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20 posts categorized "Hinduism"

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

Or_12857_f001v
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).  
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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
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[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.

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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.

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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.

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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

28 April 2014

The Ramayana in Southeast Asia: (2) Thailand and Laos

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Continuing our series of posts on the Ramayana in Southeast Asia, today we look at Thailand and Laos. The Thai version of the epic is known as the Ramakien. The Rama story is thought to have been known to the Thais since at least the 13th century. It was adopted from older Khmer sources, hence the similarity to the Khmer title Reamker. Various new versions of the story have been composed, often by royal authors, since the 16th and 17th centuries. However, large numbers of Thai manuscripts were lost with the destruction of Ayutthya in 1767, and the Ramakien known today was compiled only between 1785 and 1807 under the supervision of King Rama I (1785-1809).

The famous reliefs depicting about 150 scenes from the Ramakien at Wat Phra Chetuphon (Wat Pho) in Bangkok date back to the early 19th century. Manuscript and mural paintings showing scenes from the Ramakien are particularly famous for their illustrations of the monkey armies. Best known are the mural paintings at the royal temple Wat Phra Kaeo in Bangkok. In King Rama I’s version of the Ramakien all names, places, traditions, and flora and fauna were adapted to a Thai context. In this form, the Rama story has become an epic of national character in Thailand, and it is very popular not only as a literary work, but also as a mask dance (khon) and even TV drama. It has been re-published many times in the form of children’s and juvenile literature, and characters from the Ramayana have featured on series of postal stamps and trading cards. The title of Rama constantly re-occurs in the royal genealogies of Thailand.

Ravana
Hanuman facing Ravana asleep in his palace. This drawing is from a 19th century album of ink drawings by an anonymous Thai artist of scenes from the Ramakien, with some text captions in Khom script (a variant of the Cambodian Khmer script used in Thailand). Hanuman can be seen with his sword, teasing Ravana who is fast asleep in his palace after having abducted Sita. The palace resembles 19th century architecture in Bangkok. British Library, Or.14859, pp. 58-59  noc

Phralak
Phralak – the Thai and Lao name of Lakshmana, Rama’s brother – served Rama and Sita reverently and played an important role in the war with Ravana. In the Thai and Lao traditions, he is a symbol of brotherly love, loyalty and commitment. He gave his life in order to protect Rama’s integrity and Ayodhya from an evil curse. This illustration of Phralak is from a folding-book with Thai character drawings including figures from the Ramakien, central Thailand, 19th century. British Library, Or.14229, f. 29  noc

The Lao version of the Ramayana is known as Phra Lak Phra Ram (or Pha Lak Pha Lam since in modern Lao R is often replaced by L), the title referring to both the brothers Lakshmana and Rama. Sometimes it is also called Phra Ram sadok (Rama Jataka) as it is widely believed that Rama was a former incarnation of a Buddha-to-be. The Rama story featured in many mural paintings and wood relief carvings on temple doors and windows. It was also one of the favourite themes in the repertoire of the Lao Royal Ballet until 1975, and this tradition has been revived since 2002 by the Royal Ballet Theatre of Luang Prabang.

Ramayana Laos
Introductory scene to thank and honour the Hindu gods during a Phra Lak Phra Ram performance by the Royal Ballet Theatre of Luang Prabang. Photo by Jana Igunma, 2002.

Numerous palm-leaf manuscripts from all regions of Laos containing shorter versions of the Lao Ramayana, Lam Pha Lam, show that the story was very popular all over the country in urban centres as much as in rural areas. These versions were created in order to be sung by a Mor Lam, a traditional expert singer who can melodically recite lengthy poems and epic literature while being accompanied by a Khaen (bamboo mouth organ).

In both Thai and Lao traditions, Hanuman was part of a favourite Yantra design used by soldiers and martial arts specialists. The leader of the monkey armies represents strength, stamina, agility, intelligence and devotion. Hanuman Yantras would either be drawn on protective shirts, headbands, battle standards of entire armies, or, most efficiently and durably, tattooed on a fighter’s body.

Hanuman yantra
Hanuman as part of a Yantra design for tattooing or to be drawn on protective clothes and battle flags. From a Yantra manual written in gamboge ink on blackened mulberry paper, central Thailand, 19th century.  British Library, Or.15596, f. 9  noc

Further reading

Angkhan Kanlayanaphong, Khon, Thai masked dance Sala Chalermkrung. Bangkok, 2006. (LP.31.a.679)

John Cadet, The Ramakien. The Thai epic illustrated with the bas-reliefs of Wat Phra Jetubon, Bangkok. Tokyo, Palo Alto, 1971. (Siam.742)

Sachchidanand Sahai, The Rama Jataka in Laos : a study in the Phra Lak Phra Lam. Delhi, 1996. (YD.2004.a.6415)

