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After Mughal artist Anant's illustration to the 16th century The Anwar-i Suhayli (‘Lights of Canopus’) by Husayn Vaʻiz Kashifi: The camel rider, the snake and the buffalo. North India, probably Delhi, circa late 19th century. Opaque watercolour with gold on wasli. 33.3 x 24cm
Most likely produced to satisfy the demand in post-Mughal India driven by nostalgia for the stability and relative prosperity of the former empire. Paintings and book illustrations served this need by reproducing earlier styles of Mughal painting and in this instance by faithfully reproducing a well known book illustration. The camel rider, the snake and the buffalo is one of seven morality tales in The Anvar-i Suhayli.It tells of a camel rider who came to rescue a serpent from a bush fire by fashioning a means for it to escape by attaching a bag to his spear. However the serpent lets him know it is about to strike both him and his camel in accordance with humankind's natural disposition towards other creatures, to which the now shaken rider protests and seeks arbitration. An old buffalo citing bad experience sides with the serpent, as does a tree, and a fox who having some sympathy with the rider tells the serpent how unlikely it would be for it to manage to fit into the bag. The serpent reacts to the fox's comment by showing how it is done whereupon the rider seizes his chance to slam the bag against the ground so killing the serpent. The moral of the tale is that it is not advisable to be kind to a long-standing enemy even when that enemy appears to be in distress.
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Above: gilt detail reflecting light
Images and text © Peter Blohm