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Painting of the Deccan in Indian Court Painting

Posted by Art Of Legend India [dot] Com On 1:30 AM
Raja Tuljaji riding in processionPainting at the Deccani courts grew from a hybrid cultural back-ground comparable to that of the Mughal school, but with quite different and regrettably short-lived results. By the 16th century five Muslim sultanates had emerged in the Deccan, which, acting together for the only time in their history, disposed of the Hindu kingdom of Vijayanagar in 1565. Afterwards they constantly formed factions and went to war in an almost frivolous manner. Unlike the Mughals, the Sultans failed to take the business of state-craft and territorial domination seriously. They put more passion into the pursuit of courtly pleasures and the patronage of music, literature and the arts. These projects benefited from a rich cultural mixture of Hindu court traditions inherited from the Vijayanagar Empire with those introduced by the many Middle Eastern immigrants Persians, Arabs, Turks and Africans who had been attracted by the wealth of the Deccani kingdoms. Some European influence was also present, but it was less conspicuous than in Mughal art The period of greatest achievement lasted only a few decades, for the empire-building Mughals found little difficulty in subjugating the Deccani rulers. Of the three courts known to have patronised painting, Ahmadnagar fell in 1600, while Bijapur and Golconda were finally taken by Aurangzeb in 1686-7.

The minister Munir-al-Mulk Aristu Jah with attendants Hyderabad
Those early Deccani paintings which survive are now scattered in many collections. Though few in numbers, they are remarkably consistent in quality, combining a high degree of finish with a playful refinement of line and subtle richness of palette. Portraits of rulers lack the sober, documentary realism or portentous imperial symbolism of their Mughal counterparts. They are imbued instead with a mood of indolent enjoyment, a conscious and self-absorbed appreciation of the passing moment. The most outstanding single patron was Ibrahim Adil Shah of Bijapur (1579-1627), who is seen in plate 14 seated with a lady in a palace chaniber in a delicate (though somewhat later) grisaille study embellished with gold and colouring. Ibrahim was above all things a rasika, a Sanskrit term for the man of highly developed sensibility, one who is cognisant of the rasas(literally, 'juice' or 'essence'), the sublimated emotional states on which Indian aesthetics are based: they can be approxi-matcly translated as love, heroism, disgust, rage, terror, joy, com-passion, wonder and peace. He composed a book of lyrics, the Kitab-i Nauras (Book of the Nine Rasas), which contains invocations both to the Hindu deities Sarasvati and Ganesha and a Muslim saint, as well as to his favourite elephant and the beloved lute, named Moti Khan, with which he would accompany his singing. He was a master of the slow and dignified dhrupad vocal style, and generous provision was made for the thousands of court musicians in his new city of Nauraspur (City of the Nine Rasas). Besides fine elephants, he had a weakness for jewels and mangoes (a plate of them appears beside him here) and he enjoyed taming falcons and parrots. He is said to have written a treatise on chess describing various new and baffling moves, but he did not excel as a statesman or general.

Muhammad Adil Shah and his minister Ikhlas Khan riding an elephant.
A study of a richly caparisoned horse held by a groom, whose costume shows some European influence is the work of one of lbrahim's leading painters. Its freshness of colouring is set off by the use of gold, and the trees and plants arc suggested by a deftly attenuated line and delicate stippling. A painting of a female ascetic seated by a stream [plate x6], although it is another later and less fine version of an original work of lbrahim's period, displays the lush landscape conventions and compact density of composition of Bijapur painting.

In 1636 Bijapur was compelled to accept Mughal suzerainty. Lavish exchanges of presents always accompanied political relations between states, and paintings as well as elephants, jewels and money travelled in both directions. The fully developed Mughal style of portraiture inevitably began to influence contemporary work at Bijapur and Golconda. Even so, its naturalistic conventions were often interpreted with subtlety and splendour by the southern artists. A portrait of Muhammad Adil Shah (1627-56) riding an elephant, accompanied by his minister who fans him, is derived from a Mughal model, as seen for example in a brush-drawing of a Mughal prince riding the elephant Mahabir Deb; as if happens, the inscription in Shah Jahan's hand records that this elephant was presented to him as tribute by Muhammad Adil Shah. While the Mughal artist has meticulously emphasized the finely textured wrinkles and mottling of the elephant's skin, the two Deccani painters have set its smoky dark mass against a vivid blue ground, throwing into relief the sumptuous textile patterns and the Sultan's gold coat, which has been minutely pricked to catch the light.

A Yogini seated beside a stream Bijapur
From the 165os the Bijapur and Golconda artists lost their earlier inspiration, and their work declined into more insipid versions of Mughal themes. Aurangzcb's conquest finally disrupted their traditions. In the 18th century, however, as Mughal control of the provinces weakened, the viceroy Asaf Jah was able to establish an independent dynasty based at Hyderabad, near Golconda. Tainting began to flourish there in a style which mixed the romantic flavor of the former Golconda school with an increasing Mughal pallor and rigidity. Nevertheless, a portrait of a Hyderabad minister retains considerable delicacy of composition and detail. Versions of the Hyderabad style were widely patronised. A painting from the Maratha court at Tanjore in the far south is one of the last in a long line of Deccani procession scenes. Raja Tuljaji (1765-87) appears as always in profile, wearing a flowered gold coat and riding a frisky horse; but his retainers already show the influence of the Company style. Within a few years his adopted son Sarabhoji, who had been tutored by the Danish missionary Swartz, would be patronising natural history painting of the European type.

Writer-Andrew Topsfield 
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