Nauras: The Many Arts of the Deccan

Gallery Shots of Nauras ExhibitionNational Museum - New Delhi

Nauras: The Many Arts of the Deccan celebrated the rich arts and composite cultures of the Deccani Sultanates that flourished in peninsular India from the 15th to the 18th centuries. A collaboration between the National Museum and The Aesthetics Project, the exhibition had more than a hundred objects drawn from the National Museum's collections of paintings, manuscripts, textiles, metalwork, arms and armour, decorative art, as well as a set of ragamala paintings borrowed from the National Gallery of Modern Art. The show was on view from January 27 to April 20, 2015. 

Map of Bijapur and Golconda in the 16th CenturyNational Museum - New Delhi


With its long coastline, abundant crops, rich mines of diamonds and iron, the Deccan has always been a land of promise. Attracting merchants, adventurers and preachers from far and near from ancient times, it has been a place for the confluence of cultures and great artistic achievements.In the Deccan, the kingdoms of the Hoysalas and the Kakatiyas gave way in the 14th c. to the Bahmani Sultanate, which itself was succeeded by the Deccani Sultanates of Ahmadnagar, Berar, Bidar, Bijapur, and Golconda. The kingdom of Vijayanagara flourished at the same time. Over the 17th and 18th centuries, the Deccani Sultanates fell to the Mughals, who were themselves supplanted by the state of Hyderabad. 

Tuzuk-i-AsafiyaNational Museum - New Delhi

From ancient to modern times, however, and through all these political changes, the Deccan remained a place of wealth, refinement, and cosmopolitanism with skilled workers producing textiles, gemstones, metal-ware that were in demand across the world.

Rustam captures the horse Rakhsh (1676/1700) by unknownNational Museum - New Delhi

The exquisite arts of the Deccan have unjustly been overshadowed by Mughal art of the period. Also forgotten is the character of these Sultanates: tolerant, encompassing, and syncretic. Persons of all races and religions were able to rise to great heights here. Dakhni Urdu – a language that merged courtly Persian with Indian vernaculars – developed in the Deccan, fostering communication across classes and ethnic groups. Sufi and yogic mysticism merged to form composite faiths.

Gallery Shots of Nauras ExhibitionNational Museum - New Delhi


The Deccani Sultanates were cosmopolitan, tolerant and multicultural. Dakhni Urdu, which combined elements of Persian and Arabic with Hindi, Punjabi, Marathi, Gujarati and Telugu, was a language designed to communicate across communities and classes. It became the literary language of the courts. Ibrahim Adil Shah II, Sultan of Bijapur and an artist and poet in his own right, wrote the Kitab-i-Nauras in Dakhni. Sultan Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah of Golconda was a poet and musician whose compositions in Dakhni Urdu are still sung today.

al Buraq (1770/1775) by unknownNational Museum - New Delhi

al Buraq

The fabulous painting of a composite creature symbolises the cosmopolitanism of the Deccani sultanates. Several visual traditions are visible in this painting that draws from the Iranian, Indian and Turkman schools of painting, demonstrating a confluence of cultures. The subject is the Buraq, a creature 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. 

Snarling lions appear everywhere on the Buraq's body, eager to sink their teeth into rabbits, deer or fish; or else they appear in combat with a monster that has a bird’s head and spews snakes from its beak. A splendid dragon forms its tail.

Although the many creatures show elements of Persian and Turkoman styles, the elephant in the centre is noticeably Indic in appearance, with a colourful spread on its back. The elephant, calm and powerful, is sheltering a frightened deer with its trunk. Perhaps the artist intended to show that this land, the home of elephants, was a place of refuge for the world.

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.

Coverlet (1640/1650) by unknownNational Museum - New Delhi

Figurative Kalamkari

This attractive kalamkari is a rare surviving figurative painting on cotton from the seventeenth century in the Golconda region and is among the most delicate and complex paintings of this time. It also illustrates Deccani cosmopolitanism as the kalamkari portrays a courtly scene with a gathering of figures from the four corners of the world. 

In the centre is a fantastical multi-storeyed palace that could be a building or a tent. A sultan, dressed in Persian costume, reclines against a bolster in the central chamber while a woman serves wine to him. While her costume is Persian, the hat she wears is European in style.

Traders and travellers from the four corners of the world lounge in the kalamkari's garden. Here, a man in Ottoman costume feeds his bird from a cup while speaking to a Chinese man.

In the lower left corner stand a man and a woman dressed in Central Asian costume. He carries a Chinese vase. Perhaps these are traders from the Silk Route.

Above them is a yogi, perched on a deerskin, contemplating a pineapple. The pineapple is a New World fruit, brought to the Deccan by Portuguese traders. It must have been newly arrived when this kalamkari was made.

'Kalamkari,' which literally means 'drawn by pen,' is the result of a complex technique of drawing and dyeing. Patterns are first painted with mordants, chemical catalysts that make the dye colours fast. The cloth is then painted or dipped in the appropriate dye. But a resist is first applied to the parts that are not to be dyed. As a result, each section of this kalamkari is the result of several painstaking processes.

Deccani workshops knew the secrets of producing brilliant and fast colours before the rest of the world. Brightly patterned textiles were in high demand all over the world. A kalamkari like this stands at the centre of 17th century global trade. It shows traders and luxury goods from China, Turkey, Persia, Central Asia and the Americas, all of which were brought to the Deccan by traders who came to purchase the Deccan's own fabulous trade goods, including textiles such as this one.

