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Humayun driven out of Delhi by the Afghan Sher Shah Sun i in 1540, spent fifteen years in exile in Persia and Afghanistan. Shah Tahmasp of Persia gave him shelter and also promised military aid for recovery of his kingdom. During his exile Humayun spent some months at Tabriz and Kazwin. At the court of Shah Tahmasp at Tabriz he saw the paintings of the Persian artists Aga Mirak, Sultan Muhammad and Muzaffar Ali, pupils of the famous Bihzad. Later he met the painter Mir "Sayyid Ali, the illustrator of Nizami's Khamsdh. Thus he acquired taste for paintings and became a connoisseur of art. At his request Mir Sayyid Ali Tabrizi and Abdus Samad Shirazi joined him at Kabul in 1549. Abdus Samad was also a calligrapher. They gave lessons in painting to Humayun and his son Akbar. When Humayun regained his throne, both the artists accompanied him to India.
The birth of Mughal painting in India is due to the patronage of Akbar (1556-1605). He collected architects, painters and calligraphers at his new city of Fatehpur-Silcri. More than a hundred painters, both Hindus and Moslems, mostly from Kashmir, Punjab, Gwalior, Rajasthan and Gujarat worked under the Persian master artists, Abdus Samad and Mir Sayyid Ali. Inspired by Akbar, a cultural synthesis was promoted and the result was a new school of painting which is Indian in spirit and Persian in technique. Baber himself was a Barlas Turk and not a Mongol., However, his dynasty acquired the name of Mughal, and the paintings of the new school are called Mughal Painting. The term 'miniatures of the Baburid period' suggested by Hamid Suleiman is cumbrous, and is no improvement on the accepted term, which by common usage is now accepted by all scholars.
Akbar was very fond of the adventures of Harnza. Mir Hamza was the uncle of the Pro-phet, and his adventures are narrated in the book named after him. Mir Sayyid Ali painted anecdotes from the Hamzd Namd. These are large size paintings on cloth, in Persian Safavi style. Brilliant red, blue and green colours predominate in these paintings and blossoming plums and peaches and amber foliage of planes remind us of Persia.
It seems that stimulus for painting was provided by the illiteracy of Akbar. As he was unable to read, he felt the need of paintings as a visual aid. He was a broad-minded monarch who respected all religions. Anecdotes from the Hindu classics, the Ramayana, and the Mahabharata which were venerated by his Hindu subjects were painted by his artists. He was proud of his ancestry and wanted to visualize the exploits of his ancestors Timur and Babur as well as his own victories and achievements. This led to the painting projects like the Timur Nama, the Babur Nama and the Akbar Nama, all based on Persian texts.
An illustrated manuscript copy of the Akbar Nama is in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. It was prepared for the library of Akbar. It bears the signatures of Jahangir, and a seal of Aurangzeb. During the decline of the Mughal Empire the books in the royal library got dispersed, and the Akbar Nama fell into the hands of one Ahmad Ali Khan in 1793. It was purchased by Major General John Clark, the Commissioner of Oudh in 1896. It was acquired by the Victoria and Albert Museum from his widow. This manuscript contains 274 folios and 117 paintings. It was illustrated by fifty six artists whose names arranged alphabetically are given below:
Anant, Asi brother of Miskina, Babu Naqqash, Bandi, Banwali Kalan, Banwali Khurd, Basawan, Bhawani, Bhawani Kalan, Bhagwan, Bhura, Chitr Muni, Durga, Dharm Das, Dhanwan, Farrukh Beg, Husain Naqqa'sh, Ikhlas, Ibrahim Kahar, Jagan, Jagjiwan, Kaheman Sangtrash, Khem Karan, Kesu, Kesu Kalan, Kesu Khurd, Kanha, La!, Madhu Kalan, Mukund, Miskin, Mahesh, Madhu Khurd, Mansur, MO Muhammad, Manohar, Narayan, Nand or Nandi, son of Ram Das, Naman, Narsingh, Nanha, Nand Gwaliori, Paras, Param jeo Gujrati, Qutub Chela, Ram Das, Sanwala, Sarwan, Stir DAs, Shankar, Tulsi, Tulsi Kalan, Tiriya and Tara.
According to Ahmad Nabi Khan, who studied the Akbar Nama, it was a co-operative work, in which the work of drawing the outline was executed by distinguished artists, while portraiture was entrusted to some, and colouring to minor ones. Among the leading artists who drew the outlines are Basawan, Jagan, Kesu Kalan, Lal, Miskin, Tulsi Kalan, and a few others.
