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41 posts categorized "Visual arts"

12 December 2018

Bombay satire: Rudolf von Leyden's political cartoons in India in the 1930s and 40s

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This guest blog post is by Mollie Arbuthnot, the Visual Arts section's doctoral placement. Her project focuses on political cartoons during the early 20th century.

 

It's not easy being a satirist. Rudolf von Leyden (1908-1983), a German-born cartoonist who lived most of his life in Bombay, is the main figure in this cartoon self-portrait.

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'Denley in search of happiness' by Rudolf von Leyden, 1946. British Library, P2349(146). Copyright held by Rudolf von Leyden, first published in the Illustrated Weekly of India, 24 March 1946. 

Surrounded by discarded drafts and piles of newspapers with depressing and terrifying headlines, he desperately searches for inspiration. Meanwhile his editor pokes his head round the door demanding "something really funny this week."

This is just one of a collection of von Leyden's satirical cartoons at the British Library. They were made in the 1930s and 40s, and the library has both original drawings (WD4491) and a set of the cartoons (P2349) as they were published in Bombay newspapers at the time.

The cartoon series in The Illustrated Weekly of India ran from the mid-30s to the late 40s, a tumultuous time in Indian and world history. Both von Leyden's personal life and the cartoons themselves give a fascinating insight into this period.

Life and times of Rudolf von Leyden

It’s not entirely clear why von Leyden moved to India in 1933. He was born in 1908 in Berlin to a middle-class family, the younger of two sons, and lived in Germany throughout his youth. Of course, as a man of Jewish descent and with leftist political interests, it would have been dangerous for him to have stayed in the country for long after the rise of Nazism, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that that was his main motivation for choosing India, or that he was fleeing persecution at the time that he left.

Rudolf’s elder brother, Albrecht, had been living and working in Bombay since 1927. Rudolf had just finished his studies (he received his PhD in geology from the University of Göttingen in 1932) and was looking to embark on his own career. Perhaps it just seemed an opportune moment to start a new adventure. Whatever the reasons, Rudolf arrived in Bombay in 1933.

He swiftly left geology behind, and began working in publicity a textiles firm, but also soon showed his interest in visual art. He set up the Leyden Commercial Art Studio, produced watercolour scenes on his travels around India, and began working on his series of political cartoons.

He was a central figure in the art scene in Bombay, working as the main art critic of The Times of India, collecting Indian artworks from various periods, organising exhibitions, and actively promoting young, contemporary artists. He was a contributing editor of the leading art review MARG from 1946 and served as an adviser for the acquisitions and art commissions of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), which owned one of the most important collections of post-independence Indian art.[1]

He also became a collector of, and later an authority on, antique board games and Indian playing cards. It was, however, as an art critic that he was probably best known in his lifetime.

Von Leyden was clearly a man of great energy and full of enthusiasm for his new life in India. Krishen Khanna, one of the artists who had been supported by von Leyden as a young man, reminisced: ‘[His] wanderlust was something everybody knew about. [He] thought nothing of going to the most inaccessible of places to see an old sculpture or a disused and ruined temple. Sleeping under an open sky and eating what the local population would provide with relish. […] [He] seemed to take it all so blithely. “While Lolly and I were trekking in Kashmir, we spent a day climbing Hara Kukh” as if that was some little hillock on [their] way. So when I expressed my surprise at [his] prowess for climbing, [he] came out with a long list of places which [he] said [he] had to traverse as a part of [his] doctorate in geology. My goodness, I’d always thought [he] had a doctorate in art history.’[2]

Wartime tensions

The position of a German national in British India was somewhat precarious, even before the outbreak of the war. Many were arrested as enemy aliens from 1939. Von Leyden had managed to acquire a British passport by that time, and used his contacts to help other German-speaking emigres to navigate the British authorities.

One fellow cartoonist, Walter Langhammer, and his wife Käthe were rescued from exile and arrest when von Leyden sent Langhammer’s cartoons to several influential people in Bombay, to prove his political disposition and loyalty to the British government. It worked, and both Walter and Käthe were able to return to Bombay, where Käthe worked as a censor for the British Army for the remainder of the war.[3]

It seems that von Leyden himself may have been able to use his own cartoons and position at The Times of India to protect himself from suspicion in a similar way.

All of von Leyden’s own cartoons were signed with the pseudonym ‘Denley,’ and were vehemently anti-German during the war. The gallery owner Kekoo Gandhy, a personal friend of von Leyden’s, attributed his use of a pseudonym to modesty. [4] But, the specific choice of the very English-sounding Denley must have been partially motivated by the desire to fit in at the Times and to distance his cartoons from his German roots. (Denley is, of course, also an anagram of Leyden.)

This all goes to highlight von Leyden’s unusual position, straddling several worlds: he was a European in a colonial space, but nonetheless with an ambivalent relationship to British colonial powers due to his German roots; a political émigré, part of a small but significant community of European Jews in cosmopolitan Bombay during the war; and a man deeply interested and invested in Indian culture and especially the flowering of Indian contemporary art.

The cartoons

His cartoons are characteristic for their freshness and sense of urgency, which is especially evident in the artist proofs. You can imagine von Leyden finishing his latest effort and cycling pell-mell across Bombay (as he apparently often did to get his work to the newspaper office in time to go to press) with the ink still wet.

They all share a signature style, featuring a bold black outline, minimal colouration, and a gentle political wit that poked fun at local government as well as heads of state, military leaders, and the ‘resident foreigner’ in India, including himself.

During the war years, the cartoons were jingoistically anti-German, albeit with an irreverent eye on international affairs. One example is captioned ‘Moscow Ballet’ and features Anthony Eden, Viacheslav Molotov, and US Secretary of State Cordell Hull as three ballerinas performing for their allied leaders (you can make out Churchill, Stalin, and Roosevelt in the front row), while a disgruntled Hitler turns to Goebbels, saying: “I thought you told me they could not keep in step…?”

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'Moscow ballet' by Rudolf von Leyden, 1943. Copyright held by Rudolf von Leyden, first published in the Illustrated Weekly of India, 14 November 1943. British Library, P2349(37) 

This fragile corps de ballet didn’t last long, of course, and von Leyden’s post-war cartoons show the beginnings of Cold War tensions. One casts Stalin in the role of Zeus, depicted as a huge moustached bull, carrying Europa off eastwards on his back (to the despair of the other Grecian maidens, Truman, Atlee, and de Gaulle).

Another major theme from this period was Indian independence. Von Leyden was unsparing in his depictions of the divides in Indian society, with several images focussing on the conflicts and unwillingness to compromise between different groups.

A 1946 cartoon shows ‘The House of India’s Freedom’ precariously balanced on scaffolding as construction work grinds to a halt, the two builders, Hindu and Muslim, refusing to speak to one another, and the solid foundation stones of unity, compromise, and goodwill languishing unused. Another pokes fun at the state bureaucracy, depicting politicians feverishly drafting plans and proposals by candlelight, as a larger-than-life Clive of India muses: ‘Fancy having so much trouble giving it back…’

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'The freedom of India' by Rudolf von Leyden, 1946. Copyright held by Rudolf von Leyden, first published in the Illustrated Weekly of India, 2 June 1946. British Library, P2349(166) 

 In the family

In the late 30s, von Leyden’s parents also moved to Bombay to join their two sons, fleeing the worsening situation in Nazi Germany. It turns out that this was a whole family of amateur artists.

