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Scenes from the legend of Gazi
From Bengal, perhaps the Murshidabad district, India
Around AD 1800
Story-telling using painted scrolls or panels is known of in India from at least the second century BC. Many later paintings depict mythical narratives, whether on paper or cloth. This type of long scroll-painting was used by itinerant storytellers in rural Bengal, as a visual aid to a spoken narration of the myths and exploits of the painted scenes.
Islam has been a major cultural force in eastern India since the twelfth and thirteenth-century Muslim invasions of the area. The fifty-seven registers of this remarkable scroll-painting may depict the many epic activities of a local Bengali Muslim pir, or saint, Gazi, including fighting with demons, overpowering dangerous animals and miraculously causing cattle to give milk. Gazi was renowned for his power over tigers; in one painted panel a male Muslim figure is seen receiving the homage of tigers and in another he is riding a tiger. These probably depict Gazi himself, as he was renowned for his ability to control the elements of the natural world, abilities of great importance to the newly evangelized Muslim population of southern Bengal as they penetrated and settled the dense jungles of the Ganges delta.
Stylistically, the painting belongs to the period before the influence of European painting conventions, and photography. It is characterized by brilliant colours, flat backgrounds, the avoidance of techniques suggesting depth or volume, and the obsession with pattern and design. Similar features appear in other pre-modern Indian painting styles.
T.R. Blurton, 'The 'Murshidabad' pats of Bengal' in Picture showmen: insights into (Bombay, Marg Publications)
I. Cooper and J. Gillow, Arts and crafts of India (London, Thames and Hudson, 1996)