Sunday, November 11, 2018

The oldest specimen of Kashmiri Painting



The oldest surviving specimen of Kashmiri
school of Painting

The figures of Buddha and Avalokitesvara on the wooden cover of birchbark manuscript discovered by Pandit Madhusudan Kaul Shastri in 1938 from Naupore in Gilgit where earlier the same spot had yielded in 1931 the now famous "Gilgit Manuscript". The painting is dated between 7th-9th century and shows influence of Gandhara (the way physique is drawn), Ajanta (the way eyes are drawn) and Pala Bengal school (the way headdress and face is drawn). At the feet of the deities can be the patrons who look and dress like Central Asians.

[housed at SPS museum, Srinagar]

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Horse Rider of Ushkur

via: Penn Museum 



"The relief illustrated in Plate XII was found on the site of Huskapura (modern Ushkur), near Baramula in Kashmir, by Father de Ruyter of the Church Mission School at Baramula [around 1915]. The slab, which is on exhibition in the Fitler Pavilion, bears the equestrian portrait or effigy of a warrior armed with a bow carried on his left arm, a shield and sword on his right thigh, and a battle axe and a quiver full of arrows at his back; also apparently a mace is attached to the saddle. His costume consists of an under coat fastening on the proper right, and an over jacket fastened by straps in the centre; probably also of trousers and boots, but the feet are broken away. The horse is richly caparisoned and almost completely covered by a richly decorated cloth; it is guided by a bridle and bit. The incised inscription, in a late variety of Sārāda script known as Devāśeşa, is damaged; it is in corrupt Sanskrit and not quite intelligible. The date, however, is clearly legible and is ‘on Friday, the ninth, of the dark fortnight of Magha in the year 82.’ The era is not specified, but may be assumed to be the usual Saptarsi or Laukika era of other Kashmir Sārāda inscriptions, which era is usually recorded with omission of the centuries. The year 82 of the inscription would then correspond to the year 6 of one of the Christian centuries, and this century, to judge from the epigraphical peculiarities and the style of the relief was most likely the sixteenth, giving the date A.D. 1506. As to the epigraphy, it may be remarked that medial e is not represented by the stroke behind the consonant as was the case up to the time of Zainu’l-‘Abidīn, King of Kashmir from A.D. 1420-1470. The second line of the inscription which must have contained the name of some king or queen is unfortunately defective. The rest of the document records a gift of goods and animals (twenty khāris of paddy, two of wheat, eight oxen and five traks of coarse sugar); but the names of the donor and recipient are lost. The style of the sculpture is somewhat provincial, but it is of high interest as a rare and almost uniquely complete representation of contemporary military equipment. For much of the information given above I am indebted to Rai Bahadur Daya Ram Sahni, one of the most learned officers of the Archaeological Survey of India.

Ananda K. Coomaraswamy, "A Relief and Inscription from Kashmir" Expedition Magazine 2.26 (1931). Expedition Magazine. 

Five Yogis, Shankaracharya, Mughal Painting, 17th Century

One of the earliest instance of western art mixing up with Kashmir.

"Plate 231/ Harvard 1983. 620 recto Hindu Holy Men Artist: attributed to Govardhan Mughal school Circa 1630-1635 24,1 x 15,2 cm Watercolour on paper Private Collection, Courtesy of the Harvard University Art Museums. Govardhan’s miniature brings to life five Hindu holy men meditating beneath a neem tree near an early Kashmiri temple close to Srinagar, seen in the background. Each portrait represents a stage of life. In the foreground, a languid youth with a golden sea of curls reclines opposite the figure, a middle-aged sanyasi whose other-worldly gaze, self-grown shawl of long hair, and claw-like fingernails attest to his shedding of almost every mundane activity. To his left, sits an older devotee, whose expressive, disciplined face implies both intellectual power and spiritual grace. At the left of the miniature, momentarily distracted from his elevated state, a dark-bearded figure with a mala (rosary) and a turban wound from his own hair, looks out beyond the frame. Behind 124 the others reclines a holy man whose tense expression hints of troubled dreams. In the foreground, a fire smoulders, producing both warmth and the ashes worn instead of clothing by these aspiring saints. Nudes are rare in Mughal art, and most of those known to us depict holy men. Although the pose of the naked chela (apprentice) here was inspired by an engraving of Saint Chrysostom, interpreted as an Odalisque by the German printmaker Barthold Beham (1502-1540), Govardhan not only changed her sex but trimmed several years from her age. So convincing is the young sadhu that Govardhan’s adjustments to the western prototype must have been studied from life. Inasmuch as Prince Dārā Shikoh was so concerned with the varieties of religious personality, it is likely that this remarkable picture, one of Mughal art’s most serious investigations of the human spirits, was commissioned by him. Literature: we are grateful to Gauvin Bailey for discovering Barthold Beham’s prototype, for which see: Bartsch 1978, vol. XV [8], No. 43."

~ Indian Paintings in the St. Petersburg Muraqqa by Stewart Cary Welch, 1996

The hill and temple depicted is probably Shankaracharya of Srinagar, the iconic symbol from the city. Although Welch identifies the tree as Neem, however, Neem is not that common in Kashmir and certainly not a common motif for art around Kashmir. It is possible the tree depicted is Brimji (celtis australis/Nettle Tree). Brimji is a common tree near holy sites of Kashmiri Pandits, this shade providing tree is considered holy by Kashmiris.

Asoka and Shankaracharya hill by Abanindranath Tagore, 20th century



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Govardhan was the son of Bhavani Das, a minor painter in the Mughal imperial atelier. Govardhan began his career during the reign of Akbar. Govardhan was a Khanazad (born in family), house born slaves, trained since birth for service to royal family.

