A 16th century manuscript,packed with fables and illustrations,had almost faded into history. An ongoing restoration effort has turned back the clock.
Under the microscopes,in a carefully lit room of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS),Mumbai,the animals are coming back to life. They belong to the Anvar-i Suhayli,an illustrated manuscript that dates back to the era of Mughal emperor Akbar and carries an A++ grading. This is the highest grading available,certifying that the manuscript is an artwork of unique national importance. In January,the Bank of America provided CSMVS with funding to restore the Anvar-i Suhayli. Today,its ancient images of crows and partridges as well as kings and courtiers are beginning to look like new again.
Written in Persian,Anvar-i Suhayli (Lights of Canopus) contains a compilation of fables from the Panchatantra. The original Sanskrit text of the Panchatantra is believed to have been composed in the 3rd century BC by Vishnu Sharma,an Indian scholar. In the 12th century,a Persian version of the Panchatantra emerged,which came to be known as Kalileh o Demneh. This was the version that formed the basis of the 16th century Anvar-i Suhayli.
The Anvar-i Suhayli has been with CSMVS since the early 1970s. It was found in Pune,auctioned by Sothebys in the UK,and later,brought back to India,where it was donated to the museum, says Anupam Sah,Head of Art Conservation,Research and Training,at CSMVS Museum Art Conservation Centre.
When the manuscript,which Sah describes as among the most exquisite from Akbars atelier,arrived,it was in a sorry state. In the past three months,however,the progress has been impressive. There are remnants of old glue stains on the manuscript,and some of the paints have changed colour (for instance,beautiful yellows have turned brown). A number of paintings were stuck on paper. These have to be set right, says Sah. He adds that about 60 folios have been restored completely. The entire process is likely to take eight months more.
A collaboration between the Bank of America Art Conservation Project and CSMVS,this project is being jointly led by Sah and Vandana Prapanna,a Senior Curator at the museum. The history department at the museum,of which Prapanna is a part,is also conducting a great deal of research on the manuscript,which involves comparing it to other manuscripts around the world in an attempt to perfect the restoration process.