA&A) and Purnima Mehta (AIIS) looking at photographic collections.

As part of the day, Sagera Kazmi, the Rutherford Fund Research Fellow who is currently being hosted by the British Library from the AIIS CA&A, presented material from the VRP collections, including some of those produced by Michell and Fritz. Work undertaken by Michell, Fritz and their teams since 1986, has resulted in over  pencil and ink drawings of the architectural features of numerous buildings and temples found at Hampi Vijayanagara which have recently been donated to the British Library. These important archaeological records provide a chronological continuation of the Library’s established historical collections related to this site and will act as an important resource for researchers in a variety of fields.

Pencil drawing showing the north elevation of the Raja Mahal, Chandragiri, scale 1:100.
Pencil drawing showing the north elevation of the Raja Mahal, Chandragiri, scale 1:100. 

Wider collection items were also displayed during the workshop, including a plan of the site produced between 1780 and 1820. This map, part of the MacKenzie collection, shows the topography and fortifications found at the site during Colin MacKenzie’s survey of the Ceded Districts in the early nineteenth century. Other collection items included watercolour paintings of some of the buildings at the site and also photographs from the Archaeological Survey of India photograph series.

Map of Vijayanagara from the Mackenzie Collection, c.1780-1820. British Library, WD 2646.
Map of Vijayanagara from the Mackenzie Collection, c.1780-1820. British Library, WD 2646. Noc

 

Cam Sharp Jones, Sagera Kazmi and Malini Roy 

15 April 2019

The 'Gilbert artist': a possible pupil of Sita Ram

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When writing an essay recently on the artist Sita Ram for a forthcoming exhibition in the Wallace Collection in London of great artists of the ‘Company’ period, I started rethinking to what extent he influenced Kolkata artists and indeed artists of other Indian schools. There is of course his obvious influence on the beginnings of the ‘picturesque’ school in Delhi asociated with Ghulam ‘Ali Khan and his circle, but Sita Ram’s own picturesque style, the culmination of the Murshidabad style with its loose, expressive brushwork, seemed to have had no followers (for Sita Ram see Losty 2015); and Kolkata painting thereafter reverted to a harder style exemplified by Shaikh Muhammad Amir and his circle.  Yet there is one artist, little known, who perhaps did work with Sita Ram and followed in his footsteps in producing picturesque topographical drawings with occasional forays into portraiture and natural history painting. This was an as yet anonymous artist who worked for Lieutenant-Colonel Walter Raleigh Gilbert (1785-1853).

Bridge of boats across the Ganga at Kanpur and Major Gilbert’s house. By Sita Ram, 1814-15.  BL Add.Or.4747
Bridge of boats across the Ganga at Kanpur and Major Gilbert’s house. By Sita Ram, 1814-15.  BL Add.Or.4747 https://blogs.bl.uk/.a/6a00d8341c464853ef0240a4428c8a200c-pi

As Mildred Archer remarked in 1972, Gilbert and his wife Isabella belonged to a circle which was intensely interested in drawing and painting. Gilbert began his distinguished career in India with the 15th Bengal Native Infantry in 1801. From June 1812 to May 1813 he was A.D.C. to Sir George Nugent, the Commander-in-Chief, whose wife was an avid collector of paintings by Indian artists (see Add.Or.2593, Add.Or.2600, and the great volume of Agra architectural drawings, Stowe Or. 17).  On 1 June 1814 he married Isabella Ross, whose sister Eliza in the following year married Charles D’Oyly, the skilled amateur artist and later patron of Indian artists in Patna.  The sisters were cousins of Flora Hastings, wife of Lord Hastings, the Governor-General 1813-23, who were soon to embark on their long journey up-country, for which they employed Sita Ram to make a visual record of what they saw.  In 1814 Gilbert was barrack-master at Kanpur when Hastings and his party arrived in October. Indeed Sita Ram included, so the inscription tell us, a view of the Gilberts’ house above the River Ganga when depicting the newly erected bridge of boats to enable easier communication with the encampment of the new Nawab of Awadh, Ghazi al-Din Haidar, who had just arrived on the north bank of the river, which was part of Awadhi territory.

