Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya

Gunpowder flask

Nautilus shell inlaid with mother of pearl and lac

Kota, Rajasthan

19th century CE


This beautiful mother of pearl gunpowder container was displayed in the 1903 Delhi exhibition (and published in the catalogue). This flask is a fine example of the 19th century of Indian craftsmanship with delicate material. Made in the princely state of Kota, Rajasthan that was famous for marquetry or inlay work, this flask resonate with the legacy of the Mughal influence in the contemporary regional art in northern India. There was a similar primer exhibited in the exhibition. Such objects were popular not just with the Indian populace but also found buyers in the European market.

The princely state of Kota produced works of marquetry/ inlay. Wood inlaid with ivory and mother of pearl, wood inlaid with wood was produced in different parts of India. Kota, however, became a prime centre of such art. Even today marquetry tiles from Kota are famous. Though the Portuguese are credited with promoting this craftsmanship, there was a high demand for inlay objects in Mughal India. The Museum has a few exquisite examples of this craftsmanship in its collection.

Folio from Khamsa-i-Nizami

Deccani, provenance uncertain,

dated AH 992 = 1584 CE

Script – Nastaliq, language – Persian

Ink and opaque watercolour on paper

Folio 21.7 x 16.3 cm, painting 6.1 x 12.5 cm

Sir Ratan Tata Art Collection

22.3225 (332 folios)

The Khamsa-i-Nizami is a masnavi (collection of poems) by poet Nizami. A famous classic of Persian literature, it consists of five poems: Makhnul Asarar (not dated), Khusru-wa Shirin (1584 CE), Haft Paikar (1584 CE), Laila Majnu (1583 CE), and Sikandar Nama (not dated). Among these, only Haft Paikar is illustrated.

Haft Paikar is the story of Prince Behram, the son of Yazdegar, King of Persia. He was an expert in the game of hunting and achieved the title Gur – wild ass – after killing a fighting lion and wild ass with one arrow. Later he married seven beautiful princesses from different countries. He then ordered his most talented architect Shideh to build a palace for each of the seven princesses. Shideh, true to his abilities, built seven palaces with different coloured domes constructed according to the positions of the planets and their respective colours. Behram decided to visit the princesses one by one according to the day of the week, and requested each of them to tell him a story.

The seven stories told by seven princesses reflect seven different stages in the philosophical journey of human life. Behram first visits the princess in the black pavilion, which symbolizes the mystery of god hidden by the veil of ignorance. His journey ends at the palace of Princess Diroste, which is white, a symbol of divine purity and unity.

The colophon pages of the manuscript do not mention the name of the scribe. However, the notes in Persian before the beginning of the second and third masnavi give information about the owner of the book in a later period. It seems that in the mid-17th century this book was in the possession of a Mughal noble who took it with him on the expedition to Kandahar led by Prince Muhammad Aurangzeb. The study of these notes yields very interesting information about the movements of the royal army and the distances covered. After this, the manuscript seems to have gone into the possession of one Karam Ahmed Saheb. The text on the last page of the manuscript says: “Karam Ahmed Saheb purchased this manuscript and now it is his property whoever claims it will not have any good”. The seal on this page is illegible.


Stone, Karnataka

12th century CE

S 110

The Shalabhanjika is a common decorative motifs generously depicted in Indian stupa and temple architecture. Common to Hindu, Jain and Buddhist architecture they are mainly designed as bracket figures.

They are often depicted as a well adorned lady standing gracefully under a stylised tree or grasping branch of a tree. She may also be shown engaged in different activities like dancing, playing a musical instrument or adorning herself with cosmetics and jewellery. They are known as Madanikas, Surasundaris or Devanganas in ancient and medieval Indian Shilpa texts. These celestial beauties were all-time favourites of Sanskrit and Prakrit poets and play writers. Often their nayikas (heroines) were associated with these themes; for e.g. Rajasekhara's 'Viddhashalabhanjika' and 'Karpuramanjari'

They are symbols of fertility and nourishment which can be deduced upon observing the efforts taken to carve their hips and breasts. The Yakshi (tree nymph) sculptures may be considered a prototype for them.

