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Qanat or tent with five panels

unknown1650/1660

National Museum - New Delhi

National Museum - New Delhi
New Delhi , India

In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, rulers from both the north and the south spent considerable time living in camps. Whenever the court moved, whether to journey from one city to another, or on military campaigns, elaborate encampments of tents were raised at their stopping place. These encampments were like portable cities with elaborate tents for palaces, audience halls, workshops, kitchens and so on.

The Ain-i-Akbari, Abul Fazl’s famous text that records the institutes of Akbar, tells us that ‘there were two complete sets of tents, qanats, carpets and so forth, for one set would be sent ahead to be constructed and ready for the arrival of the “camper” the next day.’

Depictions of tents can be seen in Indian miniature paintings where elaborately decorated floral tents are shown usually in the royal quarters of the camp.

An important part of any tent or tent enclosure was its qanat or tent wall. The qanat was made up of many fabric panels stitched to make up the requisite length and width. These walls were held upright by poles slid through pockets provided between the panels and by ropes attached to pegs in the ground. Decorative qanat panels could be painted, printed or embroidered and they usually had some form of floral pattern.

This long off-white qanat is composed of five panels populated with animals, birds, mythical creatures as well as trees, flowers and fruit that have been hand- painted onto the cotton with vegetable dyes. The two outermost panels each have an assemblage of three vases. Two of the vases are filled with flowers and leaves but the central vase gives rise to a cypress tree, overlaid with fantastical fronds and flowers. Birds sit, strut or fly between the leaves.

The panels next to these, which flank the central panel, are also filled with elaborate trees and creepers that give forth a dazzling variety of flowers and fruit, crowned by a prominent pineapple. The branches of the creepers sway around a large central medallion that might be a stylized rock. Near the base of the panel on the left, two tigers seize deer while other deer run away. At the same position on the panel on the right, are two stylized lions with crocodile heads.

The central panel is the most striking. Here a double- headed Gandabherunda, a mythical bird, swoops down and grips two miniature elephants in its jaws. There are fabric losses where the elephant’s body should have been, as the black dye seems to have corroded the cotton. We see the underside of the Gandabherunda’s body, with its claws clenched and wings tucked in a steep dive; stylized feathers swoop out from the body and fill the space in an outstanding pattern. Birds, stylized flowers, and butterflies fill the space between the feathers of this tour-de-force depiction.

Each panel is framed by a cusped arch framed in maroon. The tip of each arch has a beautiful flower that intrudes into the floral borders above; at the top is a border with an architectural crenellation motif.

Details

  • Title: Qanat or tent with five panels
  • Creator: unknown
  • Date: 1650/1660
  • Location: Deccan
  • Physical Dimensions: Lt. 451; Wd. 223 cm
  • Accession Number: 48.7/29

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