After the war, in 1948, the four of them held a joint charity exhibition. Their father exhibited his sculptures, their mother watercolours, Albrecht, who was apparently the best painter of the lot, showed oil paintings and Rudolf sent his cartoons.

The Times carried an exhibition review, which claimed:

‘All four of the Leydens are amateurs. In Bombay one has become so accustomed to seeing professionals putting on shows of amateurish merit that it is refreshing to come across a family of amateurs presenting an exhibition of professional standard’.[5]

On Rudolf’s cartoons, and making reference to his fame as an art critic, the reviewer wrote:

‘Of the many inherent injustices of life in our civilisation some of the most galling are that pupils cannot give marks to their teachers, that motorists cannot summon the traffic constable, and that artists do not get a chance to criticise the art critic. Once in a lifetime there comes this chance but – alas – paradoxically, the victim at hand is not the sort of fellow one would relish running down.

R.V. Leyden’s cartoons are outstanding for their political wit. In the execution of the actual drawings he works so hard to overcome his lack of training that, in the end, most of his cartoons are better drawn than the average “professionals”.’[6]

 

By Mollie Arbuthnot, doctoral candidate at University of Manchester, department of Russian and East European Studies. She is currently at the British Library as a doctoral placement in autumn 2018.

 

 

[1] Devika Singh, ‘German-speaking exiles and the writing of Indian art history’ in Journal of Art Historiography no.17 (December 2017), https://arthistoriography.files.wordpress.com/2017/11/singh.pdf, accessed 5/11/2018, p.15.

[2] Krishen Khanna, ‘To Rudolf von Leyden: A Letter out of Season’ in Anil Bhatti and Johannes H. Voigt eds. Jewish Exile in India 1933-1945 (New Delhi: Max Mueller Bhavan, 1999), pp.186-189 (p.188).

[3] Margit Franz, ‘Transnationale & transkulturelle Ansätze in der Exilforschung am Beispiel der Erforschung einer kunstpolitischen Biographie von Walter Langhammer,’ in Margit Franz et al. Mapping Contemporary History: Zeitgeschichten im Diskurs (Vienna, Köln, Weimar: Böhlau Verlag, 2008), p.251.

[4] Kekoo Gandhy, ‘Some Personal Reminiscences of Rudi von Leyden,’ in Rudolf von Leyden: Cartoons (exhibition catalogue), p.3.

[5] ‘Leyden Family’s Art Works: Bombay Exhibition’ in The Times of India, 22 May 1948, p.9.

[6] Ibid.

26 November 2018

Refashioning the Dilkusha Palace, Lucknow

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This guest blog post is contributed by Professor Swati Chattopadhyay, an architectural historian specialising in modern architecture and urbanism, and the cultural landscape of British Colonialism. 

Edith E. Cuthell, author of My Garden in the City of Gardens (1905), described the Dilkusha Palace in Lucknow as the “most picturesquely situated of all the ‘lordly pleasure houses’ that successive Oudh sovereigns reared around their capital.” Cuthell, wife of Captain Thomas George Cuthell, lived in the Lucknow cantonment in the mid-late 1870s, and her memoirs of Lucknow are intimately woven with the sites of the Sepoy Revolt of 1857-59. Locating Dilkusha in the history of the revolt, she wrote:

'The ruins of Heart's Delight have been tenderly gardened.[i] Gay creepers clothe the tower and the loopholed walls, but ‘O'er the sloping mound where the roses bloom

Can it be an old forgotten tomb?’

For all the British graves which lie below are nameless, save those of Lieutenant W. Paul, 4th Punjaub Rifles, and Lieutenant Charles Keith Dashwood, of the 18th B.N.I. (Cuthell, 165-166).

Cuthell’s view of the Dilkusha as a picturesque ruin, dotted with forgotten unmarked tombs, raises a host of questions: When did Dilkusha become a ruin? What was its role in the post-Revolt landscape of the city? How did this role differ from the building’s original design and placement in the landscape?

Dilkusha underwent two major makeovers, one in the 1830s and then in the 1870s. Several visual documents at the British Library’s India Office Collection help us unpack this history of makeovers, and dispel the lingering assumption that the building was destroyed in the bombardment during the Sepoy Revolt (Das, 37).[ii]

 

Pre-Revolt Makeover

Built under the patronage of Nawab Sadat Ali Khan (r. 1798-1814) c1805, Dilkusha served as a country house/hunting lodge within a vast deer park on the outskirts of nawabi Lucknow. Sadat Ali Khan’s aide-de-camp Major Gore Ouseley designed the building based on the plan of Seton Delaval House in Northumberland, England.[iii] Yet the plan and use of Dilkusha were substantially different from that of Seton Delaval (Das, 37-39, 42-51). Following the Palladian pattern of country houses popular in England at that time, two detached service buildings housed the stables and kitchen. Also, the building’s orientation was changed to take advantage of the north view of the Gomti River. Staircase towers were inserted on the northeast and southwest, freeing up the protruding square bays for use as living space. In contrast to the other palaces of Awadh royalty, the Dilkusha stood as a discrete object on open park ground.

Artist Sita Ram who traveled with Governor General Lord Moira’s entourage during his tour of the Upper Provinces between 1814 and 1815 painted several buildings in and around Lucknow. In his watercolor rendition of the Dilkusha, “The Nawab Vizier’s Country Retreat at Dilkusha within a Deer Park”, the corner towers are two-storied and have flat roofs. That is, they do not have the third story nor the conical roofs that we see in later photographs of the building. Sita Ram’s rendition also shows a hipped roof and a pediment crowning the topmost part of the central bay, very much like Seton Delaval. This suggests that the conical roofs of the towers and the flat roof over the central bay were not part of Ouseley’s original design. If present these would certainly have been recorded by Sita Ram. Dilkusha’s altered roofline suggests that significant changes were made to the original building between the mid-1820s and 1850s. The Darshan Vilas Kothi built in the 1830s sports a façade similar to that of the redesigned Dilkusha, and we may surmise that the alteration of Dilkhusa’s design took place at about the same time, during the reign of Nasir-ud-din Haidar (r1827-1837). The formal repetition in Dilkusha and Darshan Vilas signaled a unified representation of the nawab’s palaces: now Dilkusha could be seen as properly terminating the Hazratgunj axis of palaces.[iv]

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'The Nawab Vizier's country retreat at Dilkusha within a deer park' by Sita Ram, 1814. British Library, Add Or 4763  Noc

The 1830’s renovation raised the stair towers higher allowing a covered access to the flat roof on two sides of the central bay, and the other two towers were given the same treatment for the sake of symmetry. This rooftop terrace space compensated for the absence of a secluded courtyard, and would have been a boon for the women of the royal household who could use this open-to-sky space for recreation.