The Ramakian (Ramayana) mural paintings along the galleries of the temple of the Emerald Buddha. Bangkok, 1999. (SEA.2002.c.3)

Jana Igunma, Ginsburg Curator for Thai, Lao and Cambodian

 ccownwork

18 April 2014

An Album of Maratha and Deccani Paintings - part 1

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An Indian album in Asian and African Collections of which hitherto little notice has been taken is a large but slim volume, numbered Add.21475 (Blumhardt 1899, no. 91).  The album contains eight paintings mostly from the Deccan, including five large paintings illustrating verses from Keshav Das’s classic text on poetics, the Rasikapriya.  It has to my knowledge been exhibited only once, in 1976, and only one of its paintings has ever been published, a portrait of Raja Sambhaji (Losty 1986, no. 56).  An inscription records that it was presented to the British Museum in 1856 by F.S. Haden Esq.  This is possibly Sir Francis Seymour Haden (1818-1910), an eminent surgeon and one of the great 19th century authorities on etching, both on its practice and on the works of eminent etchers.  The album was rebound in Europe and the paintings remounted on European paper so that any connection with its compiler in India has been lost.

The album begins with two important Maratha portraits.

 Add.21475, f.1 (1)
Inscribed above: Maharaja Sambhajiraje.  Maratha, late 17th century.  Opaque pigments and gold on paper, 146 by 220mm (including border).  BL Add.21475, f. 1  noc

Sambhaji (1657-89) was the eldest son of Sivaji, leader of the Hindu Deccani resistance to Aurangzeb’s assault on the kingdoms of the Deccan.  After Sivaji’s death in 1680, Sambhaji led his forces against not only the Mughals but the Siddis of Janjira, the Portuguese in Goa and the Wodeyars of Mysore.  He was captured in a minor skirmish with the Mughals at Sangameshwar in 1689 and executed at Aurangzeb’s command.  This rare portrait cannot be much removed in time from Sambhaji’s life.  The conventions of the portraiture, being seated on a terrace holding a flower, are standard throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, but the tangled clouds at the top point particularly to an early date.  Its dark flat colours suggest a provenance far from the glitter of Hyderabad, the centre of Deccani painting at the time, and perhaps to a Maratha provenance, about whose artistic activities at this period little is known.  Portraits of Sambhaji are very rare, but two formerly in the royal Satara collection are now in the History Museum of Marathwada University, Aurangabad (Deshmukh 1992, pls. I. IIIA).  The former is a standard Golconda/Hyderabad sort of portrait, but the second showing him seated with his young son Sahu (pl. IIIA), painted probably in the early 18th century by a Maratha artist, seems based on our portrait or one similarly early.  Both show the same Vaisnava sect mark on his forehead and the four chains of pearls attached to the back of his turban. 

 Add.21475, f.2
The Maratha Peshwa, Madhavrao II.  Maratha, perhaps by Shivram Chitari, c. 1790.  Opaque pigments and gold on paper, 278 by 205 mm (including border).  BL Add.21475, f. 2.  noc

Next in the album comes an unattributed portrait which from the turban and clothing can only be one of the later Maratha Peshwas.  The Peshwas, all Chitpavan Brahmins, were the hereditary chief ministers of the Maratha kings, and after the descendants of Sivaji and Sambhaji had established themselves at Satara and Kolhapur, they ruled the empire in their name from their base at Pune.  The long shawl wound round the body is in the manner of the Bijapur and Golconda sultans of the 17th century.  The hairless face, long nose, protruding mouth, turban, clothing and Vaisnava sect mark all match those of the young Peshwa Madhavrao II Narayan (1774-1795), the posthumous son of the murdered Peshwa Madhavrao I, as seen for example in the portrait by James Wales dated 1792 in the collections of the Royal Asiatic Society (see the website http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings). 

The Maratha empire was governed by the famous statesman Nana Phadnavis during the Peshwa’s long minority.  Holly Shaffer who is currently researching Maratha paintings has kindly confirmed the identity of the sitter as the Peshwa Madhavrao II, based on an unpublished inscribed portrait of the same man in the Bharat Itihas Samshodak Mandal in Pune.  A portrait of his father, Madhavrao I with various attendants, ascribed to the Maratha artist Shivram Chitari, now in Aurangabad, is in a very similar style (Deshmukh 1992, pl. IX).  That portrait has a garden and palace background that suggests that the artist must have had some training in Hyderabad, which was the major artistic centre for the northern Deccan.  For painting in Hyderabad and its provinces in the later 18th century, see Zebrowski 1983, pp. 244-82.

These two portraits of Maratha interest are succeeded somewhat unexpectedly by a Jaipur painting of Radha and Krishna, portrayed as the hero and heroine of the month of Jyestha (May/June) from a Barahmasa set of paintings illustrating the twelve months of the Hindu calendar.

