The Portrait that Created a Flutter



Lakhuji Jadhavrao, the maternal grandfather of Chhatrapati Shivaji is one of the most important and well known character in Maratha history. But no one knows what he actually looked like. Manoj Dani, an independent researcher on Indian miniature paintings, based in California, discovered a rare painting of Lakhuji Jadhavrao, while he was researching at the Kevorkian Album, at the MET in New York. He tells us how he made this fascinating discovery, that adds a new dimension in our understanding of the Maratha history.


Lakhuji Jadhavrao was a noble of prominence at the court of the Nizam Shahs of Ahmednagar.

Lakhuji Jadhavrao has a very special place in the history of Maharashtra. As the father of Jijabai and thus the maternal grandfather of the Maratha ruler Chhatrapati Shivaji, his name is known to almost every Maharashtrian. There have been biographies written on him, and his character been represented in dramas, TV series and movies. However, in spite of being such an important historical figure, most in Maharashtra are not aware of what Lakhuji Jadhav Rao looked like. That is until now.

Preserved in the MET collection at New York, is a miniature painting of Lakhuji Jadhavrao , through which not only Lakhuji’s character, but also the times which he lived, come alive.

Lakhuji Jadhavrao was a noble of prominence at the court of Nizam Shahs of Ahmednagar. He was also the hereditary deshmukh of Sindkhed near present day Jalna, Maharashtra. Like most of the local chieftains of his time, he alternated his allegiance between the Mughal Emperor and the Nizamshah. Perhaps, this was facilitated by the fact that his estate was located on the border of the territories of the Nizamshah and the Mughals. He was one of the few allies of Prince Khurram, later Emperor Shah Jahan , when he rebelled against his father, Emperor Jahangir. In 1629, Lakhuji Jadhavrao along with his sons and grandson was treacherously murdered in the Daulatabad fort by the Nizam Shah, following which the surviving Jadhavrao family took refuge with the Mughals.

Miniature painting of Lakhuji Jadhavrao
Miniature painting of Lakhuji Jadhavrao|MET, public domain

How I discovered the painting

It was in June 2018 - a typical mid-summer Saturday evening in California. Although it was 9 PM, the sun had just set and air was still hot and humid. The days were long and weather was quite nice for a summer vacation. But here I was at my home, looking at 400 year old paintings matching flowery Mughal painting-borders. That's when it dawned on me - it has to be Lakhuji.

The story began in New York – the current destination of the painting.


To uncover the man in the portrait, I began with reading the inscriptions on it. There was a note on the painting in the Nastaliq script, written by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan himself

Outstanding among the MET's Mughal holdings is forty-one leaves from the Kevorkian Album, which contains the painting of Lakhuji Jadhav Rao. The most valuable paintings in this album were made for the emperors Jahangir and Shahjahan. It appears that imperial albums were designed to bring together portraits of family, of friends, and of a few members of rival dynasties. For greater delight specimens of calligraphy and other miniatures-including a series of extraordinary natural history studies were added, and all were set within magnificent borders decorated with flowers and arabesques. The Emperor inscribed many of the portraits in a hand of imperial aplomb. Intimate as one of our own family albums, it was intended to be contemplated in private or to be leafed through with family and very close friends. It gets its name ‘Kevorkian Albaum’ after the New York art collector and the art dealer Hagop Kevorkian, who provided funds for the MET to acquire the collection. In the collection is a painting of a nobleman, dated 1622 CE titled ‘Sahib Jadu Rai’. The MET catalog simply had the title ‘Jadun Rai’

Who was Jadun Rai?

The find was not easy. The revelations would come after five years of painstaking work developing the right skills to interpret Mughal & Deccani paintings and learning Farsi to decipher the old hand-written manuscripts written in the Nastaliq script that was dominant those days. Decoding the unique visuals metaphors of the Deccani (and later Maratha) paintings. Cultivating a healthy dose of skepticism needed for an objective evaluation and add to that, the authentic and secondary sources to validate how the paintings and their subjects fit into the known history. The painting revealed its answers, in layers.

To uncover the man in the portrait, I began with reading the inscriptions on it. The painter of this work, has made an inscription on it - on the nobleman’s dress that reads - “Shabih Jadu Rai”. But we don’t come across a ‘Jadun Rai’ in history, important enough to merit a painting in the imperial collection.

