Scrolling Forward: Manuscript Culture, Literary Production, and the Making of Early Modern Western India
This research project will bring together the disciplines of art history and philology through a pointed discussion of a single scroll prepared in 1451 in the Sultanate city of Ahmedabad in Gujarat in Western India. The text of this sumptuous scroll, which is eleven meters long when unrolled, is of a poem entitled Vasanta Vilasa, or “Spring Diversions,” accompanied with a set of paintings. Or, perhaps, one might say that the paintings are accompanied by the text of the poem. Composed in three languages – two classical (Sanskrit and Prakrit) and one a peculiarly medieval one with a scant literature (Old Gujarati) – the Vasanta Vilasa has had a unique history as a material object. It is also a foundational literary and visual monument to the development of a local culture in early-modern Western India. The research will especially focus on the interplay of a poly-linguistic literary text and visual imagery in a context of vernacularizing social, political, and aesthetic realities and suggest that the poem represents a newly burgeoning form of an accessible classical literacy for communities that hitherto functioned without it.