 Add.21475, f.3
The month of Jyestha (May/June), from a Barahmasa set.  Jaipur, c. 1780-90.  Opaque pigments and gold, 244 by 189 mm (including border).  BL Add.21475, f. 3.  noc

Krishna dressed as a young raja is embracing Radha, while being serenaded by two female musicians with tambura and drum.  Radha’s maid to the side holds the cord of a punkah hanging from the ceiling of the pavilion and Krishna with his hennaed hand held out seems to be encouraging her to work harder, to cool them down in the hottest month of the year.  Our artist’s attention to detail is exquisite – note particularly his foreground flowers and those round the balustrade, as well as the pairs of brilliantly coloured birds in the trees.  In a contemporary Barahmasa set of paintings from Jaipur in the History Museum, Aurangabad (fully published in Deshmukh n.d.), the month of Jyestha is a very similar composition to our painting (ibid., pl. 5), save that in place of the woodland surround there is a view of a distant landscape with tiny buildings and trees.  Krishna’s costume and appearance both in our painting and in the Aurangabad set leave little doubt that he is based on the portraits of the young Maharaja of Jaipur, Pratap Singh, as seen in a drawing in the BL when he is slightly older.

 Add.Or.5579
Maharaja Pratap Singh of Jaipur (b. 1764, reg. 1778-1803).  Attributed to Sahib Ram, 1785-90.  Brush drawing with some colour on paper, 610 by 440 mm.  BL Add.Or.5579  noc

Another drawing formerly in the James Ivory collection shows Pratap Singh at a younger age without facial hair (Losty 2010, no. 46) and is even closer in appearance.  The enhanced curve of the eyebrow and the curl of hair at the back of the neck are similar in all these examples.  Shailka Misra, who is currently researching the Jaipur archives, advises that in a Ragamala set from Pratap Singh's reign, in the City Palace Museum, Pratap Singh also appears as the hero or nayaka of one of the Ragamala illustrations.  Jaipur paintings of this date are normally surrounded by broad red borders, but instead here there is a Mughal type of border of alternate large and small blue cartouches filled with arabesques against a yellow ground, suggesting influence from a late Mughal source.  Pratap Singh’s Ragamala in Jaipur also has the same kind of Mughal-influenced borders.

The angled hipped roof of the pavilion, normally seen in Avadhi paintings, and the attention paid to linear perspective suggest that our artist has been exposed to influence from Lucknow.  The connections between Avadhi and later Jaipur paintings are obvious but their means of transmission remain to be explored.  The Barahmasa set in Aurangabad also has similar angled hipped roofs as well as two other readily identifiable Avadhi characteristics:  distant tiny landscapes in the manner of the Faizabad and Lucknow artist Mihr Chand and a concern to show foreshortened buildings in linear perspective.

Given that the other paintings in the album are all associated with the Deccan, it would seem that this Jaipur painting would also have been collected there.  The many Jaipur religious and mythological paintings in the collection of Major Edward Moor, author of the Hindu Pantheon (London 1810), now in the British Museum, indicate that such paintings were readily available in Bombay and Poona where Moor served in the Bombay Army 1796-1805.  Jaipur seems to have been a centre for the dissemination of Hindu religious and genre paintings during this period, quite apart from the ones which were sent as gifts to other courts.  Our painting could easily have been part of a Barahmasa set sent as a gift to one of the Peshwas, perhaps Madhavrao II Narayan himself, and mounted up with other Maratha and Deccani material in this album. The Jaipur Barahmasa set now in Aurangabad came from the royal Satara collection and was possibly a gift from Pratap Singh to Maharaja Shahu II (reg. 1777-1810).

The remaining five paintings in the album are all from a large Hyderabad-influenced series of the Rasikapriya, the classic text by Keshav Das on Hindi poetics, and will be dealt with in a subsequent post.

 

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

 

Further reading:

Blumhardt, J.F., Catalogue of the Hindi, Punjabi and Hindustani Manuscripts in the British Museum, London, 1899

Deshmukh, S.B., Maratha Painting (Part 1), Marathwada University, Aurangabad, 1992

Deshmukh, S.B., Baramasa Paintings, Marathwada University, Aurangabad, n.d. [1992?]

Losty, J.P., Indian Book Painting, British Library, London, 1986

Losty, J.P., Indian Miniatures from the James Ivory Collection, Francesca Galloway, London, 2010

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

08 April 2014

A conduit of shared values: CSMVS-BL collaboration

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Regular followers of this blog will know through the Mewar Ramayana Digitally Reunited blog post that recently we were delighted to join with Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalay (CSMVS Musuem), Mumbai, in announcing the launch of the digitised Mewar Ramayana manuscript. The Ramayana is one of the great epic stories of the world, with a unique universal human appeal. This particular manuscript, commissioned by Maharana Jagat Singh of Mewar in the mid-17th century, is widely regarded as one of the finest, most lavishly-illustrated copies of the epic ever made.