Post-Revolt Makeover

The uninterrupted view of the city and its surroundings from Dilkusha’s terrace perch would serve a different role during the revolt, as the building’s excellent location on high ground made it a strategic stronghold. General Colin Campbell’s forces captured Dilkusha from the rebels on Nov 14, 1857, and from there marched to relieve the besieged garrison at the Lucknow Residency. Surveillance of the enemy in the trenches along the neighbouring Martinière from the rooftop of Dilkusha went hand in hand with the pleasure of surveying a landscape: even amid the tumult of raining shots, Times correspondent William Russell found the panorama of the Lucknow skyline exceptionally charming (Russell, 253-54, 257). On Nov 1857, General Henry Havelock died at Dilkusha, although he was buried in the quieter precincts of Alam Bagh. As both Edith Cuthell and Sidney Hay pointed out, there were only a few named graves at Dilkusha (Hay, 111).

Unlike the Residency at Lucknow which was severely damaged under fire from rebel forces during the prolonged siege, Dilkusha survived the conflict. And unlike the Residency which was kept in its damaged state as the most prominent memorial monument in Lucknow, Dilkusha Palace and grounds, along with adjacent Mohammad Bagh, were annexed to create the new military cantonment of Lucknow. Appropriation of land and repurposing of nawabi buildings in Lucknow by the victors were sanctioned by British colonial authorities (Oldenburg, 1984).[v] 

“For years,” Abbas Ali noted, Dilkusha served as the residence of the Division Commander, Lucknow Cantonment. Samuel Bourne’s c1864 photograph and photographs taken from the mid-late 1860s, such as Baker and Burke’s photograph in the Edward Molyneux Collection, show a well-kept ground and a building in use.

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Top: Lucknow. Dil Kooshah [Dilkusha] by Samuel Bourne, c. 1864. British Library, Photo 2/3(150) Noc
Bottom: Dilkoosha Palace, Lucknow by Baker and Burke, 1860s. British Library, Photo 938/3(5) Noc

Although Abbas Ali’s c1870 (or possibly late 1860s) photograph show some signs of disrepair, the building appears intact. Abbas Ali’s album was published in 1874 where he noted Dilkusha’s altered state: “it has lately been dismantled, and although it is built on an eminence, nothing can now be seen of the once noble edifice, but its bare massive walls and castellated stair-cases (Ali, 1874). Sidney Hay writing six decades later remarked that the building was “declared unsafe” and “partially demolished and lies almost derelict now” (Hay, 112).

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Dilkoosha [Dilkusha Palace, Lucknow] by Abbas Ali, c. 1874. British Library, Photo 988(5) Noc

The first photographs to show the ruined building are from the late 1870s. The photograph by John Edward Saché (below) depicts the ruined shell of the building: the roofs over the portico, the central bay and the towers are gone leaving the truncated free-standing columns. 

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Dilkusha Palace, Lucknow by John Edward Saché, 1870s. British Library, Photo 2/3(145) Noc

Two photographs from the early 1880s--Lala Deen Dayal’s view of Dilkusha and another from the Bellew Collection--show the building overgrown with vegetation.

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Top: The Palace of Dilkusha where Sir Colin Campbell advanced to the Relief of Lucknow, November 1857. Lala Deen Dayal. British Library, Photo 807/2(14) Noc
Bottom: Back view of the ruined Dilkusha Palace, Lucknow. Photographer unknown, c. 1880s. British Library, Photo 50/2(122) Noc

So why this belated partial destruction of Dilkusha? One photograph from the Bellew Collection from the 1880s helps us understand the new aesthetic role the edifice now played. The photograph shows a picturesque garden with roses and urns planted around the palace, and the ruined edifice turned into an uninhabitable landscape folly. The commemorative function of ruins that this landscaping was meant to invoke stirred Cuthell’s mutiny nostalgia: looking at the ruined central tower of the palace in the fading light of the evening she imagined “silhouetted … against the moon, ‘the banner of England blew’” (165).

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Dilkusha Palace. Photographer unknown, c. 1880s. British Library, Photo 50/2(123) Noc

At a larger scale, the dismantled Dilkusha satisfied the needs of a territorial aesthetic in excess of its role as a memorial. The newly designed Dilkusha grounds became an important landscape link between the cantonment gardens (former Muhammad Bagh) and the series of parks that were created after the revolt in a refashioned Lucknow: Government House Gardens, Wingfield Park, La Place, and the Horticulture Garden. The style of these parks was decidedly English colonial and their scale more lavish than the gardens of the nawabs.

Edith Cuthell’s recollection of Lucknow brings out the character of these connected landscapes that encircled the older native city on the right flank, mimicking the lines of British military advance on rebel Lucknow. She could ride uninterruptedly from the cantonment to the northern outskirts of the city, past this string of landscaped spaces, surveying the remains of the vanquished “splendours of Oudh sovereignty” (57). Cultivating such habits of seeing and moving through the landscape brought out “the sharp contrast between the present and the not-so-far past—the gay gardens round deserted palaces; the shot-riddled pleasure houses, with loop-holed walls; the laughing, chattering English men and women riding and driving about them just as before; the iron heel of the conqueror planted on the neck of the salaaming native.” Such contrast, however, only reinforced the in-between “interlude of massacre” (184).

 

[i] Cuthell used English translations of all the Urdu proper names of buildings and gardens of Lucknow.

[ii] In colonial documents the building is variously spelled as Dilkhusa, Dilkoosha, Dil-Koosha and Dil Koosha.

[iii] Seton Delaval was designed in 1718 by John Vanbrugh for Admiral George Delaval.

[iv] Since Ouseley left for England in 1823 he would not have been the architect of these transformations.

[v] Many of the other damaged nawabi buildings in the city became government offices and others such as the Chutter Munzil and Khurshid Munzil were restored were given over to private agencies. The Chutter Manzil housed the United Services Club, and the Khurshid Munzil became The Lucknow Girls’ School (later renamed La Martinière Girls’ School).

 

By Professor Swati ChattopadhyayUniversity of California at Santa BarbaraCcownwork

28 June 2018

Sophia Plowden, Khanum Jan, and Hindustani airs

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This guest post by Katherine Butler Schofield introduces her recent talk at the British Library on Sophia Plowden, Khanum Jan, and 'Hindustani airs', now available as a podcast “The Courtesan and the Memsahib: Khanum Jan meets Sophia Plowden at the Court of Lucknow”, and accompanied here by a collection of images forming a visual record. The podcast, produced by Chris Elcombe with music by harpsichordist Jane Chapman, is part of a series of presentations at the British Library in 2018 for Katherine’s British Academy Mid-Career Fellowship programme “Histories of the Ephemeral: Writing on Music in Late Mughal India”.  Special thanks are due to the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, for permission to reproduce the images below from MS 380, Mrs Plowden’s beautiful collection of North Indian song lyrics and tunes.

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Mrs Sophia Elizabeth Plowden in middle age (BL MSS Eur F127/100)  noc

Among the British Library’s extraordinary collection of materials relating to the history of Indian music in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries lie dozens of European accounts of the nautch—intimate musical parties at which troupes of high-status North Indian courtesans would sing, dance, recite poetry, and match wits with the assembled company, often to mark special occasions like marriages or festivals. In the late Mughal and early colonial period, nautch troupes were employed as enthusiastically by Europeans as by Indian gentlemen. This famous painting from the Library’s collections below shows a man who is almost certainly Sir David Ochterlony, early nineteenth-century British Resident to the Mughal emperor, being entertained by his own personal nautch troupe at his home in Delhi.

