Decorative artifacts from medieval India


A group of musicians and dancers, on the right, welcome the visitors to the Decorative Arts Gallery-I which has recently reopened at the National Museum. To one’s utter dismay, the pretty looking musicians blowing trumpets and dancers striking a perfect balance are only miniatures from early 19th century.

Displaying the art of design and decoration of objects of utility, the artifacts showcased here were crafted for daily, ceremonial and religious uses from a mainly three materials - ivory, jade and ceramic. A total of “160 artifacts are displayed at the renovated gallery in contrast to the 103 articles that were displayed earlier,” shares Anamika Pathak, curator of the gallery informing that the gallery closed “for mounting other exhibitions in 2007 and since 2009 we have been working to reopen it. Among the artifacts displayed, only five are retrieved from the old collection and rest all are from the museum’s  reserved collections and is probably shown to the public for the first time.”

These include artifacts carved in ivory, that are bound to leave anyone in awe. From tiny Handle depicting Narasimha to the Palanquin from Mysore in average height and the huge Shrine from Delhi, all are exquisite nuances of expert craftsmanship in carving from the 18th and 19th century. To add, there is also a portrait of a King painted on ivory, from Patna, which will make one wonder the rich creative skills.  
The centre-piece, a whole elephant tusk depicting life nuances of Lord Buddha is a masterpiece in ivory! Its depictions can be easily traced from the detailed descriptions on the walls beside it and almost every article on display, making it a treat to unravel their historical significance.

The gallery is curated keeping in mind two themes - ‘leisure or ancient games’ and ‘throne story’. Dancers, musicians, rattles, yo-yo, chessmen (from Gujarat), gamesmen of chaupar (from Rajasthan) and gyan chaupar (of Jain philosophical tradition) and top made of ivory, bone, jade, glass beads, wood and silver are fine examples of the ancient games that were traditionally played in India. And if you thought that playing cards are the recent fad then the Taj and Surkh suit of ganjifa in ivory, from 19th century Hyderabad will prove you wrong.

The second thems, ‘throne story’ indicates the evolution of the seat of power. From the low flat seats of antiquity (in the Jain tradition) to the modern armed chair (specially the jewel studded chair and foot rest of King of Benaras), the artifacts narrate a fascinating story. And the throne legs with intricate carving on ivory and brass are another masterworks.

Equally enamouring are the hookah from the Mughal period of Northern India embellished with semi-precious jewels and even diamonds! But the hookah with inscription of Emperor Jahangir’s name and a couplet of Amir Khusrao is much sophisticated.

There are also few dishes from China and flasks including pouted flask and surahi in ceramic from Jaipur. And the marvellous idols of Shiv parivar, Ganesha, Sarasvati and Vishnu’s Dashavtaram in only one piece.

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