As our first major collaborative project with partners in India, the launch of the digitised Mewar Ramayana marks a significant early milestone in our aim to make parts of our extensive collections relating to South Asia freely available online, for people all around the world to study, admire and enjoy.

It was both to celebrate the launch with CSMVS at a reception on 21 March, and to discuss future collaborations with CSMVS and other partners in India, that a small BL contingent set off for Mumbai: Baroness Tessa Blackstone (Chairman of the Board), Roly Keating (Chief Executive), Marina Chellini (project curator), Jerry Losty (project consultant, see Curator’s perspective: accessing the Mewar Ramayana), Kate Losty (a conservator by training, and as Jerry’s wife, as engaged with the Mewar Ramayana as he), and myself.

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CSMVS, Mumbai

Our CSMVS colleagues and friends, in particular Sabyasachi Mukherjee (Director General), Vandana Prapanna (project curator), Roda Ahluwalia (project consultant), Manisha Nene (curator), and Koumudi Malladi (coordinator, DG’s office), had ensured a memorable evening’s programme for the launch! It began with refreshments for some 120 guests under the watchful eye of Jamsetji Tata, whose bust graced the lobby of Coomaraswamy Hall. This felt particularly apt, since it was partly due to the generous support of the Jamsetji Tata Trust that the project could happen.

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The statue of Jamsetji Tata fittingly presides over the launch.

Brief speeches by Sabyasachi Mukherjee, Baroness Blackstone, Kumar Iyer (British Deputy High Commissioner) and Roly Keating focussed on the deep historical ties between India and the UK, and the importance of international collaboration in building on these to ensure greater access to cultural treasures. These sentiments were beautifully encapsulated by honoured guest Shriji Arvind Singh Mewar, the Maharana of Udaipur, whose ancestor Rana Bhim Singh first donated the part of the manuscript now held at the British Library to Lt. Col. James Tod, British Political Agent and noted historian, in the early 19th century. Speculating as to his ancestor’s motivations in presenting the folios to Tod, Shriji concluded that the gift was symptomatic of the strong, cultural link between India and Britain, a link further strengthened by the ‘conduit of shared values’ demonstrated by the CSMVS-BL collaboration.

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Shriji Arvind Singh Mewar, the Maharana of Udiapur, addresses a packed Coomaraswamy Hall

The digital Mewar Ramayana was unveiled by Marina Chellini, who talked the audience through the special features of the resource, in the shaping and creating of which she had played such a leading role, whilst Vandana Prapanna provided fascinating insights into the project from the perspective of CSMVS. In the focal point of the evening, art historians Jerry Losty and Roda Ahluwalia delivered illustrated lectures, Jerry Losty concentrating on the immense artistic importance of the Mewar Ramayana, and Roda Ahluwalia exploring its significance in relation to other Ramayanas and to the Rajput manuscript tradition.

A lamp-lighting ceremony to inaugurate The Balakanda of the Mewar Ramayana in the Curator’s Gallery followed. Not to be missed by those fortunate enough to be in Mumbai, this exhibition displays original folios from the manuscript held at CSMVS, cleverly juxtaposing them with an animated digital folio projected on the wall, and the reunited digital resource on a kiosk to one side. Celebrations were brought to a close with a dinner at Bombay Gymkhana, very generously hosted by the Chairman and Director General of CSMVS.

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BL Chairman of the Board, Baroness Tessa Blackstone, at the lamp-lighting ceremony

After meetings with Sabyasachi Mukherjee the following morning to discuss exciting plans for the next CSMVS-BL joint endeavour and tours of the museum and conservation studio, the BL contingent went their separate ways. For Baroness Blackstone, Roly Keating and me, ‘work’ had just begun, with a further four days of meetings scheduled with partners in Mumbai and Kolkata. But that’s for another post.

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BL Chief Executive Roly Keating and Baroness Tessa Blackstone visiting the CMSVS conservation studio

In the meantime, our sincere thanks go to CSMVS, who in the course of this project have become friends as well as international colleagues. We look forward to many similar successes in the future!

We would also like to thank our funders, the Jamsetji Tata Trust, Sir Gulam Noon, the World Collections Programme, the Friends of the British Library and the British Library Board, without whom the project could not have been achieved.

And finally, we hope that you, our readers - whether via pc, tablet or phone, on the move or in the comfort of your own homes - will continue to study and enjoy this unique resource! You can explore the manuscript by going to www.bl.uk/ramayana or http://csmvs.in/the-mewar-ramayana.html.

Leena Mitford

Lead Curator, South Asian Studies