Ibrahim Adil Shah II: Poet, painter and art patron

A portrait in the City Palace Museum in Jaipur shows Ibrahim Adil Shah II with a mark on the forehead, similar to the sacred mark common among several sects of Hindus.

Published: 21st July 2022 01:36 AM  |   Last Updated: 21st July 2022 01:36 AM   |  A+A-

Ibrahim Adil Shah II

Portrait of Ibrahim Adil Shah II in the David Collection, Copenhagen, Denmark. (Photo | The museum's online catalogue)

The Bahmani Kingdom with its capital at Gulbarga (Kalaburagi, Karnataka) was founded in 1347, but later Berar, Ahmadnagar, Bijapur (Vijayapura), Bidar, and Golkonda became independent realms. The art of miniature painting flourished in some of these centres—also known as Deccani painting. Among the Bijapur Sultans of the Adil Shahi dynasty (1490–1686), Ibrahim Adil Shah II (r. 1571–1627) stands out as a poet, musician and painter, besides being a talented ruler and patron of art. Mark Zebrowski (1944–1999), who published a pioneering book, Deccani Painting (1983), remarked that Ibrahim was “the greatest patron of the arts the Deccan produced.”

Ibrahim belonged to the Sunni Islam sect but was broadminded in his religious views and practices. He was devoted to Prophet Muhammad, Hindu deities Saraswati and Ganapati, and Sufi saint Sayyid Muhammad Gisu Daraz (1321–1422) of Gulbarga. Ibrahim was well aware of the Indian aesthetic concept of the Rasa (essence), originally proposed as eight (Rasas) by Bharata Muni in the Naatya Sastra, an ancient Sanskrit treatise on drama, etc. Later, a ninth one was added, and thus came forth the idea of the Nava Rasas. In 1599, he laid the foundation for a new capital, Navraspur, near Bijapur. It was destroyed in a war in 1624 because its fortification was not completed by then. He also issued a coin, the Nun-i-Nauras. Two Bijapur poets of his time, Rashid Qazwani and Abdul Qadir, assumed the pen name of Nauras and Naurasi respectively, but their writings did not survive. Ibrahim was fond of his elephants, Atash Khan and Nauras Paikar, and his tambura called Moti Khan. He was a master chess player and is said to have written a treatise on the board game. 

Though Persian was the dominant language of the time, Ibrahim penned 59 songs and 17 couplets—in Kitab-i-Nauras (Nauras Nama)—in Deccani, which later developed into Urdu. It was edited and translated in 1959 by Nazar Ahmad of Lucknow. P K Gode (1891–1961), the first curator of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute in Pune, wrote in his forward that the work “was a notable attempt with a lesson of its own for all Hindu and Muslim thinkers of today.” The same opinion, I suppose, holds weight even today. 

Tomb complex of Ibrahim, Bijapur, by William Robert Houghton (1826–1897). (Photo | A picture postcard)

Muhammad Zuhuri (c. 1537–1616), a Persian poet, was initially in Shiraz (Iran), but later served in the court of Akbar in Agra and under three Sultans of Ahmadnagar, and then at Bijapur under Ibrahim. He wrote Saqi Nama (Book of the Wine Cup-bearer), Khan-i Khalil (Table of the Friend of God), Gulzar-i-Ibrahim (Rose Garden of Abraham), and also the preface to his patron’s book. In Gulzar, Zuhuri wrote about Ibrahim’s virtues which, like the Nava Rasa, were nine. He said further about Ibrahim, “In the art of painting, he excels the painter… While placing the looking glass before him, he paints his own picture…(and) also an excellent calligrapher.” Though portraits were known in Indian art from very ancient times, making a self-portrait by looking at one’s reflection in the mirror was of European origin, and to the best of my knowledge, unknown earlier. A painting of Ibrahim, known to have been copied in Bikaner (Rajasthan) from a lost Bijapur original, is in the David Collection in Copenhagen, Denmark. This painting contains certain qualities, especially the gaze, which in my opinion appears to be a mirror-aided self-portrait. Incidentally, Cornelius Claesz Heda of Haarlem of Netherlands was a court painter of Rudolf II (r. 1576–1612), and also worked under Ibrahim. Heda presented a painting titled Bacchus, Venus and Cupid to Ibrahim. However, only a letter written by him from Navraspur has survived, but not his paintings done either in Europe or in India.

Ibrahim assumed the title of Jagat Guru (Universal Preceptor), A portrait in the City Palace Museum in Jaipur shows him with a mark on the forehead, similar to the sacred mark common among several sects of Hindus. According to Zebrowski, “In all but one of Ibrahim’s portraits… he is shown wearing a necklace of the rudraksha”. Ibrahim, in my opinion, seems to have been inspired by the locally dominant Veerasaivism, which gives utmost importance to a personal Guru, and also the Rudraksha necklaces. 

Many court poets of Ibrahim wrote poems for which illustrated/calligraphic manuscripts were produced at Bijapur. For instance, Husain Manjhu Khalji, under the pen name of the Hans (swan), penned a love story Deccani, the Pem Nem (Toils of Love). Its copy in the British Library contains 34 paintings.

Zuhuri also mentions six courtiers of Ibrahim, including a painter, Farrukh Husain, also known as Farrukh Beg (c. 1547–1616), and says, “The expert painters take pride in being his pupils.” Many paintings by Farrukh Beg do offer a sumptuous feast to the eye. He and his paintings, in my opinion, need to be discussed separately, sooner than later. 

Srinivas Sistla

Associate Professor, Department of Fine Arts, Andhra University, Visakhapatnam



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