Gilbert and his wife then would certainly have been aware of Sita Ram and his place in the household of his wife’s cousin, and possibly even then they started commissioning their own paintings. Gilbert returned to Kolkata as Commandant of the Calcutta Native Militia, while Charles D’Oyly was the Collector there 1812-21. Besides owning a number of standard sets by Kolkata artists (still in private hands when examined by Mildred Archer), the Gilbert couple’s most interesting collection documented the next stage of their life when Gilbert was Commandant of the Ramgarh Battalion based on Hazaribagh (Jarkhand) from 1822 to 1828.  From 1825 to 1827, he was also Political Agent for the South West Frontier with head-quarters at Sambalpur (Odisha).  The BL has fifteen large drawings from this period, twelve acquired in the early 1960s (Add.Or.2514-25, see Archer 1972, no. 56), while three more were acquired privately by the Archers and entered the collection later (Add.Or.3949-3951). Seven other drawings from the set were acquired by the Victoria and Albert Museum (I.S. 10-1963 to I.S. 16-1963, see Archer 1992, no. 74).

The artist the Gilberts employed was trained in the Murshidabad style as practised at Kolkata, favouring the yellow and blue tonality often found in that style as opposed to the pink and brown favoured by Sita Ram. He must have been part of Sita Ram’s artistic circle in Kolkata and received the same sort of training in watercolour techniques.

The Gilberts’ bungalow at Sambalpur on the bank of the Mahanadi. By the ‘Gilbert artist’, 1825-27. BL Add.Or.2517
The Gilberts’ bungalow at Sambalpur on the bank of the Mahanadi. By the ‘Gilbert artist’, 1825-27. BL Add.Or.2517 https://blogs.bl.uk/.a/6a00d8341c464853ef0240a4428c8a200c-pi

He had already mastered the picturesque style when he makes his first appearance and he uses the same techniques as Sita Ram, of soft, impressionistic brushwork and the tricks of aerial perspective. Unusually he sometimes employs a very low viewpoint showing off his grasp of recession, as in his view towards the Gilberts’ house in Sambalpur on the bank of the Mahanadi, and he uses the same viewpoint in his view of the fort at Sambalpur.

The fort at Sambalpur on the banks of the Mahanadi River. By the ‘Gilbert artist’, 1825-27. BL Add.Or.2519
The fort at Sambalpur on the banks of the Mahanadi River. By the ‘Gilbert artist’, 1825-27. BL Add.Or.2519 https://blogs.bl.uk/.a/6a00d8341c464853ef0240a4428c8a200c-pi

Here the artist is demonstrating his grasp of aerial perspective.  Little now seems to remain of the fort or the palace within it. The Rajas of Sambalpur, Chauhan Rajputs, had been dispossessed by the Marathas in 1797, but the captive Raja Jait Singh was restored by the British in 1817 (see O’Malley 1909 for details of this period in Sambalpur).  His young son Maharaj Sai succeeded in 1820.  The last Raja died without an heir in 1849 and the state lapsed to the government.

The old palace in the fort at Sambalpur. By the ‘Gilbert artist’, 1825-27. BL Add.Or.2521
The old palace in the fort at Sambalpur. By the ‘Gilbert artist’, 1825-27. BL Add.Or.2521. https://blogs.bl.uk/.a/6a00d8341c464853ef0240a4428c8a200c-pi

Again in his view of the palace in the fort he uses a typical picturesque device, making use of a tree on the left as a repoussoir to throw the foreground into shadow.  Our artist also follows in Sita Ram’s footsteps in occasionally including his patron in his paintings.  Thus in his view of the palace above, we see Gilbert on a caparisoned elephant approaching the palace for an audience with the young raja and his advisers.

Temple of Maa Samaleswari in the fort, Sambalpur. By the ‘Gilbert artist’, 1825-27. BL Add.Or.2520
Temple of Maa Samaleswari in the fort, Sambalpur. By the ‘Gilbert artist’, 1825-27. BL Add.Or.2520 https://blogs.bl.uk/.a/6a00d8341c464853ef0240a4428c8a200c-pi

Sambalpur owes its name to Maa Samala or Samaleswari, a mother goddess of great sanctity in western Odisha and Chhatisgarh.   The temple has a square sanctum wherein the goddess resides and a vaulted arcade surrounding it for worshippers to perform pradakshina,features which are carefully depicted by our artist. Here he also includes features of village life – a cattle shelter, a little shrine with a worshipper, men working a well, and a sepoy of the Ramgarh Battalion standing guard outside a hut where other sepoys must have been stationed judging by the rifles stacked neatly outside.

