In the land that comprises of snow clad mountains on the one side and the vast expanse of sea on the other side, has extensive areas both of tropical forests and deserts and has its landscape crisscrossed by mountains and rivers, it is no wonder that nature has created a deep impression on the minds of its inhabitants. And this is prominently manifested in the thought, literature and art of India. 

Nature is all pervasive and besides man, includes even the animal world, be they birds, mammals and even reptiles. Indian mind displays great ability in portraying various moods of these denizens of nature. Indian thought even though shrouded in mythology, is yet quite scientific when it enumerates the process of creation. The first four incarnations of Vishnu, the Lord of creation Matsya (fish), Kurma (tortoise), Varaha (boar), Nrismha (Semi human) indicate the earliest scientific thinking on the process of evolution of life as accepted by science today. In course of time the incarnations stand to represent not only the physical form but such qualities as valour and intelligence.
A formal and symbolic representation of the animal is visible throughout India’s long history. From the paintings of the Paleolithic period till today, the animal form has continued to enamour the artist and is employed in every conceivable form as a decorative motif in either a ritual object or object of everyday use. The varied and plentiful Nature has always acted as a perennial source of inspiration to artists to create multiple forms, motifs and designs in decorative arts.
The bird and animal motifs have been used in Indian Art in two different contexts. In Fine Arts, like painting, architecture and sculpture, etc. the birds and animals have deeper meanings. For example, the figures of birds and animals carved on the high spires of Hindu temples, which represent the lofty peaks of the holy mountain, Kailash, are the heavenly creatures. They are the mounts of Hindu gods and goddesses, endowed with divine qualities. Yet, the same birds and animals, when employed in decorative arts, reflect the worldly environment. They are purely decorative in character, devoid of any ideated meaning.

Vaikuntha Chaturmurti

The sculpture represents a form of Vishnu. The placid face in the centre is that of Vasudeva; the one on his right is of Narasimha and that on the left is of Varaha. Usually such images have a fourth, fierce face at the back which is absent in our image since it was in all probability a bas-relief.

Prishtha, Back of a Seat

This is the upper portion of the back rest of a Vaishnava preacher’s seat. It is a common practice in India for preachers to sit on low wooden stools with a straight and often carved back.

In 17th century a style of painting developed around the theme of Krishna and his cowherds. Our panel compares well with this style and despite its rather rough carving, looks charming because of the subject and especially the cows.

Black Buck and the Doe

The black buck or the Indian antelope with dazzling colour and spiraled horns is often portrayed by the Mughal artists. It is the most beautiful of all the varieties of antelopes and is considered a sacred animal in northern India.

Portrait of an Urial

This is a fine study of Urial also known as arkars or shapo found in western central Asia up to Ladakh, India. This painting is a fantastic study of the species with a flat green background and elaborate border. These type of paintings were either done for personal observations in the field at the time of hunting or close examination of captured specimens dead or alive at the time of hunt or received as a gift to the Mughal Emperor.

Himalayan and Persian Ibex

A very fine drawing of the Himalayan swift-footed goat, the Himalayan Ibex. It shows two goats, white and grey resting on a plain ground at the foot of a hill. The terrain of the mountain is separated from the plain by a dark green band. The natural habitat of this swift and sure footed sheep is the serrated hilly landscape seen in the background.

Both the animals with their long curved horns have been sensitively drawn.

Barut-dan (Primer)

The gun powder flask seen here, fashioned in the shape of a leaping antelope, is a superb example especially for the concept it represents. The nobility of the period indulged extensively in hunting this very animal. The carver must have been quite sensitive to the animal poise during such hunts to have faithfully captured it. But besides the theme it represents, it is interesting that the medium - ivory which is used in creating sublime objects as delicate art is used to create an object used in a violent sport despite its beauty.


The pommel of the hilt is in the form of a tiger's head; the quillons and the knuckle-guards too terminate in tiger heads. The quillon block also has tiger's head as its decoration.

Inscribed in Arabic and dated A.H. 1145 = 1732 CE.
A hilt with tiger head is known as Tipu-hilt. A similar one which is now in the H. M. Collection at Windsor Castle is considered to be of Tipu Sultan of Mysore (1782 - 1799 CE) and was found on his person in the last battle of Seirangapatan.

Tipu was known as the 'Tiger of Mysore' and this may explain the use of a tiger head to decorate the hilts of this period.