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David Ochterlony (1758–1825) watching a nautch. Delhi, 1820 (BL Add.Or.2)  noc

Published European travel writings from this period, by men and women, nearly all feature noteworthy encounters with North India’s famous “dancing girls”. But some of the most important materials on the nautch and its performers are to be found in the private papers of Europeans resident in India preserved in the collections of the India Office.

Of these, one set in particular stands out as unusual: the diary, letters, and other papers of an eighteenth-century Englishwoman—the memsahib of my title—Sophia Elizabeth Plowden. Sophia and her husband, the East India Company officer Richard Chicheley Plowden, were resident 1777–90 in Calcutta and the independent princely state of Lucknow under its ruler the Nawab Asafuddaula (r. 1775–97). The portrait of her in her papers, above, shows her as a respectable middle-aged matron of ten children, having returned to London and a genteel life in Harley Street. But in her younger days in India, in between having several babies Sophia spent a great deal of her time collecting and performing the Persian and Hindustani songs of nautch performers at the Lucknow court. One in particular captured her fascination—the celebrated Kashmiri courtesan Khanum Jan. Sophia wrote down Khanum’s songs and those of her companions in European notation; they were then turned into harmonised arrangements for the harpsichord, and published to great acclaim by William Hamilton Bird in Calcutta in 1789. For a while, these European-style salon pieces known as “Hindustani Airs” were all the rage in drawing rooms across the British Empire from Inverness to Singapore.

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The frontispiece and Air no. IV, “Sakia! fuſul beharuſt, by Chanam”, from William Hamilton Bird’s Oriental Miscellany. Published Calcutta, 1789 (BL RM.16.c.5)  noc

The European side of this story has been told before: it was in fact the British Library’s Ursula Sims-Williams who wrote the first lengthy piece on the Hindustani Airs phenomenon in 1981 for the India Office Library and Records Newsletter. Those who are interested can explore this angle further in books by Ian Woodfield, Music of the Raj, and Gerry Farrell, Indian Music and the West. Plowden’s harpsichord transcriptions and Bird’s arrangments squeezed the Indian originals firmly into European corsets, rendering Khanum’s songs ultimately impossible to recover. This has led to the obvious interpretation that they were instances of colonial violence to Indian culture. But recently I have been investigating a number of sources from the Indian side for this and similar musical engagements with Europeans in the late eighteenth century. These suggest that the episode was more complex, mutually enjoyable, and less morally certain.

At a time of heightened debate over the ethics of empire, it is important to keep in mind that sharing a moment of musical harmony was not why Plowden and her compatriots were in Lucknow. The British were there to pursue a colonial project designed to benefit themselves; and less than seventy years later in 1856, the East India Company would use the last Nawab of Lucknow’s attentions to exactly the same kind of music as their primary excuse to depose him—a major grievance that fed into the horrendous tragedy of the 1857 Indian Uprising. At the same time, viewing Plowden’s efforts from the perspective of the Indian musicians who engaged with her and others like her in the 1780s reveals the Hindustani Airs episode to have been a two-way affair of mutual curiosity and delight in musical minutiae— an open exploration of affinities and possibilities through trained bodily proficiencies, rather than a closing of ears to offensive differences. The wider historical ramifications of the mutually pleasurable liminal space of the nautch are thus ambiguous and unsettled.

The most important of the Indian sources for the Hindustani Airs are the loose-leaf folios of poetry in Persian, Urdu (then called rekhta), Punjabi, and other Indian languages that Sophia Plowden brought back with her from India alongide the tunes she wrote down from live nautch performances. These are held together as MS 380 in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, and are an invaluable counterpart to her other papers in the British Library. Until recently, because of the exquisite illustrations garnishing each one, the loose-leaf folios were mischaracterised as a set of miniature paintings. But through painstaking detective work, I have identified them instead as the lyrics that go with the tunes. I have also managed to put about a quarter of them back together for the first time in over 200 years.

The question then is—is it possible to bring them back to life?
Sauda
Above: Urdu mukhammasKya kam kya dil ne” by Sauda (1713–81). Plowden Album f. 12.
Below: Tunebook f. 21v. Lucknow, 1787–8 (Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, MS 380) © Fitzwilliam Museum

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Join me and harpsichordist Jane Chapman as we retell the story of the entangled lives of these two extraordinary women musicians, Khanum Jan and Sophia Plowden, in the “Courtesan and the Memsahib” podcast —of a world in which an Indian courtesan could be treated like a celebrity London opera singer and an Englishwoman made a Mughal Begum by none other than the Emperor Shah ‘Alam II himself. Throughout, we explore the question—philosophically and practically through our own musical experiments—of whether it is possible to reconstruct the songs of the Lucknow court as both Sophia and Khanum may have performed them in the 1780s.

The images in this blogpost accompany the podcast, and will help guide you in your journey with us to the underworld of the Indian musical past, as we seek to discover whether or not it is ever possible for Orpheus to bring Eurydice back from the dead. A larger version of the images is available by clicking on each individually.

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Left: the dress of a Lucknow courtesan. Plowden Album f. 25, detail. Lucknow, 1787–8. (Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, MS 380) © Fitzwilliam Museum
Right: Sophia’s letter to her sister Lucy describing in detail the dress made for her to appear as a courtesan in a Calcutta masquerade. Calcutta, 4th April 1783 (BL MSS Eur B 187)  noc

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Detail of the royal farman (order) from Emperor Shah ‘Alam II making Mrs Plowden a Begum (BL IO Islamic 4439)  noc

Saqi’a
Above: anonymous Persian rubaʻiSaqi’a fasl-i bahar ast: mubarak bashad” (see also above: Air no. IV, “Sakia! fuſul beharuſt, by Chanum”). Plowden Album f. 8 and below: Tunebook f. 14v. Lucknow, 1787–8 (Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, MS 380) © Fitzwilliam Museum

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khayal
Above: anonymous Urdu khayal “of the snake charmers” “Sun re ma‘shuqa be-wafa”. Plowden Album f. 8, and below: Tunebook f. 14v. Lucknow, 1787–8 (Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, MS 380) © Fitzwilliam Museum
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Asafuddaula is entertained by musicians at court. Lucknow, c.1812. (BL Add.Or.2600)  noc

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Entry in Sophia’s diary for 23rd December 1787: her first encounter with Khanum Jan (BL Mss Eur F127/94)  noc

Skinner
Painting of Colonel James Skinner’s nautch troupe, given as a souvenir to a European visitor. Delhi, c. 1838 (BL Add.Or.2598)  noc

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Colonel William Blair and his family in India with his daughter Jane at the pianoforte.  Johan Zoffany, 1786 (Tate Britain, T12610)  ccownwork

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An upright piano in the ghusal-khana (hammam) in the Red Fort, Delhi, by a late Mughal artist c. 1830–40. Traditionally, the ghusal-khana was where the Mughal emperors held their most intimate musical gatherings. Metropolitan Museum of Art, Louis E and Theresa S Seley Purchase Fund for Islamic Art, 1994 (Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC, 1994. 71)  noc

13A bazigar
Illustration for James Skinner’s entry on the “bazigar” or conjurors. Tashrih al-Aqwam. Delhi, 1825 (BL Add.27255)  noc

13B Crotch
Crotch’s specimen no. 336, “the song with which the natives charm the snakes.” London, 1807. (BL Music Collections h.344)  noc


