The Government Museum and Art Gallery, in collaboration with the Chandigarh Lalit Kala Akademi, is organising an illustrated talk by eminent art historian Professor BN Goswamy, titled “A Canopy of Arrows; A Mountain of Fire, Great Images from a Bhagavata Purana of the Mysore Court”. The lecture is based on the book, The Great Mysore Bhagavata – Complete study of a Manuscript from the Binney collection in the San Diego Museum of Art, by Goswamy, which also has essays by Robert J Del Bonta and Caleb Simmons. It is the complete study of the manuscript of Bhagavata Purana, dated 1825, housed at the San Diego Museum of Art collection.
The Maharaja of Mysore, Krishnaraja Wodeyar lll, commissioned this manuscript dedicated to the exploits of Krishna during the latter part of his life. The text is written in the local Kannada script, with 215 illustrations on 218 folios. Although little remains known of the royal atelier of the Wodeyar rajas of Mysore, this manuscript is testament to a flourishing school of painting.
With the exception of the work done in the Sultanates of the Deccan, relatively little attention has gone to painting in the southern parts of India. Even rarer has been the fact of a complete, surviving manuscript from the south being taken in hand and studied in such detail. This book from Mysore, therefore, stands out and shines, not only because of the splendour of its illustrations but also because it engages with an enduring theme — that great and sacred text, the Bhagavata Purana — in a manner, and from an angle, that is completely different from almost anything else that one sees.
This volume, which was with Edwin Binney III, and came in 1986 as a part of his vast collection of Indian paintings to the San Diego Museum of Art, was originally in the collection of the Mysore royal family. An embossed seal, oval in shape, on one of the early, blank pages of this volume puts the matter beyond doubt, for the legend on it, written in English, reads: “His Highness Rajah of Mysore”.