The Deccani scrolls from Jagdish Mittal’s museum come alive in an amazing book format

Jagdish Mittal’s book Deccani Scroll Paintings in the Jagdish and Kamla Mittal Museum of Indian Art, is an experience of the magnanimity of the painted scrolls.

The 218-page book is an extensively researched text corroborating the 124 coloured plates of nine scrolls. It comes alive in its rich flavour while remaining true to the details of texture, colour, hues and lines of the painted scrolls.

The author mentions that he wanted to write this book during the Seventies as he had acquired a number of scrolls by then. Although he had spoken to the scroll painters, he could not derive any information regarding the legends of the scrolls; the painters were not fully aware, as it was a closely guarded secret of the picture showmen.

In the preface Jotindra Jain points out that there is hardly any published research material available of the patams of Telangana, “The book, Deccani Scroll Paintings…., is the first of its kind and is likely to serve as the only reliable reference source for some time to come.”

The scrolls reflect the culture of a traditional practice that involves showing the scroll by gradually revealing it and narrating the story in it. The author mentions: “The Telangana picture-showmen showed only the caste-based stories, traditionally assigned to their caste, and their scrolls were painted by professional artists. The scrolls of this region also differ in form, being larger in size and finer in workmanship than paintings on cloth used by picture showmen elsewhere in India.”

In terms of readability, the author describes the works in a fluid style, and structures the comprehensive information under sub-headings to facilitate easy navigation for the reader . Each plate is accompanied by the title, a number and a tiny pointer that connects the relevant text to the plates. A map of Andhra Pradesh locates the sites where the scroll paintings were done and performed.

The bibliography lists 20 titles in alphabetical order, along with the year of the publication.

The significantly represented images at the beginning of the book are of Ganesha, followed by those of Shiva, Brahma, and Vishnu; invoking the idea of the scroll to be a mobile shrine and homage is paid to it by the priest of the scroll along with the audience.

Other than being the researcher of the scrolls who writes and illuminates the scholarly mind, Jagdish Mittal assumes the role he loves most — that of the eternal viewer of these scrolls.

He points out the nuances of the episodes depicted in the scrolls and mentions that the images are not in sequence of the oral recital; they flow as per the pictorial and narrative requirements of the picture showmen, and were shaped by the popularity of certain episodes among the local people. As a result, the central characters in all the scrolls are shown in a larger scale and are finished with great care.

Jagdish Mittal’s acumen and wealth of experiential knowledge of the living traditions of Indian art becomes conspicuous once again in this book as he combines art, historical and anthropological methods to convey true to life experiencing of the Deccani Scrolls in the wonderfully designed book. A book to be celebrated by one and all.

(The writer is a Art Historian )