14A1_MS 380_web
Above: Persian ghazal by Hafiz (1310–79) “Mutrib-i khush-nava be-go: taza ba taza no ba no” Plowden Album f. 1 and below: Tunebook f. 12r. Lucknow, 1787–8 (Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, MS 380) © Fitzwilliam Museum

air

14B TazaOpie
Mutru bekhoosh nuwa begofurther transformed into Air IV from Biggs & Opie A second set of Hindoo airs (BL P/W 98)  noc

15 DOyly_2000
“A dancing woman of Lucknow, exhibiting before an European family,” by Charles D’Oyly. Plate from Thomas Williamson, The costume and customs of modern India. London, c.1824 (BL X 380)  noc

J. 66,2
Lucknow artist Mihr Chand’s painting of a fantasy courtesan, modelled on a European nude. Awadh, c. 1765–70 (BL J. 66,2)  noc

Surwi ruwani kisti
Above: Persian ghazal by or in homage to Khaqani (1122–90) “Surwi ruwani kisti”. Plowden Album f. 11 and below: Tunebook f. 19r. Lucknow, 1787–8 (Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, MS 380) © Fitzwilliam Museum

Surwi ruwani kisti

“The Courtesan and the Memsahib” was written and performed by Katherine Butler Schofield with harpsichordist Jane Chapman. Additional voices were: Georgie Pope, Kanav Gupta, Priyanka Basu, and Michael Bywater. Recordings of vocalists Kesarbai Kerkar and Gangubai Hangal, and sarangi player Hamid Hussain, are courtesy of the Archive of Indian Music and Vikram Sampath; selections from Jane Chapman’s studio recording “The Oriental Miscellany” are found on Signum Classics.

Katherine Butler Schofield, King's College London
email: katherine.schofield@kcl.ac.uk
 ccownwork

11 June 2018

Charles Wallace India Trust Fellowship at the British Library

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The British Library announces the call for applications to the Charles Wallace India Trust Fellowship 2018-19. Awarded by the Charles Wallace India Trust (CWIT), the fellowship will be offered to an early to mid-career India-based scholar to work at the British Library. This Fellowship opportunity will involve working with the British Library’s collections from and relating to South Asia. A team of specialist curators work on this internationally-important collection of South Asian books, manuscripts, archives, and visual arts. The Fellowship offers an opportunity to be based with the curators to learn more about the work of the British Library. It also provides the chance for hands-on experience with the collection, to develop curatorial skills.

This year we are inviting applicants who are in the early stages of their career or who have recently completed their postgraduate studies. There are five possible themes, outlined below. The best applicant will be selected from across all of them. Whichever their preferred project, the Charles Wallace India Trust Fellow will get a real sense of the work of the British Library, and their contribution will make a difference to the delivery of the Library’s plans for engagement with South Asian collections and audiences.

The Fellowship will be for a period of three months, to be completed on or before 30 April 2019. Funding from the Charles Wallace India Trust will consist of a contribution of £600 towards international fares and a monthly living grant of £1500 for accommodation and living costs in London.

Fellowship themes and activities for 2018-19

Bengali Books
The Library’s South Asian language collections hold a large number of 19th-century printed Bengali books in a wide range of genres, attesting both to the intellectual history of Bengal and to book history and the history of printing in the region. The Fellow will undertake research on the printed Bengali book collections, producing a series of short articles that will be made available on the British Library’s website, in order to contextualise and highlight the Bengali book collections and make them more accessible to both an academic and general audience.

Proscribed Publications
The Library holds an important collection of publications proscribed by the British government in India during the crucial four decades leading up to Independence. The collection includes pamphlets, periodicals, handbills and posters, written in a wide range of Indian languages, as well as some European. It constitutes an invaluable source for the study of the Indian freedom struggle. The Fellow will produce a detailed overview of the collection for BL online publication, based on existing catalogues and original research, to improve the collection’s visibility and access.

Coins, medals and associated objects
The Library’s Visual Arts section holds a broad collection of coins, medals, banknotes, and bond plates assembled by the India Office. The Fellow will research one or more of these areas, with the aims of publishing new collection guides on the Library’s website and, if time permits, of improving the metadata of existing catalogue records. There is also the potential to write a blog post or prepare an article for publication.

Weapons
The Library’s Visual Arts section holds a collection of weapons, such as muskets and carbines, commissioned by the East India Company. The Fellow will research the collection with the aims of publishing a collection guide on the Library’s website and, if time permits, of improving the metadata of existing catalogue records. There is also the potential to write a blog post or prepare an article for publication.

South Asian Popular Paintings
The Library’s Visual Arts section holds a collection of 19th and 20th century South Asian popular paintings, including Jadupatua and Madhubhani paintings from Bihar, Kalighat, and woodcut prints from Calcutta, as well as works by Orissa artists. The Fellow will have the opportunity to explore and undertake research stemming from Mildred Archer’s formative publication on the subject and to improve the metadata of existing catalogue records. There is potential to prepare individual collection guides on the subjects with updated bibliographic records, to write a blog post or prepare an article for publication.

 

Candidate requirements

The Fellowship is open to Indian nationals, resident in India and with: 

  • Degree or equivalent in a subject relevant to one of the specified areas of interest (for example, literature, book history, modern history of India, history of art, etc.)
  • Excellent written and spoken English
  • Experience of, or demonstrable interest in, curatorial work with library and archive collections
  • Excellent attention to detail
  • Good oral and written communication skills
  • Strong computer skills, with experience working with databases (experience of working with catalogue records would be an advantage)

How to apply

  • Email your updated CV along with an academic or professional reference from someone who knows you and your work.
  • Write a covering statement (no more than 400 words) explaining why you are interested in the Fellowship opportunity and how it will contribute to your professional development.
  • Describe (no more than 400 words) the extent of your knowledge of your preferred theme relevant to the Fellowship.

 

The closing date for applications is 13th July.

Shortlisted candidates will be interviewed via Skype.

Please email your documents to Azadeh.shokouhi@bl.uk

More information is listed on the Charles Wallace website.

 

 

20 April 2018

Sketchfab 3-D modelling of trooper Ami Chand of Skinner's Horse

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Last month as part of a pilot on using three-dimensional modelling at the British Library's Digitisation Studio, a few objects from the Visual Arts section were photographed and rendered using a Cyreal 3D camera rig and made available through Sketchfab. One of the objects selected is the terracotta model of 'Ummeechund', a trooper of Skinner's Horse which painted using polychrome pigments and modelled with wires and an armature. It measures 28.5 cm high. The trooper is featured wearing the distinctive long yellow coat with red trimmings, a black jacket with red frogging, a tiger-skin bandolier, a tall shark marked with a crescent and with red trimmings and tassels, and white pantaloons. His left hand rests on the hilt of his upright sword. As the trooper was last displayed in the Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire exhibition at the British Library from 2012-13 and now currently in storage, it was the ideal candidate for digital modelling as it is fragile.

Ami Chand ('Ummeechund'), a trooper in Skinner's Horse. Delhi or Lucknow, c. 1819-20. British Library, Foster 979.