Gilbert and other British officers being entertained with a nautch by the Raja of Sambalpur. By the ‘Gilbert artist’, 1825-27. BL Add.Or.2522
Gilbert and other British officers being entertained with a nautch by the Raja of Sambalpur. By the ‘Gilbert artist’, 1825-27. BL Add.Or.2522 https://blogs.bl.uk/.a/6a00d8341c464853ef0240a4428c8a200c-pi

 Later in the series is a lively painting of Gilbert and his staff attending a nautch organised by the young Raja, who sits between his guests and his advisers all in European chairs. Our artist’s elongated figures like those of Sita Ram are derived of course from earlier Murshidabad painting, but in his familiarity with internal light sources in his paintings and in his treatment of the dark sky our artist comes close to Sita Ram’s work in his night scenes. 

Landscape with huge banyan tree beside a river. By the ‘Gilbert artist’, 1822-28. BL Add.Or.2525
Landscape with huge banyan tree beside a river. By the ‘Gilbert artist’, 1822-28. BL Add.Or.2525 https://blogs.bl.uk/.a/6a00d8341c464853ef0240a4428c8a200c-pi

He follows Sita Ram again in his penchant for making great trees the subject of his pictures. A great banyan tree beside a river with villagers bathing, unfortunately uninscribed, dominates another of our paintings.  It recalls in its massive and dominating bulk with small figures scurrying around beneath it Charles D’Oyly’s contemporary painting of the Bodhi tree at Bodh Gaya (Losty 1995, fig. 16) and its associated drawings done in 1824/25.  D’Oyly and his wife passed through Hazaribagh, Gilbert’s permanent station at this time, early in 1823 on their way overland to Patna (sketches in the D’Oyly album BL WD2060, Archer 1969, pp. 163-68) and must have stayed with Lady D’Oyly’s cousin Isabella, since D’Oyly drew her bungalow there. The D’Oylys would have been back again at Christmas 1824 when several drawings of the Bodh Gaya temple and its great tree were added to the album.  All in all it is very likely that our artist saw D’Oyly’s work in this field and was influenced by it.  A second great banyan tree near Surguja (Chhatisgarh) is the subject of another of his pictures (BL Add.Or.2523, Archer 1972, pl. 31), but this is more in Sita Ram’s manner and is less overwhelming. Surguja was another of the small tributary states on the borders of Orissa, Jarkhand and Chhatisgarh – the view of the palace there is in the V&A (I.S. 15-1963).

Gilbert’s munshi and diwan working in Gilbert’s bungalow.  By the ‘Gilbert artist’, 1822-28.  BL Add.Or.3949
Gilbert’s munshi and diwan working in Gilbert’s bungalow.  By the ‘Gilbert artist’, 1822-28.  BL Add.Or.3949 https://blogs.bl.uk/.a/6a00d8341c464853ef0240a4428c8a200c-pi

Occasional portraiture too comes within our artist’s purview, albeit less successfully, as in a double portrait of two men who appear to be his diwan and munshi, the men who looked after Gilbert’s official accounts and Persian language correspondence.  Another of his group portraits is of the Gilberts’ ayah and their table servants in red livery (BL Add.Or.2524, Archer 1972, pl. 31).

Gilbert’s race-horse, ‘Beggar Girl’, standing on the race course at Hazaribagh. By the ‘Gilbert artist’, 1822-28.  BL Add.Or.3950
Gilbert’s race-horse, ‘Beggar Girl’, standing on the race course at Hazaribagh. By the ‘Gilbert artist’, 1822-28.  BL Add.Or.3950 https://blogs.bl.uk/.a/6a00d8341c464853ef0240a4428c8a200c-pi

The natural world too could engage our artist’s attention, as in his depiction of Gilbert’s racehorse standing on the course at Hazaribagh. Like Sita Ram he is concerned with a naturalistic approach reproducing the animal’s volume and skin covering rather than anatomical details.  Gilbert was famous as a patron of the turf and could organise races anywhere he found himself posted.  It would seem certain that the walls of the Gilberts’ bungalows would have been covered with prints of famous racehorses posed against landscapes, by artists such as Stubbs and his successors, whose compositions Gilbert would have directed his artist to follow.  This is one of the earliest of the genre in Kolkata painting, and perhaps experimental, in that the right foreleg is wrongly positioned (the legs are often wrongly positioned in traditional Indian horse portraits too), a type that was later brought to perfection by Shaykh Muhammad Amir. 

