Vedic Art: Indian Miniature Painting, Part 15


Woman and Attendants with a Bird
Golconda, Deccan School, late 18th c.

Dec 27, 2011 — CANADA (SUN) — A serial presentation of India's artistic legacy in paintings, sculpture and temple architecture.

16th to 18th Centuries


The earliest paintings identified as coming from Golconda in the Deccan School are a group of five Miniatures painted about 1590 A.D., and housed at the British Museum in London. They depict dancers in the king's court. Most paintings of the period from Golconda are heavily influenced by Islamic style, including even the portraits of Indian princes and kings who lived under Muslim rule.

In later years, many Golconda paintings were found with more prevalent Indian themes. While a painting may feature a Mughal scene, such as the Miniature below of Abdullah Qutb Sháh sitting on the terrace with his attendants, we can see that the women are depicted in traditional Indian attire, not Persian. In stark contrast to this style of clothing and ornament is the much earlier Golconda painting of the same Sultan with his dancers, painted in 1630 A.D., which is entirely Islamic in style.

Abdullah Qutb Sháh on a Terrace with Attendants
Golconda, Deccan School, late 18th c.

Many early Deccan School paintings bear the influence of pre-Mughal northern traditions, coming from the painting schools that flourished in Malwa, and others further south at Vijayanagar. These stylistic impressions are often obvious in the costumes of female figures.

Sultan Abdullah Qutub Shah Enthroned with Dancers and Attendants
Golconda, Deccan School, c. 1630

In some of the early Islamic style paintings, even the Persian figures have a somewhat foreign mood. Afghanistan served as the doorway into Mother India for Mughal intruders, and it's certainly plausible that an Asiatic Russian and even Chinese influence might have come from the lands bordering the Afghan north (the countries known today as the 'Stans'). It would not be surprising, then, for a faint resemblance of these races to appear in the Persian faces. This is evident, for example, in the face of the central figure, Sultan Abdullah Qutub Shah and his attendants (the c. 1630 painting just above). It is also seen in the painting below, considered one of the most outstanding examples from the Golconda School: "Lady with the Myna Bird".

Lady with the Myna Bird
Golconda, Deccan School, c. 1605 A.D.

"Lady with the Myna Bird" is a leaf from an illustrated manuscript of Sufi poetry. While she wears a four-pointed coat of Persian style, her ornaments, scarves and belts seem more Asian than Middle Eastern, and certainly not Indian. Both the chrysanthemums and lotuses on either side of her are reminiscent of Chinese motif.

Long after the Sultanates of Golconda, Ahmednagar and Bijapur disappeared from India, the traditional Deccan School of painting continued on. Likewise, the ancient kingdom of Golkonda, situated a few kilometers west of modern Hyderabad, continued to be an important center. Once ruled by Hindus, Golconda rose from the ashes of ruin at the hands of the Mughals to rule over much of Andhra Pradesh, up until the British Raj moved in.

Golconda became known worldwide for the rich diamond mines in the region, which have produced some of the most famous diamonds in history, notable the Hope Diamond and the Koh-i-noor Diamond.

What the place is less well known for, unfortunately, are Vaisnava themed paintings from the Golconda School. Those still existing, like the Brahma-puja scene below from Khambhavati Ragini, are wonderful to behold. Sadly, Vaisnava Miniatures are somewhat as scarce as diamonds in a sea of glass… the latter being Persian style paintings that proliferated in Golconda.

Ragamala - Khambhavati Ragini
Golconda, Deccan School, c. 1750 A.D.


Ministry of Culture, Government of India


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