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The Penance of Saint John Chrysostom by Barthel Beham, (1502–1540) was a German engraver, miniaturist and painter.

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On Khanazad





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Friday, November 2, 2018

Pregnant superstitions and beliefs

Mother and Child, 1916.
by Charles W. Bartlett

Quick reference notes I have been keeping for last few months (with input from friends and family).

• Kashmiri word for pregnant: ba'ri'tch. [Baariya. Sanskrit word for wife.]

• in Kalyug 13 year old girls will give birth

• During eclipse, whatever the woman is doing...the baby will have its mark. If a woman picks knife...the child will have cut mark. If woman plays with fire...child will have burn mark. And so on. Stay indoors during eclipse. Muslims also believe in it. Muslim neighbours used to ask Pandits for the exact timing of eclipse, it used to be a giveaway that the lady is expecting a child.

• Generally stay indoors.

Maag month (January/February) born sleep with half eye open.

Ghat paksh born with slit eyes

• Mool: Baddest time according to Kashmiri Jantri (almanac) for giving birth

• Find someone who has thumb (Frozen neck). Get massaged (kari thumb) by pregnant woman. [My parents actually asked one of my friends if he needed massaging. It was embarrassing to say the least and infuriating. Had a little light with parents]

• Pregnant woman is not supposed to see a maharaj - groom 

• She should generally not sit in the room with the entrance door, whoever visits the house should touch her head 

• She is not supposed to be informed of any deaths. Pregnancy time generally a time of impurity.

• Ath wairith Zan. Born with hands open. Lucky kid. Like Akbar. 

• Owl hooting in tree. Boy is predicted.

• In 9th month give butter. Kishmish sheera  Raisins soaked overnight. (kateer)

• Woman needs to sit carefully during last days of pregnancy in order to avoid having a child with 'Tond ' - conical enlarged head.

•  While leaving for delivery, tie a knot in chunni that the woman is wearing.

• eat "ha-nd", dandelion leaves post delivery. Rich in Iron

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Woodcutter and the Ghoulish Wife

'Kashmiri Woodcutter' by Abdur Rahman Chughtai
 (Pakistan, 1897–1975) via: bonhams
I like watching zombie movies, more macabre the better. Like many, I find in them a reflection of out times. My mother-in-law does not approve of my taste in cinema, she does not like the "shikas" movies I watch, specially at a time when her daughter is pregnant. Yet, one day while I was watching one such movie, she decided to tell me a folktale. I don't know the origin of the tale, but I have not heard anything like it and I think she told the story just to mess me up. Anyway, in service of literature and lost folklore of Kashmir, here it goes:

There was once a simple woodcutter who used to live in a forest with his wife. The couple used to frequently roam in the jungle looking for fine wood. Husband would cut while the wife would collect. One day, while going about the routine, woodcutter's wife started acting all weird. She called out to her husband and said to him,"I smell someone is roasting some fine meat nearby, I have an incredible urge to have this meat. Please, please, O' husband of mine fetch me the meat whose sweet whiff is making my stomach twitch." Poor woodcutter was all confused, he could barely smell anything. He tried to reason with his wife. "In this forest, who possibly could be cooking a meal of meat. What has gotten into you? I cannot smell anything." Wife persisted, "O' husband of mine fetch me the meat whose sweet whiff is making my stomach twitch." Woodcutter took in a deep one through the nose and could now smell the meat. "Even if someone was cooking, how can I get it for you?" Wife started crying, no rhyme or no reason. "What a useless husband I have? Wish I had married the butcher instead."Seeing the mad fervor in his loving wife's eyes, the woodcutter gave in and promised to fulfil this wish. Wife told him to go and not come empty handed or else he will see her dead face, she will put an axe to her throat.  He asked her to head back hime while he would go looking for the barbeque chops. He followed the smell and after walking some distance, the woodcutter found himself in front of a funeral pyre. Someone had burnt a body in the forest. Woodcutter was saddened by the thought that he had come looking for this meat, this cage of a soul. He even laughed a bit now at her wife's stupid demand. However, since he had promised his mad wife a piece of roasted meat, he used his axe to fetch a piece from the fire. A shoulder, a limb, a heart or a liver, one could not tell, he just wrapped it in a piece of cloth and headed back home. "Surely, she would not eat it, if nothing else, it will be a good joke,"  thought the simple woodcutter. On reaching his hut, he told the wife all that he saw, he hoped that his wife by now would have calmed down. Instead his wife asked, "Where is the meat?" Her eyes fell on the bundle of cloth hung from his shoulder, she lunged at it, dug her hands in and before her husband could do anything, she took a chunk of meat and sunk her teeth into it and then the grind. The woodcutter was repulsed by the scene, in that moment he could see a ghoul chomping on a human prey. A strange mix of anger and fear pulsed though his veins and in that thoughtless moment, instinctively, his hands went for his axe and and the axe went for wife's stomach. As the axe cut though the belly fat, the stomach split open and put popped a baby not yet fully formed, hanging by a slender thread and in it's mouth a piece of meat. Three bodies fell to ground and only then the woodcutter understood his wife's wild demand. All this time, his wife was pregnant and they did not know. He should have known a pregnant woman and her taste buds at such times can make any such demands. A husband has to be patient, caring and fulfil all her demands in the best way he can. Woodcutter could have gone and bought a piece of roast meat and she would have accepted that too happily. The woodcutter now rued his fate and cursed his gods. His wife was dead, his baby was dead, his axe had tasted its own blood.

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