Category Archives: art history of India

Happy Diwali – Lord Rama comes home

         Diwali is celebrated with great excitement and festivity in India. The day marks the return of Lord Rama to his capital Ayodhya with his wife Sita, brother Lakshmana and Hanuman, the leader of his vanarasena or monkey army after his win in battle over Ravana, the lord of Lanka.After the battle between Lord Rama and Ravana, Ravana was ultimately killed by Rama and Vibhishana, his brother was made the king of Lanka. It is recalled that the city was lit with thousands of lamps on his return.

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Every year this day is commemorated across India. This is as mentioned in the epic Ramayana, the part of the story from Uttarakanda, the final chapter in the epic tale by Sage Valmiki. Lord Rama comes back in his Pushpakvimana to be coronated as king to Ayodhya. Presented here are some amazing depictions of the return of Rama and his coronation which led to his rule of thousand years also called Ramarajya, a glorious rule.

 

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Lord Rama starting to return to Ayodhya, Kangra miniature, late 18th century, The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, U K.

       The Pushpakvimana has been described as a self-moving painted car, which was large with two storeys and few chambers in it, also with flags and colourful banners, and gave a melodious sound as it made its way across the sky.

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Shri Ramachandra or Lord Rama seen on Pushpakvimana with his wife Sita, brother Lakshmana, Hanuman and others, print, Modern Litho Works, Bombay , early 20th century.

The Uttarakanda narrates that Lord Rama reached the kingdom of Ayodhya along with Lakshmana, Sita, Hanuman, Sugriva, Vibhishana and the host of monkeys.  After he reaches his kingdom, his brother Bharata who has waited from him to come back restores the kingdom to his elder brother. After that the preparations for the actual coronation begin;  royal barbers are called and Lord Rama and Lakshmana are bathed, shorn of their matted locks and dressed in splendid robes; Dasharatha’s queens deck Sita with  jewellery  and the priests give orders for the coronation to take place.

 

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Return of Lord Rama, miniature painting, Sahib Din, 17th century, British Library, London, U.K.

”Making use of Ravana’s flying chariot, the exiles have left Lanka and flown swiftly northwards, the directional imperative now being from right to left. Reunited with Bharata and Shatrughna, who have kept Rama’s kingdom for him during the fourteen years of exile, they enter Ayodhya in triumph. They drive through the bazaars with their festive hangings to the palace where they are received by their mothers. Even Kaikeyi is forgiven. The monkey king Sugriva, his minister Hanuman and the other chief monkeys have assumed human form. Rama’s coronation begins his auspicious reign, a truly golden age for mankind – Ram-raj , Rama’s rule”…The British Library.

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Return of Lord Rama in a pushpaka vimana and preparations for his coronation, miniature painting,  Mewar, Rajasthan, 17th century.

      The Uttarakanda further narrates that Lord Rama as king was visited by many sages from far and near,they came from east and west and north and south, led by Sage Agastya, and Lord Rama venerated them and provided them with seats of sacrificial grass and gold-embroidered deer-skin. Then the sages praised him as he had won the battle and also slain  Ravana, the sons of Ravana, and had delivered men and gods from fear.

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Lord Rama’s as King of Ayodhya, artwork, 1940s.

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Woman holding sparklers, India, 19th century, Honolulu Museum of Art, U S A.

 

References:

  • vyasaonline.com
  • Images are from Wikimedia Commons, freepik.com (lamps image)

 

 

Posted by :

Soma Ghosh

©author

 

 

 

Mandu : a city with a love story

            Mention Mandu and everyone recalls the famous love story of Baz Bahadur and Rani Rupmati. Located in the Malwa region of Madhya Pradesh, now in Dhar district. the place has some amazing history along with beautiful built structures which illustrate the romance. Rupmati is a shepherd girl who Baz Bahadur, met during one of his hunting trips. He was the last ruler of Malwa, son of Shuja’at Khan; he heard her singing and was smitten by her beauty.  He asked her to come to Mandu, to which she agreed but asked to live at place not far from him and the Narmada river. This led to building of the Rupmati pavillion and the Rewa Kund. It is believed that they married as per Hindu and Muslim rites.

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Baz Bahadur and Rani Rupmati, painting, Mughal (Murshidabad) school, 18th century.Rani Roopmati Mahal,MANDU.JPG

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Rani Rupmati Pavillion, Mandu.

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Rewa Kund, Mandu.

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Jahaz Mahal or Ship Palace, Mandu.

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Inside Jahaz Mahal, Mandu.

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Baz Bahadur and Rani Rupmati hunting, painting, Nurpur, 18th century.

Unfortunately in 1561, the Mughal Emperor sent Adham Khan to conquer Mandu. Baz Bhadur fled to Chittorgarh to seek help. The army of Malwa was no match to the Mughal forces. Mandu was defeated in the battle of  Sarangpur. Rani Rupmati did not want to be captured and poisoned herself.

The story of Rupmati was written by Sharaf-ud-Din Mirza in the Persian language. He collected 26 poems of her; the original manuscript changed hands and and was translated by L. M Crump in 1926, under the title : ‘The lady of the lotusRupmati, Queen of Mandu, a strange tale of faithfulness.