Skinner's Horse was the regiment of irregular cavalry established by James Skinner (1778-1841) in 1803 in northern India. As Skinner was an Anglo Indian, son of a Scottish solider and Rajasthani mother, he was not allowed to serve in the East India Company as a solider and established an independent cavalry. Skinner initially supported the Marathas against the British, but changed sides in 1803. In 1814, he established the second regiment of the irregular cavalry to support the British against the Nepalese. Aside from establishing Skinner's Horse or the 'Yellow Boys', Skinner is recognised as a key patron of art in Delhi during the first half of the 20th century. Skinner was close friends with artist James Baillie Fraser and his brother William Fraser, the Assistant to the Resident at Delhi from 1805, who were also patrons of local artists.

The terracotta figure of Ami Chand was produced approximately in 1819-20. The portrayal is closely linked to a portrait of Ami Chand, commissioned by William Fraser (in the collection of Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan) in May 1819. The inscription below the painting in William Fraser's hand reads: 'Ummee Chund the son of Oodey Ram by birth a Bath of vil. Gundana District Gohand province Hissar or Hurreeanah. The man who saved my life when an assassin cut me down by seizing him tho' unarmed himself. In his troop dress - done in May 1819.' Ami Chand saved Fraser by throwing an inkstand at the assassin. According to correspondence between the Fraser brothers, Ami Chand was employed by the Frasers for several years and featured in at least two portraits belonging to the brothers. A study of six recruits from the peasant castes Jat and Gujjar that lived on the outskirts of Delhi is featured below for comparison of the style of the uniform.  

 Add Or 1261 copySix recruits to the second regiment of Skinner's Horse, Delhi 1815-20. British Library, Add Or 1261. Noc
 

Ami Chand was not the only servant working for the Fraser brothers that was portrayed. In the David Collection in Copenhagen, there are two drawings featuring Kala, one showing him dressed in simply trousers and turban with no top based on his attire while out hunting and a second in full regimental attire of the irregular cavalry of Skinner's Horse. 

Further reading:

Mildred Archer and Toby Falk, India Revealed: the Art and Adventures of James and William Fraser 1801-35, London, 1989.

J. P. Losty, 'New evidence for the style of the 'Fraser artist' in Delhi: Portraits of Afghans in 1808-10', AAS Blog, 01/11/2015.

J.P. Losty, 'James Skinner's Tazkirat al-Umara now digitised'AAS Blog, 07/07/2014.

J.P. Losty and Malini Roy, Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire – Manuscripts and Paintings in the British Library, London, 2012, ch. 4.

Malini Roy, Head of Visual Arts

13 April 2018

Adam Munni Ratna, a Buddhist monk in England in 1818

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The Visual Arts section has recently acquired a portrait of Adam Sri Munni Ratna, a Singhalese Buddhist monk, who accompanied Sir Alexander Johnston (1775-1849) from Sri Lanka to England in 1817-18. Raised between Scotland, Madras and England, Johnston would be appointed as the President of the Council of Sri Lanka (Ceylon) in 1811 and be a founding member of the Royal Asiatic Society in Great Britain in 1823. Fluent in multiple languages including Tamil and Telegu, he was in regular communication with local Buddhist priests who elucidated Buddhist judicial matters and were instrumental towards helping Johnston to establish trial by jury on the island. In 1817, Sri Munni Ratna and his cousin Dharma Rama, approached Johnston and requested his support to travel to England as it was understood that they were keen to learn about Christianity after reading the Singhalese translation of the New Testament by the Wesleyan ministers in Colombo. Ratna was in his late twenties.

IMG_3296
Adam Sree Goona Munhi Rathana Vadhegay by Robert Hicks, published by Henry Fisher, after Alexander Mosses hand-coloured stipple engraving, published 1821. British Library, P3386. Noc

Arriving in England in May 1818, the two monks were met by Dr. Adam Clarke (1762-1832), an Irish Methodist and well known scholar on the New Testament who took it upon himself to look after them. Later in his life, Clarke would become a notable collector of Arabic, Persian and Syriac Manuscripts. In 1820, Clarke wrote: ‘did so; and in doing it encountered many difficulties, which, because the good hand of my God was upon me, I surmounted; and, after twenty months instruction under my own roof, I was fully convinced that they were sincere converts to the Christian religion, and that their minds were under a very gracious influence. At their own earnest desire I admitted them into the church of Christ by baptism’.

An Account of the Baptism of two Budhist Priests by Adam Clarke as observed and written by Philoxenas provides the detailed account of the education the Singhalese monks received while living in Millbrooke, Clarke’s home near Prescot. As Clarke could not speak Singhalese or Tamil and the monks did not understand English, ‘the teacher and his pupils formed, in effect, a language for themselves, and that principally out of the Portuguese, Cinghalese and Sanscrit [sic]: these helps, however proved insufficient; but Dr C. had the high satisfaction of frequently witnessing, that his pupils, under the immediate influence of a Divine Teacher, comprehended his meaning..’

IMG_3331
Philoxenas, An account of the Baptism of Two Budhist Priests by Adam Clarke, L.L.D. Thomas Courtney, Dublin, 1820. British Library 4323.000.44  Noc

During their brief stay in England, several portraits of the Buddhist monks and their tutor Adam Clarke were produced. In the collection of the John Wesley’s House & Museum of Methodism, is a portrait by the artist Alexander Moses. This 19th century orientalist painting features Clark seated in a chair in his library with one of the monks seated in a chair and pointing to a manuscript, possibly a copy of the New Testament. An engraved version of this painting was published in 1844. In comparison, our newly acquired portrait instead features the Singhalese monk dressed in western clothing, including a suit jacket and a cravat. In the period following their baptisms, Munni Ratna and Dharmma Rama returned to Ceylon where they entered into government service (Sivasundaram 2013, 111)

LNE_WCMM_LDWMM_1992_496

Adam Clarke and Two Former Buddhists by Alexander Mosses (1793–1837). Image reproduced with the permission of The Trustees of Wesley’s Chapel, John Wesley’s House & The Museum of Methodism.

 

Bibliography

Sujit Sivasundaram, Islanded: Britain, Sri Lanka, and the Bounds of an Indian Ocean Colony, University of Chicago Press, 2013. 

Philoxenas, An account of the Baptism of Two Budhist Priests by Adam Clarke, L.L.D. Thomas Courtney, Dublin, 1820. 

Happy Birthday Alexander Johnston, Royal Asiatic Society, April 2015.

 

Malini Roy, Head of Visual Arts

09 February 2018

Introducing Doctoral Students to the Asian and African Collections at the British Library

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Curators of the Asian and African Collections recently welcomed 45 eager doctoral students to a training day at the British Library. The session, for students in the first year of their PhDs, provided an introduction to the research materials on offer at the BL. Students came from universities throughout the UK, including Glasgow, Strathclyde and Newcastle.

OR 13692 2  Johnson 59
On display at the doctoral open day: (left) Ganjifa card set featuring the avatars of Vishnu from 19th-century Orissa, India (BL Or 13,692); (right) illustration of animals, probably for a board game. Commissioned by Richard Johnson, Lucknow, c. 1780-82 (BL Johnson Album 5,9)

We know that our vast and wide-ranging collections may be a little daunting when starting out on research. The annual doctoral open day aims to give students an understanding of the overall picture, as well as helping them to start navigating the collections in the best way for their own research.

