The rich art and craft heritage of the plateau is the focus of this historical book.
The high plateau in the Indian peninsular region has been home to some of the wealthiest and most powerful empires of the nation. However, Deccan’s fortune was not limited just to its material wealth. It lies also in the skills of its craftsmen.
Bringing forth the history and richness of the various Deccan art forms, Marg Foundation has come out with its latest book, Scent upon a Southern Breeze: The Synaesthetic Arts of the Deccan. Edited by well-known historian and professor of art history and currently serving as the Dean at the School of Arts and Aesthetics of Jawaharlal Nehru University, Kavita Singh, the book takes the readers through the various art forms, including paintings, textiles, Bidri wares and perfumes, of the Deccan.
Unfortunately, for a very long time, Deccani art was not recognised as an individual art form, but as a part of Rajput and Mughal art. Shedding light on why the arts of the Deccan remained understudied for a long while, Kavita explains, “It could possibly be due to their complex and hybrid nature. This was a coveted region, and many powers fought over its control. The Deccan states fought many wars with the Mughals, and Rajput warriors were on the forefront of the Mughal armies. When they won the wars, items such as paintings, books, rugs and metal wares were part of their booty which they took back home. So a lot of Deccan art is scattered across the country.”
She further adds, “What survives of its turbulent history allows us to reconstruct only a fragmentary record of what might have been made in the Deccan.”
Now, in the wake of global art history and its interest in travelling objects and hybridity, Deccani art is increasingly coming into focus. Scholars are bringing new insights to Deccani objects that bear the marks of mixed styles, trade, and even damage and reconstitution.
The empires of Deccan covered princely states such as Golconda (later Hyderabad), Bijapur, Bidar, Ahmednagar among others. Interestingly, the artists of these regions were inspired by the artists from places such as Indonesia, Persia and Vietnam. “Since Deccani empires were centres of trade, travellers and artists from across the world came to these states. There is a possibility that the local artists learnt from these foreigners and visa versa,” explains Kavita.
Kavita also touchs upon subjects that are mostly not considered a form of art — perfuming practices. Modern observers rarely consider the ubiquity of smells at the courts of various sultanates in India. “If you visit any fort or palace, you would find that courtyards, bedrooms, durbar halls and various other parts of the forts were designed to smell good all the time. There is ample evidence that a highly refined olfactory culture existed in the Deccan. Given the understanding of the transformative powers of smell, it was commonly recognised that certain fragrances could be used in order to manipulate both health and emotive states,” Kavita says.
The book documents many Deccani paintings that are now a part of various museums across the country. “We have to also understand that Deccani art form doesn’t follow a set pattern. Unlike the Rajputana or Mughal art, here in the Deccan at any one place, at any point of time you don’t get a sense that there is a particular style in place. So, while it is a great thing that people are writing, reading and understanding the Deccani art, much work needs to be done to bring out all the material,” Kavita concludes.