Heron Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Friday 3 July 2009

Hot enough for India

On a free afternoon this week, it seemed only fitting to the weather to visit a bit of India in London, at the British Museum.

In the courtyard outside, the sun was beating down on a small collection from Kew of Indian plants - some familiar favourites like rhododendrons, some less so (at least I now know what a banyan or a peepul tree looks like). Inside, the Garden and Cosmos exhibition of court paintings from Jodhpur was in a blissfully air-conditioned room.

The display moved from lively paintings of seventeenth century court frolics, via late eighteenth century representations of the universal Ramayana story, to increasingly austere and formalised paintings from a time in the early nineteenth century when the maharaja was under the influence of a particularly abstract brand of yogic cosmology.

You could just lose yourself in the colours; but I couldn't help noticing that while in the earlier paintings the people, not to mention the birds and animals decorating the scene, are shown in many and varied activities, in the last, they are all arranged in strict and formal, even totalitarian, patterns. And at the very end, there's a room of paintings showing three holy men, in the same relationship but with two supported by different animals, on differently coloured "cosmic oceans" - so abstracted that no-one knows what they mean. No wonder the maharaja's nobles finally revolted.

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