 Excerpts from the translation :

……Her eyebrows are like unto the curves of the letter ‘Nun’ or unto rainbows in the heavens : to twin black fishes in the fountain of the sun, to the sword of that for the terror of infidels was sent down on earth : horns of the deer of sight are they or the sacred book of a temple of the idolaters : feathers of the wings of the falcon of vision or the invocation of the name of God. The painting of her eyebrows is as two crescent moons set each on other or twin daggers over twin swords : green  sheaths are they of the sharp falcons of her brows or two green leaves of the tree of Paradise. The tail of her eyebrow is the sting of the scorpion or the point of the sword of the executioner. The line of her knitted brows is a gleaming blade or a ripple in the wine-cup of her charms.

…..more often soon than late, for he neglected all things for her company, they would sing to each other the songs of love which they had composed, or, calling the musicians and the singing and dancing girls, listen to their songs of love and war. Fair was life to them evening after evening on the roof of the Ship Palace, in the heart of their dear city impregnable, looking out over mosque and tomb, dome and cupola of blue and green and yellow and of marble white, and beyond, to lake and wood, to hill and vale fair indeed, and all the fairer for the music in their ears and the love within their hearts. Yet was not Rup Mati slow to perceive that herein lay danger for Baz Bahadur. His nobles delighted to gather round him and ply him with wine, till he knew not night from day…..

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Baz Bahadur’s Palace, Mandu.

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Arcade, Baz Bahadur’s Palace, Mandu.

The songs and verses which are said to have been composed by Rupmati are dohas, kabittas and sawaiyas still sung in Mandu ! Also a part of  translated work by M.L Crump, The lady with the lotus.

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The defeat of Baz Bahadur, painting from Akbarnama, late 16th century.

 

References :

  •  wikipedia.org
  • The lady of the lotus – Rupmati, Queen of Mandu, a strange tale of faithfulness/ Ahmad -ul-Umari, tr. L.M Crump, London : Oxford University Press, 1926.
  • Images from Wikimedia Commons

Posted by :

Soma Ghosh

©author

Poetry in architecture: a walk through the Qutub Shahi necropolis at Hyderabad

 

           Tucked away in Ibrahimbagh in the historic city of Hyderabad in India, which was founded in 1591 by the fifth Sultan of the Qutub Shahi rulers of the Deccan Sultanate of Golconda; who ruled when Sultan Quli declared independence from the powerful Bahmani kingdom in early 16th century, is their necropolis in a beautiful garden setting. The Sultans ruled both from Golconda and Hyderabad at different points of time.The Qutub Shahis are remembered for bringing in new traditions along with immigrants from Persia, the founder Sultan Quli being from there who migrated to the Indian subcontinent. The Qutub Shahis  mingled their culture with local sensibilities to usher in a ‘composite’ culture which paved the way for new ways of dress and etiquette, language, intoduction of beautiful calligraphy, art and architecture. A new idiom thewhich, Golconda school of miniature painting evolved during their reign who were great patrons of music and literature. The Sultans themselves composed poetry which is still cherished. They patronised the languages Persian and Telugu along with Dakhni, proto-Urdu. Many works of literture were produced.  The dynasty ruled upto 1686 which ended with the siege by Aurangzeb in 1687. After an interim Mughal rule the Asaf Jahis ruled and developed the area which became part of the Indian Republic in 1956. The city of Hyderabad, now in Telangana State of India, has seen phases of growth  under various rulers to become a major metropolis in south of India with expansion of the newer city of Hyderabad, the Secunderabad Cantonment, the last addition being Cyberabad. This write-up focusses on the amazing tomb complex at Ibrahimbagh in Hyderabad which is some distance from the Golconda Fort. Qutub Shahi architectural splendour is very prominent here with most features of Islamic architecture with components like arches, domes and minarets. The local influence can be seen in the liberal use of lotus-petal bases around the domes and minarets.20180929_122813-1

View of Golconda Fort on the way to the tombs |D. Vinod

             The tombs of the Sultans along with other important people from the family and associates are at a royal necropolis or tomb complex at Ibrahimbagh near the Golconda Fort.  The place was also called Bagh Safa. The tombs were built over time by various kings. Surrounding the tombs are gardens; beautiful gardens with shrubs and trees, a bagh setting amidst fountains and the timeless interplay of light and shade. Nature seems to be at its best with flowers, birds, bees, butterlfies and squirrels, abundant foliage, under the bluest skies.

Skyview, image | Dinesh Singh

 Mentionable here are the eight sultans of  the Qutub Shahi dynasty; Sultan Quli Qutb-ul-Mulk (1512–1543), Jamsheed Quli Qutb Shah (1543–1550), Subhan Quli Qutb Shah (1550),Ibrahim Quli    Qutb Shah (1550–1580),Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah (1580–1612), Sultan Muhammad Qutb Shah (1612–1626),Abdullah Qutb Shah (1626–1672) and Abul Hasan Qutb Shah (1672–1686). The last Sultan is not buried here as he was sent to Daulatabad after the Mughal siege by Aurangzeb and his forces in 1687.

Cistern at the bagh, image|Dinesh Singh

        The architecture seen here is a beautiful blend of Persian, Indian and Pashtun influences. The tombs are mostly on a raised platform having domes and surrounded by arches. The tombs were much venerated during the Qutub Shahi times. The tombs of the Sultans had golden spires over them. People would read from the Holy Quran which used to be kept on pedestals.  During the Qutub Shahi rule, there used to be Persian carpets on the floors inside the tombs with the perfume of incense wafting around.  After the reign changed, the tombs were not much in focus. In the beginning of 19th century, Sir Salar Jung ordered for their restoration. He was an important prime-minister of Hyderabad-Deccan during the Asaf Jahi rule (1724-1948). The Aga Khan Foundation is restoring the tombs at present in the 21st century. There are displays which show the course of work that is happening here at the bagh.

