The Gulshan-i 'Ishq tells the complicated tale of several pairs of lovers. Starting with King Bikram and his wife, who cannot conceive until Bikram completes a journey of self-discovery, it continues with the adventures of their son, Prince Manohar, who, with another prince, rescues two kidnapped princesses. Here, fairies, drawn by the moonlight reflecting from the white palace in which Prince Manohar sleeps, descend to his bedchamber. They decide to transport him with his bed to his beloved, Princess Madhumalati, for whom he pines.
Two folios from a Gulshan-i 'Ishq" MMA 2011.183 and Philadelphia Museum of Art 1945-65-22.
The Gulshan-i ‘Ishq, composed at Bijapur in 1657–58 by Mullah Nusrati, remained popular through the ages, with a grand illustrated copy produced around 1710 (MMA 2011.183), followed by a later close copy in 1742 (Philadelphia Museum of Art 1945-65-22). The folios of the earlier manuscript are now dispersed, but the later volume remains in the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and contains more than two hundred folios and ninety-seven paintings. An early handwritten English notice within indicates it was once in the zenana (female apartments) of Tipu Sultan at Seringapatam.
Belonging to the genre of sufi romances, the Gulshan-I ‘Ishq tells the tale of Prince Manohar’s quest to attain Madhumalati, with whom he fell in love in a dream. The paintings illustrate the main events of the story, as the hero has many adventures and encounters fantastical creatures, places, and mystical figures. The central poetic metaphor of the garden as the setting for romantic and spiritual union is important to the style of the paintings. They have a good deal of floral imagery and color symbolism, while the figures and landscapes retain a flavor of the late Golconda style, moving toward the more simplified yet strong idiom favored at Hyderabad.
The page from the earlier manuscript (MMA 2011.183) shows Manohar asleep in his chambers with his dai (attendant) resting on the ground beside the bed, while a group of fairies passing overhead descend to transport him to Madhumalati’s palace. Later in the narrative, Manohar encounters a dervish in a dark forest who gives him a magic wheel. The folio from the Philadelphia manuscript represents this important spiritual moment (Philadelphia Museum of Art 1945-65-22). A subtle radiance emanates from the holy man’s body, and fierce animals are tamed in his presence. In the lower right corner, a feline appears with a raised front paw—this unusual sculptural element recalls the metalwork-inspired leonine forms on the seven-stepped chakravartin throne in an earlier Bijapur manuscript of the Nujum al-‘Ulum (Stars of the Sciences; Trustees of Chester Beatty Library, Dublin In. 2). Its presence here may be to reference the leonine symbol of worldly power.
Navina Najat Haidar in (Haidar and Sardar 2015)
1- Leach, Linda, "Paintings from India." The Nasser D. Khalili Collection of Islamic Art 8, London: Nour Foundation, in association with Azimuth Editions and Oxford University Press, 1998, pp. 240–47, discusses the early manuscript; the present author has explored the subject of both manuscripts in greater depth in Haidar 2014.
2- C. Stewart, "A Descriptive Catalogue of the Oriental Library of the Late Tippoo Sultan of Mysore." Cambridge: printed at the University Press, 1809, p. 179. It later became part of the collection of Philip S. Collins, whose ex libris is found on its inner cover and whose widow donated the manuscript to the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
3- Devare, T. N., "A Short History of Persian Literature at the Bahmani, the Adilshahi and the Qutbshahi Courts—Deccan." [Poona]: [S. Devare]. 1961, p. 121, gives a short account of Nusrati and his place in Bijapur literary tradition. See also Eaton, Sufis of Bijapur, 1300–1700: Social Roles of Sufis in Medieval India. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978, pp. 188–89.
Inscription: Utar saqf par te angan men pariyan / kharyan a yakas yak te yak chand bhariyan // Dekhan sahzade kon la'e dhar hawas / yakas yak te angin cali jalad dhas "The fairies came down from the roof intro the courtyard, / they stood there and teased each other. // When they saw the prince (!), they were overcome by desire/ and quickly, one before the other, they rushed inside. // (Translation by Peter Gaeffke, "Identification of Four Miniatures from the Dekkhan," Journal of the American Oriental Society, 107, no. 2 (Apr-Jun 1987), pp.309-11)
Christie's, London, October 11, 1979, no. 187, to Lloyd; Jeremy and Britta Lloyd, London (1979–2011, sold to Lynch); [ Oliver Forge and Brendan Lynch Ltd., London, 2011; sold to MMA]
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Sultans of Deccan India, 1500-1700: Opulence and Fantasy," April 20, 2015–July 26, 2015, no. 173.
"11 October, 1979." In Important Islamic and Indian Manuscripts and Miniatures. London: Christie's, London, 1979. no. 195.
Zebrowski, Mark. Deccani Painting. Berkeley, CA: Sotheby Publications, 1983. p. 224, ill. fig. 195.
Haidar, Navina, and Marika Sardar. "Opulence and Fantasy." In Sultans of Deccan India 1500–1700. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2015. no. 173, pp. 297-298, ill. pl. 173 (color).