mughal art: 3 posts

5 Things That Inspire Me

When I work on any long-term project, my office looks as if a tornado went through it. Since I prefer to work at a low table sitting on a cushion, my legs folded in the lotus position, I use the floor around me as my canvas. Books, research materials, and reference volumes cover it in random looking piles and mixed among them are items I find inspiring. Of course, the chaos is not entirely random, and I can tell you where I have my Japanese-English dictionary, Philip Kraft’s guide to fragrance chemistry or a volume of Persian poetry, without having to get up from my table. (The table, by the way, was a $10 acquisition from a Turkish shop, intended for making phyllo pastry.)

Casting a quick glance at the items that surround me today, I realized that they are much more than the materials I use for my writing, but rather the things that inspire me, the things that give me pleasure simply by looking at or touching them. I’m sure everyone can make such an inspiration collage–and I’m sure that for every person it would be different, but I wanted to share mine with you.

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The Layered World of Anand Ram Mukhlis

Bureaucracy rarely conjures positive associations in most people’s minds, and for someone who faces far too much of it, I may not seem like the kind of person who goes into raptures over bureaucrats. Yet, Anand Ram Mukhlis (1699-1750)* is an exception, and he is easily one of my favorite historical personages. Born into a Hindu family in the north of India, he practiced a trade that wouldn’t be out of place in Washington DC or Brussels. Like his grandfather and father, he was a personal representative at the Delhi imperial court for the prime minister and for the governor of  Lahore and Multan provinces. A lobbyist, if you will.

muhammad shah

Emperor Muhammad Shah with courtiers, ca. 1730

The most lasting achievement of Anand Ram Mukhlis was in his scholarly and creative work. He wrote poetry, chronicled contemporary events and compiled manuals on the proper use of Persian. His mastery of the language was such that the emperor Muhammad Shah himself requested his services as a letter writer when he wanted to communicate with the Safavid court in Iran. One of the images I used to illustrate this article is a copy of Mukhlis’s advice on developing one’s writing style in Persian. It’s titled “Fairy House,” which gives you a clue as to the ornate stylistic tools he proposed.

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Snake Charmer and Sandalwood

She is wearing a peacock feather mini skirt and gazing passionately at a cobra. Serpents embrace her slender legs adorned with heavy anklets and stained with henna. Who is this mysterious snake charmer in the 18th century Indian miniature?

ragini

According to Indian legend, snakes are entranced so much by the perfume of sandalwood that they wrap themselves around the trees, but there is something even more powerful that can entice them–raga. Meaning “color” as well as “beauty” and “melody,” raga is a melodic mode in Indian classical music. The painting held at the Victoria & Albert Museum is called Asavari Ragini, hinting that what we are looking at is a representation of a melody.  Asavari is usually performed in the morning, and it’s classical image is a woman charming snakes out of their sandal scented groves.

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