      One gets to see all the sturctures in the tomb complex along with the gardens and fountains, the well called Badi bowli, a neatly designed stepwell. The fine stucco on the structures leaves one amazed and the dainty designs on the minarets are very pleasing to the eye. The tomb of the founder of the dynasty Sultan Quli Qutub-ul-mulk is some distance away to the south west of the tomb of Sultan Mohammad Quli Qutub Shah. A fairly simple tomb structure built on a platform with an octagonal interior with a dome crowning the top. Sultan Quli’s tomb has the inscription Bade Malik or Big Master as he was addressed by that name. The tomb has two graves with another smaller one. Outside there are 21 graves on the plinth, maybe of people close to him. The tomb of Subhan Quli on the same plinth has a dome which being fluted looks very beautiful. Some distance away to the west of Sultan Quli’s tomb is his son Jamsheed Quli’s tomb, an octagonal structure which looks double storeyed with arches and projecting balconies. The balconies have rich ornamental balustrades.. The tomb of Mohammad Amin who died in 1596; who was the sixth son of Sultan Ibrahim Qutub Shah and father of Sultan Mohammad Qutub Shah at a young age of 25, is towards the west of the tomb complex. The tomb has two graves inside.

Tomb of Sultan Quli, founder of the dynasty|D.Vinod

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Fountain, tomb complex, Ibrahimbagh, Hyderabad|Dinesh Singh

     The tomb of Sultan Ibrahim Qutub Shah is some distance away to the south west of Sultan Quli’s mausoleum.The tomb has two graves in the main chamber and another sixteen on the terrace most probably of his children. Sultan Mohammad Qutub Shah’s mausoleum has a circular dome and the central chamber is surrrounded by an arcaded gallery with seven exits or openings. The upper storey has five recesses. 

The tomb of  Sultan Subhan Ali, fondly called Chhote Malik or Little Master lies near his father Jamsheed Quli’s tomb. The other tombs are of the physicians or hakims of the Sultan Abdullah Qutub Shah, Nizamuddin Ahmed Jeelani and Abdul Jabbar Jeelani, tomb of Neknaam Khan who served in Sultan Abdullah’s army, tomb of Fatima Sultan sister of Mohammad Qutub Shah and Kulsoom , his grand-daughter. Also the tombs of courtesans Taramati and Pemamati. The tomb complex was once called Lagar-e-faiz-athar  where songs, dances and drama were regularly staged.

There are also other tombs in the complex of members of the dynasty of the Qutub Shahis which have different architectural features from the main tombs but are very pleasing to the eye with ornate designs.

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Tomb of Hayat Bakshi Begum, tomb complex, Ibrahimbagh, Hyderabad|Dinesh Singh

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Tile decoration, Hayat Bakshi Begum masjid, tomb complex, Ibrahim bagh, Hyderabad|Dinesh Singh

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Tomb of Sultan Jamsheed Quli, tomb complex, Ibrahimbagh, Hyderabad|D. Vinod

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Tomb of Sultan Ibrahim Qutub Shah, Ibrahimbagh, Hyderabad|Soma Ghosh

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Blue tile work remains, Tomb of Sultan Ibrahim Qutub Shah, Ibrahimbagh, Hyderabad|Asif Ali Khan

        The tomb of Sultan Mohammad Quli Qutub Shah who died in 1612 is a striking structure with a double terrace. He was the fifth Sultan and is well rembered for constructing the Charminar at Hyderabad with the Char Kaman and founding the city of Hyderabad. The Sultan’s grave is in a crypt covered with black stone and is lower than the ground. The arcades around are unique and are very cool inside in contrast to the bright sunlight during daytime outside the tomb. The minarets at the corners have exquisite designs.

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Tomb of Sultan Mohammad Quli Qutub Shah, tomb complex, Ibrahimbagh, Hyderabad|D.Vinod

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          Archways, tomb of Sultan Mohammad Quli Qutub Shah, tomb complex,       Ibrahimbagh, Hyderabad|Soma Ghosh

The tomb of the seventh ruler, Sultan Abdullah Qutub Shah appears first to the vistor. The sacrophagus is in black basalt. There are still some traces of blue and green enamel on the minarets. The tomb overall is very impressive with its seven arches built in perfect alignment in its corridors giving a feel of infinity. After this on the left one gets to see the incomplete tomb but actually has the grave of Sultan Abdullah’s eldest son-in-law Mirza Nizamuddin Ahmed.

          Some way from the entrance to the north-west one can locate the impressive tomb of Hayat Bakshi Begum or Ma saheba, who is the daughter of the fifth ruler, Sultan Mohammad Quli Qutub Shah and wife of the 4th ruler, Sultan Mohammad Qutub Shah. Her son was Sultan Abdullah Qutub Shah. She played an important role and was a strong presence in Deccan history of the time. She was fondly called Ma-saheba. Her tomb has seven arches on each side with beautiful minarets at the corners, her sacrophagus in black basalt with verses. Her tomb is ornate and its parapet displays a frieze of flowers. 

