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Bhagavata Purana: Milking the Cows. Palm-leaf Manuscript, Orissa, seventeenth century. (I% x 6%")
Or. I I 689, folio I recto, British Museum, London.
to popularize the Krishna cult and laid great stress on the amorous episodes in the
Bhagavata Purana, had great influence with Prataparudra. He died at the temple of
J agannatha in Puri on the Orissan coast in 1533. Akbar, when planning the conquest
of Bengal, entered into an alliance with the last able Orissan King Mukunda Harichan-
dana (about I559-r567) against the Afghans. Nothing came of it and after a short period
of anarchy, Akbar's Rajput general, Man Singh of Amber, entered Orissa, which became
a province of the Mughal Empire. A Hindu raja however, with jurisdiction over the Puri
t emple, continued to rule at Khurda under the later Maratha and British occupations.
What little we know of Orissan art during the period from the fourteenth to the
sixteenth century suggests that the classical tradition of the province not only survived
but developed with a certain baroque vigour which can be very impressive. This is parti-
cularly evident in her sculpture in bronze, wood and ivory. The painting of this period
was unknown until Dr D.P. Ghosh of the Asutosh Museum discovered in Ranpur and
Nayagarh to the west of Khurda a small group painted on heavily primed paper and
mounted on linen. The most remarkable of these paintings shows the reception of a
Illustration page 72 Muslim embassy by an Orissan King. The King, with an Abyssinian guard and two
attendants, is seated in his palace before the five ambassadors. The latter are dressed
in magnificent robes and extravagantly tied turbans. The general effect of this picture
with its sumptuous colour, the superb characterization of the protagonists, especially
of the arrogant, hook-nosed Muslims, and the amplitude and bravura of the design, is
unlike that of anything from contemporary India. Compared with these men, as Dr Ghosh
remarks, the courtiers in Mughal painting are mere puppets. Though this painting has
been dated to the late seventeenth century, it is difficult to believe that we have here
something painted in a small insignificant court like Khurda. There is nothing to prevent
its being placed in the middle of the sixteenth century, perhaps as early as the reign of
Prataparudra himself. It is unfortunately difficult to hazard a guess at the identity of
the embassy: it may have come from Bengal or Golconda. Dr Ghosh also found four pages,
Illustration page 73 painted on both sides, of what was perhaps a manuscript of the Gita Govinda. Inscriptions
in the Jagannatha temple of the reign of Prataparudra still survive laying down regula-
tions for the singing of this popular poem. All four pages, of Gopis on the moonlit banks
of the river Jumna, are masterpieces of fluid and graceful drawing both of the female
figure and of animal and tree forms. Lightly touched over with colour they convey the
effect of a poetic experience movingly evanescent. They too may be dated to the sixteenth
century, and give a good idea of the quality of contemporary Orissan wall painting,
superior in feeling, one must think, to Vijayanagar work of the same period. One other
example of Orissan painting has survived from the sixteenth century on a large painted
curtain or hanging last reported in a Japanese collection. Mr John Irwin has shown
that these hangings were probably executed in two small villages near the mouths of the
Kistna and Godavari Rivers in territory taken from Orissa by Golconda. Most of them
can be dated in the seventeenth century and seem to be in some sense based on cartoons
from Golconda, Persia and Europe. The piece in the Japanese collection is the earliest
of the group, and, where comparable, is closely similar not to Vijayanagar wall painting,
as has been suggested, but to the style of the painting of the Embassy. It may be dated
to the second half of the sixteenth century. It is with some disappointment that one turns
from these splendid and original, but enigmatic paintings to the style employed in the
general run of illustrated manuscripts. In Orissa palm-leaf continued to be used until
well into the nineteenth century: an illustrated manuscript in the British Museum is
dated r853 (Or. 4766) . The outlines of the drawings were impressed with the point of a
stylus, and ink or charcoal was rubbed into the incisions. To fill in the design, sparing
use was made of white, yellow, red and pale green. The drawing is neat, and the design
always decorative is occasionally quite expressive, as in the genre scene here illustrated Illustration pa
from a manuscript of the Bhagavata Purana. The most popular texts were those associated
with Krishna worship and love poems. The style is very conservative and manuscripts
are not easy to date : the better quality ones may have been painted in the early seven-
teenth century. Paper and with it the upright format began also to be generally used
in the late eighteenth century, resulting in a fussily pretty version of the palm-leaf style.