The newly renovated galleries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York display the richness and grandeur of the exhibits.

The renovated ‘Galleries for the Art of the Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia, and Later South Asia' that were opened at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York this past month showcased the richness and grandeur of Islam's artistic and cultural heritage.

India's presence was seen in a few galleries, including ‘Mughal South Asia (16th–19th centuries) Gallery' and ‘Later South Asia (16th–20th centuries) Gallery'. They illustrated the wealth of Indian art and culture, architecture and history, and the exemplary craftsmanship of Indian artists and artisans.. They also demonstrated the patronage extended by the then rulers of different dynasties to the growth of indigenous art.

The museum is considered to be one of the best places to learn about Islamic art, its history and impact. Highlights of the museum's collection include glass and metal work and ceramics from Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Iran; some of the finest classical carpets in existence; notable early and medieval holy Qurans, pages from the sumptuous copy of ‘Shahnama', a Book of Kings of Iran; outstanding royal miniatures from the courts of the Arab world, Ottoman Turkey, Persia and Mughal India.

Unrivalled collection

“This museum and the worthy collections, which are unrivalled, are also a part of a larger story of American respect for, and interest in all cultures and all faiths,” said a cross-section of art lovers present at the inauguration function of the renovated galleries on October 24. At a time when some Muslim countries are demolishing symbols of Islamic culture, the U.S. should be commended for taking the initiative to protect them,they pointed out.

“In sequence, the new galleries trace the course of Islamic civilisation over a span of 13 centuries, from the Middle East to North Africa, Europe, and Central and South Asia,” explained Thomas P. Campbell, Director of the Metropolitan Museum.

The ‘Mughal South Asia' and ‘Later South Asia' galleries unified the collection of the Islamic and Asian departments, thus presenting a historically cohesive and visually spectacular overview of the many facets of the art of the region. They highlighted the artistic and cultural diversity of the Indian sub-continent and its wider connections with the Islamic world, Europe and beyond.

Masterpieces from India

The ‘Mughal South Asia' gallery displayed works from the Sultanate, Mughal, and Deccan courts in a chronological and regional sweep. Masterpieces included celebrated folios from the Emperor's Album, jades and jewels of the Mughal period, and fine examples of the Deccan court art.

Iranian practice influenced early Mughal art, but the royal workshops employed many native Indian artists and craftsmen. These artists forged a distinctive, Mughal style. The visitors were awestruck by the details and the paintings of Islamic courts in India and Pakistan, the wooden writing box, bidri box for holding betel leaves, pilgrim flask, velvet panel with floral design – which were all used by Mughal Kings. It also included the Mughal jewelled art, arms and armour. Eye catching were the paintings on various topics by Bhavani Das, Kamal Muhammad, Nidha Mal and Mir Kalam Khan.

The ‘Later South Asia Gallery' presented vibrant examples of Jain, Rajput, Pahari, and ‘Company' school paintings, textiles and decorative art, showcasing the artistic variety of the Indian courts.

The Indian subcontinent has for centuries seen artistic flowering at the court, city, and village levels. While the imperial Mughal court was the dominant cultural influence in northern India, the artistic traditions were impacted by older indigenous styles and the continuing vibrancy of Rajput paintings, Jain manuscript illustrations and a wide variety of Indian subject matter.

Works of art on display in this gallery are drawn mainly from the courts of Rajasthan, the Punjab hills and the expansive Mughal sphere. They reflect artistic exchanges among these centres as well as connections to the wider world through textiles and furniture made for luxury trade from Indian coasts.

This gallery also provides useful and vital information on how Nayak Dynasty patronage in the 17th century sustained both Hindu temple art, an opulent court culture in Madurai and in Kerala, which drew much of its inspiration from the preceding Vijayanagar tradition. The world of village India represents another stream, with dynamic textile and metalwork traditions that were largely untouched by the court cultures.

Navina Najat Haidar, who hails from Aligarh (India) and is the curator and coordinator for the new galleries in the Museum's Department of Islamic Art, played a key role in the renovation of these galleries. She had been supervising the renovation work for over six years and had gone to great lengths to fetch the royal exhibits. But a modest Haidar maintains that it was the generous support of the South Asian-American community, which enabled her to successfully complete this tough job.