     The tomb of Mohammad Qutub Shah is near the tomb of Hayat Baksh Begum to the south. He died in 1626. The graves of his other six children are also in this tomb. The complex has the tombs of Taramati and Pemamati who were sisters and royal dancers and concubines. The mortuary bath is also at the complex where the bodies of the royals would be given a bath before burial; there were cisterns for both hot and cold perfumed water.

Tomb of  Sultan Abdullah Qutub Shah, tomb complex, Ibrahimbagh, Hyderabad| Dinesh Singh

The Hayat Bakshi Begum’s mosque attached to her tomb at the north side of her tomb is an important structure of the complex. It has a prayer hall, a vaulted roof with sunken domes, a facade with five arches and finely designed minarets with pots at the ends on lotus petals. The dome at the centre has beautiful designs; the mihrab has an inscription containing Quranic verses in superb calligraphy around it on black stone. This masjid was built in 1667.

The tomb of the founder of the dynasty Sultan Quli Qutub-ul-mulk is some distance away to the south west of the tomb of Sultan Mohammad Quli Qutub Shah. A fairly simple tomb structure built on a platform with an octagonal interior with a dome crowning the top. The tomb has two graves with another smaller one. Outside there are 21 graves on the plinth, maybe of people close to him. The tomb of Subhan Quli on the same plinth has a dome which being fluted looks very beautiful. Some distance away to the west of Sultan Quli’s tomb is his son Jamsheed Quli’s tomb, an octagonal structure which looks double storeyed. The tomb of Mohammad Amin who died in 1596; who was the sixth son of Sultan Ibrahim Qutub Shah and father of Sultan Mohammad Qutub Shah at a young age of 25, is towards the west of the tomb complex. The tomb has two graves inside.

Lo ! some we loved..the loveliest and the Best

……………..one by one….crept silently to Rest.

                                   ……..from the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.

Archway at tomb of Sultan  Abdullah Qutub Shah, tomb complex, Ibrahimbagh, Hyderabad|Dinesh Singh

          An unfinished tomb started by Sultan Abul Hasan Tana Shah, houses the grave of Mirza Nizamuddin Ahmed, Sultan Abdullah’s eldest son-in-law. The royal tomb complex also has the mosque of Hayat Bakshi Begum and the dargah of Hazrat Hussain Shah Wali, Sufi saint and builder of the Hussain Sagar at Hyderabad. A mortuary bath in Turkish style exists opposite the tomb of Mohammad Quli.   The tombs of the earlier Sultans are at the back of the bagh. The tombs of the Sultans have Quranic verses especially the ‘throne verse’, the aayat-ul-kursi and the Shia durud  in calligraphy. The tombs look uniform in design but there are some differences especially in the size of the structures. The tombs are usually built on a raised plinth with an arcaded gallery around a square chamber. A ring of lotus petals are seen at the base of the bulbous dome over the structure which looks very ornate and decorative. Aurangzeb had mounted cannons on the tombs during his siege efforts in 1679 to destroy the fortifications of Golconda Fort.

Cannon balls, tomb complex, Ibrahimbagh, Hyderabad|Dinesh Singh

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           Mortuary bath, tomb complex, Ibrahimbagh, Hyderabad|Dinesh Singh

         Bagh Safa, Ibrahimbagh, Hyderabad|Dinesh Singh

When the  sun sets here the silhouette of the tombs are seen against the evening sky; the breeze blows and one feels the whispering of tales of the centuries gone by. India’s poetess Sarojini Naidu has said of the tombs:

The royal tombs of Golconda

I muse among these silent fanes

Whose spacious darkness guards your dust

around me sleep the hoary plains

That hold your ancient wars in trust

I pause,my dreaming spirit hears,

Across the wind’s unquiet tides,

The glimmering music of your spears

The laughter of your royal brides,

The royal tombs of Golconda

In vain o Kings,doth time aspire

to make your names oblivion’s sport

While yonder hill wears like a tier

The ruined grandeur of your fort

Though centuries falter and decline

Your proven strongholds will remain

Embodied memories of your line

Incarnate legends of your reign.

O Queens, in vain old Fate decreed

Your flower-like bodies to the tomb;

Death is in truth the vital seed

Of your imperishable bloom

Each new-born year the bulbuls sing

Their songs of your renascent loves;

Your beauty wakens with the spring

To kindle these pomegranate groves.

 

 

References and image attributions

       1.History of the Qutub Shahi dynasty/H.K Sherwani, New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal,   1974.

       2.The art and architecture of the Deccan Sultanates/George Michell and Mark Zebrowski, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

       3. The heritage of the Qutub Shahis of Golconda and Hyderabad/M.A Nayeem, Hyderabad: Hyderabad Publishers, 2006.

       4. poetryarchive.com

       5. Images by are by Dinesh Singh, D. Vinod, Asif Ali Khan and the author.

 

Posted by :

 

Soma Ghosh

 

©author

 

 

Arabesque in architecture : glimpses from Mughal India

        The arabesque holds a special meaning. The Cambridge dictionary says that it is ‘a type of design based on flowers, leaves, and branches twisted together, found especially in Islamic art’.  The architecture of Mughal monuments in India offers many examples of arabesque art. The Taj Mahal, tomb of Emperor Akbar, tomb of I’timād-ud-Daulah, the Fatehpur Sikri, the Agra Fort, the Red Fort and several others. The arabesque has also been defines as a vegetal design consisting of full and half palmettes as an unending continuous pattern in which each leaf grows out of another. It is symbolic of the unity of faith of Islam.