Also in the BL collections are two other drawings of his racehorses which were given to James William Macnabb, son of another Ross cousin Jean Macnabb, when Gilbert was Military Member of the Supreme Council in Kolkata in 1852-53 (BL Add.Or.4305-06). On leaving Hazaribagh in 1828, he took a long leave until 1844.  When he returned to duty he was stationed in the north-west at Agra and Ferozepur and took part in both Sikh wars.  Since both these portraits of horses were done by a Kolkata artist but set against a slightly hilly landscape, he must have taken this artist up-country with him after his return to India.  He does not seem to have been based in Kolkata again until 1852.

A pink lotus (Nelumbo nucifera/family Nelumbanaceae).  By the ‘Gilbert artist’, 1822-28.  BL Add.Or.3951
A pink lotus (Nelumbo nucifera/family Nelumbanaceae).  By the ‘Gilbert artist’, 1822-28.  BL Add.Or.3951 https://blogs.bl.uk/.a/6a00d8341c464853ef0240a4428c8a200c-pi

Our artist could also turn his hand to botanical drawings as in his pink lotus. He shows the full plant including stem and root, with close-ups of leaf, flower, fruit and seed of a particularly fine specimen, but like Sita Ram before him he was more interested in endowing the flower and leaf with shade than with the niceties of botanical requirements. His drawing of a maize plant somewhat similarly arranged, showing the full plant with details of leaf, flower and cob, is in the V&A (I.S. 16-1963).

As so often with Indian artists, whether working under Indian or British patronage, we have no documentation to help with the identification of Gilbert’s artist, and his name never appears on any of his works. It seems likely that he was a junior colleague of Sita Ram venturing down the same ‘picturesque’ path, but Sita Ram was a special case whose extraordinary talent accorded him special treatment and recognition; but we still do not know where he was trained before he appears with the Hastings in 1814 and what happened to him after they had both left India by 1823.  The ‘Gilbert artist’ is even more anonymous and we only know of his existence for a tantalisingly brief glimpse from 1822 to 1828.

 

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

 

References

Archer, M., British Drawings in the India Office Library, HMSO, London, 1969

Archer, M., Company Drawings in the India Office Library, HMSO, London, 1972

Archer, M., Company Paintings: Indian Paintings of the British Period, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1992

Losty, J.P., ‘A Career in Art: Sir Charles D’Oyly’, in Under the Indian Sun: British Landscape Artists, ed. P. Rohatgi and P. Godrej, Bombay, 1995, pp. 81-106

Losty, J.P., Sita Ram: Picturesque Views of India – Lord Hastings’s Journey from Kolkata to the Punjab, 1814-15, Roli Books, New Delhi, 2015

O’Malley, L.S.S., District Gazetteers of British India – Sambalpur, Calcutta, 1909

 

29 August 2017

A Hindu munshi’s ‘Chain of Yogis’: a Persian manuscript in the Mackenzie Collection

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Reading about the recently opened exhibition ‘Collector Extraordinaire, Mackenzie Collection exhibition’ at Lews Castle, Stornoway, in the Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides - see our recent post Colin Mackenzie, collector extraordinaire -, I was reminded that there was a small but significant number of Arabic and Persian manuscripts in Colin Mackenzie’s collection which is often overlooked. In this post I will feature one which is especially interesting, the Silsilah-i jogiyān (‘Chain of Yogis’) which played an important role in Western understanding of Indian religious groups.

