A facsimile edition of the much – acclaimed original Mughal India. Art Culture and Empire, curated by the British Library, London, The Mughals: Life Art and Culture, brought to Delhi by Roli Books in collaboration with British Library and IGNCA, showcases an extensive collection of illustrated manuscripts and paintings that depict the splendour and vibrant colour of Mughal life. From scenes of courtly life including lively hunting parties and formal portraits of emperors, to illustrations of works of literature which manage to convey complex storylines in a single image, many of these works have never been published.
Some of the rare exhibits o display include: Shah Jahan's recipe book, a Notebook of Fragrane', an 18th century manuscript 'Book of Affairs of love' by Rai Anand Ram Mukhlis, Reminiscences of imperial Delhi' by Sir Thomas Metcalfe, illustrated by Mazhar Ali Khan, a route map from Delhi to Qandahar, an earliest Indian atlas, a map of Delhi, a riverfront map of Agra, a bird's eye view of Red Fort Delhi, and some of the extraordinary portraits as well as Mughal Miniatures.
J.P. Losty was head of Visual Arts at the British Library for 34 years until his retirement in 2005. He has published extensively on illustrated Indian manuscripts and paintings in India from the 19th centuries.
The Mughals, who ruled over much of the Indian subcontinent for a period of nearly 350 years from 1526 to 1858, are one of the great dynasties of world history, admired not only for their imperial ambitions but for their continuous patronage of art, architecture and literature. This exhibition traces the history of the great empire through paintings, documents maps and scientific treatises. In its original version, it was first seen at the British Library in London in 2012 and introduced to an international audience this Indo-Islamic cultural legacy of remarkable sophistication. To bring a version of this exhibition to an Indian audience has an additional resonance, since no more appropriate venue can be imagined than the city of Delhi, Once the capital of the Mughal empire.
The fabled wealth of India has for millennia attracted invaders from the northwest through the few passes in the mountains. Greeks Persians and Scythians had in their turn invaded and established kingdoms that were gradually absorbed into the Indian continuum. Turkic tribes at the beginning of the thirteenth century established an Islamic empire covering much of India based on the old Hindu city of Delhi. In the course of his predatory campaigns across western Asia Timur invaded India in 1398, but his hold there did not last. He and his Timurid descendants in Iran and Central Asia established empires that throughout the eastern Islamic world became synonymous with refined courtly culture. Timur's descendant Babur was three times repulsed in his attempts to recapture Timur's city of Samarkand, but in 1526 invaded India instead from his base in Kabul. He defeated the Afghan Sultan of Delhi Ibrahim Lodi at Panipat and added the Lodi empire form Delhi to Jaunpur to his own. His dominions now streached from Janupur in the east through the Punjab and what is now called Afghanistan to Bactria.
Babur was the first of the line of the line of Great Mughals, six consecutive rulers whose conspicuous talents made their offensive nickname Mughal (meaning Mongol, Babur being descended form Genghis Khan through the female line) redolent of overwhelming power and riches. Mughal histories regard Timur as the beginning of their line and trace Babur's descent from him. Despite being ethnically Turks, Timks,s successors, including the Mughals in India Persian culture as the epitome of refinement and Persian became their court and administrative language. For much of the succeeding three and a half centuries Babur's successors controlled vast swathes of the Indian subcontinent from present day Bangladesh in the east to Afghanistan in the west.
For many the idea of the Mughals conjures up little more than a vision of immense and ostentatious wealth, allied to a ruthless thirst for power. But as the exhibition shows wealth and territorial ambitions were allied to a refined and subtle cultural life – exemplified in tradition of painting calligraphy, poetry and other literary forms inherited and developed from original homelands to the west.
As a cultured Timurid Babur loved gardens and books, and patronized scholars writers and calligraphers , although there is no evidence yet that he Patronized artists. His memoris (Baburnama) are one of the greatest of early autobiographies, documenting his first impressions of Indian and his unceasing curiosity about natural world. His son Humayun (r. 1530-40, 1555-56) who succeeded him in 1530 also lived books. In Iran he saw the work of the master artist of the court manuscript studio at Tabriz and must have been deeply impressed, for he was able to entice some of the Shah's artists to his court at Kabul.
While his father was in Iran, Akbar (r. 1556-1605) was already learning the hard art of survival in the house of his ttreacherous uncle Kabul. Still just thirteen when his father died in 1556, akbar was the true founder of the Mughal empire. Within twenty years he had incorporated the separate kingdoms of northern India into his empire. Malwa, the Rajput states, Gujarat, and Bengal between 1561 – 76. Kashmir and Sind were later added to his dominions. This programme of conquest also gave Akbar access to some of the most flourishing areas of Indian culture both Hindu and Muslim and hence to artists displaced from their native courts by his aggression. Akbar's intellectual range encompassed architecture, philosophy and religious speculation and throughout his reign he commissioned illustrated manuscripts the epic Hamzanama, which took his artists over fifteen years to complete, contained 1400 paintings. Using both Iranian and Indian artists, the work transformed Persian influences into a distinct and individual Mughal style.
Succeeding Mughal rulers and princes continued to patronise artists and to develop this school of painting, but their cultural an intellectual interests were wide – ranging in other areas also, Akbar initiated a wide ranging programme of historical writings as well as translations from Hindu texts for the better mutual comprehension of his Muslim and Hindu subjects. In the field of language, they oversaw translations into Persian of some of the best grammars and dictionaries. The sciences too were actively cultivated astronomical observations were recorded in tables and treatises, whole the study of India's flora and fauna was reflected in descriptive writings and artistic depictions. Mughal physicians also produced detailed pharmacological treatises and medical manuals.
But dissention and the striains of empire were beginning to tell by the early eighteenth century the capture of Delhi in 1739 by Nabir Shah of Iran was a blow from which the Mughal empire never fully recovered. The ruthless sacking of the city and the removal of the great Mughal treasures – including the fabled Peacock throne to Iran, was a fatal blow to its prestige. By the later eighteenth century the power of the emperor was largely subordinated to the Maratha confederacy of chiefs of western and central India, his influence was further diminished by expanding European control in the south and the east. By 1805, when the British East India Company gained control of Agra and Delhi, his role was reduced to little more than of a pensioner.
Ironically, in the ensuing fifty years of peace which followed, Mughal art briefly flourished once more. Under Akabar II (18506-37) and bahadur Shah II (r. 1837-58), the last two Mughal emperors, a small number of artists were employed at court, and in addition other Indian and Biritish patrons commissioned work. But this last revival, and all the glories of Mughal culture and of the dynasty itself, were finally consigned to history after the suppression of the uprising against company rule in 1857. Despite the tragedy of its ending, this exhibition bears withness to a unique legacy of artistic and cultural achievement.
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