         The beautiful and striking designs created on many Mughal monuments are actually a combination of the arabesque-vegetal, geometric patterns and Islamic calligraphy.  Islamic art is diverse and made up of stunning patterns, due to the absence of figures which could make it an object of worship, which is prevented in Islam. However the core of the art is symmetry and harmony. There is an effort to convey the structure of everything through pattern. Geometry is an important element, it is sacred geometry with an inner and outer meaning.

             Arabesque art depictions, mostly combined with geometry and calligraphy have two types, the first is about the principles that govern the order of the world. Geometric forms have a built in symbolism.The principles include the basics of what makes objects structurally sound yet pleasing to the eye. The square has equal sides and represents the important elements of nature, earth, air, fir and water. The physical world is symbolised by a circle that inscribes the square and would collapse upon itself without any of the four elements. The second type is based on the flowing nature of vegetal froms, representing the feminine life giving force. The third type is the mode of Islamic calligraphy. it is also called the art of the spoken word. Many proverbs and passages from the Holy Quran can be seen in arabesque art. The coming together of these three forms create the arabesque in its entirety. The art is not just mathematically precise but beautiful and symbolic. Many Islamic designs are based on squares and circles, interlaced to form complex patterns. A common motif is the 8 pointed star made of 2 squares, one rotated 45 degrees with respect to the other. Another basic shape is the polygon, mostly pentagon and octagon. Islamic artwork is found in jaali work or trellis tilings, woodwork, kilims or rugs, leather book bindings, metalwork, ceramics  and ceilings.

A glimpse into this fascinating world of visual art includes images from two important tombs in Agra, North of India, both from 17th century Mughal era.

Tomb of Emperor Akbar 

Emperor Jalalluddin Akbar was the third Mughal emperor, born in 1542 A.D, who ruled from 1556 to 1605 A.D. Akbar’s reign significantly influenced the course of Indian history. During his rule, the Mughal empire tripled in size and wealth. Akbar promulgated Din-i-Ilahi, a syncretic creed derived mainly from Islam and Hinduism, Zoroastrianism and Christianity. His tomb is at Sikandra, Agra, a structure with ornate and stunning Islamic art and architecture.

Tomb of Emperor Akbar, main entrance with  artwork, 17th century, Agra.

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Emperor Akbar, miniature painting,  17th century, MFA, Boston, U S A

Related imageTomb of Emperor Akbar, 17th century, Agra.

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Detail, tomb of Emperor Akbar, 17th century, Agra.

Ceiling detail, ”muqarna”, tomb of Akbar, 17th century, Sikandra, Agra.

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Ceiling detail, ”muqarna”,tomb of Akbar, 17th century, Sikandra, Agra.

Inlay panels on South Gate, tomb of Akbar, 17th century, Agra.

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               Jaali work, tomb of Akbar complex, 17th century, Agra.

 

Tomb of I’timād-ud-Daulah

          Mirza Ghiyas Beg also known by his title of I’timad-ud-Daulah  was a vizier in the Mughal empire, whose children served as wives, mothers, and generals of the Mughal emperors.He was the father of the famous ‘Nur-Jehan’ and grand father of ‘Mumtaz-Mahal’ of the Taj Mahal fame. He was made ”Vazir” after Nur Jehan ‘s marriage with Jehangir in 1611.

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I’timad-ud-Daulah, painting, 18th century.

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Tomb of I’timād-ud-Daulah, 17th century, Agra.

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Tomb of I’timād-ud-Daulah, 17th century, Agra.

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Detail, 8-pointed star pattern, tomb of I’timād-ud-Daulah, 17th century, Agra.

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Detail, tomb of I’timād-ud-Daulah, a quarter of each 6-point star is shown in each corner; half stars along the sides, 17th century, Agra.

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Gate, arabesques on spandrelsTomb of I’timād-ud-Daulah, 17th century, Agra.

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Jaali design with 6 point stars and arabesques on the sides, tomb of I’timād-ud-Daulah, 17th century, Agra.

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Arabesques on exteriors, tomb of I’timād-ud-Daulah, 17th century, Agra.

 

 

References :

 

 

 

Posted by

 

Soma Ghosh

 

©author

 

 

 

 

Ajanta Caves : some glimpses of sculptures

          Deep cut or excavated caves in the Aurangabad district of Maharastra in Western India are the now well-known Ajanta Caves. Made into a 75 metre wall of rock, between 2nd century B. C and 5th century A.D these caves are a marvel in art, sculpture and rock-cut architecture. The earliest caves are believed to have been excavated during the Satavahana period and belong to the Hinayana tradition of Buddhism. During the reign of King Harisena (r. 460-478 A.D)  of the Vakatakas, whose feudatories and minister supported the ”sangha”, the Mahayana Buddhists contributed to over 20 impressive cave excavations at Ajanta. These were embellished with mural art, sculpture and great architecture. The caves are cut into a mountain wall above the Waghora river.

Image result for ajanta caves art and architectureView of Ajanta Caves, 2nd century B.C to 5th century A.D, Maharashtra.

