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The lesser-known yet rich arts of the Deccan are on view at National Museum


Nauras: The Many Arts of the Deccan
The arts of the Deccan, a rather lesser-known but extremely rich realm of Indian art from approximately Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi.

Curated by art historians Dr Preeti Bahadur and Dr Kavita Singh, the exhibition has been divided into six sections which highlight the cosmopolitanism of the Deccani Sultanates, its singing Sultans, perfumes, the Mughal presence, trade goods and royal lineages.

Dr Venu Vasudevan, director general of the National Museum, said, “Nauras holds special relevance given that the exhibition is the first-ever showcasing of the Deccan’s art between the 16th and the 19th centuries when the region witnessed a lot of give and take in its culture. While exhibiting the arts, we are also outlining the fascinating history of the region. The exhibition is the result of six months of work. It must trigger fresh academic and general interest on Deccani culture of yore.”

Some important highlights of Nauras include a painting of al-Buraaq (a marbled painting from Bijapur showing Rustom capturing a horse), leaves from an early Ragamala painting from Ahmednagar or Bijapur, a Kalamkari coverlet from Bijapur, 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), and the armor of Mughal emperor Aurangzeb who spent years fighting military campaigns in the Deccan when he was a prince and his father Shahjehan was the Mughal emperor.

The al-Buraaq painting is of special significance as it shows the composite creature al-Buraaq that is 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.

The Kalamkari coverlet comes from the Decorative Arts Department of the National Museum. It depicts a Deccani king relaxing in his grand palace. The figures surrounding the king are from various parts of the world, as is evident from their attires.

The Kitab-i-nauras is an anthology of poems dealing with nine rasas (sentiments) of Indian aesthetics. It was written by the king Ibrahim Adil Shah II of Bijapur. The manuscript was illustrated by an Iranian calligrapher, Khalillullah, who worked at the Safavid court before being employed by Bijapur.  Scholars have ascertained that the Ragamala painting traditions of the Mughal and Rajput cultures may have originated in the Deccan and then travelled northwards.

Of special relevance to those interested in war histories would be the range of arms on display at this exhibition. On view are the Shamshir sword, the Khanjar and the Jambia daggers of Aurangzeb that have his name inscribed. The Jambia dagger, popular in the Arab world, was an import.

The co-curator, Dr Bahadur, said, “The long coastline of the peninsula fostered trade contacts with regions as far as Southeast Asia, Africa and Europe and goods from the Deccan were in high demand in many parts of the world. Inter-cultural contacts also resulted in the adaptation o 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 has been organised in collaboration with The Aesthetics Project, a platform of academics, artisans and performers to explore a variety of topics on India’s art history and its aesthetic heritage.

Dr Renu Judge, trustee and sponsor of The Aesthetics Project that was floated last year, said, “Nauras would lend unprecedented focus to the art of the southern sultanates known for their tolerance, syncretism and composite culture. The Deccani art has rather been under-researched, its contribution to the Indian culture often less acknowledged. Nauras that way will be monumentous.” Dr Singh, co-curator, concurred, “Even as the art of the Mughals is widely known and celebrated, the contemporaneous kingdoms of Ahmednagar, Bijapur, Golconda, Bidar and Berar in the Deccan have been comparatively ignored.”

Nauras: The Many Arts of the Deccan is on view at the National Museum, Janpath, New Delhi, until March 20.
400 years up till the 19th century have gone up on display at a rare exhibition at the National Museum of New Delhi.
Titled “Nauras: The Many Arts of the Deccan,” the exhibition showcases about 120 objects from the Museum’s own collection. It also includes an exquisite set of Ragamala paintings from the National

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