Here, a well adorned young lady stands under stylised tree in full bloom. Her sharp features are finely delineated; particularly interesting are her arched eyebrows and firm yet delicate chin. Her nose must have been well shaped once. She is shown standing cross-legged, in tribhanga pose. Holding a mirror in her left hand she is adorning her hair with her right hand. She looks engrossed in her thoughts. What is she thinking? Well, that's left to your imagination!

January 2021

Copy of Portland Vase

Jasperware, Wedgwood

England, late 19th century CE

Sir DJ Tata Collection


The Portland Vase, a delicately carved Roman cameo glass vessel of deepest cobalt blue covered with opaque milky-white glass, was probably made about the time of the birth of Christ, during the reign of Augustus (27 BCE - 14 CE), in Rome. It is one of the most celebrated of all antiquities. It is not entirely in its original form and was almost certainly made as an amphora with a pointed base, probably broken in antiquity and repaired with an unrelated cameo disc. The subject of the reliefs has never been definitively explained and many interpretations have been proposed.

Its fame in the 18th and 19th centuries, however, is due to the brilliant series of copies made in black jasper ware by Josiah Wedgwood (1730–95) after he was lent the original by the 3rd Duke of Portland in 1786. Wedgwood was one of the most innovative figures in the history of English ceramics. His many experiments with different kinds of bodies and glazes led to the perfection, around 1771, of a high-fired stoneware which he called “Jasper”. This was the material used for his Portland Vase copies. The subtlety of the original reliefs proved difficult to replicate, however, and the first successful copies date from 1789. The Wedgwood Company produced many copies of the vase and dating this one is not easy. It must date from before 1860, however, when the factory introduced a three-letter dating system. The inclusion of the Paris cameo under the base may suggest a date before 1845, when the British Museum detached it from the body and displayed it separately.

Chanda talking to a Friend

Folio from an illustrated manuscript of Chandayana,

Sultanate period, Probably Delhi-Jaunpur belt

1525–1575 CE


Chandayana is a folk love story of the Ahirs of eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar which, was versified by Maullana Daud, a Sufi saint and poet in circa 1377 CE. The text in Avadhi or Hindvi narrates the romance of Laurak with Chanda and the hurdles they faced after elopement.

These paintings are mostly secular in content and imaginative in expression. The style shows a blend of Indian, Persian and Iranian features. Manuscript paintings of Laur-Chanda or Chandayana are excellent examples of this School. Persian influence is evident in the representation of the delicate figures, costumes, pale colours, and the use of arabesques and Chinese ribbon clouds.

Elephant in Musth

Rajasthani, Mewar,

Thikana Deogarh,

Iartist: Chokha, dated 1811.

Karl J. Khandalavala Collection


On a dark night of the fifth day of the month of Magasar (November–December), the royal elephant Madar Bagas has gone out of control while in rut. All four legs of the elephant are heavily chained, making it impossible for him to free even one of them. The person standing in front of him is trying to control him with firecrackers. The people working around appear tiny insignificant creatures in front of the mad, but majestic elephant. The white tusks against the dark background emphasize his fierceness. The shimmering metal chains glow in the light of the firecrackers thrown at him. The dark sky is dotted with tiny, glittering stars. The artist has emphasized the pinkish swollen gland between the ear and the eye of the elephant to suggest his state of musth which generally occurs in the winter months from November to January.

Only an artist like Chokha who excelled in recreating atmosphere and the mood of the moment in his paintings, could capture such a scene. He has subtly used shades of black and grey, and the technique of heavy stippling and fine lines to enhance the body contours of the elephant. Chokha was fond of using black in his paintings.

Inscription on the reverse:
Portrait of elephant Madar Bagas (from?) Kotah, presented by the painter Chokha on the fifth day of the dark half of Magasar (November– December), Samvat 1868 (= 1811 CE).