There are four illustrated manuscripts of the Baur Nama which are worthy of notice. Of these one is preserved in the British Museum (Or. 3714). It was gifted to the museum by G. G. Barnard on June 1, 1889. It has 529 folios out of which 118 are painted. This is the work of forty one artists. This illustrated manuscript has been recently studied by Hamid Suleiman and published by the Academy of Science of the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic. In this book 92 illustrations have been reproduced in colour. In this Babur Nama garden scene are excellent. The names of artists are as below:
Abdullah, Banwari Khurd, Banwari Kalan, Bhura, Bhawani, Dhannu, Dev Gujarati, Dhan Raj, Farrukh, Gobind, Jamshed, Jagnath, Khusro Quli, Khizr Khela, Ibrahim Kahar, Ibrahim Naqash, Khem, Kesu Gujarati, Mansur, Manohar, Mukesh, Mukhlas, Nand Gwaliori, Nama, Padarath, Prem Gujarati, Ram Das, Rasika, Ras, Shankar Gujrati, Shiv DAs, Sanwala, Sarwan, Shyam, Surjan, Stir Ds, Sur Gujarati, Triya, Talok, Tulsi Khurd and Tharial.
There is another illustrated manuscript of the Babur Nama in the State Museum of Eastern Cultures, Moscow, which has been studied by Tulayev, who reproduced 22 paintings from it in monochrome. It has 69 miniature paintings on 57 folios. It was originally presented to the Russian Ambassador Prince Dolgorukov by the mother of Nasaruddin, Shah of Persia. Stchoukine, the Russian collector of Oriental art received it as a gift from one Alexei Morozov. The Stchoukine collection ultimately came to the State Museum of Eastern Culture, Moscow. Its folios do not have the names of any artists. Its paintings, however, do not resemble those of the British Museum or the National Museum, Babur Nama. They are, however, of good quality and worthy of reproduction in colour.
The Victoria and Albert Museum, London, has 18 paintings of the Babur Nama. Out of these two show plants, birds and animals, seven battle scenes, and twelve various anecdotes like feasts and harem scenes, and one an ashram of Sadhus. Their style is different from that of other Babur Natneis, and Babur is depicted wearing a plumed helmet. A battle scene bears the names of artists Lal and Durga (tareih Lãl, amal Durga) and another of Mukand and Kheman (tiara Mukand, amal Kheman Sangtreish). A painting showing a camel and elephant fight bears the name of Chela, and another showing presentation of tribute has the name Yakub Kashmiri niimi Lal inscribed on it. The quality of paintings is poor as compared with the other Baur Nameis.
The Babur Nama of the National Museum (N. M. 50.326), New Delhi, which is the subject of this monograph has 378 folios. Out of these 122 folios are illustrated with 144 illustrations. Forty two illustrations depict flora and fauna, twenty seven historial episodes, twenty seven personal life of Babur, twenty five battle scenes, twelve domestic life, seven hunting scenes, and three show feasts. It was acquired by the National Museum from Agra College, Agra. The illustrated folios bear the names of forty nine artists, neatly written by the calligrapher. These are given below in alphabetical order:
Allah Quli, Anant, Asi, Asi Kahar, Bandi, Banwari Khurd, Bhag, Bhagwan, Bhawani, Bhura, Daulat, Dhannu, Dhan Raj, Dhaxm Das, Farrukh Chela, Fattu, Gobind, Husain Cheld, Ibrahim, Ibrahim Kahar, Jagnath, Jamal, Jamshed, Kesu Kahar, Khem, Khem Karan, Khizra, Lachhman, Lohka, Madho, Mahesh, Makra, Mansur, Miskin, Mohammad Kashmiri, Mohammad Pandit, Naman, Nand Gwaliori, Naqi, Narsi, Narsingh, Prem, Prem Gujrati, Sarwan, Shankar, Shiv Das, Sur Das, Timur (Ustad) and Tulsi.
Of these artists Mansur was the same who later on painted birds and animals for Jahangir. Daulat was an artist of high merit. The same may be said of Sur Das, Bhura, Jagnath, Dharm Das, Asi, Nand Gwaliori and Makra.
A comparison of the names of artists of the National Museum Babur Nama, British Museum Babur Nama, and Akbar Nama of the Victoria and Albert Museum reveals interesting facts. The Akbar Mimi' was painted by fifty three artists and the National Museum Babur Nama by forty nine artists. The following twenty artists are common to both these illustrated manuscripts.
Anant, As!, Band!, Banwari Khurd, Bliagwan, Bhawani, BhUra, Dharam DAs, Ibrahim Kahar, Madhti, Mahesh, Mansur, Miskin, Nama, Nand Gwaliori, Narsingh, Param Jeo Gujrati, Sarwan, Shankar, Sur Das and Tulsi.
The following twenty artists are common to the Babur Namas of the British Museum and the National Museum, New Delhi.
Banwari Khurd, Shard, Bhawani, Dhan Raj, Farrukh Beg, Gobind, Ibrahim Kahar, Jagnath, Jamshed Chela, Khem, Khizr Chela, Mahesh, Mansur, Nand Gwaliori, Nama, Shankar, Shiv Das, Sarwan, Stir and Tulsi.
The following ten artists are common to the Victoria and Albert Akbar Noma and the National Museum Baur Namd, viz. Asi, Banwari Khurd, Bhawani, Ibrahim Kahar, Mahesh, Mansur, Nama, Nand Gwaliori, Sur Das, and Tulsi.
