Nauras: The Many Arts of the Deccan
National Museum, New Delhi
National Museum is currently hosting an exhibition titled "Nauras: The Many Arts of the Deccan". This is a result of collaboration between National Museum and The Aesthetics Project, starting 27th January 2015. The exhibition has been curated by Dr Preeti Bahadur and Dr Kavita Singh with inputs of the Keepers from the National Museum, and it focuses on the highly cosmopolitan world of the Deccani Sultanates as reflected in their art forms in the 17th and 18th centuries.
While the art of the Mughals is widely known and celebrated, the contemporaneous kingdoms of Ahmednagar, Bijapur, Golconda, Berar and Bidar have been relatively neglected. "Nauras: The Many Arts of The Deccan" strives to exhibit the alluring arts and outline to provide glimpses of the fascinating history of this region. The exhibits on display are primarily derived from the collection of the National Museum; while an exquisite selection of Ragamala paintings have been loaned from the National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi. Nauras is one of the first exhibitions to showcase the rich art and culture from this chapter in the history of India, and it hopes to cultivate further interest in the same.
In the 14th century, the Bahmani Sultanate was established in the Deccan, when the Turkish governor of Mohammad Bin Tughlaq, Alauddin Bahman Shah, declared his independence from his overlord. The Bahmani kingdom in time gave way to the Sultanates of Ahmednagar, Bijapur, Golconda, Berar and Bidar. The kingdom of Vijayanagara also flourished at this time. Over a period of almost 400 years, the Deccan fostered a cosmopolitan culture in which many cultures and peoples commingled. The Sultanates were known for their tolerance, syncretism and composite culture.
The highly skilled artists and craftsmen of this Sultanate produced exquisite paintings, manuscripts, metal-ware, textiles, and arms. The long coastline of the peninsula fostered trade contacts with regions as far as South East Asia, Africa and Europe and goods from the Deccan were in high demand in many parts of the world. Intercultural contacts also resulted in the adaptation of aesthetic tastes and diverse traditions at the local level. Deccani advances in music and the arts had a profound influence on Indian art in the north as well.
The Exhibition explores these themes through 6 sections - Deccani Cosmopolitanism, The Singing Sultans, Perfume in the Deccani Garden, The Mughal Presence in Deccan, Out of the Deccan: Trade Goods made in Deccan, Royal Lineages and Ideal Kings.
Some important objects shown in this exhibition are the painting of al-Buraq, a marbled painting from Bijapur showing Rustom capturing a horse, leaves from an early Ragamala from Ahmednagar or Bijapur, a Kalamkari coverlet from Bijapur of c.1630, an 18th century Qanat from Burhanpur, an embroidered temple hanging from Vijayanagara, the Kitab-i-Nauras manuscript from Bijapur, Deccani copies of the Ajaib al Makhluqat, a book of the wonders of the world, various unique huqqa bases made of Bidriware, and the sword, armour, daggers of the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb who spent many years of his life fighting military campaigns in the Deccan.
The Buraaq is a composite creature believed to be the steed of Prophet Mohammed for his flight to paradise. The stylistic features of this painting hint at an influence from Persia, also incorporating visual traditions of Central Asia, Turkey and Iran.
A magnificent Kalamkari Coverlet from the National Museum Decorative Arts Department exemplifies "Deccani Cosmopolitanism" at its best. The textile was used to cover an item to be traded, and is possibly an import from overseas. The episode depicted is of a Deccani king relaxing in his grand palace that resembles South Asian architectural tradition. The figures surrounding this palace can be identified as belonging to different regions of the world based on their attire. There are figures from Armenia, the Mughal Kingdom, China, and also Turkey.
A collection of poems dealing with the Nine Rasas (Sentiments) of Indian Aesthetics, the Kitab-I-Nauras was written by the illustrious ruler of Bijapur, Ibrahim Adil Shah II. The manuscript was illustrated by Khalillullah, an Irani calligrapher who worked at the Safavid court before being employed at the court of this Bijapuri ruler. It is also ascertained by some scholars that the Ragamala painting traditions of Mughal and Rajput cultures may have originated in Deccan and travelled northwards.
Tobacco was introduced in the Deccan by the Portugese and the instrument of Huqqa was manufactured here and traded to other parts. Many fine huqqa bases, such as this coconut shaped one, were made of Bidriware – a speciality of Deccani metalwork in which silver or gold is inlayed into zinc alloy.
Deccani Arms and Armour grew into increasing popularity among the Mughals, as a result of Aurangzeb's incursions and short rule in this region. Many Mughal mansabdars were settled here and the Deccani swords and daggers became very popular among them. Arms were made here as well as imported through maritime trade. The exhibition will showcase the shamshir sword, the khanjar and the jambia daggers of Aurangzeb that have his name inscribed. The Jambia dagger is in itself an overseas import, being popular in Arabia and regions that the Arabs traded with.
The Exhibition will remain on view till 20 March 2015.