Sunday, March 30, 2014

Jahangir/Akbar and the Kashmiri Oarsman


Last year I came across an interesting note in William Irvine's Later Mughals (1922).
"Nawara, these boats were fashioned into fanciful shapes such as wild animals, etc. They were roofed in at one end, which was covered with broad cloth; they were better finished and lighter than a common boat (kishti). The boatmen were mostly from Kashmir and used Kashmiri calls to each other when working."

Source was given as Mirat-Ul-Istilah (1745) of Anand Ram Mukhlis who was giving a description of Babar's boating experience. Nawara, the Mughal word for river fleets, may now be an unfamiliar term in South Asia but boat people in another part of Asia do recognize it. Nawara or Nawa Rupa is part of boat legends of Myanmar.


And now, I finally have the graphical representation these boats and their Kashmiri oarsmen.


Ruler on a boat with attendants
17th century, reign of Jahangir
British Museum


I came across it in the book 'The Arts of Kashmir' Ed. by Pratapaditya Pal. In the chapter on 'Panting and Calligraphy (1200-1900)', Pratapaditya Pal presents it as the Mughal representation of Kashmiri landscape. In this painting a royal can be seen visiting the island of Zaina Lank in Wular lake. Although the inscription mentions the name of Akbar, Pratapaditya Pal assumes it is a mistake as memoirs of Jahangir, Tuzuk-i-Jahangiri mention his visit to the island. However, Abul Fazl's Ain-i-Akbari also mentions the man-made island of Zain-ul-abidin in Wular. Also, Tuzuk-i-Jahangiri does at times reuse Abul Fazl's writings for description of places. Particularly in case of Kashmir which the two visited together in 1589. Jahangir's writing are more detailed about Kashmir probably because of his thirteen or so visits.


What is interesting in this painting, beside the animal boats, is the way 'race' distinctions are represented in it.




The boatman of the royalty has a prominent nose while the royals have an aquiline nose. The boatman has a very Kashmiri nose that sets him apart from the others. So the first persons besides royalties to be painted in Kashmir (and later photographed) were its boatmen. The boatmen whose ancestors built the island in Wular by unloading the countless stones into it on the orders of Zain-ul-abidin.

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Identifier: The sideburns
Jahangir holding the picture of Madonna (1620 AD)
National Museum Delhi

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Previously:
Kashmiri Boatmen in Mughal river fleet
Aurangzeb's Kashmir fleet


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