The following texts were written by Navina Haidar and Marika Sardar for the Metropolitan Museum's presentation of Sultans of Deccan India, 1500–1700: Opulence and Fantasy.
The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were an age of global discovery and change, as India met with the cultures of Iran, Turkey, Europe, and Africa. The Deccan plateau of south-central India was home to the sultanates of Ahmadnagar, Berar, Bidar, Bijapur, and Golconda, whose cosmopolitan courts flourished for two centuries, leaving a remarkable artistic legacy. These five courts were successors to the Bahmani Empire (1347–1538), which had unified the Deccan under Muslim rule. Receptive to outside influences yet securely rooted in ancient traditions, the Deccan became home to Persian immigrants, Sufi mystics, Shi`ite Muslims, and European traders. Vijayanagara to the south, defeated by a sultanate coalition in 1565, also ranked among the important powers of the age. By the late 1680s the sultanates fell to conquest by the imperial Mughals of north India, who had long coveted the fertile and diamond-rich Deccan lands.
The enchantment of Deccani art goes beyond the material realm into that of the imagination. Paintings express this aspect most powerfully in their fantastic and free styles, challenging the formal idioms of the Indo-Persian tradition but never straying from its discipline and technical finesse. Inlaid bidri metalware and kalamkari (painted and dyed) textiles became famous products of the region. Arabic calligraphy, Hindu iconography, and love of floral ornament pervade the work of Deccani artists.
This exhibition presents works of art from the five sultanates of the Deccan, organized by court. It traces the story of the European discovery of the Deccan through its diamonds and textiles, the Deccan's profound exchanges with the Middle East and Africa, and its artistic and cultural interactions with the imperial Mughals.
A Parrot Perched on a Mango Tree; a Ram Tethered Below, ca. 1630–70. Golconda. Ink, opaque watercolor and gold on paper. Jagdish and Kamla Mittal Museum of Indian Art, Hyderabad