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Descriptions of the 12th, 13th and 14th groups of Shaiva ascetics: the Rukhara, the Ukhara  and the Aghori (BL IO Islamic 3087, ff. 24-25)
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Colin Mackenzie (1754-1821) was born in Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis but spent most of his life from 1783 until his death 38 years later working for the East India Company. His most important work was as a military engineer and surveyor in Mysore (1800-1809), in Java (1811-1812/13) and from 1815 until his death in 1821 as the first Surveyor General of India. During his long career Mackenzie built up a unique collection consisting of 1,568 manuscripts, 2,070 ‘local tracts,’ 8,076 inscriptions, 2,159 translations in addition to 79 plans, 2,630 drawings, 6,218 coins, 106 images and 40 antiquities (Wilson, vol 1, pp. 22-23). This collection today is divided between several different institutions in India and the UK including the British Library.

At the time of his death Mackenzie had been hoping to complete a catalogue of his manuscripts and books but this task was left to Horace Hayman Wilson to complete in 1828. Wilson gives details of 10 Arabic and 87 Persian mss (Wilson, vol. 2, pp. 117-144) which he rather dismissively described as (vol 1 p.lii) “of little consideration, but some of them are of local value”. In fact we have 94 Persian items in our collections at the British Library. These are mostly historical works, biographies, collections of letters in addition to a few volumes of poetry, tales, and philosophical and religious works.

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H.H. Wilson’s 1828 catalogue of Mackenzie’s Persian manuscripts, including no 81, Silseleh Jogiyan
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In 1828, in what was the first major work in English on the religions of India, Wilson published the first of two articles “A sketch of the religious sects of the Hindus”. The second, a continuation with the same title, was printed in 1832. Wilson’s account was based on two Persian works, both written by Hindu authors, one of which was Silsilah-i jogiyān (‘Chain of Yogis’) by Sītal Singh, Munshi to the Raja of Benares (Wilson, 1828, p.6). This was no 81 in Wilson's catalogue, now numbered IO Islamic 3087.

Sītal Singh (see Carl Ernst’s chapter on him, below) had been commissioned to write an account of the different religious groups in Benares in 1800 by a British magistrate John Deane. Also titled Fuqarā-yi Hind, it includes descriptions of 48 different types of ascetic groups divided into 5 chapters on Vaishnavas, Shaivas, Shaktas, Sikhs and Jains. The descriptions are followed by a short philosophical defence of the Vedanta and an early census of the different religious and professional groups to be found in Benares. In addition to this work, Sītal Singh wrote several other philosophical works and poetry under the name Bīkhwud.

IO Islamic 3087 includes 48 miniature portraits painted in the margins next to the relevant descriptions. Unlike the typically more sophisticated company paintings which occur in similar works, these are comparatively simplistic in style. Although the manuscript is not dated, the paper is watermarked J. Whatman 1816 so it must have been copied after that but before Mackenzie's death in 1821. Several of the paintings are dated between 13th and 27th January, but without any year. Perhaps these were the dates when the paintings were added in the margins.

The sects are arranged as below:

The sixteen Vaishnava sects
Gosain of Vindraban (f. 4v); Gosain of Gokul (f. 5v); Sakhibhava (f. 7r); Ramanandi (f. 8r); Vairagi (f. 8v); Virakta (f. 8v); Naga (f. 9r); Ramanuji (f10r); Kabirpanthi (f10v); Dadupanthi (f11r); Ravidaspanthi (f11v); Harichandi (f. 12r); Surnapanthi (f. 12v); Madhavi (f .13v); Sadhavi (f. 13v); Charandasi (f. 15r)

IO Islamic 3087_f5v_1500 IO Islamic 3087_f7r_1500 IO Islamic 3087_f10v_1500
Left: Gosain of Gokul (f. 5v); centre: Sakhibhava (f. 7r); right: Kabirpanthi (f. 10v)

IO Islamic 3087_f13v_a_1500 IO Islamic 3087_f13v_b_1500  IO Islamic 3087_f15r_1500
Left: Madhavi (f. 13v); centre: Sadhavi (f. 13v); right: Charandasi (f. 15r)
(BL IO Islamic 3087)  noc

The nineteen Shaiva sects
Dandi (f. 16r); Agnihotri (f. 17v); Yogi (f. 19r); Shankaracharya (f. 20r); Atit (f. 20v); Sanyogi (f. 22r); Naga (f. 22r); Avadhuta (f. 23r); Urdabahu (f. 23v); Akasmukhi (f. 24r); Karalingi (f. 24r); Rukhara (f. 24v); Ukhara (f. 24v); Aghori (f. 25r); Alakhnami (f. 25v); Jangama (f. 26r); Nakhuni (f. 26v); Chokri (f. 27r); Paramahansa (f. 28r)