Portrait of Malik Ambar (1605/1610) by unknownNational Museum - New Delhi


Coastal India had trade links with the
kingdoms of Abyssinia (in present-day Ethiopia) since at least the first
century AD. Large numbers of Habshis (the word derives from ‘Abyssinian’)
settled in the Deccan during the Bahmanid Sultanate. Purchased as slaves, they
were shipped eastward from the large slave markets along the Persian Gulf.
However, many Habshis were skilled warriors and in the Deccan they often gained
freedom and attained high rank. 

The most famous Abyssinian of the Deccan was Malik Ambar. Born in Ethiopia, he was sold as a slave in the markets of Baghdad and was eventually bought by the Prime Minister of Ahmadnagar. Here Malik learned about governance. After his master's death, Malik was released from slavery. He became recognised for his military acumen and rose to become the Prime Minister and Regent of the kingdom, and had his daughter married to the Sultan. Malik Ambar is remembered for successfully defending Ahmadnagar against the Mughals although eventually he had to cede the fort of Ahmadnagar to them. Malik Ambar organized the Sultanate’s military system, and trained the soldiers in tactics of guerilla warfare. He introduced the revenue reforms known as Malik Ambar Dhara, which became the basis of all future revenue system in Deccan.

Gallery Shots of Nauras ExhibitionNational Museum - New Delhi


The Deccani Sultanates and Persia were closely linked, through trade, faith, politics, and culture. Several rulers of the Deccani Sultanates declared Shi’ite Islam as the state religion. Revering the lineage of Shia caliphs beginning with Ali, and ritually mourning the deaths of his sons Hasan and Husain in Muharram, the Shia sultanates of the Deccan had direct and intimate access to the rulers of Persia, which was the epicentre of Shi’ism. The cultural affinities that resulted from this enduring bond with Persia can be seen in the literature, poetry, architecture, paintings and decorative arts of the Deccani Sultanates.

Rustam captures the horse Rakhsh (1676/1700) by unknownNational Museum - New Delhi

Rustam Captures the Horse Rakhsh

This painting depicts Rustam, one of the heroes of the Shahnama, pursuing a herd of wild horses. He throws his lasso to capture Rakhsh, a magical horse that will be his faithful companion through many adventures. The Shahnama was not just the national epic of Persia but was celebrated wherever Persian culture held sway.

This extraordinary painting is made through the art of marbling, colours swirling on water are picked up by a sheet of paper that is quickly laid on the water's surface.

The art of marbling originated either in Turkey or in Persia and then reached the Deccani courts.Usually, entire sheets of paper were marbled and were used as background or borders for calligraphy. Marbled paintings such as this were the result of an especially complex process and were a speciality of Bijapur in the Deccan. The artist applied a resistant gum or stencil to the areas that were not to be marbled; afterwards, this was removed and details were added by brush.

This leaf has been marbled thrice, once with brilliant colours, once with browns and once with black ink.

To finish, the artist brushes in tiny details. Here the eyes are filled in with black and white and the figures are outlined in gold.

Marbling is also known as ‘cloud art’ and called ebru in Turkey, abri in Persia and abar in India from the root word ‘abr’ meaning ‘cloud.’ It has spawned a genre of poetry also called 'abri' which links clouds with tears.

Only a few such marbled paintings are known to survive. The National Museum’s folio is perhaps the rarest as it the only one that is signed by the artist, Shafi. The signature is seen here on the top left of the painting.

Nahj-al-BalaghaNational Museum - New Delhi

Nahj-ul Balagha or The Way of Eloquence

Shared faith in Shi'ism created a strong link between the Deccan and Persia. This manuscript of the Nahj-al-Balagha or Way of Eloquence is a collection of sayings and writings attributed to the 4th Caliph of Islam, Hazrat Ali, cousin and son-in-law of Prophet Muhammad. The text deals with aspects of metaphysics, theology, Islamic jurisprudence, the Hadith, the Imamate, ethics, social philosophy, history, politics, administration, civics, science, rhetoric, poetry, literature etc.This is a most important text for Shia Islam, third only to the Quran and Hadith. The Nahj was collated by Sharif Razi, a great Shia scholar of the 10th century.

In this manuscript from the Deccan, the Nahj al-Balagha has been calligraphed by Muhammad Ali Mazandarani. Under each line of Arabic text in the Naskh script, there are Persian translations in Nasta’liq characters.The entire manuscript is illuminated, with gold and floral patterns. The cover page bears the name of the library of Rai Raja Ram Mustafwi-i-Sirkar-i-Asifia which indicates that this manuscript must have at one time been part of the Asifia Royal collection at Hyderabad.

However, this manuscript only has an incomplete text of the Nahj al-Balagha and is bound along with portions of an unnamed illustrated Persian manuscript on astronomy.

Gallery Shots of Nauras ExhibitionNational Museum - New Delhi


As the language of the Quran, Arabic was a language of great importance in the Deccani Sultanates. But Arabic was also the language of science. In Islam’s Golden Age (8th-13th centuries), scientific works from Greek, Persian and Indian sources had been translated into Arabic in the great centres of learning at Baghdad and Damascus. When the Mongols attacked Baghdad in the 13th century, its scholars fled and its libraries were scattered. The Sultanates all over India, including the Deccan, welcomed many fleeing scholars, and patronised Arabic literature. Deccani libraries held many books of Arab science, and several of these texts were translated into Persian in the Deccan.

Ajaib-al-Makhluqat (1569/1570) by unknownNational Museum - New Delhi

Ajaib al Makhluqat wa Gharaib al Maujudat

An encyclopedic text from the Golden Age which takes stock of 13th-century scientific knowledge is the Ajaib al Makhluqat wa Gharaib al Maujudat or Wonders of Creation, and Miraculous Things in Existence. Composed by the Iranian scholar Zakaria bin Muhammad Al Qazwini, the Ajai'b is an account of all things known or believed to exist in the heavens, on earth and in the waters.

