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The biographies and memoirs of Mughal emperors were among the most prestigious manuscripts produced by the imperial kitabkhana and one assumes that every aspect of a book like the Akbarnama or the Padshahnama would be carefully planned, from the composition of the text, to the choice of paper on which it was written, the calligraphy of the words, the embellishment of the margins, and the paintings that accompanied the text. Yet when we read these manuscripts and see word and image in conjunction, it becomes apparent that paintings were not just illustrations that followed the texts; they expressed authorial positions, explored rhetorical possibilities and offered interpretations of events that could differ from the words.
This session will discuss the text-image relationship in Mughal chronicles by taking up one example each from the Akbarnama, the Jahangirnama, and the Padshahnama to show significant divergences between the words and the images that often faced each other across the page. Why is there a gap between the painting and the text? How did this affect the experience for the reader of the book? This lecture suggests that viewers “read” not just the text and the image, but also “saw” the gap between the two — a gap that could be meaningful, producing a semantic richness of its own.
Thumbnail, Hero & Poster Image Credit- Abid, ‘The Death of Khan Jahan Lodhi,’ From the Padshahnama, f. 94b. 1633. Royal Library, Windsor Castle, RCIN 1005025.q
Kavita Singh is Professor at the School of Arts and Aesthetics of Jawaharlal Nehru University where she teaches courses in the history of Indian painting, and the history and politics of museums. In 2018, she was awarded the Infosys Prize in Humanities and she was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2020.
Prateeti Punja Ballal
Prateeti Punja Ballal grew up in Bangalore and did her postgraduate work in the US. She taught Literature at various universities there, most recently at Hunter College, City University of New York. She earlier worked in the software industry for fifteen years. She has been a recipient of a Mellon fellowship for her research and several regional and international awards for her technical publications. A musician and dancer, she has a sustaining interest in the arts.