Tag Archives: India

Three Major Dynasties: History Told Thread by Thread

Fragile pottery pieces, old master paintings, elaborate jewelry, ethnic clothing and ancient manuscripts spanning thousands of years and dynasties are mainstays of museums. But how often does one see antique carpets that have survived the times?

Imperial Threads: Motifs and Artisans from Turkey, Iran and India, an unique temporary exhibit at the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar, offers a new perspective to three major dynasties. The cultural exchange between these Islamic world empires led to the creation of some of the world’s most beautiful works of art.

carpets-as-diplomatic-giftsThe artistic collection and interwoven connection of these dynasties – Ottoman, Safavid and Mughal – are highlighted through their handmade rugs, motif tiles, manuscripts and ceramics primarily from the 16th to the 18th centuries. It was commonplace for these empires to exchange artistic and material treasures – and cultures – whether as diplomatic gifts or objects of warfare.

There are 25 historic carpets on display in three sections, divided by bridges, some of which have glass floors with the carpets beneath them for up close viewing, with each section focusing on a specific dynasty. The carpets – some well preserved while others show significant wear – serve as the centerpiece of the entire exhibition.

“We wanted this exhibition to look very special and different,” Dr. Mounia Chekhab-Abudaya, exhibit curator, told Doha’s Peninsula newspaper in an interview. “Each of the three sections has glass floor features because we wanted people to see how the carpets looked like in the palaces, not on the walls as they are usually seen in museums, but on the floor. We wanted visitors to have an idea how grand the palaces would look decorated with various objects and beautiful designs.”

Focusing on the Timurid period in Iran and Central Asia (1370-1507), the Imperial Threads exhibit detailed artistic practices that were shared amongst the three succeeding and neighboring dynasties.map-of-dynasties

The Timurids conquered portions of Iran and Central Asia in the 14th century bringing with them their semi-nomadic traditions. According to exhibit storyboards, the Timurids played an important role in sharing the trade and diplomatic development of the three empires. They also are credited with introducing new artistic styles and practices.

Ottoman Dynasty in Turkey
The Ottoman world took hold at the turn of the 14th century, but the arts scene didn’t begin to flourish until Sulayman the Magnificent’s reign (1520-1566).

As the dynasty expanded geographically and economically, according to a storyboard, this expansion “set the ground for cultural and artistic development that continued until the 19th century.”

When the Ottomans occupied Northern Persia, one of those cities was Tabriz, an important weaving center that provided direct influence on artistic carpet production that included the transfer of motifs and craftsmanship from Iran to Turkey. Tabriz rugs are woven by highly skilled craftsmen using only the finest material and are widely renowned and sought after in collections of Persian rugs.carpet-exhibit

This first section of the exhibit showcases carpets and other mediums characteristic of local tribal designs that were merged with outside Iranian influences.

The different motifs prominent in carpets and other objects on display include cloudband, medallion, animal, cintamani, saz, lotus flower, lattice and flower motifs. Cintamani and saz tile motifs became characteristic of Ottoman materials trending away from geometric designs toward the use of central medallions and the introduction of the saz motif as a principal pattern. These motifs appear in the various pieces produced by artists in the three empires revealing the connection between the neighboring dynasties.

The saz style combines a twisting serrated leaf with other motifs, which can be floral or saz-motif-tilefigural. Artist Shad Quli, head of Sulayman the Magnificent studio workshop, introduced this motif and became well known for his drawings that combined a stylized leaf with dragons.

The wavy ribbon-like cloudband motif forms the shape of a horseshoe. Originally derived from Chinese art, the cloudband is found on a variety of media from the Islamic world including the illuminated Quran and ceramic bowl, both on display. The Mongols introduced this motif in the 13th century.

wavy-horseshoe-motif

Safavid Dynasty in Iran
The Safavid Empire (1501-1736) showcases works from the royal manuscripts workshop, as well as artistic motifs. During this period, books and manuscripts witnessed profound development primarily due to royal court patron support. Textiles and carpets were also produced in great numbers. They played a major role in the sharing and transfer of artistic practices as traveling artists.

illuminated-Qurans

Manuscript illustrations often featured court scenes with palace interiors depicting great detail. “With the representation of colored pavilions, carpets and other fabrics, paintings demonstrated the use of objects manufactured at the royal court workshops in their original and historical contexts,” explains a storyboard. “The meticulous work and the rich patterns and colors used by the painter reveal the attention given to these textiles, and the patterns used to illustrate them may have been adapted from contemporary carpets or other objects with shared motifs.”

