June 2019

“Scent upon a Southern Breeze”, Marg’s new book brings together scholarship on the Deccani arts

Supported by the Tata Trusts, Marg’s well-curated anthology delves into the lesser studied Deccani arts of perfume-making, Kalamkari textiles, Bidri-ware metalwork and more

“Scent Upon a Southern Breeze: The Synaesthetic Arts of the Deccan”, Ed. Kavita Singh, The Marg Foundation, 2018

In 1946, when India was going through political strife, it was deemed important to highlight India’s cultural diversity and artistic heritage. The Marg Foundation, “guided by the spirit of humanism, socialism and internationalism” , has been publishing books and magazines on Indian art and culture since that period. In the 70+ years since the Foundation has been active, it has published quarterly magazines and books on a range of topics related to India’s artistic and cultural heritage – provoking debate amongst art critics, historians, academicians and others.

In line with its vision, The Marg Foundation, with support from the Tata Trusts, recently published an edited anthology on the lesser-studied Deccani arts. While Mughal history, art and architecture is much celebrated and researched, scholarly work on the arts from the Deccan region that flourished under the opulent kingdoms in the 16th – 18th centuries, is scarce. “Scent upon a Southern Breeze: The Synaesthetic Arts of the Deccan”, edited by distinguished art historian Kavita Singh, brings together writings that ruminate on arts experienced not just through the sense of sight, but aural and olfactory as well.

“Ma’ali Mian Saif al-Mulk Being Shown Some Jewels”, attributed to Rai Venkatachellam, Hyderabad, 1795. Courtesy The David Collection, Copenhagen. Photograph by Pernille Klemp

The Trusts’ support for this publication was a natural extension of our ongoing long-term grant to the Aga Khan Trust for Culture for the conservation of ten key monuments within the Qutb Shahi Heritage Park in Hyderabad. This conservation project not only revealed details and nuances of the architecture and aesthetics of the Qutb Shahi builders bit by bit, but also highlighted how little research is available to corroborate their findings. This publication is a step towards creating more dialogue on the Deccani arts within Indian academia and disseminating research into, and knowledge of, the decadent, but understudied, Deccan Sultanate.

A visual feast of 156 pages, Scent upon a Southern Breeze opens with Kavita Singh’s introduction setting the context of the region, its trading history and court politics, the artistic and cultural mélange in the Deccan as a result of the region’s cosmopolitan make-up, and its hybrid arts that exhibit a new style marked with elements of Persian, Mughal, European and South Indian styles. Singh argues that the study of Deccan arts is getting much-deserved attention in the 21st century  precisely because of their hybrid, opulent nature. The essays that follow delve into subjects like the practice of perfume-making in the Deccan, the craft of Bidri-ware metalworking, kalamkari textiles and their exquisite motifs, music and courtly power.  Together, these essays create a powerful overarching narrative of the aesthetic excellence of the Deccan arts. 
Palampore made in Golconda for the European export market, 1725-1750 CE.Collection of Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

The support to the book, and other projects of The Marg Foundation (including an endowment), is in line with the Tata Trusts’ Arts and Culture portfolio’s Art Education strategy that seeks to support tertiary level efforts in art education including research and programmes at the post graduate level.

—    Paroma Sadhana