        The architecture of the caves were customised to the monastic needs of the Buddhists to include assembly halls, living quarters and spaces for meditation. A few caves are from the pre-Vakataka period. Some glimpses from sculptural marvels from the caves are showcased –

Cave 1 – Made under Harisena, this cave has an elaborate carved facade, with relief sculptures on the entablature and ridges, and most surfaces embellished with decorative carving. There are scenes carved from the life of the Buddha, animals, as well as a number of decorative motifs.

Frieze, Cave 1, Ajanta.

Cave 4 – This cave is squarish, with a large image of the Buddha in preaching pose flanked by bodhisattvas and celestial nymphs hovering above. It consists, of a verandah, a hypostylar hall, sanctum with an antechamber and a series of unfinished cells. This monastery is the largest among the Ajanta caves and it measures nearly 970 square metres.

Buddha and bodhisattvas, Cave 4, Ajanta.

Cave 6 – It is two storeyed monastery  made up of a sanctum, a hall on both levels. The lower level is pillared and has attached cells, the upper hall too has subsidiary cells. The sanctums on both level feature a Buddha in the teaching posture.  The Miracle of Shravasti  and Temptation of Mara is depicted in the lower level walls. Only the lower floor of cave 6 was finished. The unfinished upper floor of cave 6 has many private votive sculptures, and a shrine Buddha.

Buddha and bodhisattvas, Cave 6, Ajanta.

Cave 7 – a monastery of a single storey having a sanctum, a hall with octagonal pillars, and eight small rooms for monks. The sanctum Buddha is shown in preaching posture. There are many art panels narrating Buddhist themes. This cave has a grand facade with two porticos. The veranda has eight pillars of two types. One has an octagonal base with amalaka and lotus capital. The other lacks a distinctly shaped base, features an octagonal shaft instead with a plain capital. The veranda opens into an antechamber. On the left side in this antechamber are seated or standing sculptures, those of 25 carved seated Buddhas in various postures and facial expressions, while on the right side are 58 seated Buddha reliefs in different postures, all on lotuses.

Buddhas, antechamber, Cave 7, Ajanta.

Cave 19 –  This structure was completed during the Vakataka rule which which is grand chaitya hall. It has a courtyard with attached cells. It has an elaborate facade and a single entrance to the cave having a portico with pillars. It has a circular window  with lot of decoration around the opening. There are decorated pilasters and cornices. The grid has many sculptures, mostly Buddha figures. There is Naga group on the facade.

Entrance, Cave 19, Ajanta.

Naga group, facade of Cave 19, Ajanta.

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Entrance sculptures, Cave 19, Ajanta.

Cave 9 – This cave has a distinct apsidal shape. The aisle has a row of 23 pillars. The ceiling is vaulted. The stupa is at the center of the apse, with a circumambulatory path around it. The stupa sits on a high cylindrical base. It is a chaitya or worship halls from the 2nd to 1st century B.C, the first period of construction,  reworked upon at  the end of the second period of construction in the 5th century. Many sculptures adorn the facade, mostly Buddha images.

Cave 9, entrance, Ajanta.

Cave 9, Buddha with Ananda, Ajanta.

Cave 9, apsidal hall with stupa, Ajanta.

Cave 11-  It is monastery and the cave veranda has pillars with octagonal shafts and square bases. The ceiling of the veranda shows evidence of floral designs and eroded reliefs. The center panel is of the Buddha seen with votaries lining up to pray before him.

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Exterior, Buddha with a devotee, Cave 11, Ajanta.

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Elephant, Cave 16, Ajanta.

 

Cave 26 – It is  a worship hall or chaitya, with elements of a vihara design. The interior view of the cave gives a general appearance of a Mahayana vihara. An inscription states that a monk Buddhabhadra and his friend minister serving king of Asmaka, gifted this large cave. It has two upper stories and four wings of the cave were planned, but these were abandoned and only the carved Buddhas on the right and left wall were completed. The cave consists of an apsidal hall with side aisles for circumambulation . This path is full of carved Buddhist legends, three depictions of the Miracle of Sravasti in the right ambulatory side of the aisle, and seated Buddhas in various mudras. At the center of the apse is a rock-cut stupa with an image of the Buddha in front, 18 panels on its base, 18 panels above these, a three tiered torana above him. On top of the stupa is a nine-tiered harmika, a symbolism for the nine samsara in Mahayana cosmology. The walls, pillars, and brackets are intricately carved with Buddhist themes.

Entrance, Cave 26.

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Side shrines, Cave 26, Ajanta.

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Reliefs, Cave 26, Ajanta.

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Column designs, Cave 26, Ajanta.

Chaitya hall with stupa, Cave 26, Ajanta.

The enshrined Buddha is sitting in the pralambapadasana posture, with his legs down, maybe representing Maitreya, the future Buddha.

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View, Chaitya hall with stupa, Cave 26, Ajanta.

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Stupa, Cave 26, Ajanta.

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Capitals, Cave 26, Ajanta.

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Aisle, Cave 26, Ajanta.

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Pariniravana of the Buddha, Cave 26, Ajanta.

