Miniature paintings and modern day bards: A feast for the eyes
New Delhi Travel Blog› entry 8 of 16 › view all entries
Indian breakfast this morning on the patio: two â€śpancakesâ€ť made from savory batter with diced potatoes inside them, spicy tamarind pickle, yoghurt, cooked puffed rice with turmeric and vegetables, and a pot of strong tea. Then I left the guesthouse intent on getting to the
At the end of the lane where it met the main street I hailed an auto rickshaw and explained to the driver where I wanted to go. Thus started the negotiations that Iâ€™m beginning to get a feel forâ€¦sort of.
The museum itself has a nice exterior and inside is shaped like a circle, with a circular courtyard at the center, and large picture windows allowing you to look out into the courtyard. (You canâ€™t go into it, though.) Inside the museum you have to pass through a rickety plywood metal detector, have your bag cursorily examined by bored security guards, and have a token pat-down by another, equally bored, security official. (Female guards pat down women visitors, and male guards pat down the men.) The same process applies on the way out .
One thing that struck me was how casually pieces seemed bunged into the dusty display cases, sometimes haphazardly arranged, or crookedly placed, or topped with the odd long-deceased insect. It might be an issue of money, which I doubt the museum had in plenty â€“ parts of the building looked like they hadnâ€™t seen a lick of paint in the last 50 years. By contrast, other parts of the museum were highly polished and well-maintained.
There were lots of interesting things to see in the museum, and I spent a good 3 hours there, going slowly from room to room on each of the three levels. What really sucked me in, though, was the amazing collection of miniature paintings. I had a small taste of these earlier this week in the small museum at the Red Fort, but at the
There were so many good ones, but I made a note of some of my absolute favorites:
- â€śVasakasajja Nayika who decorates her bed with flowers, impatiently awaits the arrival of her lover,â€ť Rajasthan c. 1700. Depicts a woman dressed in a beautiful sari seated on a bed in a bower, with delicate long-necked birds in the foreground, as well as some deer. Above her, in the dark blue night sky, two herons fly away. Peacocks and monkeys sit in the trees above her, and garlands hang in the bower that shields her from the surrounding forest.
- â€śLovesick heroine,â€ť Rajasthan 1770. Depicts a half naked young woman dressed in pink pantaloons who has thrown herself backwards on a canopy bed placed in a lovely courtyard/garden, above which a full moon rises. One female attendant rubs her feet, another raises and flaps a pretty fan, and a third (an older woman) gestures placatingly. The despairing maiden has her head thrown back and one hand clutches her breast in misery. Two birds sit on the platform looking on, beside them lie fruit, vegetables, flowers, and unguents.
- â€śRani Budhawati hunting tigers,â€ť Rajasthan 1760. From a covered platform the rani looks through the barrel of a rifle, aiming at two wild tigers under a tree, whose tails curl up in the air. Two female attendants hold additional weapons such as a long sword, arrows, and an additional rifle, while a third female attendant looks on.
- Not to mention these ones: â€śRadha and Krishna in the boat of love;â€ť â€śKrishna imploring Radha for love;â€ť â€śPrincesses playing polo with their companions;â€ť â€śKrishna peeping through the trees at bathing Radha;â€ť â€śHero removing thorn from foot of heroine;â€ť â€śDelighted heroine waiting for her beloved;â€ť â€śGuler Rani out hawking with her companions;â€ť â€śGopis demanding their clothes from Krishna,â€ť and so on.
After the museum I took an auto rickshaw to another district to do an interview. (Note to travelers: drivers will try to persuade you to stop off at a great little shop they know where you can buy X, Y, and Z at a really great price. Say NO!) After that I went to Dilli Haat for a social meeting with a contact I met online.
Dilli Haat is an outdoor craft market where you can buy handicrafts directly from the people who make them. Had I been by myself it wouldnâ€™t have been anything out-of-the-ordinary, but because I was with a Hindi-speaking companion I was able to learn and experience something very touching. At one of the stalls at the back there was a couple selling long scrolls with brightly painted folk pictures. They struck up a conversation with my companion, and we ended up staying and chatting with them for nearly an hour. Their craft, which the woman inherited from her mother, was painting these long story scrolls, panel by panel, on paper, then gluing them to cheap fabric to make them more durable. The scrolls depicted ancient stories like those from the Ramayana, but also new stories that she created herself (like one about a fish coupleâ€™s wedding banquet, which one angry, spurned fish crashes) and even contemporary news-type stories, like that of 9/11, and subsequent war in Iraq. The woman composes songs to accompany each story, and she and her husband go from village to village, where a crowd will gather and she will sing the stories, gesturing to each scene as the scroll unfurls. Truly they are bards, communicating key works as well as news to people in a manner that goes back thousands and thousands of years. I found their work very moving â€“ but I never would have learned about it if I hadnâ€™t been there with that Hindi-speaking friend.