March 18, 2015, DHNS
“Bhaaka nyari nyari bhav ek Kahaa turk kaha brahman, Uttam bhaganiko so sohi Jaa sarasuti huhi prasann,Ibrahim sansaar chaahe vidyaSabad, guru sevaa japkar ekman”
This poetry from Kitab-i-Nauras (a collection of dhrupads set to ragas) is written on one of the walls inside the special exhibition hall at National Museum. Composed by Ibrahim Adil Shah of Bijapur (r. 1580-1627), these verses praise the Hindu goddess of learning Saraswati; the Prophet of Islam, Muhammad; and the Sufi saint of the Deccan, Gesu Daraz. The interest is bound to build up as one reads these words by a Muslim ruler who calls himself a ‘seeker of knowledge’ and refers to Saraswati and Ganesh as his parents! “He changed the name of Bijapur to Vidyapur,” informs Dr Preeti Bahadur Ramaswami, the co-curator of ‘Nauras: The Many Arts of the Deccan.’
“When we were given this room, to be filled with arts from the Deccan, we thought O God, how would we do that?” says Dr Ramaswami standing amid a collection of beautifully curated artefacts that are attracting people from all walks of life, to know more about the history of the Deccan.
Since this part of the country has been “largely neglected”, the aim of Dr Ramaswami and Dr Kavita Singh was to dig out whatever is available in the collection of the National Museum, to represent the Deccan’s hoary history.
Dr Ramaswami says that they had expected probably ‘some Kalamkari and few paintings’ to be found. The result was, however, startling and is now displayed as a full-fledged exhibition. “These objects hadn’t been circulating and no one knew how expansive they would be,” says Dr Singh adding that the key objects they found helped them to decide themes to curate the exhibition.
Pointing to a kalamkari coverlet from the Golconda region, Dr Singh explains, “This shows a multi-storeyed palace with arched pavilions and minarets on the roof. The owner of the palace is dressed in Persian costume while the top right corner shows a Persian man offering a goblet to a Chinese. This gave us the theme of Deccani Cosmopolitanism.”
Even the ‘Embroidered temple hanging with scenes from Ramayana’ and ‘Kalamkari Qanat or tent panel’ depict the same theme due to dense visual descriptions that represent the influence of various cultures on the Deccan arts.
Beyond this main theme are other sub-themes that explore various stories such as the introduction of tobacco in Deccan (followed by its popularity in the rest of India), Ajaib-al-Makhluqat – a manuscript profusely describing strange figures of fantasy/imagination and a little mention of the use of fragrances by Mughal rulers in this part of land.
A look at the daggers, swords and the armour of Aurangzeb and the metaphysical presence of violence can bring back the thoughts of war amidst the art and aesthetics.
Conceived in collaboration with The Aesthetics Project, the exhibition is engaging in terms of its design layout (by Oroon Das,) which has facsimile of figures embroidered or printed in artefacts’, pasted on the otherwise dull walls.
One can hear the sound of birds chirping in the background while in the section portraying miniatures on Raagmalas is the detailed narrative of love and lust inscribed on the Globular Huqqa Base – which ledto the tradition of ‘Speaking Objects’.
“Arab lands were places of great centres of knowledge. But when these were sacked, the scholars fled and settled more in the Deccan than in north,” informs Dr Ramaswami hinting at the multi-possibilities of various historical facts being discovered through the study of these artefacts in future.
‘Nauras: The Many Arts of the Deccan’ is on display at the National Museum till April 20.Henna Rakheja