Deccan Oval Box

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Size: 11.25 x 9.5 x 5 inches
Material: Copper
Origin: North Karnataka


This is a Deccan, repoussed copper, oval-shaped box from North Karnataka, which would have been used to store valuables. The lid and sides are engraved with beautiful scrollwork vines and hamsas. Hamsa, which is possibly a swan or goose, is revered by Hindus, Buddhists, and Jains. It is seen as a symbol of purity, detachment and divine knowledge. Hamsa symbolizes the highest spiritual accomplishment as it swims in water, walks on earth and flies in the sky. The box has a circular copper handle at the top, with two flowers at the base. These flower motifs are repeated as engravings on the double hinges at the back.
The Deccan sultanates were five dynasties that ruled late medieval South Indian kingdoms, namely Bijapur, Golkonda, Ahmadnagar, Bidar, and Berar. These sultanates were located on the Deccan Plateau. Their architecture was a regional variant of Indo-Islamic architecture, heavily influenced by the Delhi sultanate and later Mughal architecture.
Mark Zebrowski describes how these Persian influences combined with local traditions and says, “We are left with two contrasting pairs of qualities: order and restraint versus richness and sensuousness. Odd bedfellows, one might well imagine, but it is precisely the cohabitation of such near-opposites, partly reconciled to each other, but partly in eternal opposition, that endows Mughal (sic Deccan) objects with their magic power to arrest our attention and invigorate our souls.”
  • ABOUT Deccan Metalware

    “Metal has always been to India, what ceramics has been to China,” says Mark Zebrowski, author of the 1997 book “Silver, Gold and Bronze from Mughal India”, and one of the leading global experts for Deccan metalwork. Deccan metalware is characterized by a unique blend of South Indian artistic traditions, combined with Persian and Mughal influences.

    The Deccan Plateau is a large plateau in western and southern India, covering significant parts of Telangana, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. The Deccan produced some of the major dynasties in Indian history, of which one was the Deccan Sultanate - five late-medieval Indian kingdoms on the Deccan Plateau between the Krishna River and the Vindhya Range, that were ruled by Muslim dynasties: namely Ahmadnagar, Berar, Bidar, Bijapur, and Golconda.

    In the 12th century, Turkish emirs from Central Asia and Afghanistan gained control of the land from Gujarat across to Bengal and then later the Deccan or southern lands. And so was born the Indo-Islamic style, looking to the west with Persian influences, yet intertwining local practices and innovation. “India interpreted, but seldom imitated; and sometimes her interpretations not only surpassed, but altered, her models,” according to Zebrowski. Although the Sultanate period was the beginning of this style, it was not until the 14th century that a full-blown Indo-Islamic vision appeared and set the tone for most later Indo-Islamic art.

    The second important development of this style was the Mughal invasion. By 1700, the Mughal empire included all of the Deccan, and patronage of the arts grew hugely.  Metalwork always reigned supreme among the decorative arts at court, and combined well with the long Indian history of working in brass, bronze, and copper, dating back to first century BC.

    This combination, Zebrowski says, produced “a confrontation of two very different visions - namely the ethereal lightness of the Muslim arabesque with the perennial sculptural qualities of the Indian approach” and this is what it gives it “its rare power”. As the craftsmen working for both Hindus and Muslims were probably the same, a common idiom was formed with an emphasis on flowers for Muslims and figures for Hindus. “Such mingling of Hindu and Muslim sensibilities gave Mughal (sic Deccan) art rare formal strengths and the ability to endure,” argues Zebrowski.  

    Deccan metalware specifically, while showcasing the same combination as the Mughal pieces did – namely the influence of the abstraction of the Middle East with the plasticity of India - had its own, much more luxurious, and opulent style. “Deccani objects bristle with energy. We are reminded of the opulent decorative sense of Deccani painters, who designed the figures on the best of these metal pieces, and ultimately of the luxuriance of Hindu South Indian ornament, fundamentally different from that of the north,” says Mark Zebrowski.

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