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Tracing the story of fireworks through Indian paintings

As we celebrate the festival of lights, let’s take a look at how Indian art had depicted this festival. While the representation of Diwali is almost negligible in the modernist and contemporary art world, the festival has been captured well in Indian miniature art, highlighting how firecrackers have been part of our culture for the longest time. Celebrating marriage procession and even Muslim celebration Shab e barat have been integral to our culture and visual arts too.

Two Nautch Girls with Sparklers by a Stream on the Night of the Diwali Festival
The painting is from the collection of The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. The gouache and silver with red border mounted on album leafwas created in circa 1790 – 1800. And, as the title suggests against a muted background, two nautch girls are enjoying the sparkler burning.

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Pic Courtesy: The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Princess enjoying a sparkler in the month of Karttika
The paintingis from the collection of National Museum, New Delhi. The 36X25 cm painting was created in circa AD 1750 and portrays the delicate play of colours and the striking contrast of the plain background, as compared to the exquisitely painted walls and elaborately flower filled carpet in flaming red. The work is originally from Kishangarh, Rajasthan clan and highlights the artist’s mastery over his medium.

Princess enjoying a sparkler in the month of Karttika

Pic Courtesy: National Museum, New Delhi

Radha and Krishna Watching Fireworks in the Night Sky
The painting is from the collection of National Museum, New Delhi. In this painting, both Radha and Krishna are seated on a chair against a pillow and enjoying fire works with gopis. Two females are standing behind the chair. Some gopis standing in front are playing veena and sitar and some are holding fireworks.

Radha and Krishna

Pic Courtesy: National Museum

Zenana Scene with Fireworks
The painting is from the collection of Freer and Sackler Galleries and belongs to the 17th century. This colour and gold on paper is from the times when Mughals ruled India. The fireworks in the backdrop illuminate the dark sky whereas festivities continue in the foreground.

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Pic Courtesy: Freer and Sackler Galleries

Marriage Procession of Dara Shikoh
This painting shows the elaborate marriage procession with Dara Shikoh mounted on a brown stallion with the traditional sehra and accompanied by his father, Shahjahan (with nimbus) on white horse. The 380X585.8 cm is from the collection of National Museum, New Delhi. It is created somewhere in 1740/1750 in Oudh, India. The artist has successfully managed to recreate the glamour and magnificence of the royal court.

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Pic Courtesy: National Museum

Fireworks on the Night of Shab-i Barat Feast, Folio from the Davis Album
This painting shows the celebration of the Muslim night of vigil and atonement, Shab-I Barat festival and the festivities that follow. The ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper belongs to the 18th century.

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Pic Courtesy: Metropolitan Museum of Art

Krishna and Radha Enjoying a Feast and Fireworks
This painting from the early 19th century is from the collection of Los Angeles County Museum of Art. This opaque watercolour and gold on paper showcase the festivities and mood of cheerfulness. Not necessarily that they are celebrating Diwali, this painting depicts how fireworks were integral to our cultural ecosystem.




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