 

 

References :

  1. The art of ancient India/Huntington, Susan,L,New York : Weatherhill, 1985.
  2. wikipedia.org
  3. Images from Wikimedia commons

 

Posted by :

Soma Ghosh

©author

 

Mathura art : varied images from ancient India

       Mathura is a bustling city in Uttar Pradesh in present day India. The region has a long history of human occupation. Great art has been created there under different patronages by different dynasties who ruled the area from ancient times. This genre of art which grew around the town of Mathura, an important city in central northern India since Mauryan times and which has been differently known as Madhura, Madhupuri, Madhuban and Mathula. It is believed that the demon Madhu is the founder of the city. His son lost it to Shatrughna, brother of Lord Rama. Mathura is the birthplace of Lord Krishna and has been a centre for art, religion and literature. It is debated that the first image of Lord Buddha was created here. Lord Buddha visited Mathura twice. and Buddhism flourished here.

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Standing Buddha, Mathura, India, 1st century AD, Sikri sandstone – Fitchburg Art Museum, U.S.A

         Around 70 B.C the Indo-Greeks occupied this area for a century, while the Sunga dynasty stayed eastward of Mathura. The art which developed around the region started with sculptures of the yakshas,yakshis; earthly divine beings dating to 2nd-1st century B.C during the Mauryan rule. These sculptures showed Greek influence. The Indo-Scythian rule happened under the northern satraps under Rajuvula who had taken over from the Mitra dynasty which had come to power around 70 B.C. The Rajuvula dynasty recorded their events  on the Mathura lion capital. The capital has two lions and the Buddhist triratna symbol at the centre within a flame palmette, which is again Hellenistic in character. The art of Mathura is a blend of Indian art of Bharhut and Sanchi and Gandhara art with the use of Hellenistic motifs. The images of yakshas, yakshis, nagas, Bodhisattvas and Lord Buddha, several forms of Tirthankaras and the Hindu pantheon of Gods and Goddesses have contributed to this art school. Pre-Mauryan burnt clay or terracotta figurines from 4th century B.C have been found of the Mother Goddess. One can find amorous couples from the 2nd to 1st century.

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The Mathura lion capital,  British Museum, London.

During Mauryan times folk art representations like huge yakshas, yakshis, Kubera figures have been found, though not very refined in form.The Sunga period sculptures were not very refined too with a lack of emotion on the face, heavy ornamentation, flat features, fluffy one-sided turban with a crest are seen. Basement stones, pillars, gateways with both secular and religious themes are found. The worship of the Buddha are denoted by sacred symbols only.

File:Roundel with the head of a nobleman, India, Mathura, Uttar Pradesh, c. 1st-2nd century CE, pink sandstone, HAA.JPG
Roundel with the head of a nobleman, Mathura, 1st-2nd century A.D, pink sandstone, Honolulu Academy of Arts,U.S.A

Emperor Kaniska I of the Kushana dynasty issued the first known representation of Lord Buddha on a coin. He also depicted Maitreyi Buddha and Shakyamuni Buddha. Mathura art incorporated many Hellenistic elements like curly hair, folded garment, covering of only one shoulder given India’s climate Gandhara influence on the art is also seen especially in the Bacchanalian scenes, statue of Heracles strangling the lion. From the Kusana period focus was on stone sculpting, during 1st century to 3rd century wherein the range grew and artists mingled with foreigners  and all religions flourished together. Lord Buddha is the human form was generated in stone during the Kushana empire; drapery was seen having folds, the women had beautiful expressions on their faces. The Jataka stories were also being depicted during the time.

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Sibi Jataka, 2nd century, Mathura, Indian Museum, Kolkata.

The art of Mathura has seen many upheavals along with political currents. Many objects and sculptures have been found in and around the region with archaeologists like Alexander Cunningham and F.S Growse recovering many during excavations. The Chinese traveller Fa-Hien, came to Mathura in 4th century A.D and mentions twenty monasteries along both sides of the river  Yamuna. They are now seen in the form of mounds; Kankali Tila, Saptarsi Tila, Jail Tila  among others.

The Bodhisattva Maitreya, 2nd century,

Bodhisattva, 2nd century, Mathura, Musee Guimet, Paris.

The Hindu art at Mathura started to develop from the 1st century to 2nd century B.C. The Hindu deities were well represented. Also explicit and stylised images of women. Yaksha worship was an ancient cult and an inscribed one has been found at Parkham village of Mathura. The Gupta rule between 325 AD to about 600 A.D saw the finest sculptures produced with transparent drapery, love and beauty got depicted, light ornaments, straight nose, curved eyebrows and thick lips were seen. From the 7th century, a general decline happened with the art of Mathura.

 

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Vishnu statue from Mathura, 5th century, Gupta period.,Uttar Pradesh State Museum, Lucknow.

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Manibhadra, ”yaksha” from Parkham, 3rd to 2nd century, Mathura.

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Frieze with Worshippers from Mathura, Uttar Predesh, India, c. 150 A.D, sandstone, Norton Simon Museum, California, U.S.A

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Lord Vishnu with ayudhapurushas, Mathura.
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Owl depicted in an exhibit, Mathura art, San Diego Museum of Art, California, USA. 
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Sculpture, Gupta period, 4th to 5th century A.D, Mathura art, Linden-Museum, Germany.
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Bhutesvara yakshis, Mathura, 2nd century A.D, Indian Museum, Kolkata.
References :
  • Masterpieces of Mathura Museum/Jitendra Kumar, New Delhi : Sundeep Prakashan, 2002.
  • wikipedia.org
  • Images from Wikimedia Commons
Posted by :
Soma Ghosh
©author