Ajaib al Makhluqat (1570)National Museum - New Delhi

An early section deals with cosmography, describing things that exist in the heavens. These include the planets and the constellations, as well as angels and the throne and footstool of God.

Ajaib al Makhluqat (1570)National Museum - New Delhi

On earth, Qazwini describes men and beasts as well as plants and minerals. Jinns are the rebellious angels who have fallen from God's favour and they too inhabit the earthly sphere. Qazwini describes ordinary domestic animals as well as fabulous creatures known from myths and travellers' tales.

Ajaib al Makhluqat (1570)National Museum - New Delhi

The Ajai'b was very popular throughout the Islamic world and was translated into several languages. The National Museum's manuscript is a Persian translation that was probably made in Bijapur. It is written in a neat hand in the Naskh script and there are 257 illustrated folios among its 307 folios.

The colophon of this manuscript is difficult to decipher. The scribe was Noor Muhammad, and he completed the book in 977 AH which is equivalent to 1569-70 AD. The style of illustrations suggests this manuscript was made in Bijapur but a seal on the flyleaf tells us this was part of the library of Pari Sahib, a Golconda princess who was the daughter of Muhammad Qutb Shah.

Unidentified astrological textNational Museum - New Delhi

Unidentified Astrological Text

The golden orbs that dot this drawing of a ship are stars; the ship itself traces the constellation described by them. This illustration is taken from the pages of the unknown astrological manuscript that were bound along with the pages of the Nahj ul Balagha seen in the previous section.

In the medieval period, no distinction was made between the study of astronomy and astrology. Since the stars were believed to govern lives and events on earth, studying them closely was of the utmost importance.

Unidentified astrological textNational Museum - New Delhi

In the Deccan, Arabic science was augmented with learning derived from local sources, and this fragmentary manuscript may have been similar to the Nujum al-Ulum or Science of the Stars, an encyclopedic text written in the early 17th century in Bijapur in the Deccan, possibly by Sultan Ali Adil Shah. The Nujum combines the astrological knowledge of the Ajai’b al Makhluqat with elements from the Brihad Samhita and the Markandeya Purana, blending Arabic and local traditions of knowledge. It is one among many testaments to the cosmopolitan character of the Deccani Sultanates, which were open to cultures and learning from all traditions.

Gallery Shots of Nauras ExhibitionNational Museum - New Delhi


To the south of the Deccani sultanates was the Hindu kingdom of Vijayanagara. It is well-known that an alliance of Deccani Sultanates defeated the major Hindu kingdom of Vijayanagara (fl. 1336- 1565) the Battle of Talikota in 1565. But this battle was preceded by decades of other kinds of interaction between Vijayanagara and the Sultanates, which included marriage alliances, military cooperation and trade relations. Just as the Sultans absorbed Indic and Hindu elements within their courtly culture, Vijayanagara absorbed elements of Sultanate culture.  The architecture of Hampi, capital of Vijayanagara, shows the co-mingling of Indic and Sultanate cultures. The many temples built there echo the classic Dravidian temple forms. But the royal palaces and audience halls where kings held court, met envoys and dispensed justice consciously mimic the pointed arches, domed roofs and geometrical and floral decoration of Sultanate buildings. For the Rayas of Vijayanagara, who called themselves 'hinduraya suratana', earthly power was garbed in an Islamicate style.

Embroidered temple hanging with scenes from Ramayana Nayaka Period (1775/1825) by unknownNational Museum - New Delhi

Embroidered Temple Hanging with Scenes from the Ramayana 

This grand temple hanging, illustrating a Ramayana theme, comes from Vijayanagara in the Nayaka period and was made some two hundred  years after the fall of Hampi.  Nearly forty feet long, this is a significant example of embroidery from South India which is better known for its kalamkari tradition. The seven large panels of this hanging show the coronation of Rama being witnessed by Brahma, Indra, and Nayaka rulers or local chieftains. These figures closely resemble the stone sculptures and mural paintings of temples from the Nayaka period.

The central panel portrays the coronation of Rama. A bejeweled Rama sits on a double-lotus throne with Sita. At the base of the throne, Hanuman sits adoringly at Rama’s feet. Attendants stand with chauris (fly whisks) and umbrellas. The monkey-king Sugriva, as well as other courtiers and warriors, stand nearby.

The serpent Sheshanaga forms a canopy over Rama's head while a priest places the crown or Rama's head.

Brahma and Indra flank the central scene, standing under cusped arches that remind us of the Sultanate-inspired palaces of Hampi. A great variety of stitches are used throughout, including running stitch, stem stitch, satin stitch, herringbone stitch, filling, couching, cross stitch, sindhi stitch, long- short, chain stitch, French knot and feather stitch.

Above and below the large panels run narrow borders that intricately narrate episodes from the Kishkinda and Sundarakandas of the Ramayana, Ramacharitamanasa and Kamba Ramayana. The style of the smaller figures is less like temple sculpture, and more like the leather puppets from the Karnataka region.

The narrative scenes focus on event involving Hanuman, who is shown here with a kudumi or lock of hair worn by Brahmins. In this detail, Hanuman has just seen Rama and Lakshmana walking through the forest and is struck by their radiance. He is embarrassed to speak to them as he is just a monkey, so he transforms himself into a priest who can address them in Sanskrit. Later, he reveals his true form. Tall plants act as separators fro the individual scenes.

In this detail, Rama has agreed to help Sugriva regain his kingdom. He proves his strength by shooting arrows that pierce seven palm trees. In the scene on the right, he hides behind a tree while Bali and Sugriva fight; eventually Rama will shoot Bali in the back.

