Women In Deccani Painting

Select artworks from the collection of Salar Jung Museum, Hyderabad, India.

Ibrahim Adil Shah II of Bijapur (circa 1675) by UnknownLos Angeles County Museum of Art

A gift of the Sultans

Deccan painting or Deccani painting is the form of Indian miniature painting produced in the Deccan region of India, in the various Muslim capitals of the Deccan sultanates that emerged from the break-up of the Bahmani Sultanate by 1520. These were  Bijapur, Golkonda, Ahmadnagar, Bidar, and Berar. The main period was between the late 16th century and the mid-17th, with a revival in the mid-18th century, centred on Hyderabad. The style is an integrated blend of  indigenous and foreign art forms. The elongated figures are  related to Vijayanagar murals, while the cypressed and floral backgrounds, high horizons, and general use of landscape show Persian influence. Deccani colours are rich and luminous. The earliest dated manuscript, the Nujūm-ul-ʿulūm of 1570 A.D “The Stars of the Sciences”; now in the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin, is a product of Bijāpur, where painting, flowered under  Sultan Ibrāhīm ʿĀdil Shāh II  –  1580–1627 A.D. 

Nizam on a hunting expedition (1794/1794) by Rai VenkatachalamSalar Jung Museum

An enchanting world of fusion

From the 17th century onwards, the Mughal schools of the north and the Deccani schools of South central India had a certain amount of influence on one another. Deccani art also had its effect on the development of miniature painting in the Hindu courts of Rajasthan and central India. There evolved in the early 18th century at Hyderabad yet another form of Deccani art. It blended with the   style   of  the former Golkonda school  and  the elements of Mughal art. When, after the death of Aurangzeb in 1707, the glory of the Mughal court began  reducing, many  artists of the Mughal court migrated to Hyderabad. These artists brought about the synthesis wherein the Mughal elements were  blended in. Deccan has been a melting pot of cultures given the presence of the Muslim rulers, the Hindu 'samsthans' and Hindu Rajas along with its different languages, cuisines, dress, religious beliefs and etiquette. The style and themes in Deccani miniatures, are a   synthesis of  various art elements and influences, especially the elements of early local art traditions of the Deccan and the Islamic idiom of Persia and Turkey.

Prince and princess playing chess (19th century)Salar Jung Museum

An evolved school of painting

Deccani miniatures stand on a parallel with Mughal art. 'Deccani miniatures reveal the rhythmic delicacy of Persia, the lush sensuality of the Deccan and the restraint of European and Turkish portraiture. Deccani paintings are highly charged compositions using intense colours'. Geometry plays an important role in the arrangement in a Deccani miniature. Human figures, architectural structures, trees, shrubs, flowers, leaves, bolsters, cushions, folds of garments are placed to create a balance, very pleasing to the eye. The building structures are usually tall. These miniatures are endowed with depth and distance. This magnifies the small canvas of a Deccani miniature to look larger than its actual size and illuminates landscape and background. Tall, fair complexioned males and sensuous females make up the human world of Deccani art. They have wide open eyes, bold features, slanting waists and carved figures, each one  characterised by mood and sense of movement. The figures are wearing elegant costumes made of beautiful muslin  and a few exquisite pieces of jewellery. 

Kakubha Ragini (1800/1899)Salar Jung Museum

The Salar Jung Museum Collection

The collection has a good repertoire of Deccani paintings comprising depictions of monarchs, noblemen, ascetics, Ragamalas, women, flora and fauna within its Miniature painting collection. To focus on women depictions in Deccani paintings, it is mentionable that women  have been depicted in different ways in the Deccani paintings. Their roles, moods and stances have been captured with a certain romanticism, grace and ease. The collection shows an interesting variety in its repertoire of Deccani  paintings. They could just be standing on a terrace, dressing up, be with a lover, holding a child, talking with confidantes or just be in the company of other women, even smoking a hookah lounging on a chair. The woman could be a jogini who has taken up an ascetic life.

Let us take an enchanting journey through some select artworks of the Deccan from the collection!

Queen Chandbibi hunting (1800/1899)Salar Jung Museum

Chand Bibi hunting

Chand Bibi is hunting on brown horse, a stag and  doe are seen with arrows stuck on them. Sultana Chand Bibi acted as the Regent of Deccan Sultanate Bijapur during the minority of Ibrahim Adil Shah II in 1580-1590 A.D, and regent of Ahmednagar during the minority of her great nephew Bahadur Shah in 1595-1600 A.D.

Woman Smoking from a Bidri Huqqa (late 19th century)Salar Jung Museum

Mahlaqabai Chanda

Mahlaqabai Chanda, famed poetess and courtesan under rulers Nizam II and Nizam III depicted smoking from a huqqa (hubble bubble) in a garden setting in front of a palace-pavillion.

Dressing up time (1700/1799)Salar Jung Museum

Dressing up time

 A seated princess looking at the mirror held by an attendant. A lady holding a musical instrument in her hands stands before her. A maid dressing the hair of the princess and another maid holding a tray with two  vases, standing behind, peacocks and fountain in the foreground, building and sky in the background.

A picture of royalty (1800/1899)Salar Jung Museum

A picture of royalty

A beautiful princess wearing jewellery; gold and pearl neckpieces, nose-pin, exquisite ear, head and hand ornaments. She is seen wearing a fine red diaphanous dupatta and a blue blouse over a red skirt. She has mahawar on her hands to complete her shringar  meaning elaborate makeup. A half smile plays on her lips.

In repose (1800/1899)Salar Jung Museum

In repose

A royal lady reclining against a cushion on a carpeted surface, an attendant by her side and another woman, maybe a confidante seated in front of her, a cistern-fountain in front of a very ornate arched pavillion at a palace. Three cypresses each on either side in the backdrop add majestic allure.