Black and turquoise-glazed hexagonal tiles with floral motifs from a Tabriz carpet from the 15th to 16th century were a popular style.

hezagon-floral-tiles

Between war, diplomatic relations and inevitable political changes, “previous objects were transferred across borders whether as diplomatic gifts or war booty, and artists pursued careers from one workshop to another,” reads another storyboard.

Diplomatic Gifts
Gifts were commonly offered to celebrate a new ruler’s ascent to the throne, the circumcision of a ruler’s son, or simply to promote strong diplomatic relations. Common gifts included textiles and manuscripts – always luxury objects – between the three dynasties. This cross-cultural gift interaction explains how styles spread between different courts and influenced neighboring dynasties’ artistic production.

Animal motifs, long time depiction in Islamic and pre-Islamic art, were common on ceramics, textiles, stone work and in manuscripts. In Islamic times, these motifs had a secular context, not religious, and were ornamental architectural elements of palaces or display objects for royal settings.

animal-motif-bottles

Combat scenes in particular, depicting strong animals such as lions attacking weaker prey, were commonly portrayed serving to remind the viewer of the valor and courage their ruler held over his enemy.

Due to the development of firearms during the period of these three great empires, they are commonly referred to as the “gunpowder empires”. Highly decorated weapons manufactured in the royal workshops demonstrate the pageantry function of such objects that would have been made for ceremonial use rather than for battle.

On display are a Turkish-made shield and axe from the late 16th to early 17th century. The cane shield is constructed of iron and copper alloy that is decorated with gold floral motifs, woven silk border, and geometric motifs on a yellow background.

shield-&-axe

Mughal Dynasty in India
The third section of the exhibit highlights the Mughal Dynasty (1526-1858). It was during this period that European prints were introduced to the Mughal libraries. Based on patterns from these books, Mughal artists began creating their own patterns. During this time, Islam was gaining popularity in India and Mughal artists created a new style based on European prints and Islamic subjects.

The Mughal Empire also features the culmination of artistic styles that integrate Safavid, Ottoman and local traditions.

Millefleurs-niche-carpetOne of the important artistic styles coming out of this time period was detailed floral designs that were prominent in carpets and jewelry. On display is a silk and pashmina pile carpet that features millefleurs, distinguished by their floral motifs and vivid colors. The carpet design clearly shows a flowering vase at the base and is an early 18th century product.

Nearby are stunning examples of a 19th century enamel and gold necklace incorporating a floral motif, a 17th century jar made of gold, silver, diamonds and mother of pearl, as well as an 18th century ruby and enamel perfume sprinkler.

19th-C-Indian-necklace

17th-c-jar18th-c-perfume-sprinkler

The lattice motif was made popular in the early to mid 16th century and was not only incorporated into carpets, but also on marble decorations for palaces. The interlaced criss-crossed pattern incorporates natural flowering plants and blossoms arranged in rows against a plain background.lattice-motif-pattern

Cuerdo seca tiles were also popularized in the 17th century. These types of tiles were used both to decorate palace or tomb walls, and show the use of realistic floral designs. Originally derived directly from its use in the Safavid Dynasty, the strong colors recall the miniature paintings of the same era.

Cuerdo-seco-tile

Geometric designs were popular in the 16th and early 17th century in India. Carved sandstone of white marble and red sandstone were used for carved, pieced stone screens known as jalis. These screens were used in Indian architecture prior to the Mughal period.

jali-screen-sandstone

Coming full turn and standing the test of time, these ancient motifs continue to be evident in carpets and other objects produced today. Liken it to the cultural exchange during these three major empires, if you will, and transferring that interaction today with the exhibition’s sharing knowledge of the arts.

green-sphere

As visitors enter and leave, an eye-catching spherical LED display projects colorful patterns in succession duplicating the motifs on exhibit.

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A Passage to India

Everywhere I turned, I faced a riot of color. Pumpkin oranges, paprika reds, spinach greens, sunflower yellows, glamorous gold’s and every other captivating color imaginable. It was an amazing visual feast.little-girl-in-traditional-dress

My husband and I were not in some exotic, far-away land; in fact, we were at Katara in Doha, Qatar for the second annual two-day Indian Festival this past weekend. The performers, along with the thousands of Indian expat women and children garbed in traditional dress, displayed their love of vibrant clothing colors woven into their cultural fabric. They certainly proved they were guardians of their homeland’s cultural clothing tradition. An amazing 500,000 Indians live in Qatar.

