The legendary & mystic arts of the Deccan era

By | Art & Design
Prince seated in a garden by Rahim Deccani. Credit@ The trustees of the chester beatty library, Dublin

The Deccan Plateau, may be one of the largest plateau in India, encompasses a wide range of habitats, covering most of central and southern India. The name Deccan is an anglicised form of the Bengali word dakkhin, derived from the Sanskrit word dákṣiṇa, meaning “south”.

In the 16th and 17th centuries, the Deccan Plateau was home to a succession of highly cultured Muslim kingdoms with a rich artistic heritage. Under their patronage, foreign influences — from Iran, Turkey, eastern Africa and Europe — combined with prevailing Indian traditions, created a distinctive Indo-Islamic art and culture.

New York’s, The Metropolitan Museum of Art on the 20th of April (till 26th of July,2015) launched the landmark exhibition “Sultans of Deccan India, 1500 – 1700: Opulence and Fantasy” showcasing 200 of the finest works of this era, sourced from major international, private and royal collections. As quoted by Navina Najat Haidar, Curator, Department of Islamic Art at the MET Museum, who has organised the exhibition, “Each work is an artistic highpoint of its kind and makes  a specific point in the exhibition.” The legendary character of Deccani art has been displayed in various forms: painting, metalwork and textile. The exhibition intends to focus chiefly on the courtly art of the kingdoms of Bijapur, Ahmadnagar, Bidar and Golconda.

A Parrot Perched on a Mango Tree.  Credit@ Jagdish and Kamla Mittal  Museum of Indian Art, Hyderabad

A Parrot Perched on a Mango Tree.
Credit@ Jagdish and Kamla Mittal
Museum of Indian Art, Hyderabad

The art of the Deccan, aims to include the known masterpieces however also new discoveries. An ink, opaque watercolor and gold-on-paper work, called “A Parrot Perched on a Mango Tree, a Ram Tethered Below “, from Golconda (1630-70), has been sourced from Jagdish and Kamla Mittal Museum of Art, Hyderabad. Another rare piece of art, attributed by a Bombay Painter, is an ink, opaque watercolor, gold, and maybe a lapis-lazuli pigment on paper work, called ” Sultan Ali Adil Shah II Slays a Tiger ” from Bijapur (1660); has been sourced from The Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, lent by Howard Hodgkin. The golden age of Bijapur under the rule of Sultan Ibrahim Adil Shah II (1580– 1627) defines the spirit of Deccani art. Masterpieces by, Farrukh Husain, the leading court artist, demonstrated the refined style that influenced much of Deccani art. From the kingdom of Bidar, exhibits of the celebrated bidri metalwork tradition aims to be shown. Also, to be shown are spectacular large painted and printed textiles ( kalamkaris ), over nine feet in height and all richly painted with motifs drawn from Indian, Islamic and European art.

Shah Jahan Diamond.Credit@  The al-Sabah Collection, Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah, Kuwait

Shah Jahan Diamond.Credit@
The al-Sabah Collection,
Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah, Kuwait

Another highlight of the display are diamonds, that originated in the mines of the Deccan. India is assumed to be the sole source for these precious gems, until the 18th and 19th centuries, when diamonds were discovered in Brazil and Africa. Among the treasures from Golconda—whose diamond mines were the source of the legendary Kohinoor—will be a group of magnificent gems from international royal collections, including the “Idol’s Eye” and “Agra” diamonds. The collection is also going to include Shah Jahan Diamond from the Deccan (probably 17th century), weighing 56.7 carat.

Related programs include exhibition tours, studio workshops on jewelry design and miniature paintings. In addition, on the 26th of April, lecture by William Dalrymple, author of White Mughals , about the history and culture of Hyderabad and dance performance combining classical Indian and contemporary Western forms, performed by Preeeti Vasudevan and her dance company Thresh. Also, a two-day symposium bringing together scholars discussing the paintings, arms and textiles of the Deccan and specialists in the field of heritage preservation.

The exhibition aims to be featured on the Museum’s website (www.metmuseum.org/deccansultans).

What are the productive aspects of the arts from other civilisations dating 1500-1700 and does it include Deccan influence?

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