Bali's widow Tara is shown lying prostrate with grief in her pavilion

Most of the scenes in the lower border are based on the Kishkindakanda and show Hanuman's adventures as he searches for Sita. Here he meets the vulture Sampati, brother of Jatayu, and learns that Sita is in Lanka. He then flies across the sea to Lanka but is obstructed by the demoness Surasa.

The embroiderers have even shown the way Hanuman tricked Surasa, by making himself so small that he was able to fly into her mouth and fly out of her ear. On reaching Lanka, Hanuman battled with another demoness, Lankini.

After spying on Ravana sleeping in his palace, Hanuman finds Sita in the Ashok Vatika and is able to give her Rama's ring.

This extraordinary textile is one of the grandest surviving historic embroideries of India.

Gallery Shots of Nauras ExhibitionNational Museum - New Delhi


Commanding an extensive coastline, the Deccani sultanates traded with lands to the east and west. Many innovations and novelties reached India through the Deccani courts. When tobacco came to India, it first came to the Deccan. It was introduced in Bijapur by the Portuguese who brought the plant from the Americas. The Deccani Sultanates soon took to tobacco and the Andhra region became a major centre of tobacco production. It is no wonder that the apparatus for smoking — the  huqqa — was manufactured in the Deccan and travelled to other regions from here. Many fine huqqa bases were made of bidri ware, a specialty of Deccani metalwork in which silver, and sometimes gold, is inlaid into zinc alloy. 

Portrait of Amir Himmat Yar Khan (1775/1825) by unknownNational Museum - New Delhi

It is said that a hakim from Bijapur, Abdul Fatah, invented the huqqa, to reduce the harmful effects of tobacco smoke by passing it through water . The smoking of a huqqa became the hallmark of leisurely activity amongst those who could afford it. For painters, depictions of nobility smoking huqqas gave the opportunity to show the beautifully crafted objects used by them. This portrait shows Himmat Yar Khan, was a nobleman in the service of Nizam Ali Khan (1761-1803) of the Asaf Jahi Dynasty. He is seated on a carpet, leaning against a bolster and smoking a bidriware huqqa.

Within this picture of impersonal and dignified protocol, the presence of a little child playing with a rattle on the carpet is a charming diversion, and one that lends softness to the personality of Himmat Yar Khan.

Soldiers at the hookah stall and commotion in the bazaar (1775/1800) by UnknownNational Museum - New Delhi


Many paintings show huqqas made from jade, amber, bidriware and precious metals. But the huqqa was not only for the nobility but also enjoyed by the common man. In this painting, a lady has set up a huqqa stall outside her modest hut. A crowd is thronging her stall; most of her customers are soldiers returning from work. They are of all ages, and their head dresses suggest that they belong to different regions of the Deccan. A love of the huqqa seems to bring together people of different ages and ethnicity. 

At upper right, a lady with a halo peeps from her window to have a view of the huqqa-inspired social gathering below.

Figurative Huqqa Base with Scenes from the Padmavat (Multiple views)National Museum - New Delhi

Huqqa base depicting the Padmavat

This unusual huqqa base is inlaid with narrative scenes from the Padmavat, a Sufi epic written in Hindi by the poet Malik Mohammad Jayasi in the 16th Century.The Padmavat fictionalizes the historic siege of Chittor, turning it into a mystical tale about spiritual love and physical lust. In it, Padmavati, the daughter of Raja Gandharvasen of Sinhal island (Ceylon), is married to Ratan Sen, the king of Chittor (Rajasthan). Hearing of Padmavati’s beauty, Alauddin Khilji is seized with lust and attacks Chittor. The characters in the epic become metaphors for spiritual development and worldly desires. 

The Padmavat was a popular text and there are illustrated manuscripts of this epic. However, this huqqa base is a unique instance of the Padmavat depicted in bidri work. Eleven episodes from the early part of the Padmavat have been depicted here, showing the courtship of Padmavati and Ratan Sen. Figurative bases such as this one are extremely rare.

Figurative Huqqa Base with Scenes from the Padmavat (Multiple views)National Museum - New Delhi

The story starts when Padmavati's parrot flies to Chittor to tell Ratan Sen of her mistress' beauty.

Figurative Huqqa Base with Scenes from the Padmavat (1675/1725) by unknownNational Museum - New Delhi

Ratan Sen travels to Simhaladesa, but there he learns that his only opportunity to see Padmavati is on Vasant Panchami, when she comes to pray at a shrine. Ratan Sen disguises himself as a yogi and sits in meditation at the shrine. He is so immersed in his devotions that Padmavati comes and goes without his realising it.
Here is the shrine which is guarded by Hanuman; Padmavati stands in prayer while Ratan Sen sits and meditates. Padmavati's parrot is exasperated as his plans come to naught.

Figurative Huqqa Base with Scenes from the Padmavat (Multiple views)National Museum - New Delhi

But Shiva is pleased because Ratan Sen was immersed in devotion to him. At top, we see him with his mount Nandi; he blesses Ratan and helps him find a way to Padmavati's chamber. At bottom right, we see Ratan Sen and Padmavati fall in love. At bottom left, Padmavati's father learns of this interloper and fights him.

Figurative Huqqa Base with Scenes from the Padmavat (Multiple views)National Museum - New Delhi

Ratan Sen is sent to jail. Padmavati is anguished and falls ill. We see her in bed, too weak to stand. Padmavati's parrot is shown just below her bed.
Padmavati's father learns that Ratan Sen is of noble birth and has a change of heart. The couple are allowed to marry.