Arabic comic 2  OR 16442 Quran board
(Left) a comic from the British Library’s Arabic collections: Skefkef, issue 3, published in Morocco; (right) section of Qur’an board, probably from Somalia, used for learning the Qur’an (BL Or. 16442)

The day began with a talk on research at the British Library, and an overview of the Asian and African Collections ­from the Head of Department, Dr Luisa Mengoni. Curators then gave introductions to our holdings on and from:

There were also presentations on the India Office Records and from our Digital Research team. The British Library’s materials are in many formats – books, serials, newspapers, electronic resources, manuscripts and archives, maps, audio-visual items and philatelic material. The Asian and African Collections have material in all the major languages of Asia and Africa, and in many less widely spoken languages too.

IMG_4220  IMG_4216
A wide range of exhibits on display at the doctoral open day

After this glimpse of what’s available, students received practical help in using the catalogues as well as an opportunity to see displays of richly illuminated manuscripts, books, and other treasures from our collections. There was plenty of time to interact with curators and gain advice on individual research projects.

Turkish and Turkic Stand 2018 1
The Turkish and Turkic stand

The afternoon finished with a talk by Dr Richard Williams, Lecturer in Ethnomusicology at SOAS, University of London, who shared his experiences of using the British Library’s collections and provided plentiful tips for life after the PhD.

The day brought together students with a huge range of research interests, from women’s translations of the Qur’an to the medical history of refugee camps, and provided opportunities to get to know other doctoral researchers in similar or different disciplines.

95% of those completing feedback forms rated the day ‘excellent’ or ‘very good’. Most important, students’ confidence in their ability to do their research at the BL vastly increased. The proportion of those ‘confident’ or ‘very confident’ in using our collections rose from 27% beforehand to 100% at the end of the day. ‘Very useful & good day,’ one student commented. ‘Staff were very helpful and approachable.’

What next? The next Asian and African doctoral open day will be held early in 2019, for students starting their PhDs in autumn 2018.

In the meantime, current PhD students are invited to apply for a range of 3-month PhD research placements at the British Library.

These projects include:

The closing date for applications is 19 February 2018.

Marion Wallace, Lead Curator, African Collections, with thanks to colleagues for the wide range of photographs
 cc

26 January 2018

The 'Agra Scroll': Agra in the early 19th century

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The riverfront at Agra once formed one of the great sights of Mughal India.  In addition to the great fort rebuilt by the Emperor Akbar (r. 1556-1605) and the Taj Mahal (the tomb built for the Emperor Shah Jahan’s wife Mumtaz Mahal, d.1633), both banks of the River Yamuna were lined with great mansions, palatial garden houses, grand tombs and imperial gardens.  The houses of the princes and mansabdars lined the right bank up- and down-river from the fort, while the left bank was mostly devoted to imperial gardens.  The Emperor Babur (r. 1526-30) had been the first to build a garden at Agra, nearly opposite the site of the Taj Mahal, and other imperial gardens were laid out on the left bank of the river mostly in the time of the Emperors Jahangir (r.1605-27) and Shah Jahan (r.1628-58).  Jahangir and Shah Jahan gave the land on the riverbanks to their sons and to the great nobles of the empire.  Jahangir’s powerful Iranian wife Nur Jahan laid out the garden now known as the Ram Bagh and also converted the garden of her parents, I`timad al-Daula and his wife ‘Asmat Banu Begum, into the first of the great tombs in Agra itself, while Mumtaz Mahal herself began the garden that was finished by her daughter Jahanara.  Apart from the emperor and the imperial women, all the men who built gardens or tombs on the river front were mansabdars (high-ranking officers of the court).

Land could be bought, but the prestigious riverfront sites were granted to the nobles by the emperor and could be reclaimed after their death.  The best way for a Mughal mansabdar to ensure that his mansion or land was not reclaimed was to build his tomb on it, when it became inviolable.  Several of the garden houses were therefore converted into tomb gardens.  After Shah Jahan moved the capital to Delhi in 1648, Agra declined and its gardens and buildings became of less importance to the emperor, so that most of those houses and gardens remaining are still generally known by their last Shahjahani owner.

Apart from the Taj Mahal and the fort, only the gardens and tombs of the upper left bank of the river round the tomb of I`timad al-Daula survive today in anything like the state in which their former splendour can be appreciated.  The city was repeatedly sacked in the eighteenth century by Afghan invaders as well as more local marauders in the form of Jats, Rohillas and Marathas, until it came into the possession of the East India Company in 1803.  A thorough study of the riverfront at Agra was made by Ebba Koch in her book on the Taj Mahal published in 2006.  The evidence there presented can now be supplemented by an important panoramic scroll of the riverfront at Agra acquired recently by the British Library (Or.16805).  This painted and inscribed scroll shows the elevations of all the buildings along both sides of the river as it flows through the whole length of the city. The length of the scroll is 763 cm and the width 32 cm.  A full description of the scroll can be found in Ebba Koch’s and the present writer’s joint article in the eBLJ (9 of 2017).

The scroll is drawn in a way consistent with the development of Indian topographical mapping.  The river is simply a blank straight path in the middle of the scroll, its great bend totally ignored, while the buildings and gardens on either side are rendered in elevation strung out along a straight base line.  Buildings and inscriptions on each side of the river are therefore upside down compared to those on the opposite side.  Inscriptions in English and Urdu are written above each building, two of which enable the scroll to be approximately dated.  ‘Major Taylor's garden’ is noted near the Taj Mahal.  This is Joseph Taylor of the Bengal Engineers who worked at Agra on and off from 1809 until his death in 1835.  His rank was that of a Major between 1827 and 1831.  He had lived with his family in the imperial apartments in the fort (this was no longer allowed by 1831) and also had fitted up a suite of rooms at the Taj Mahal between the mihman khana (the assembly hall for imperial visits on the east side of the tomb itself) and the adjacent river tower. This piece of evidence is however contradicted by the absence on the riverbank north of the fort of the Great Gun of Agra, which was depicted in all panoramic views of the fort from the river, until it was blown up for its scrap value in 1833 (see the present author’s essay on the Great Gun in the BLJ in 1989). At the moment it seems best to date the scroll to c. 1830.  It must be stressed, however, that the artist was not necessarily sketching all the monuments afresh, but could rather as with most Indian artists be relying on earlier versions of the same subject for some of them.  A key discrepancy for instance arises in Ja`far Khan’s tomb, which is much better preserved in the scroll than in a drawing in Florentia Sale’s notebook also from c. 1830 (MSS Eur B360(a), no. 43). 

Jafar Khan's tomb
The garden of I`tiqad Khan and the tomb of Ja’far Khan, Agra artist, c. 1830 (Or. 16805, detail)  noc

The scroll reveals the tomb for the first time as a double-storeyed structure, much resembling that of Ja’far Khan’s grandfather I’timad al-Daula across the river, built by his daughter Nur Jahan whom Jahangir had married in 1611, thereby propelling her family to the most important positions in the empire.  An important new finding from the scroll is the evidence of the concentration of the upper right bank of the Yamuna of structures connected with the family of Nur Jahan.  Just upriver from Ja’far Khan’s tomb were the gardens of Nur Jahan’s brother and sister I`tiqad Khan (d. 1650) and Manija Begum,.  Ja`far Khan (d. 1670) was the son of another of Nur Jahan’s sisters and was married to his cousin Farzana Begum, Asaf Khan’s daughter and the sister of Mumtaz Mahal.  He was thus the son-in-law as well as the nephew of Jahangir’s vizier powerful Asaf Khan and also Shah Jahan’s brother-in-law.  His mansion was downstream nearer the Fort as was that of his uncle Asaf Khan, next to the mansions of the imperial princes.