There is no doubt that Victoria and Albert Akbar Nama- belongs to the royal library of Akbar. The presence of the signatures of Jahangir and seal of Aurangzeb on the binding confirm it. The analysis which I have given above also leads to the conclusion that the British Museum Babur Mind and the National Museum Babur Nama also came from the same source. The high quality of paintings of both these manuscripts further lends support to this conclusion. The same, however, cannot be said of Moscow and Victoria and Albert manuscripts. They were painted by different artists.
Rai Krishnadasa was the first scholar who studied the National Museum's Babur Mind in 1955, and also reproduced two paintings in colours in his Mughal Miniatures. Commenting on the Baur Noma he wrote as follows:
"The copy from which the two illustrations are reproduced is in the National Museum, New Delhi, and is the fifth important copy of the Babar Nama known to students of Mughal painting. This copy belonged to the Imperial Library as is attested by the signature of Shah khan and the names of the royal artists inscribed on the paintings. It is well known that Shah Jahan was in the habit of signing manuscripts in the Imperial Library. The date of the MSS can fortunately be ascertained. Folio 116 illustrating the twenty-fourth picture by Khem bears an inscription which states it was painted in the 42nd regnal year of Akbar, i.e. 1598 A.D."
Basil Gray was the next scholar who noticed this Babur Nama. He observed as follows: "Two other copies of the Babur Nama have survived from approximately this period. One, now in the National Museum of India, but formerly in Agra College is actually dated on one miniature 1597."
Careful examination of folio 116, a painting by Khem, shows the date, which has been partially mutilated in the process of binding. It is Ilahi '42', which is Akbar's era and gives an A.D. equivalent of 1598.
The illustrated Babur Namas are based on Persian translation of the Baur Nãmã in Turki. The translation in Persian was finished by Khan Khanan Abdul Rahim in 1589. It seems all these Babur Namas were illustrated between 1595 and 1605 during the life-time of Akbar.
A remarkable character of the Babur Nama paintings of the four series is their originality. As Barrett and Gray remark, 'there is little repetition in these several series and so much invention.'
The portraiture of the face of Wilbur is uniform throughout the series. It is likely that it is the work of one artist. It is possibly based on a portrait of Babur, which must have been painted during his life-time. He has the eyes of a dreamer, an aquiline nose and a pointed beard. The poet and man of action, Babur, are well portrayed.
Even when the artists are painting scenes from Farghana and Kabul, they depict the architecture of India. In the landscapes on the top of some paintings, palms and plantains of India are painted. Among the birds in these landscapes are moon-partridges and peacocks, which are admired by the poets of India. In the foreground of some of the paintings of birds and plants, lotuses with their leaves topsy-turvy and ducks playing among them are painted (Folio 277). These symbols of love acquired a poetic significance as in due course the Mughal painting evolved into Kangra style.
The treatment of mountains is characteristic of Mughal painting of the Akbar period. It is a direct borrowing from Persian painting. Rocks piled upon each other are more seen in arid Persia than in India.
The Babur Nama is also an illustrated social history of India. Soldiers and horses were clad in armour. Battles were fought with swords, bows and arrows. Drums were lustily beaten to infuse courage among the soldiers. We also see the first use of artillery. Rivers were crossed on bridges of boats and rafts. Camels and bullocks were commonly used for transport of goods. The dress of nobles was elaborate. In this Babur Nama we see the first record of a wooden Persian wheel with terracotta buckets (Folio 121) and of a hand-mill (Folio 70). The rulers were approached with respect and many paintings give us a glimpse of court etiquette and ceremonial. Some of the paintings are very expressive. We perceive adulation on the faces of the courtiers and determination and courage on the faces of soldiers. The figures are shown in movement, and their highly expressive gestures convey their feelings.
The section of the Babur Nama which deals with India is the first illustrated Natural History of India. Babur came from Central Asia and Afghanistan, which do not have that variety in fauna and flora as India. A keen observer and lover of nature who delighted in plants and gardens, he was amazed by what he saw in India. He is the first person to record the birds, beasts and plants of India. His description of plants, birds and animals are brief but pertinent. He could distinguish the different varieties of oranges in India. He saw the wild plantains, which can be seen even now near Mandu. Among the birds he noted peacocks, monal pheasants, herons, hoopoes, green pigeons, parrots, ducks, pelicans and storks of many varieties. Among the animals he mentions antelopes, thars, onagers, black buck, wolves, foxes, rhinoceros and nilgais. He noticed the affinity between the squirrel and mouse, which are both rodents. He also noticed the kinship between the rhinoceros and the horse, which are Peris-sodactyls. However, he mistook the flying fox as a bird. Considering the age in which he lived, he can rightly claim to be the first natural history scientist of India. His genes for love of plants and animals were inherited by his great grandson Jahangir, who was also a keen observer. Jahangir's favourite artist was Mansur, some of whose early paintings are seen in this Babur Nama.
Writer – M.S. Randawa