Figurative Huqqa Base with Scenes from the Padmavat (Multiple views)National Museum - New Delhi

When Padmavati is decked as a bride, she is incomparably beautiful. The goose sees that Padmavati's gait is more elegant than her own and she hangs her head in shame. The snake sees that her plait is longer, blacker and thicker than its body, and it slithers away into the bush. The lioness sees that Padmavati's waist is slimmer than her own. The doe is amazed that the bride's eyes are larger and more luminous than the doe's. The poet tells us Padmavati was more beautiful than all the metaphors used to describe a woman's beauty. The huqqa designer has arranged all the animals of the metaphor as though gazing at the shy figure of the bride who is seated at top, holding a garland in her hands.
At right, within the arched structure, the happy couple celebrate their wedding.

Gallery Shots of Nauras ExhibitionNational Museum - New Delhi


Many forms of Vaishnavism flourished in Southern India, but Gujarati and Rajasthani merchants who migrated to the Deccan brought their own traditions to the region. Among these was a dedication to the Vallabha Sampradaya. A special object associated with the Pushti Marg is the pichhawai, or backdrop, that is placed behind the icon in the shrine. The pichhawai turns the temple into a tableau, as the deity appears to stand in front of a panorama of changing seasons, a current festival, or the bucolic environs of Braj. Pichhawais can be printed or woven, but most commonly take the form of painting on cloth. In the Deccan, merchants from Western India engaged local artisans to make pichhawais for them in a uniquely Deccani style.

Pichhawai for Varsha (Rainy Season) (1775/1800) by unknownNational Museum - New Delhi

Deccani pichhawais are known for their extensive use of gold leaf. In this pichhawai made to celebrate the monsoon, almost everything is made of gold which glows against the deep indigo ground. Gopis flank a kadamba tree, in front of which the Krishna statue would have been kept. Tree, leaves, gopis' dresses and even the showering jasmine flowers that fill the background are all made of gold.

Above the trees, the artist shows dark thunderclouds and lightning flashes. Brilliant red parrots shelter in the golden foliage of these magical trees.

The lavish use of gold indicates that the pichhawai was gifted to a temple by a wealthy devotee. The extent to which the gold has been rubbed off suggests that this pichhawai was used in the temple for a long while.

Vasudeva transferring the infant Krishna from the prison of Kamsa to Nanda’s house at Gokul (1600/1700) by unknownNational Museum - New Delhi

Page from a Bhagavata Purana

This is a page from Persian translation of a Bhagavata Purana manuscript that was made in the Deccan. It shows Krishna's father, Vasudeva, taking the newborn Krishna out of the prison in which he was born, to safety in the house of Nanda.

The upper part of the painting shows the prison with walls made of pink stone. Within the prison, Devaki is shown seated in a pavilion or cell with another lady. They are surrounded by a large number of armed guards, but at this moment the guards are all asleep.

In the lower part of the painting, Vasudeva has reached the river after the prison gates have miraculously opened for him.
In this Persian retelling of the tale, as Vasudeva gathers courage to take the child out of prison, the text says "he put his faith in Allah, and carried Piri Maharaj on his head." Here, the writer uses Persian equivalents for 'God' and 'avatara,' translating the Bhagavata to the context of his Persian-reading patron.

This is a late Golconda style painting, made after Golconda was conquered by the Mughals. The patron may have been connected with the Mughal administration, many members of whom were extremely artistic and gave patronage to miniature painting by employing local artists. Deccani paintings retained creativity, and local concepts and techniques continued in terms of paper, pigments and colouring.

Gallery Shots of Nauras ExhibitionNational Museum - New Delhi


The Deccani Sultanates made extraordinary contributions to the development of music and musicology. Two Deccani Sultans famously were musicians and composers. Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah of Golconda (r. 1580-1612) was an aesthete, scholar and poet of high calibre whose poems are still sung today. Even more extraordinary was Ibrahim Adil Shah of Bijapur (r. 1580-1627) who was not just a great patron but an artist, expert in calligraphy, chess, music, painting and poetry. His Kitab-i-Nauras is a collection of dhrupads set to ragas and his named after the Nauras concept that was the leitmotif of Ibrahim's rule. Nauras – a pun on the nine (nau) rasas of Sanskrit aesthetics and the new (nava) rasa of Bijapur –  was a royal cult that appealed to the universal power of aesthetic experience, to unite Bijapur's diverse population.

Kitab-i-Nauras Kitab-i-Nauras (1600/1630) by unknownNational Museum - New Delhi

Late in the sixteenth century, Sultan Ibrahim Adil Shah II of Bijapur composed the fifty-nine songs and seventeen couplets that are gathered in the Kitab-i-Nauras, the Book of Nine Rasas. The verses are written in Dakhni Urdu and indicate the ragas in which they were to be sung.

The Kitab throws light on Ibrahim’s personality and the deeply multicultural ethos of his court. The first verse of the Kitab is an invocation to Saraswati, and the second verse invokes Prophet Muhammad and the Sufi saint Gesu Daraz. There are several verses in praise of Shiva and Ibrahim calls Ganesha and Saraswati his spiritual father and mother. He declares the quest for knowledge as the most important pursuit in life.

Kitab-i-NaurasNational Museum - New Delhi

The National Museum has six pages from the Kitab-i-Nauras manuscript that was written by the royal calligrapher Khalilullah. So pleased was Ibrahim with Khalilullah’s version of the Kitab, that he dubbed him badshah-i-qalam (“king of the pen”) and made him sit on the throne as a reward.

The manuscript is written in a neat Nasta’liq that is enclosed in cloud-bands. The spaces between the lines are filled with a virtual forest of minuscule plants, birds and animals executed in delicate drawing in ink and gold.