Ebljarticle92017_Page_16_Image_0001
The Agra Fort, Agra artist, c. 1830 (Or. 16805, detail)  noc

Downstream from the Fort were the mansions of some of the great officers of state of Jahangir and Shah Jahan – Islam Khan Mashhadi, A’zam Khan, who was son-in-law to Asaf Khan, Mahabat Khan (Jahangir’s thuggish general), Raja Man Singh of Amber (who owned land in Agra including the site of the Taj Mahal, exchanged with Shah Jahan for four other mansions in Agra), and Khan ‘Alam, Jahangir’s ambassador to Shah ‘Abbas I of Iran, who retired early in the reign of Shah Jahan to his garden in Agra on account of his old age and his addiction to opium.  His mansion was next to the tomb of Mumtaz Mahal.

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Khan ‘Alam’s mansion and garden, Agra artist, c. 1830 (Or. 16805, detail)  noc


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The Taj Mahal, with part of Major Taylor’s garden on the left, Agra artist, c. 1830 (Or. 16805, detail)  noc

After the Taj Mahal came the garden established by Major Taylor and then the mansion of Khan Dauran. Ebljarticle92017_Page_21_Image_0002
The mansion of Khan Dauran and Major Taylor's Garden, Agra artist, c. 1830 (Or. 16805, detail)  noc

We now cross the river and proceed back upstream.  The gardens and monuments on the left or eastern bank on the scroll are numbered in the reverse direction to those on the opposite bank.  On this side there are fewer mansions and more gardens, most of them former imperial gardens.

Mahtab bagh
The Mahtab Bagh, Agra artist, c. 1830 (Or. 16805, detail)  noc

Our anonymous scribe continues the mistaken tradition that Shah Jahan had the Mahtab Bagh or Moonlight Garden laid out opposite the Taj Mahal (‘Emperor Shah Jahan had it built as his grave’) so that he could be buried there.  In fact it was laid out by the emperor as a char bagh garden (divided by paths and canals into four) for viewing the mausoleum of Mumtaz Mahal on the opposite bank.  An octagonal pool reflected the Taj Mahal in its waters and this was immediately in front of the bangla pavilion depicted here.

The left bank was largely occupied by imperial gardens with few structures surviving until much further upstream with the tomb of I’timad al-Daula, Jahangir’s vizier, and his wife.  After his vizier’s death in 1622, shortly after that of his wife, Jahangir gave his property to Nur Jahan and she (and not her father as erroneously claimed in the inscription) was therefore able to build this tomb for her parents in his garden on the bank of the Yamuna (all the property of deceased mansabdars normally reverted to the state on their death).    Just upriver is the domed tomb of Sultan Pariviz, Jahangir’s second son, whose excessive indulgence in alcohol resulted in his death in 1626. 

Ebljarticle92017_Page_27_Image_0001
Tomb of I’timad al-Daula and Sultan Parviz’s tomb, Agra artist, c. 1830 (Or. 16805, detail)  noc

Upriver is the tomb of Wazir Khan.  Hakim ‘Alim al-Din titled Wazir Khan was one of the most esteemed nobles of the reign of Shah Jahan.  He was governor of the Punjab 1631-41 and renowned for his patronage of architecture in Lahore, where his comparatively long governorship enabled him to build a famous mosque and a hamman or baths.  Only the two corner towers of his garden in Agra survive, the central pavilion and its tahkhana being now ruinous, and the rest of the garden has been built over.

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Garden of Wazir Khan and tomb of Afzal Khan (the ‘China tomb’), Agra artist, c. 1830 (Or. 16805, detail)  noc

Alongside Wazir Khan’s tomb is that of Afzal Khan Shirazi, who was divan-i kul or finance minister under Shah Jahan. He died in 1639 at Lahore and his body was brought back to Agra to be buried in the tomb he had built in his lifetime.  It is decorated outside with the coloured tiles which were a speciality of Lahore, as found on the walls of the Lahore fort and of the mosque of Wazir Khan, and with painted decorations inside.  The tomb survives but its original decoration is largely gone and the interior has been repainted. 

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Jahanara’s garden and Nur Jahan’s garden, the Rambagh, Agra artist, c. 1830 (Or. 16805, detail)  noc

Jahanara (1614-81) was the eldest child as well as the eldest daughter of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal, and she held a special place in her father’s affections after the death of her mother in 1631, when she became the Begum Sahiba and ran the emperor’s household.  Her garden was one of the largest on the Agra riverfront. It was in fact begun by her mother during Jahangir’s reign and is the only foundation which can be connected to the patronage of the Lady of the Taj.  The earlier construction phase can be seen in the uncusped arches of the lower two storeys of the corner towers, to which Jahanara added smaller chhatris.  Only one of them survives and the large pavilion fronting the river has now gone, so that the scroll’s evidence is of the greatest importance in showing the details of the riverside elevation. 

Next door to Jahanara’s garden is Nur Jahan’s garden, now known as the Rambagh.  She seems to have laid out this garden shortly after her wedding to Jahangir in 1611 and it is the earliest surviving Mughal garden in Agra.  It was named the Bagh-i Nur Afshan, the name Ram Bagh by which it is popularly known being a corruption of its later denomination Aram Bagh.  Two pavilions end on to the river, each consisting of alternate open verandas and enclosed rooms, face each other across a pool on an elevated terrace, with a tahkhana beneath.  The garden was never meant to be symmetrical, unlike later Mughal ones, and the pavilions occupy the southern end of the elevated terrace by the river.

From this unique scroll we learn that despite the ravages of time, neglect and war, in 1830 there was still considerable evidence of Agra’s imperial past to be seen along the riverfronts.  Many towers and facades remained along with a considerable number of mansabdari and princely mansions albeit partly ruinous.  After the Uprising of 1858, the picture changes dramatically.  As in Delhi, whole swathes of the city near the fort were demolished to afford a clear field of fire and the remains of all the nearby mansions were blown up.  Roads were laid out along the right bank punching through the gardens that were left.  Bridges were constructed across the Yamuna for rail and road that destroyed the environment at either end.  Only a few of the imperial gardens at the northern end of the left bank survived in any form, while the rest were converted into fields for crops and are now being built over for Agra’s expanding population.   It is now 400 years since the heyday of Agra as an imperial capital and our scroll, suspended half way between then and now, affords us a precious glimpse of how it once was.

Further reading:

Koch, Ebba, The Complete Taj Mahal, London, 2006

Koch, E., and Losty, J.P., ‘The Riverside Mansions and Tombs of Agra:  New Evidence from a Panoramic Scroll recently acquired by the British Library’, in eBLJ, 2017/9

Losty, J.P., ‘The Great Gun at Agra’, British Library Journal, xv (1989), pp. 35-58

J.P. Losty (Curator Emeritus, Visual Arts Collection)