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Eastern Encounters pattern
Eastern Encounters

Drawn from the Royal Library's collection of South Asian books and manuscripts

CAT. NO. 31

Shah-Jahan hunting lions at Burhanpur (July 1630)

Mughal, <i>c</i>.1630–40

Fol. 220v from a manuscript of the Padshahnama (see cat. no. 26) | Painting in opaque watercolour including gold and silver metallic paints with decorative incising on paper; set into margins of gold metallic paint on paper | 58.1 × 36.5 cm (folio); 35.2 × 22.9 cm (image) | RCIN

This painting comes towards the end of the Padshahnama volume alongside a text describing a hunt that took place in Bari in 1637. Details of the painting however are much closer to the account of a hunt that occurred in Burhanpur, north of the Deccan, in July 1630 when Shah-Jahan was in his late thirties and the three oldest Princes still in their early teens. Hunting (shikar) was one of the most popular pastimes in Hindustan, though Mughal chronicles strip it of any leisurely connotations, projecting it instead as a form of control. Contemporary viewers of this image would have been aware that the hunting of lions and tigers was the prerogative of the Mughal emperor and princes alone.[113]

The most common method of hunting was the Central Asian qamargha (‘ringing-in’) manner. This was a mammoth task in which thousands of beaters surrounded huge areas of countryside and gradually herded the game inwards; this smaller area was then fenced off with a strong net and the animals trapped inside. Such a method was considered far less reckless than hunting without a net, and therefore a reflection of a good and stable ruler. Facing ferocious beasts at close quarters, the emperor was nevertheless able to project an image of a bold and courageous leader.[114] Such hunts were also used as training for the army and were often undertaken before military campaigns. The success of this specific hunt in Burhanpur was considered a ’favourable omen’ for Shah-Jahan’s forces in the ensuing Deccan campaign, whereas the escape of an animal would have signified ‘infinite evil to the state’.[115]

The structure of the painting immediately draws the viewer to the figure of the Emperor, who, from the back of an elephant, eyes the lion down the barrel of his long matchlock, balanced on the shoulder of his mahut. The tall net forms a physical and a metaphorical barrier between the imperial family and their attendants in the foreground. Dressed in various shades of khaki camouflage, the beaters, mace-bearers and officials form an animated gathering as they relax and chatter; each face is rendered with individual care. On the left, two men wear European hats over their turbans.[116] Towards the centre, a mace-bearer has wrapped his arm in strong leather. Presumably this is one of the the men who, according to the text, gathered the lion cubs after the adults had been killed, apparently by allowing them to bite onto their left arms while they stunned them with the mace in their right. The unknown painter has created a swampy landscape, not unlike those of contemporary Flemish and Dutch artists, inhabited by pairs of tiny animals and birds with a town in the distance as the colours fade to blue.[117]

  • [113] For the Mughal hunt see Koch 1998.

    [114] Koch 1997, p. 210.

    [115] Bernier, p. 379, quoted in Beach and Koch 1997, p. 110.

    [116] See also cat. no. 25.

    [117] For the Flemish influence on Mughal landscape painting see Koch 1996, pp. 167–76.

  • Bibliographic reference(s)

    Beach and Koch 1997, pp. 110, 210–11

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