 IO Islamic 3087_f16r_1500 IO Islamic 3087_f17v_1500 IO Islamic 3087_f20v_1500 
Left: Dandi (f. 16r); centre: Agnihotri (f. 17v); right: Atit (f. 20v)
IO Islamic 3087_f22r_b_1500  IO Islamic 3087_f23v_1500  IO Islamic 3087_f26v_1500
Left: Naga (f. 22r); centre: Urdabahu (f. 23v); right: Nakhuni (f. 26v)
(BL IO Islamic 3087)  noc


The four kinds of Shaktas
Bhakta (f .29v); Vami (f. 31v); Kanchuliya (f. 36v); Karari (f. 38r)

IO Islamic 3087_f31v.JPG_1500 IO Islamic 3087_f36v.JPG_1500 IO Islamic 3087_f38r.JPG_1500
Left: Vami (f. 31v); centre: Kanchuliya (f. 36v); right: Karari (f. 38r)
(BL IO Islamic 3087)  noc

The seven kinds of Nanakshahis (Sikhs)
Udasi (f. 40r); Ganjbakhshi (f. 40v); Ramra’i (f. 41r); Suthrashahi (f. 41r); Govindsakhi (f. 42v); Nirmali (f.  46v); Naga (f. 47v)
IO Islamic 3087_f41r_a_1500 IO Islamic 3087_f42v_1500 IO Islamic 3087_f47v_a_1500
Left: Ramra’i (f. 41r); centre: Govindsakhi (f. 42v); right: Naga (f. 47v)
(BL IO Islamic 3087)  noc

The two kinds of Sravakas (Jains)

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Left: Sravaka (f. 47v); right: Jati (f. 48v)
(BL IO Islamic 3087)  noc 


Further reading
Blake, David M., “Colin Mackenzie: Collector Extraordinary”, in The British Library Journal, vol. 17, No. 2 (Autumn 1991): pp. 128-150.
Wilson, Horace Hayman, The Mackenzie Collection. A descriptive catalogue of the oriental manuscripts, and other articles ... collected by Lieut. Col. Colin Mackenzie, etc. 2 vols. Calcutta: Printed at the Asiatic Press, 1828. vol. 1vol. 2
––– “Sketch of the religious sects of the Hindus”, Asiatic Researches, vol. 16 (1828): pp. 1-136  and vol. 17 (1832): pp.169-313.
Ernst, Carl W., “A Persian philosophical defense of Vedanta”, in Refractions of Islam in India: Situating Sufism and Yoga. India: Sage Publications, 2016, pp. 461-476.


Ursula Sims-Williams, Lead Curator Persian

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22 August 2017

Colin Mackenzie: Collector Extraordinaire

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Through the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Purvai Project at An Lanntair cultural centre in Stornoway has curated an exhibition celebrating the life of Colin Mackenzie (1754-1821), one of the Isle of Lewis’ most famous 19th century explorers who travelled to India and Indonesia. Mackenzie was born on the Isle of Lewis but spent most of his life in India working for the East India Company as a military engineer and surveyor. He saw action across South India, including at the Battle of Seringapattam (1799) against Tipu Sultan, and also spent two years in Java (1811-1812/13) as part of the British occupation force during the Napoleonic Wars. After his return from Java (Indonesia), Mackenzie was appointed the first Surveyor General of India in 1815. He held this post until his death in 1821. He is buried in Park Street Cemetary in Kolkata. The exhibition Collector Extraordinaire brings together a selection of drawings, coins and sculpture collected by Mackenzie from the collections of the British Library, the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum. For the first time ever, these collections have travelled so far north to Stornoway.