Shields made of animal hide were light, handy, strong and durable and were preferred to metal shields. Such large shields are also known as dowry shields. It was customary to carry the bride's dowry consisting of jewels, cash, arms and so on, on the concave side of the shield. An embroidered cloth would be placed on the shield under the gifts, or often the concave side of the shield was itself beautifully decorated.


The surface of this large rhinoceros hide shield is lacquered in black and painted over it. It depicts four lions attacking black bucks and bulls. The space in between is filled with plants and creepers to indicate a forest. The border of the shield has a delicate creeper design.

March of the Army of the Rats - A folio from Chuha-nama

This is the story of the fight between the rats and a cat. The rats are indiscriminately killed by the cat as they came out to eat. The king of the rats, decides to invade the cat in consultation with other rats.

The painting shows the army of rats on march. The king of rats is mounted on an elephant holding an open curved sword in his hand leading a battalion consisting of cavalry and infantry.

It is an amusing painting done in to the last detail depicting a regal procession.

March of the Army of the Rats - A folio from Chuha-nama

Both the parties are well armed, the rats with swords and shields, and the cat with a bow and arrows. She exudes supreme confidence, unaware of the collective might of the enemy. The latter part of the story narrates and illustrates how she was defeated and captured by the rats and in an injunction from their King, burnt her alive.

Elephant in Mush

On a dark night of the fifth day of the month of Magasar (November-December) the royal elephant Madar Bagas has gone out of control while in rut. All four legs of the elephant are heavily chained, making it impossible for him to free even one of them. The person standing in front of him is trying to control him with firecrackers.

Congregation of Birds - A folio from an illustrated manuscript of Anwar-i-Suhaili

The story illustrates how a small partridge with her indefatigable efforts and courage could compel the ocean to return her eggs.

Bird on Wheel

The toy is shaped as a pigeon. The perforation through its belly is intended for inserting the axle to which the wheels are attached. This suggests that some of the terracotta figurines were intended as toys.

The pigeon may have been a bird of the mother goddess during this period, as it was in contemporary Crete. This hypothesis is strengthened by an impression on a seal from Mohenjo-daro showing a bird perched in a tree near a mother goddess; a bull is shown before the goddess.

Balwant Singh Shooting a Bustard

The irony of the situation, of a tiny innocent bustard being treacherously shot by a prince hiding behind a bull, is cleverly brought out by the artist. The artist has captured a moment of absolute silence and the stillness of a predator before leaping on the prey. The composition of the painting skillfully highlights the bird by crowding two human figures and the bull, leaving the small bird singled out in the blank space.

Peregrine Falcon on Perch

The falcon was very dear to Mughal Emperor Jahangir as a bird of prey and he used to marvel at their sharpness. He wrote, “I occupied myself hunting with falcons. By chance, a karwanak crane took flight. I sent the white falcon of which I am extremely fond for it. The crane escaped its clutches and the falcon rose into the air and went so high that it disappeared from view.... suddenly it appeared far away in the tree.... This is a gift from out of the blue that no one had expected and it made me very happy. As a reward for this service, I increased his rank and gave him a horse and a robe of honour.”

Hunting Scene

Hunting, a famous past-time of the royals have often been captured in paintings by various schools of art. The scene is laid in a deer park not far away from the palace beyond a small hill. The princess has a long matchlock, supported on the shoulder of a female attendant at the barrel has already marked her target. The prince seated next to her is coaching her to aim and fire the fuse. Another attendant seated in the corner is loading a matchlock.

Sala Fighting the Lion

The lion and Sala face each other in the centre, the latter holding a shield and brandishing a sword. Three dogs are attacking the lion from different sides and an elephant is emerging from the woods on the extreme right. Beneath the lion is a wounded boar. Below in the left corner, Sala is riding into the forest, with a sword in hand.
The animal-slayer motif became popular in the art traditions of the Sumerians, Hittites, Iranians, Greeks and others. Mostly lion, and to a certain extent tiger, has been associated with such motifs.

Umed Singh Hunting Boar

The artist has captured here an extraordinary moment in the hunting expedition of King Umed Singh (1739-71) of Bundi. The wild boar has jumped onto the king with its front legs, unstabling his horse. The terrified blue roan has his eyes wide open, his mouth slightly parted, and his mane raised and dishevelled.

Jagat Singh Hunting

It is a night scene, and the forest is cleverly painted by the artist in bluish grey colour instead of the usual green. A vast forest, full of variegated trees is bordered by a range of hills, painted across the entire horizon on top. One big hill in the foreground, provides the facility of keeping a watch over the movements of the tiger from a height, to the hunter accompanying the Rawat.

Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS)
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Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS), Mumbai

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