Gallery Shots of Nauras ExhibitionNational Museum - New Delhi


Some of the earliest known ragamala paintings are from the Deccan and Western India. The National Museum has in its collection two among the nine known folios of the late 16th century that are considered the earliest ragamala set. Made in the Deccan, t these rank amongst the most significant and enigmatic paintings from pre-modern India. In their beauty and boldness, they hold the key to early experiments in ragamala imagery. In contrast, the other ragamala albums in the exhibition were made in the Deccan in the late 18th century and beyond, when ragamalas were produced prolifically. They follow complex and large raga groupings, based on the text of Kshemakarna. This system of ragamala was rarely attempted elsewhere except in the Pahari region.

Raga Hindola (1590/1595) by unknownNational Museum - New Delhi

Raga Vasant

The swing, hindola, is associated with the Vasant or spring festival celebrated in the month of Phalguna. The text panel at the top describes the new foliage budding on the beautiful mango tree. This, together with the hindola, sets the mood of the painting which, according to the Persian inscription on the upper border, depicts the raga Vasant.

Various references seem to be implicit in this evocative picture. Among them one is reminded of Kalidasa’s Raghuvamsa, which describes the motion of the swing as that of young women moving with their lovers during festivities.

The couple sway together on a swing tied to the branches of the mango tree, while attendants spray them with coloured water, scented with saffron, which the nayika tries to dodge. There is music in the air - from the ektara played by a third attendant, and presumably, from birds that chirp and sing against a golden sky. In the foreground is a water-course with a fountain.

The source of the Sanskrit verse on top is not identified. It contains references to the newly sprouted branches of the mango tree and the playing of water sports as the joys of spring-time.

Ragini Patahansika (1590/1595)National Museum - New Delhi

Ragini Patahansika

Patahansika ragini is seated under a pavilion topped with a marvelous series of domes. Surrounded by attendants, she plays the veena in a state of bliss after a night of lovemaking, and is oblivious to her disarrayed hair and clothes. An elephant appears at the bottom, diminished and tentative, possibly a pointer to the pitch of a note. Paintings of Patahansika are rare as this ragini went out of vogue in later literature.The figures and setting recall representations in the album of the Tarif-i-Husain Shahi, painted at Ahmadnagar in 1565. A number of the women are dressed in a sari which is draped in particular manner, and wear jewellery similar to that seen in the Ahmadnagar manuscript.

Gallery Shots of Nauras ExhibitionNational Museum - New Delhi


Through the 17th and 18th centuries, the Deccani Sultanates fell, one by one, to the Mughal army. To serve in these campaigns, Mughal troops were stationed permanently in the Deccan from the middle of the 17th century. While their needs were served by artists and artisans they had brought from the north, they also hired local ones. The Mughal towns of Burhanpur and Aurangabad became melting pots for the arts, where Mughal and Deccani styles melded and then travelled to unexpected places.

Qanat or tent with five panels (1650/1660) by unknownNational Museum - New Delhi

Qanat or tent wall with five panels

The extensive military campaigns meant considerable time spent living in camp. Encampments were like portable cities with elaborate tents for palaces, audience halls, workshops, kitchens and so on.

An important part of any tent or tent enclosure was its qanat or tent wall. The qanats of royal tents were elaborately decorated. They could be painted, printed or embroidered and they usually had some form of floral pattern.

This qanat is a tour-de-force of painting in the kalamkari style. Its five panels are populated with animals, birds, mythical creatures as well as trees, flowers and fruit in a dazzlingly complex composition.

The central panel depicts a mythical two-headed bird, the gandabherunda. The gandabherunda had been a heraldic bird for several South Indian dynasties including the Hoysalas and Kakatiyas. Perhaps this is an ironic version made for the succeeding dynasties which shows the bird swooping down instead of soaring upwards to the sky.

In this qanat, 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.

The bird clutches an elephant in each jaw. There are fabric losses where the elephant’s body should have been, as the black dye seems to have corroded the cotton.

In the flanking panels, 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.

The composition is topped by a pineapple, an exotic fruit newly arrived in the Deccan from the Americas.

The cypress trees of the end-panels are surrounded by birds who flutter through the air in search of butterflies.
The gandabherunda hunts elephants, the tigers hunt deer and the birds hunt butterflies. The theme of this elegant qanat make it appropriate for a hunting or military tent.

Body armour of Aurangzeb (1700 AD) by UnknownNational Museum - New Delhi

The Mughal emperor Aurangzeb dedicated most of his reign to the conquest of the Deccan. He eventually prevailed, but the victories were too costly and depleted the Mughal treasury, leading to the fragmentation of the empire after Aurangzeb's death.

Aurangzeb was represented in the exhibition through his armour and several weapons.This waist-coat armour of Aurangzeb is made of fine Damascus steel. Its two moulded plates are shaped to follow the contours of the emperor’s body.

Three lines of text are engraved on the front of the armour and inlaid in gold. The first two lines are in Arabic, in Naskh script and are a talismanic formula. They say: There is no god but Allah, and Mohammad is His Prophet.

The third line is in Persian, in the nastaliq script. It says: King of kings, Aurangzeb Aalamgir

Sword of AurangzebNational Museum - New Delhi

Sword of Aurangzeb

This sword is a single-edged shamshir and is made of fine watered steel. From the forte to the middle, the blade is profusely inscribed in golden letters with Arabic verses written in the Naskh script. However, the name of Aurangzeb is written in Nasta’liq script. Calligraphically, this inscription is one of the best examples of its kind.