Ganjifa : playing cards from medieval times

       Playing games is an important part of many world cultures including India. Children play naturally and devise games of their own. Adult games have been devised using creative skills and artistic expression.  The word ”ganj” means treasure or treasury which went on to refer to granary in Persian. The term represents playing cards and card games in India, Nepal, Iran, Turkey and few Arabian countries. Card playing was and still is popular in India and many other countries. Ganjifa cards were circular or rectangular, and traditionally hand-painted by artisans. The earliest references are to the Mamluk cards from Egypt, first mentioned in Annals of Egypt and Syria by Yousuf ibn-Taghribirdi, an Egyptian historian born into the Turkish Mamluk elite of Cairo in the 15th century. The Topkapi Museum in Istanbul, Turkey has a set of Mamluk playing cards datable to 1500s. The set consists of four suits of 13 cards each; cups,swords, coins and polo sticks including one Malik or king, a Naib and Thani Naib – Governor and Vice- Governor. These actually depict the officers at the court of a Mamluk Sultan or Amir; the cup-bearer, the commander of the palace guard, the exchequer and the polo-master or jukandar.  Mamluk, Italian, Persian and Indian cards might have a common origin; the exact source is not clear. it might have originated in the West or the East. The pack of cards is sometimes believed to have its origins in the four sided chaturanga, a dice game and a precursor of chess. King Shah Abbas II of Persia had banned the game (1642-67).

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Mamluk playing cards  or kanjifah, from left to right: 6 of coins, 10 of polo sticks, 3 of cups and 7 of swords, 16th century.

     The earliest playing cards known in India were most probably introduced by early Muslim rulers. The game became popular at the Mughal court during the 16th and 17th century, and lavish sets were made, from materials such as precious stone-inlaid ivory or tortoise shell ; darbar-kalam, by court artists. The game later spread to the general public, and less expensive sets; bazaar-kalam by other artists would be made from materials such as wood, palm leaf, stiffened cloth or pasteboard.

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In the royal palace of Sawantwadi, skilled craftsmen hand painting Ganjifa cards, Maharashtra, maybe early 20th century.

     Mughal Ganjifa was similar to the Safavid game in terms of suits and ranks. In the 17th century ”Dashavatara” ganjifa was created to appeal to the Hindu populace. The main development of  the game of Ganjjfa happened in India. The Indian cards depict variety and the number of suits can vary from 8 to 10, 12 or 20. Ganjifa cards have coloured backgrounds, with each suit having a different colour. The compositions on many Ganjifa cards resemble small miniature paintings. Different types are found, the designs, number of suits, and physical size of the cards can vary considerably. With the exception of Mamluk kanjifah and the Chads of Mysore, each suit contains ten pip cards and two court cards, the king and the vizier or minister. The backs of the cards are typically a uniform colour, without patterning. Card players expect a constancy in design in packs. The Rajasthani cards show a Mughal influence, Mysore and Cuddapah depict Nayak styles and the cards from Odisha have folk patterns. It is called dashabatar taas in Bishnupur, West Bengal. The painters of the cards are called chitrakars. 

 

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 A king handing a ”Royal Document” to his minister, King of the Barat or Document suit, playing card from a Mughal Ganjifa set, Rajasthan, India, LACMA, U S A,19th century.

       Playing cards are put in painted boxes which are made of light wood and have different subjects painted on them ranging from flowers, women, mythological themes and animal figures. However, slowly by the end of the 20th century printed cards became popular. The modern printed packs made the older hand painted cards obsolete and so also the games associated with them.

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Ganjifa box with ornate designs, 19th century. Image source : Michael BackmanLtd, U.K.

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Five galloping elephants, Number six of the Gajpati or Lord of Elephants suit, playing card from a Mughal Ganjifa Set, Rajasthan, India, 19th century, LACMA, U S A.  

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Lord Krishna preparing to decapitate King Kamsa, King of the Krishna suit, playing card from a Dashavatara ganjifa set, Sawantwadi,  Maharashtra, mid-18th century, LACMA, U S A.

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Enthroned and crowned Buddha holding Lotuses, King of the Buddha suit, playing card from a Dashavatara ganjifa set, Rajasthan, India, 19th century,  LACMA, U S A.

       There are many variants of Ganjifa. The Mughal Ganjifa, the Dashavatara Ganjifa, the Ramayan Ganjifa, the Rashi Ganjifa, The ashtamalla Ganjifa, the Naqsh Ganjifa, the Mysore Chad Ganjifa. Ahli Shirazi wrote Rubaiyat-e-ganjifa’ for each of the 96 cards in a eight suit pack. The game is mentioned in Ain-i- Akbari, the record of Emperor Akbar’s reign. In fact there was a variety of Ganjifa called Akbar’s Ganjifa.

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Mughal ganjifa playing cards, early 19th century,  Wovensouls Textiles and Arts Gallery.

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Playing cards made with the traditional pattachitra technique from Puri, Odisha, India.

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A king in an elephant-drawn carriage, King of the Ghulam or Slave or Servant  suit, playing card from a Mughal ganjifa set, 19th century, LACMA, U S A.

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A woman with Seven Documents, number seven of the Barat or Document suit, playing card from a Mughal ganjifa set, Rajasthan,  19th century, LACMA, U S A.

 

References :

  • Ganjifa: the playing cards of India/Leyden, Rudolf Von, London : Victoria and Albert Museum, 1980
  • wikipedia.org
  • Images are from Wikimedia Commons

 

 

 

Posted by:

 

Soma Ghosh

 

©author