SPL Hand Coloured Rare Book Collection Featuring Norman R Bobins

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[Krishna tales ]

( late XVIII or beginning of XIX century.)
( late XVIII or beginning of XIX century.)

Illuminated manuscript on paper written in Urdu language and elegant nastaˤlīq calligraphy, coming from Kashmir. This huge text is composed by 496 pages, lavishly embellished by 186 beautiful miniatures with plentiful use of gold, silver and vivid polychromy as well, in the typical kashmiri painting style. The average page dimensions are of mm. ca. 204/206 x 116/118, while text panel’s dimensions swing between mm. ca. 144/151 x 84/88. The frontispiece folium, though, decorated by a rich multicoloured rug-shaped sarlawḥ, shows, along with some both human and divine illuminated figures, a somewhat wider bigger panel: mm. 175 x 91. Starting from page 3, the manuscript’s outer margins are filled with another text, both in black and red ink, written in Persian language. This latter text is neither a translation into Persian nor a Persian comment on the Urdu text, but a different text instead, having nothing to do with the main one. The manuscript is written in black ink, except for the most important termes, the section titles of the Persian text and the technical terms of hindupoetry, sākʰī and čawpā’ī, that are marked in red ink. Binding with blind tooled and gold decorations, restored.The manuscript, albeit complete and provided with a short colophon, does not disclose any valuable informations about its history, such as the title of the work, date and place of composition, scribe’s or customer’s name(s) or any other data. Totally absent are bequest- or ownership statements as well. The heading inscribed in the title block just below the ˁunwān-like upper part of the sarlawḥ in the frontispiece folium says: ‘Aum, S(i)rī Ganešāya namah, which means Oṁ, glory and salute to the Divine Gaṇeša!, introductory greeting that was commonplace in letters, manuscripts or even trivial documents within hindu cultural environment. The Urdu manuscript text undoubtedly deals with the sacred deeds of the young god Kṛṣṇa (Krishna, lit.: “the Black skinned” in sanskrit language: that is why the god is to be seen invariably depicted as a handsome youth with blue or violet complexion, more rarely utterly black). Krishna is the most famous avatāra (lit.: “descent”: “personification”) of one of the three most important hindu deities: Viṣṇu. As a mighty hero of the hindu epic, Kṛṣṇa’s life is praised since his childhood and education: in many miniatures he is to be seen as a small child, and the narration of this manuscript handles some of the god-hero’s most renowned deeds. Within the virtually infinite iconographic set concerning the god Kṛṣṇa, he is depicted from time to time as a toddler sparkling with divine power and wisdom (what was previously known to his human parents, Vasudeva e Devakī); as a divine cow shepherd, guardian of the Vṛṃdāvana rural community along with his brother Balarāma; as a carefree flute-player in joyful love with the beautiful gōpīs; as a cultural hero, setting villages and communities free from natural damages like monsters, as is the case of the killing of serpent Kālīya, that polluted the pure waters of the holy river Yamunā with its poisoning drool, or even divine threats, as in the case of the Govardhana hill miracle. On the other hand, many a miniature represent the black god notably as a crowned prince and as a skilled politician, painted while is working out some truce or arbitration between two opposite large, powerful clans of cousins that went at war: the mighty families of the Paṇḍavas and the Kauravas, whose bloody clashes (the so-called battle of Kurukṣetra) will end up to become the main narrative topic of the most famous and significant Sanskrit epic poem: the Māhabhārata.