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The fabulous composite form in this painting is based on the story of al Buraq, who carried Prophet Muhammad into the heavens in a night journey from Mecca to Jerusalem and back. This journey, called Isra, is considered to be one of the most significant events in the Islamic calendar. Al Buraq is often described as an angelic, winged being with the head of a woman, the body of a mule, and the tail of a peacock.

The artist here, however, has chosen to depict the Buraq with a lion’s body, and the head of a female angel. This frame is fully composite, for her body has several beasts packed together. Snarling lions appear everywhere, eager to sink their teeth into smaller beasts: rabbits, deer, fish; or else they appear in combat with a monster that has a bird’s head and spews snakes from its beak. A dragon forms its tail, breathing flames of fire that encircle the Buraq’s head.

At the centre, however, is the elephant, calm and powerful, sheltering a frightened deer with its trunk. Several visual traditions are visible in this painting drawn from the Iranian and Turkman schools of painting, and yet the elephant in the centre is noticeably Indic in appearance, with a colourful spread on its back. The unknown Deccani artist paid special attention to an attractive outer border, painted with green leaves and red flowers.

The idea of composite forms, featuring both human and animal motifs, appears from time to time, and were often pretexts to indulge the imagination and fantasy of artists, using religious or mythological themes to do so.

Details

  • Title: al Buraq
  • Creator: unknown
  • Date: 1770/1775
  • Location: Hyderabad
  • Physical Dimensions: h26 x w38 cm
  • Accession Number: 58.58/158

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