Tiny note on the dress
Tiny note on the dress|MET, Public Domain

However, a bigger clue is a note on the painting in the Nastaliq script, written by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan himself, in his own handwriting that reads- “Shabih-i Jadun Rai Dakhani Amal-i Hashim”. This tells us that the nobleman ‘Jadun Rai’ was a ‘Dakhani’ from Deccan, and the painter was none other the famous Hashim, who began his career in Bijapur and then joined Shah Jahan’s atelier. He made a number of paintings of prominent Deccani nobles for Shah Jahan.

Shah Jahan’s note mentioning the person depicted and the painter
Shah Jahan’s note mentioning the person depicted and the painter|MET, Public domain

Confirming the nobleman’s connection with Deccan were other details from the painting. Suspended from a chain at Jadun Rai’s belt is a characteristically globular Deccani chunardan for lime used in the preparation of paan (betel leaf chewed by many Indians). Also hanging from his sash is a jeweled gold object, perhaps a fob attached to his dagger.

Chunardan, gold dagger and rings
Chunardan, gold dagger and rings |MET, Public domain

To develop my research further, and uncover the mystery of Jadun Rai, I decided to refer to the primary sources of Mughal history. The exact same name appeared in two sources Tuzk-i Jahangiri, the autobiography of Jahangir, which mentions Jadun Rai Dakhani and Badshahnama by Lahori, the official history of Shahjahan’s reign which mentions the murder of ‘Jadun Rai’. Collating the facts and my knowledge of Maratha history, I realized that the man in the painting was none other than the famous Lakhuji Jadhavrao, the maternal grandfather of Maratha ruler Chhatrapati Shivaji.


Badshahnama, the official history of Shahjahan’s reign, mentions the murder of ‘Jadun Rai’.

However, there was only one problem. The reference to the murder mentioned that Lakhuji Jadhavrao was murdered along with his sons and grandson. ‘Jadun Rai’ an obvious reference to Jadhavrao could have meant any of these men. One finds an unambiguous reference in Badshahnama as “Shahuji Bhonsala damad Jadu Rai”. Since Shahaji Bhonsale, the father of Chhatrapati Shivaji, was the son-in-law of Lakhuji Jadhav Rao, one can conclude that the Jadurai, Jadunrai and Lakhuji Jadhav Rao are the same person. Thus, for the first time we know how Lakhuji Jadhavrao looked like.

Shahuji Bhonsala damad Jadu
Shahuji Bhonsala damad Jadu|Farsi text from Badshahnama

From Red Fort to New York

It is not known when or how the Lakhuji Jadhavrao’s painting or the Kevorkian Album leaves left the imperial collections in the Red Fort in Delhi. On a summer day in 1929 Mr. and Mrs. Jack S. Rofe admired this extraordinary album while browsing in an antique shop in Scotland where they were on holiday. They bought it for less than one hundred pounds, far less than it would have cost a century or so before when some connoisseur traveler or official of the East India Company bought it in Delhi. Although the Rofes lived in Cairo, they were neither collectors nor more than vaguely aware of Islamic art. Later in London, they took it to Sotheby's, the auction house on New Bond Street, where they were told of its importance and value.

The auctioneers convinced them to sell it, and it was catalogued for sale on December 12, 1929, as "Indian Miniatures - The Property of a Gentleman." In accordance with the arrangements between the sellers and Sotheby's, it would be offered as a single lot, but if there was no buyer, it would then be broken into forty-eight parts. The sale opened with a bid of three thousand pounds, more than the modest - now forgotten - reserve. Mr. Kevorkian, the knowledgeable New York collector and art dealer who was later a major benefactor of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, acquired the album which has since borne his name for £10,500. Mr. Kevorkian kept his imperial album in his stately New York house where he showed it to admiring specialists. In 1955 Hagop Kevorkian generously provided MET with funds - supplemented by the Rogers Fund - for the purchase of the remaining forty-one folios. A special exhibition was mounted to display the new acquisition, and in the Museum Bulletin Marshall B. Davidson wrote that

the brilliance of Shah Jahan's court is reflected in a series of superb portraits and paintings of genre, bird, and animal subjects that were brought together in a single album as a royal treasure during his reign.

Today, this rare painting is housed in the MET collection, New York but thankfully digital copies are available for scholars to study.


AUTHOR

Manoj Dani is a independent researcher of art history based in California and is currently working on classifying the art treasures of BISM, Pune.


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