Julien de Casabianca ‘rescues’ the subjects of famous paintings from their frames and takes them for outings in the city.
When French and Corsican visual artist Julien de Casabianca visited The Louvre, a museum filled with the work of universally revered artists like Leonardo da Vinci, Caravaggio and Rembrandt, he was inspired by an obscure painting featuring a beautiful young female prisoner. “I had a Prince Charming compulsion to liberate her from the castle,” he confessed.
While the urge to swoop in and save the damsel was a primitive one, de Casabianca’s idea of rescue was unusual – he photographed the painting, printed an enlarged copy of it and pasted it on an old and decrepit wall in Paris.
One of the more enigmatic manuscripts now in the British Library (IO Islamic 1255) from the rich library of Tipu Sultan, ruler of Mysore (d. 1213/1799), is the untitled qiṣṣah or tale featuring a figure popular across the range of Persian literature, the Prophet Sulaymān (the biblical Solomon, son of David). In this tale, the prophet-king is confronted by the head of the ranks of birds, the Sīmurgh (Phoenix), expressing its disbelief in the doctrine of predestination (qaz̤āʾ va qadr). Having angered Allāh, Jibrāʾīl (the archangel Gabriel) is sent to inform Sulaymān of a prophecy foretelling the birth of the Prince of the East (Malikzādah-′i Mashriq) and the Princess of the West, daughter of the Malik-i Maghrib, who together bear a child out of wedlock. The Sīmurgh believes it can prevent this outcome. Sulaymān and the Sīmurgh conclude an agreement (qawl) to reassess the situation after fifteen years, by which time the accuracy of the prophecy would be apparent.
Love stories never go out of fashion, especially when they are narrated using songs and drama. The story of Laur and Chanda, is one such story. The folklore is performed till date in Uttar Pradesh, Chattisgarh and some parts of North India. Many moons ago, somewhere around 1377-78 AD (the Sultanate Period), a Sufi poet, Maulana Daud composed this narrative in Avadhi, giving birth to the first surviving Indian Sufi romance.
A reason why I am drawn to museums is because they are a storehouse of stories. I chanced upon the story of Laur and Chanda at the Government Museum & Art Gallery, Chandigarh. A delicate set of folios, the Museum has a great book on the collection.
THE STORY & ITS CHARACTERS
The narrative begins with the birth of a beautiful Chanda to King Sahadeva of Govar. While still very young, she is bound in wedlock to a blind and impotent Prince. The great beauty that brought her this lamentable fate also releases her from it, for the unhappy maiden catches the eye of a wandering ascetic, Bajir. Bajir sings her praises wherever he goes and sets the story in motion. His songs arouse the lust of King Rupchand so much so that he forcefully tries to forge an alliance with King Sahadev. This is when our hero, Laur is brought in by the King, to overcome and kill Rupchand; but he falls in love with Chanda, though not before achieving his goal. Chanda engages her confidante, Brihaspati in arranging secret meetings with Laur. But the story isn’t as simple because Laur is married to Maina – who comes to know about her husband’s illicit love and devises ways of winning him back when he elopes with Chanda. Chanda and Laur’s elopement itself is ridden with challenges – snakebites, thieves and the King Mahipat – who invites Laur to a game of dice and wins everything including Chanda. He is, however, outwitted by Chanda and they journey on. Maina on the other hand, entrusts Sirjan, a caravan leader with the task of locating her husband. Eventually, Laur and Chanda return but the lovers’ plight does not end with confrontation and Chanda ends up as Laur’s second wife.
THE CHANDIGARH MUSEUM FOLIOS
The folios of Laur-Chanda are rare and significant in artistic terms. A set of 24 folios has survived, of which 14 lie with the Lahore Museum in Pakistan, and 10 in India’s Chandigarh Museum. The poem by Maulana Daud testifies to his genius as a great storyteller. The artist pays tribute to this very genius by placing him in every folio – almost reminding the viewer of the origins of the story. You will notice him in white with a holy book in every frame.
To celebrate our new series of South Asian seminars and especially the focus on food with Neha Vermani’s talk this evening Mughals on the menu: A probe into the culinary world of the Mughal eliteI thought I would write about our most ʻfoodyʼ Persian manuscript, the only surviving copy of the Niʻmatnāmah-i Nāṣirshāhī (Nasir Shah’s Book of Delights) written for Sultan Ghiyas al-Din Khilji (r.1469-1500) and completed by his son Nasir al-Din Shah (r.1500-1510). We are planning to digitise this manuscript in the near future but meanwhile I hope some of these recipes will whet your appetite.
Guru Nanak & the Fish: left (Guler Pahari style); right (Murshidabad, West Bengali style)
WHat IS IT?
This illustration is a page fromthe manuscript of the Janam-Sakhi ( Life Stories). While both illustrations above depict the same story, they are believed to find their origins in different artistic schools – Pahari (Guler), and Murshidabad and dates back to 1755-1770. In view of the size of the following that Nanak attracted, numerous anecdotes concerning the deeds of the Guru began to circulate within the community soon after his death. Many of these were borrowed from the current Hindu and Muslim traditions, and others were suggested by Nanak’s own works. These anecdotes were calledsakhis, or “testimonies,” and the anthologies into which they were gathered in rough chronological order are known asJanam-Sakhis.The interest of the narrators and compilers of theJanam-sakhis has largely concentrated on the childhood of…
Painted on paper, mounted on cotton, scrolls such as these were used as visual props in storytelling performances in India approximately around 1800 AD.
Handprinted in Murshidabad, this scroll is around 13 meters in length, with 54 frames which narrate the story of Gazi and Manik – two Muslim saints or pirs.
Patua scroll artists use natural colours borrowed from leaves and fruits to create art work.
WHAT IS THE STORY?
Through scrolls, legends have been recorded of a ‘pir’, sometimes called Gazi, although this seems to be no more than a generic name for ‘warrior-saint’ or similar. This ‘pir’ not only brought the new faith to the virgin forests of Sunderbans but also settled new converts in these remote areas, cutting down the impenetrable jungle and taming the wild animals, above all the tiger.