On the chair (1800/1899)Salar Jung Museum

On the chair

A well dressed young woman wearing exquisite jewellery is seated on an ornate chair, with a tree over head. Shaded blue sky adds a touch of mystique to the painting. She seems to be in waiting.

Save the parrot (1800/1899)Salar Jung Museum

Save the parrot

A lady with a stick in right hand protecting her pet parrot from being attacked by a cat. Flower beds in foreground and shaded blue background are part of the picture.

A 'jogini' (1800/1899)Salar Jung Museum

A Jogini

A jogini (woman ascetic) holding a spear and string tied round pet dog's neck. She seems to be walking through a vegetated terrain, a bundle of her belongings in her right hand. 

'Jogini' with pet tiger (1800/1899)Salar Jung Museum

Jogini with pet tiger

A jogini (woman ascetic) seated under a mango tree holding a flywhisk in her right hand and a rosary in the left with her pet tiger on her lap. Lotus flowers in the water body in the foreground. Buildings can be seen in shaded blue background.

Saying it with flowers (1700/1799)Salar Jung Museum

Saying it with flowers

A lady in a blue diaphanous skirt is seen holding a bunch of white flowers. Flower beds at lower corner and a green background, golden creeper on blue black band and golden flower creeper in margins highlight the composition.

A time for prayer (1800/1899)Salar Jung Museum

A time for prayer

A lady devotee before a shrine wearing a yellow sari, holding an ewer in her left hand. A waterbody is in the foreground, trees beind the shrine against a blue sky, a mango tree is very conspicuous, this painting shows Vijayanagara influence.

Mother and son (1800/1899)Salar Jung Museum

Mother and son

A lady with  a boy, seemingly her son who is holding a flower stalk.  She has a handkerchief in her left hand, supporting her veil by the right, both of them on a terrace. Flower bed at lower corners enliven the composition. The blue of the upper half is the sky.

A royal lady (1900/1999)Salar Jung Museum

A royal lady

Painting showing a royal lady  in a beautiful palace setting, seated against a cushion with one lady attendant standing behind her and another conversing with her in front. 

Love on a terrace (1700/1799)Salar Jung Museum

Love on a terrace

A couple standing close to each other. The man has put his right arm round her neck and his left hand in front. A maid on left with flywhisk looks the other way. The other maid is with a tray on the right.

On a terrace (1800/1899)Salar Jung Museum

On a terrace

 A lady in beautiful attire and jewellery standing on terrace with arms uplifted with hands clasped and left leg relaxed. She is a picture of contentment. Flower beds at lower corners.

Meeting of young and old (1800/1899)Salar Jung Museum

Meeting of young and old

A young lady in resplendent green and black attire standing on terrace with her left hand on tree trunk and left foot relaxed, talking to an elderly woman standing beside her who is leaning on her staff. Flower beds and cistern can be seen in the foreground.

A time to help (1700/1799)Salar Jung Museum

A time to help

A fainting man supported by a woman, while another woman is making him drink water from flask in her hand, the third woman stands behind. A lady is seen watching  from a balcony.

Lounging on a 'chowki' (1800/1899)Salar Jung Museum

Lounging on a 'chowki'

A lady seated on a chowki, a kind of settee, on the terrace in a garden with a wine cup in her right hand. A maid standing in her front holding a tray in her hands.

Listening to music (1700/1799)Salar Jung Museum

Listening to music

Two women enjoying music and wine, dressed in different headgear, seated on a carpet, one offering wine and the other holding the wine cup in her right hand and a musical instrument with her left. Trees and a dramatic sky in the backdrop.

On a throne (1800/1899)Salar Jung Museum

On a throne

A thoughtful lady seated on throne-seat with huqqa pipe (hubble bubble) in right hand and flower in her left, pigeons feeding in front. Flower beds and cistern in foreground; flowering plants in blue and white pots in marble enclosure in this very colourful painting.

Two maidens (1700/1799)Salar Jung Museum

Two maidens

Two maidens wearing diaphanous veils and skirts are standing close, with one of them holding a flagon in her right hand and a cup in her left hand. Both are wearing dainty jewellery.

On the swing (1800/1899)Salar Jung Museum

On the swing

Two young ladies in a swing, one being seated and the other standing. Their shoes are seen on the ground, trees in a row in the foreground. This painting captures the verdant monsoon time of joy and the brisk movement of the swing.

Ladies of leisure (1800/1899)Salar Jung Museum

Ladies of leisure

 A harem scene depicting ten ladies on a terrace. One of them standing with huqqa (hubble bubble) in her left hand. Three ladies are enjoying huqqa. One is seen asleep. A pavillion and trees in background, yellow band around the artwork.

Princess with confidantes (1600/1699)Salar Jung Museum

Princess with confidantes

A princess with arms stretched upwards, with two lady confidantes standing on either side. Many decanters shown in the background niches, showing Mughal/Persian influence.

A bright sparkle (1700/1799)Salar Jung Museum

A bright sparkle

A lady enjoying fireworks standing on the terrace. The black background gives effect of the dark night of Diwali. Golden creepers around and gold sprinkled in the margin.

Credits: Story

Text and Curation: Soma Ghosh
Photography: M. Krishnamurthy and Bahadur Ali
Research Assistance: Dinesh Singh and E. Rajesh
Special Thanks to Dr. A. Nagender Reddy, Director, Salar Jung Museum, Hyderabad, India.

1.https://www.britannica.com/art/Deccani-painting (accessed 29th October 2021)
2.http://www.indiapicks.com/Indianart/Main/MP_Deccan.htm (accessed 29th October 2021)
3. Daljeet, Dr.Ragachitra: Deccani Ragamala painting, 2014.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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