Culinary and Cultural Diversions
Food stalls set up along the Katara esplanade featured traditional and popular Indian fare, including tandoori chicken, masala dosa, biryani, naan and various kebabs. Although shawarmas are not a typical Indian dish, one food stall was selling camel shawarmas – a first in Doha – and I could not resist. It was tender and delicious. My husband enjoyed the Indian food, which is far too spicy for my palate.

With a full belly, it was much easier to begin navigating the crowded stalls that featured jewelry, Sari designs and traditional female Indian clothing, paintings and handicrafts. I couldn’t resist a black beaded necklace with an accompanying black bracelet. Bob chose a handsome homemade teakwood comb for himself.

fabrics-&-spicesIndividual stalls highlighted various regions and states of India. For example, Karnataka, a southern state known for its sari fabric designs, had colorful material on display along with some of the spices indigenous to that area. Another stall – from the state of Ponjaya – depicted portrait and paintings on glass and silk, while still another had fabulous photographs on display of nature’s splendor in waterfalls.

Set against the backdrop of the sea, one of the main festival attractions was a replica of the famed India Gate – constructed on the esplanade and rising just shy of 33 feet high. The India Gate is a national edifice – and some say synonymous with India – and a massive war monument in the heart of New Delhi, India, I learned. It was designed by Sir Edwin Lufyens and built between 1921 and 1931 in the shape of a triumphal arch. The gate was built to commemorate the 90,000 Indian soldiers in the British-Indian army, who sacrificed their lives in World War 1 and the Afghan War for the Indian Empire. The gate’s inscription prominently states this.

According to Indian Cultural Center president Girish Kumar, the gate replica was built “to symbolize the nation, to mark the entry to the festival, and to inspire overseas Indians, families and children to pay tribute to the heroes who sacrificed their lives. Even on a joyous occasion as this festival, we shouldn’t forget them.”India-gate

As the late afternoon unfolded, we made our way to the amphitheater. A sweeping view of the huge stone structure confirmed my suspicions: It was to be a full house this evening.

As the sun slowly dropped from its spotlight in the sky and dusk began to spread about, multi colored lights on the stage flickered alive. For me, the main feature was about to begin. India has quite the layered cultural history I was about to discover.

The emcee proudly explained to the throng of thousands, who were primarily Indian but a decent representation of Arabs and Western expats as well, that in India, dancing correlates with happy occasions and official celebrations, both of which hold social significance. Dancers and performers this evening were about to partake in homespun storytelling put to music and folk dance. “Each dance conveys a specific story, and each state has special dances, clothes and music,” the emcee announced.

The opening act featured a group of various aged youth demonstrating karate moves and poses. Their act was followed one after another for the next two hours of jaw-dropping costumes that dominated the color palette. Each stage performance was a sensory extravaganza. The vivid, colorful performers and dancers – all students from various Doha middle and high schools – presented a mix of classical and folk dance featuring the different facets of India.

4-girls-dancingDespite the majority of the songs in an unfamiliar language, the audience’s enthusiasm combined with the high energy of the performers shown through providing entertaining dances and stories that were obviously preserving their time-honored traditions.

Indian culture, often termed as an amalgamation of several cultures, spans across the Indian subcontinent and has been influenced by a history that is several millennia old. The country consists of 29 states, seven union territories and a population of 1.2 billion. It is the world’s second most populous country.

The festival highlighted an interesting mosaic of a people from India’s 29 states through displays, music and folk dances, which share a diverse culture. Clicking away, I fervently tried to capture as many moments as possible digitally.female-performers

Kumar stated that the objective of the festival was to “get together and share the wealth of India’s vibrant cultures, to embrace differences that make our country unique, and to discover similarities that unite people regardless of their origin. We wanted to provide a platform to come together to present India’s great cultural diversity to a multi-lingual, multi-cultural audience of Qatar.”

DSCN-8264The charm of India’s past appears well intact, and its heritage was beautifully portrayed this evening through music and dance. With my photos and video, I can now revisit my brief passage to Incredible India over and over again.

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