If the pursuit of arts and culture was a matter of policy for the Mughals, for the Deccan Sultanate (1527-1686), it was a way of being open to the world.
Flanked by a bay and a sea, the coastline-Sultanate, consisting of the kingdoms of Ahmadnagar, Berar, Bidar, Bijapur and Golconda, was a veritable land of promise. Desperate scholars and artists fleeing Baghdad from the Mongol invasions, poets and astronomers from Persia, traders from Gujarat and Portugal, slaves from Africa rising to become rulers, rebel Mughal princes plotting a Delhi coup- all made this region the launchpad of their respective ambitions.
'Nauras: The Many Arts of the Deccan', organised by the National Museum in collaboration with the Aesthetics Project, is the story of dialogue and tension of India's deep south with the great north Indian Mughal empire, the wider neighbourhood, and also within itself.
Art historian Preeti Bahadur, one of the curators of the exhibition, points to the cosmopolitanism, religious tolerance and a freeing of imagination that are the natural byproducts of salad-bowl cultures. For instance, Ajaib al Makhluqat, an exhibit, is an encyclopaedia of things known (such as the zodiac system) and things believed to exist (such as the Simurgh, a fantastical bird).
(From L to R): Bidriware; a black Huqqa base with scenes from the Padmavat, an epic about the nature of true love, which contrasts the lust of Alauddin Khilji for Padmavati of Chittor with the true love of her husband, Ratan Sen and other artifacts (Photo: Saumya Khandelwal/ HT)
A kalamkari painting (one of the Deccan's main exports alongwith bidriware), in which a ruler in Persian clothes accepts wine from a woman in a European hat and a yogi inspects a pineapple, a New World fruit, is another example of the region's willingness to make space for new ideas but in its own idiom.
Dastango Mahmood Faruqui, who conducted a storytelling session on the exhibition, underlines the 'indigeneity' of the Deccani culture. "Dakhani, a precursor of Urdu, could have been a link language between the north and the south," he says.
"Its rulers were no sidekicks of the Mughals. The Deccan Sultanate exhibited a cultural range that, in some ways, exceeds the Mughal efflorescence."
At: National Museum, Janpath, 10am-5 pm.
Till: April 20.
Curated by: Dr Preeti Bahadur Ramaswamy and Dr Kavita Singh, the exhibition features more than 100 exquisite objects from the National Museum collection. On March 15, a third curator-led walk around the exhibition will be conducted by Kavita Singh, Associate Professor, Department of Arts and Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University.