View of Colin Mackenzie's memorial plaque and family mausoleum near Stornoway. Photograph by John Falconer, 2017. View of Colin Mackenzie's memorial plaque and family mausoleum near Stornoway. Photograph by John Falconer, 2017.
View of Colin Mackenzie's memorial plaque and family mausoleum near Stornoway. Photographs by John Falconer, 2017.  noc

Mackenzie was interested in the rich history and culture of the lands in which he travelled and worked. He surveyed numerous sites of historical interest, including, famously, the stupa at Amaravati. During his long residence in India, Mackenzie, helped by his local assistants, amassed one of the largest and most diverse collections made here. The tens of thousands of objects in his collection ranged from coins to small bronzes and large stone sculptures, as well as natural history specimens, drawings, and both paper and palm-leaf manuscripts. After his death in 1821, his widow, Petronella, sold his collection to the East India Company for Rs100,000 (£10,000). Most of this material is now held at institutions in the UK and India, including: the British Museum, British Library, V&A, Chennai Government Museum, and the Indian Museum in Kolkata.

The British Library's collection includes more than 1,700 drawings collected by Mackenzie during his career in India. A selection of thirty-two drawings on a range of topics, from sculpture and architecture in India to antiquities in Java either drawn by Mackenzie or under his supervision, are currently on display in the exhibition. Additionally, the well known portrait of Colin Mackenzie painted by the British portraitist Thomas Hickey in 1816 is featured. The drawings are complemented by a number of sculptures and coins from the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum. Highlights include:

Portrait of Colin Mackenzie painted by Thomas Hickey in 1816. Mackenzie, wearing scarlet uniform, is accompanied by three of his Indian assistants. In the distance is the colossal Jain statue of Gomatesvara at Karkala. British Library, Foster 13
Portrait of Colin Mackenzie painted by Thomas Hickey in 1816. Mackenzie, wearing scarlet uniform, is accompanied by three of his Indian assistants. In the distance is the colossal Jain statue of Gomatesvara at Karkala. British Library, Foster 13  noc

Selection of drawings and plans relating to the Buddhist stupa at Amaravati as well as a limestone panel with a high necked vase called a Pūrṇaghaṭa (dating to circa 8th-9th centuries) from the British Museum (1880,0709.68) are on display. Photograph by John Falconer, 2017
Selection of drawings and plans relating to the Buddhist stupa at Amaravati as well as a limestone panel with a high necked vase called a Pūrṇaghaṭa (dating to circa 8th-9th centuries) from the British Museum (1880,0709.68) are on display. Photograph by John Falconer, 2017  noc

Exhibition also features the Jain sculpture of Parvanatha from the Victoria and Albert Museum (931 IS) which dates to the late 12th century - early 14th century and found by Mackenzie in a ruined Jain temple in Karnataka. Photograph by John Falconer, 2017
Exhibition also features the Jain sculpture of Parvanatha from the Victoria and Albert Museum (931 IS) which dates to the late 12th century - early 14th century and found by Mackenzie in a ruined Jain temple in Karnataka. Photograph by John Falconer, 2017  noc

The exhibition 'Collector Extraordinaire' is on view at the An Lanntair and Museum nan Eilean from 12 August to 18 November 2017. The exhibition is curated by Catherine Maclean and is part of Storoway's Puravi festival. 

 

Further reading:

David M. Blake, ‘Colin Mackenzie: Collector Extraordinary’, The British Library Journalpp.128-150.

Jennifer Howes (2002) ‘Colin Mackenzie and the stupa at Amaravati’, South Asian Studies, vol. 18, pp.53-65.

Jennifer Howes (2010) Illustrating India: The early colonial investigations of Colin Mackenzie (1784-1821), New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Sushma Jansari (2012) ‘Roman Coins from the Mackenzie Collection at the British Museum’, Numismatic Chronicle vol.172 (2012), pp.93-104.

Robert Knox (1992) Amaravati: Buddhist sculpture from the Great Stupa, London: British Museum Press.

Akira Shimada & Michael Willis (eds.) (2017) Amaravati: The Art of an Early Buddhist Monument in Context, London: British Museum Press.

 

Sushma Jansari (British Museum) and Malini Roy (British Library)

19 April 2017

Calcutta to Bihar: an artist's journey

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As part of the Visual Arts collections at the British Library, we hold an extensive collection of drawings, sketches and watercolours by amateur British and European artists who travelled through the Indian subcontinent. In 2015, we acquired a wonderful little sketchbook, measuring a mere 80 x 204 mm, by an unknown artist who documented his/her journey from Calcutta to Bihar in the winter of 1849. Unfortunately, none of the sketches are signed or offer any details regarding the artist’s identity. The sketchbook contains 12 double-sided pages, each filled with sketches in either pen-and-ink or done in watercolours. The subjects include topographical views, portraits studies of locals, as well as documentation of crafts and transportation methods. Each illustration is annotated by the artist providing details of the subjects and documenting the shades of colour – such as ‘very white’ or ‘yellowish’. It is most likely that this incomplete series of sketches were preparatory studies that could be worked up at a later stage.