Sword of AurangzebNational Museum - New Delhi

The inscribed verses read “Bismillah-i-rehman-al-rahim. Nasrun Min-al-allah-i-wa Fathun Qarib. La Fataha illa Ali, La Saifa-illa Zulfiqar. La yasmaoon Fiha Laghwan wa la kizzaban. Jazaun Min Rabbika Qabiyan”.

In the name of God, the beneficent, the merciful, (With) help from Allah, a speedy victory is near // There is no warrior but Ali // There is no sword but Zulfiqar. No vanity shall they hear therein (in Heaven), nor untruth (One will receive) recompense from the Lord, a gift...

These lines echo the inscription that is said to have been written on the famed Zulfiqar sword that the Prophet Muhammad gifted to his nephew and son-in- law, Hazrat Ali.

In the centre of the blade is a tughra with the name of Aurangzeb below which is written Ya Allah, Ya Mohammad, Ya Ali.

Sword of AurangzebNational Museum - New Delhi

The blade is beautifully decorated with figures of fish, a tiger and a deer and floral and creeper designs, all in gold. The hilt is unique. It consists of straight quillons and a rectangular grip of steel fitted with ivory pieces on both sides. These ivory pieces are decorated with floral and fish-scale patters. The sides of the grip and the quillons are damascened with floral and creeper designs.

Jambia Dagger of Aurangzeb (1700/1710) by unknownNational Museum - New Delhi

This is the personal Jambia of Aurangzeb (r. 1658 -1707) bearing his name and an inscription in gold saying “With this dagger (key) I (Aurangzeb) have opened the lock of India’s destiny.”

The Jambia is originally an Arab form of dagger but is found in all those countries where Arabs have lived. The blade of this jambia is made of Damascus steel of the finest quality and has wavy edges. Its hilt is of walrus ivory.

Khanjar Dagger Hilt (1675/1690) by unknownNational Museum - New Delhi

Carved from dark nephrite jade, this hilt for a dagger is shaped like the head of thoroughbred horse with reins in gold and semi-precious stones. The quillon takes the shape of a vegetal scroll that flares out from the base of a lily. The blade of this dagger is missing.

Dagger (chillanum) (1575/1600) by unknownNational Museum - New Delhi

Dagger (chillanum)

These double-edged daggers are of a south Indian style known as chillanum, with the hilt and blade both made of steel. The hilt has forked ends surmounted by a knob- like bud. There is also a knuckle guard attached the hilt.

Ladies playing ‘Phugari’ (1750/1760) by unknownNational Museum - New Delhi

Through the decades, the Deccan became 'Mughalised.' Burhanpur in the northern Deccan was for many years the major Mughal base for Deccani campaigns; later Aurangzeb shifted the Mughal capital to Aurangabad. These cities became the centres for the production of Mughal arts and luxury goods.

This painting may have been made in Aurangabad. In a midnight landscape two women stand with hands entwined, playing a game. The gold of their garments is like the flash of lightning in the distant sky. They are playing a game of phugari, in which participants hold hands and spin each other around, perhaps while singing songs. As the spinning speeds up, one or the other will grow dizzy and have to give up.

The artist has taken the opportunity to display his skills in picturing the women’s bodies from different angles.

Gallery Shots of Nauras ExhibitionNational Museum - New Delhi


Until the 18th century, the diamond mines of Golconda were the only known source of diamonds in the world, and the techniques of diamond cutting and polishing were first developed there. The iron ore of the Deccan was refined and turned to metal which was used to make finely crafted weapons. But perhaps the two best-known skills of the Deccan are those of kalamkari, the fabulous painted and printed textiles that were eagerly sought by markets all over the world, and bidri-ware, a unique style of metal-ware in which gold and silver are inlaid in a jet-black alloy of zinc. 

Thalposh or Tray cover (1775/1800) by unknownNational Museum - New Delhi

Thalposh or Tray Cover

This small rectangular cotton covering is a beautiful example of hand-painted kalamkari from the eighteenth century. With its beautiful vegetal and animal motifs that include several exotic species, it appears to be made for export.The four corner motifs and six elongated buta motifs along the edges all seem to point towards the large central medallion which dominates the entire composition. Each of these motifs intermingles flowers and creepers with birds that have been skillfully incorporated into the overall pattern.

The birds of the central medallion are particularly interesting as the bird at the heart of this medallion seems to be a turkey that is showing off its plumes.

Hand-painted kalamkaris such as this one are rarer than block-printed kalamkaris.

The Deccani dyers held secret recipes for brilliant reds, blues and greens that remained colour-fast. As ships carried these colourful textiles to new markets in the 17th century, demand grew at a tremendous pace. Soon, kalamkari producers were unable to meet demand through the laborious process of hand-drawing, and shifted instead to block-printing.

Globular Sailabchi or Washbasin (1800/1900) by unknownNational Museum - New Delhi


Bidriware, the distinctive metalwork of the Deccan, is named for the town of Bidar where it is meant to have originated. Although bidriware was inspired by Persian forms of inlaid metalware, a coating of the soil of Bidar turned the zinc-copper alloy a deep and lustrous black. Inlaid silver and gold appeared brilliant against this black ground and bidriware became popular for all kinds of vessels.Vessels were first cast in alloy. Surfaces were then chased, and silver or gold wire or sheets cut to size and hammered into the channels created for them. This could be done through tarkashi (inlay of wire), taihnishan (inlay of sheets of metal), zarnishan (low relief), zarbuland (high relief) and aftabi (reversed patterns, where the design was cut out of silver or gold sheet overlay).

