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India gets its first exhibition on cosmopolitan Deccani art

January 27, 2015, The Art of Bihar

‘Nauras’ at National Museum unveils the cultural peak of 16th-19th C southern sultanates
New Delhi, Jan 27: National Museum (NM) opened today a first-of-its-kind exhibition that exclusively unveils the art of Deccani sultanates during the 16th and 19th centuries when the upper-peninsular provinces of India were steeped in unprecedented cosmopolitanism.

'Nauras' exhibition opens at National Museum as
 D-G Venu Vasudevan and Renu Judge of The Aesthetics Project 
cut the ribbon. Left of him are curators Preeti Bahadur and Kavita Singh

Nauras: The Many Arts of the Deccan’ was inaugurated by NM Director-General Dr Venu Vasudevan along with Renu Judge who heads The Aesthetics Project which is a co-organiser of the 53-day show that has had no precedents in the country, where the culture of southern sultanates has been over-shadowed by the contemporaneous Mughal art.
Curated by art historians Dr Preeti Bahadur and Dr Kavita Singh, the exhibition has all but one set of its 120-odd objects that have been the property of the 1949-founded NM—either taken out of its reserves or moved in from its galleries where they were on display. A fabulous sequence of Ragamala paintings has come in from the National Gallery of Modern Art, thus making ‘Nauras’ a joint venture in more ways than one.
The six-section ‘Nauras’, designed in grey-blue interiors by independent professional Oroon Das, displays exquisite paintings, manuscripts, metal-ware, textiles and arms the Deccani sultanates generated with their highly skilled artists and craftsmen amid a grand convergence of several cultures it witnessed for almost 400 years, more so during the 18th and 19th centuries. This was facilitated owing to the peninsula’s trade contacts with regions as far as Southeast Asia, Africa and Europe.

Dr Vasudevan, speaking on the occasion which was attended by NGMA director Rajeev Lochan among others, noted that ‘Nauras’, which is on till March 20, could be an “ideal template” of a case collaboration between a public, private and academic institution.
As for showing Deccani exhibits exclusively, he said, “We never had such an interesting offer”, and thanked The Aesthetics Project along with curators of both Nauras and NM’s collections.
Ms Judge, who is trustee and sponsor of the 2014-founded The Aesthetics Project that strives to give academics, artisans and performers a platform to explore a variety of topics on India’s art history and its aesthetic heritage, said ‘Nauras’ is a contemporary narrative to an ancient theme. “It takes a refreshing view at a rich part of our history,” she added.
Dealing with Deccani cosmopolitanism, ‘Nauras’ throws light at the singing sultans, the perfume in the Deccani Garden, the Mughal Presence in Deccan, the trade goods made in the region and royal lineages.
The cynosures include a painting of marbled horses that shows Rustom capturing a horse, leaves from an early Ragamala from Ahmednagar or Bijapur, a Kalamkari coverlet of 1630, an 18th-century Qanat from Burhanpur, a hanging embroidered temple (Vijayanagara), the Kitab-i-Naurasmanuscript and Deccani copies of the Ajaib al Makhluqat that narrates the wonders of the world, besides the armour of the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb who had fought military campaigns in the Deccan.

 The Exhibition also shows the Al -Buraaq, which 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 Ibrahim Adil Shah II of of Bijapur. The manuscript was illustrated by Khalillullah, an Iranically calligrapher who worked at the Safavid court before being employed at the court of this ruler. Scholars have ascertained that the Ragamala painting traditions of Mughal and Rajput cultures may have originated in Deccan and traveled northwards.
Deccani arms and armour gained 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. The arms were made here as well as imported through maritime trade.

The exhibition showcases 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 with which the Arabs had trade links.

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