View of Government House, Calcutta, anonymous British artist, c. 1849. British Library WD 4593, f. 7
View of Government House, Calcutta, anonymous British artist, c. 1849. British Library WD 4593, f. 7  noc

The illustrations in the album include studies of relatively well known buildings such as Government House and Fort William in Calcutta to lesser known spots along the Ganges and Hoogly Rivers. The artist’s impressions demonstrate a quick study and artistic impressions rather than providing an accurate visual record. One of the first views in the series is that of Government House (Raj Bhavan) that was designed by Captain Charles Wyatt and constructed from 1799-1802. The artist prepared the study from a position on Esplanade Row facing north. This neo-classical building, inspired by Robert Adam’s Kedleston Hall in Derbyshire, was the official residence of the Governor-Generals and the Viceroys until 1911. Along the parapet of the central building, the artist sketched the East India Company’s coat of arms featuring lions. It is most curious that the artist featured the coat of arms on the south front of the building as they in fact are positioned along the parapet of the north face and main entrance to the building. A drawing by Lady Sarah Amherst, dated to 1824, shows the correct position.

View of Fort William, Calcutta, anonymous British artist, c. 1849. British Library, WD 4593, f. 9
View of Fort William, Calcutta, anonymous British artist, c. 1849. British Library, WD 4593, f. 9  noc

On another folio, the artist illustrated a distant view of Fort William. Designed by Captain John Brohier and built during the 1750s and 1760s, the octagonal fortification was built close to the banks of the Hoogly River, just south-west of Government House. On the left, the artist wrote ‘white dark pinnacle’ and ‘church’ which is likely to be a reference to St Peter’s Church that was built in 1826.

'Hindoo Temples of Tin & Coloured Paper, Coolies, and Ganges Pilots', anonymous British artist, c. 1849. British Library, WD4593, f.14
'Hindoo Temples of Tin & Coloured Paper, Coolies, and Ganges Pilots', anonymous British artist, c. 1849. British Library, WD4593, f.14  noc

Aside from architectural and topographical views, the artist also documented local inhabitants and customs. On folio 14, he wrote ‘Hindoo Temples of Tin and Coloured Paper’ and provided pen-and-ink sketches of what he assumed to be local and religious crafts. He meticulously documented the colour scheme of these objects. However, in finding comparative material in contemporary drawings and later photographs, it appears that the artist may have documented painted structures called ta'ziya, instead of ‘Hindoo temples’ that were created for the Muslim festival of Muharram. Examples of ta’ziya used in processions were recorded in paintings and photographs by local as well as British artists during the 18th and 19th centuries.

 
‘Native boats’, anonymous British artist, c. 1849. British Library, WD4593, f. 25.
‘Native boats’, anonymous British artist, c. 1849. British Library, WD4593, f. 25.  noc

The album contains several charming river scenes that document forms of river transportation, from small row boats to a steamer. From the sequence of illustrations and the inscriptions provided, it is possible to document the artist’s journey along the Hoogly and then the Ganges rivers from Calcutta to Bihar by way of the Rajmahal Hills, Monghyr, Patna, Dinapur and Ghazipur.

 

Further reading:

Archer, M. British Drawings in the India Office Library, Volume 1: Amateur Artists, London, 1969

Losty, J.P.,  'Charles D'Oyly's voyage to Patna', Asian and African Studies Blog, September 2014

Losty, J.P., ‘A Career in Art: Sir Charles D’Oyly’, in Under the Indian Sun: British Landscape Artists, ed. P. Rohatgi and P. Godrej, Bombay, 1995, pp. 81-106

Rohatgi, P., and P. Godrej, Under the Indian Sun: British Landscape Artists, Bombay, 1995

 

Malini Roy, Visual Arts Curator  ccownwork

 

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