Bowl Bowl (1800/1900) by unknownNational Museum - New Delhi

This water bowl or abkhora is is decorated with attractive floral motifs on the exterior, but the inner surface makes it a bidriware masterpiece, Here, the Throne Verse from the Quran is reproduced in the aftabi technique. Sheets of silver have had the words cut out; when overlaid on the base it looks as though the words have been written in black ink on a silver page. It is believed that drinking water from a bowl inscribed with Quranic verses give strength to the drinker’s body.

Globular Sailabchi or Washbasin (1800/1900) by unknownNational Museum - New Delhi

The sailabchi or washbasin was a popular vessel both in the zenana (female quarters) and in the gentlemen’s sitting room where it would be brought for the washing of hands. Water would be poured from an ewer and the sailabchi would be used to catch the water as it was poured.

This fine sailabchi has a globular body. Its constricted neck flares out into a shallow basin whose central cavity is covered with a perforated lid that looks like a lattice.
Water flows down the sides of the basin and trickles through the perforated lid into the vessel below. The lid is detachable and can be lifted by the knob provided at the centre. The basin is elaborately decorated in silver with taihnishan, aftabi and tarkashi techniques.

Rectangular Sailabchi or Washbasin (1800/1900) by unknownNational Museum - New Delhi

This rectangular sailabchi has a flared mouth and a perforated lid. The lid can be lifted out by the knob provided at the centre. The sailabchi is decorated with flowers in ogee pattern and ornamental borders in silver aftabi and taihnishan techniques.

Thali or Tray (1700/1800) by unknownNational Museum - New Delhi

This twelve-sided tray has twelve small legs and a slightly flared rim. The edges are serrated and turned downwards. It has three concentric bands of floral designs on top while the flared rim has geometrical and floral borders. The silver inlaying is done with aftabi, taihnishan and tarkashi techniques

Bidriware Chair (1700/1800) by unknownNational Museum - New Delhi

This beautifully ornamented European-style chair is covered with stylized floral patterns in oval enclosures, creepers and geometrical designs. The four legs are curved and have fluted ends. The chair has two curved hand-rests and a back-rest. The wooden seat is covered by red brocade stuffed with cotton. The silver is inlaid with taihnishan and tarkashi techniques.

Gallery Shots of Nauras ExhibitionNational Museum - New Delhi


Kingship was a major theme of Persian literature and art for more than two millennia. Images and texts that depicted the acts of kings were not just historical records. They demonstrated the kings’ right to rule by showing their god-given qualities. In addition, to the visual depictions of the heroic deeds of kings, Persian literature produced many discourses on the nature of kingship. As old dynasties waned and new ones arose, they too sponsored books on ideal kingship, and patronised writers and poets who showed the monarchs as worthy rulers.

Tuzuk-i-Asafiya Tuzuk-i-Asafiya (1700/1800) by unknownNational Museum - New Delhi


The Tuzuk-i-Asafiya recounts the lift and times of Asaf Jah II of the Nizam Shahi dynasty of Hyderabad. Descended from Mughal governors of the Deccan who seized power for themselves, the Asaf Jahs would have encouraged literary works that showed them as worthy rulers.

The Tuzuk-i-Asafiya is a unique Deccani manuscript of great historical importance. It is authored by Tajalli Ali Shah, a great polymath who was a scholar of Arabic and Persian, historian, calligrapher, poet and excellent artist of Hyderabad.Through its 78 paintings, the manuscript presents a pictorial biography of Asaf Jah II of Nizam Shahi dynasty of the Deccan. It throws light on the socio- economic, cultural and political aspects of his reign.

The eye-catching manuscript gives an insightful account of the Nizam’s relations with the Marathas, the French, the British besides Haider Ali and Tipu Sultan of Mysore. It is an important and authentic source for the history of the Nizam by an eyewitness who participated in several campaigns against the Marathas, the French, the British, and Haider Ali and Tipu Sultan, who were atloggerheads with the Nizams.

Tuzuk-i-Asafiya (Multiple views)National Museum - New Delhi

The National Museum’s manuscript is the only illustrated copy of Tuzuk-i-Asafiya that is known. While its text is incomplete it seems to have been the master copy presented to the Nizam, with calligraphy and painting by Tajalli Ali Shah.

Tuzuk-i-Asafiya (Multiple views)National Museum - New Delhi

Another noteworthy feature of this manuscript is its unique depiction of the walled city of Hyderabad as it was in c. 1768. One can see the darbar of Nizam Ali Khan in the Char Mahal Palace in the central panel in which the Nizam is giving audience to the French envoy M. Bussy. Around the palace is shown the entire walled city of Hyderabad with palaces, houses, mosques, Char Minar, Mecca Masjid, gates roads etc. Beyond the city walls one can see the bridge across the river Musli leading to the Golconda Fort.

Credits: Story

Exhibition was organised in collaboration with The Aesthetics Project, New Delhi.

Script and Curation - Dr. Preeti Bahadur Ramaswami, Dr. Kavita Singh, Dr. Anamika Pathak, Dr. Vijay Mathur, Mr. K.K. Sharma, Dr. Kanaklata Singh, Mr. Zahid Ali Ansari, Dr. S.V. Tripathi and Mr. Khatibur Rahman

Exhibit Compilation - Vasundhra Sangwan

Exhibition Designer - Oroon Das

Exhibition Display - Mr. K.K.S Deori, Mr. Kuldeep Pokhriyal and Ms. Priya

Photography - Hariom Maurya, Rakesh Kumar, Suresh Mahto, Yogesh Pal and Ashu

Photo Editing - Bipin Nayak

Exhibition Coordination - Joyoti Roy and Shubhashree Purkayastha

References: Nauras - The Many Arts of the Deccan, Ed. Dr. Ramaswami, P.; Dr. Singh, K.; National Museum, 2015, New Delhi.

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.
Explore more