The Bhagavadgeeta and other Vaishnava Devotional & Incantatory Texts. Kashmir, India 19th Century
Title: A finely illuminated and illustrated copy of the Bhagavad-gita, together with thirteen other shorter Vaishnava texts, including the four works that with the Gita are popularly known as the “Five Jewels” (pancharatnani) of the Mahabharata.
Particulars of this manuscript: This copy is undated but is probably 19th century. The illumination and illustration are typically Kashmiri in style and very similar to those same features in the “Five Jewels” manuscript. It has also been copied in the same brand of elegant Devanagari hand as the “Five Jewels” manuscript. It may be going too far to propose that both manuscripts were produced in the same manuscript or painting studio. They simply emphasize the fact that 19th-century Kashmir was a flourishing centre of Hindu manuscript production. There was a body of professional scribes and artists employed there, trained to the same standards and working in very much the same way, including borrowing some aspects of manuscript decoration from the Islamic tradition. The addition of these nine texts to the Bhagavadgita and the other texts making up the Pancaratnagita suggests that this manuscript was commissioned by an individual or family to bring together their favourite devotional and incantatory texts.
Contents: The manuscript opens with the main Bhagavadgita text (complete in 18 chapters) followed by the four other short Hindu devotional works: the Vishnusahasranama, the Bhishmastavaraja, the Anusmriti, and the Gajendramoksha that complete the “Five Jewels”. But it also contains a further nine similar short works in the following order:
Significance of the work: For the significance of the Bhagavadgita and the “Five Jewels” of the Mahabharata see the description of the “Five Jewels” manuscript. The additional works in this manuscript are all hymns (stava or stotra) or charms/amulets (kavaca literally meaning ‘armour’) to be recited when invoking the help of the gods to overcome different problems in life. For instance, the Ramarakshastotra is recommended for solving quarrels or enmity between people, the Trailokyamohanakavaca for helping to attract people to oneself, and the Suryakavaca for good health and prosperity.
The author: See the description of the “Five Jewels of the Mahabharata”. The other shorter works are all anonymous.
Illustrations: There are only six illustrations in this manuscript, far fewer than in the other “Five Jewels” manuscript but almost identical in style:
· Vishnu lying on Shesha, the king of all Nagas, with his wife Lakshmi massaging his lotus feet
· Krishna with an old royal sage and an archer
· Prince Arjuna with his uncle, the blind king Dhritarashtra
· Lord Vishnu descending to earth to save the elephant Gajendra who had called for his help when seized by the crocodile Makara (appropriately placed at the beginning of the Gajendramoksha text)
· Rama and Sita with Lakshmana and Hanuman on one side, attendants on the other
· The god Shiva holding a trident and seated on a tiger skin and his consort Parvati.
The first five subjects were also depicted in the other “Five Jewels” manuscript but with some differences of detail.
Technical description: Paper manuscript in pothi format in Sanskrit comprising over 400 folios. Each page has 6 lines of text in Devanagari script in black ink, with the punctuation and section titles in red or gold, enclosed in orange and gold rules. The first page to seven of the works (i.e. the “Five Jewels” plus the Ramasahasranama and the Ramarakshastotra) have been given special treatment i.e. containing just 4 lines (written in alternating red, gold and black ink) surrounded by a richly decorated border with floral and arabesque patterns in blue and gold. The first double-page of each text is similarly decorated. The opening pages of most of the 18 chapters within the Bhagavadgita itself have been treated in the same way. The manuscript is in a modern red leather binding. There is some worming to the manuscript, particularly at the beginning, but this is largely confined to the margins and not affecting the text. The dimensions of each page are appoximately 6 inches x 4 inches.
Provenance: Private collection
Comparable material: See the note and references given in the description of the “Five Jewels” manuscript. A very similar compilation is described in Manuscripts from the Himalayas and the Indian subcontinent. Catalogue 17 (London: Sam Fogg Rare Books, 1996), pp. 55-56. On Kashmiri manuscript illustration in general see Karuna Goswamy, Kashmiri painting: assimilation and diffusion; production and patronage (Shimla: Indian Institute of Advanced Study, 1998).
Contact us for pricing. Free Shipping.