The Shi-ite Qutubshahi Kings of Golconda having their origin in Persia, established their supremacy firmly for hundred and seventy-one years i.e., from 1518-1687 on the Decanis political firmament and actively contributed enormously for the cultural advancement of Golconda (lying in the precincts of the present Telangana in Andhra Pradesh) by evolving a novel composite culture in Deccan.

The Qutubshahis being one amongst the five dynasties (the Imadshahis of Berar, the Adilshahis of Bijapur, the Nizamshahis of Ahmadnagar, and the Baridshahis of Bidar) of the broken Bahmini kingdom triumphed in carving a niche for themselves in the Indian cultural arena by displaying a considerable interest towards art right from the beginning of their era1. In fact, the contribution of the Qutubshahis to the cultural uplift of the country in which they had settled in the fields of art …is very considerable2.

Panorama of paintings

The overall Qutubshahi cultural style can be inevitably reflected in Golconda paintings because there the paintings were closely interwoven with the entire fabric of a culture that flourished once at Golconda. The Golconda paintings being scarce and widely scattered exhibits, the Qutubshahi kings’ thirst for exotic diversity. The process of stylistic progress in paintings at Golconda was no doubt the outcome of a combination of the Ottoman, Mughal, Bijapuri, and Vijayanagar arts3. Broadly speaking, a distinct style of painting took shape, borrowing various features from Indian, Persian, and Western painting styles during the Qutubshahi period4.


(Courtesy: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Co-education_in_Qutb_Shahi_Dynasty.jpeg)

The orientation in these paintings represents the native Persian character of the Qutubshahi kings, which they derived from their native land Persia. Due to the Indianized theme in Persianized colours, these paintings are still regarded as masterpieces. Many Golconda paintings are extinct as a consequence of Aurangazeb’s Deccani muddle. A few paintings that have survived from these political nightmares are now displayed at divergent national and international galleries of the world.

Two volumes of lavishly decorated Quran, preserved in the Salar Jung Museum, Hyderabad, are the only paintings pertaining to the regime of Sultan Quli., the founder of the Qutubshahi dynasty. A peep into the paintings of Sultan Quli’s age portrays the Deccani insight and thick and compact colours like inky blue, lilac-pink, and salmon red blended in alien and Persian designs5.

With the accession of Ibrahim Quli to the gaddi (throne), a new phase in the Golconda painting started in the form of manuscripts in the miniature paintings. The Deccani paintings featured prior to A.D. 1565 reminisces Ibrahim Quli’s association with the Hindu Vijayanagar Kingdom6. Ibrahim Quli’s exuberant interest in paintings evoked the Turks, Iranians, and emigre artistes of Bukhara, Bakharz (in Khorasan), and Shiraz to flock to his court. The first miniature manuscript Anwar-I-suhaili composed during Ibrahim Quli’s regime is still being preserved in the Victoria and Albert Museum, (between 1550-1560) and gives a vivid description of the sixteenth century’s conspicuous feature of Golconda’s intersecting arcades, palatial structures, windows, balconies etc. No doubt, this Anwar-I-Suhaili proves to be a striking example of the depiction of manuscripts in miniature paintings.

During the same period, Baba Mirak of Herati compiled a medical encyclopedia. Conserved at Chester Beatty Library in Dublin, its double-page front piece depicts the pictures of simurghs attacking lions and divine spirits in coral red, lilac-pink and purple colours. Shirin wa Khusrau, a painting of Hatif (1576), bearing the seals of the Qutubshahi kings in the Oriental Public Library at Patna was created with the illustrations of several small portraits on all seven pages. Some of the significant miniatures of Ibrahim Quli’s period are The Sindbadnama (India Office Library, London), Zulakhya (British Library, London), Shama wa Parwana (Salar Jung Museum, Hyderabad), and Surahs of the Quran (Salar Jung Museum)7.

Very few paintings are ascribed to King Muhammad Quli’s reign, and mostly all of them are exquisite and are still well preserved. Muhammad Quil’s magnificent Urdu poetry, styled aesthetically as Kulliyat, stands as an extravagant copy of high-quality paintings of Golconda. Poet Ahmad’s Laila Majnun (1581), the famous fourteen miniatures (romantic fiction volume) composed during Muhammad Quli’s regime has now been obliterated8.

The three ambassadors sent by Shah Abbas of Persia to the court of Sultan Muhammad Quli, the successor of Muhammad Quli in the year 1603, derived a good deal of its characterization in a painting that was captioned as The Three Ambassadors9. Now preserved at the British Museum, the picture of this royal embassy foreshows these three envoys to the right of Sultan Muhammad Quli and many royal attendants to his left. Such replicas of Golconda brought even the political caricatures of their Kings within the pictorial framework. Tobias Angel or an angel holding a big fish in the Musee Guimet, Paris (1615), Prince on Horse Hawking in the India Office Library, London (1620), Yogini in Bharathiya Ithihasa Samshodhak Mandal, Pune (1625), Tree on the Island of Waqwaq in the Islamis Ches Museum, Berlin (early 17th century), etc., are the outstanding paintings that were ascribed to Sultan Mohammad Quli’s era10.

To be continued …

Prabhu Kumari
Ph.D., Research Scholar, Department of History,
Loyola College, Chennai


Source: Journal of Indian History and Culture, September 2000

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