An on going art exhibition reveals the African legacy in India begins even before the Mughal period
Gujarat is not only home to the lost city of Dwarka, but also houses another secret heritage, of African kings in India. Till date, two dynasties of African kings live on in the former princely states of Sachin and Janjira.
The exhibition “Africans in India — A Rediscovery”, on view at the Southern Regional Centre of the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA), remembers their forgotten legacy. The exhibition has been curated by Dr. Sylviane A. Diouf and Dr. Kenneth X. Robbins of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, part of the New York Public Library.
The exhibition reveals how the African legacy in India begins even before the Mughal period in the 1400s. Beginning as slaves migrating from East African regions around Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia, Africans rose up the social ladder to become generals, commanders, admirals, prime ministers, rulers and architects, largely known as Sidis or Habshis.
“The exhibition portrays how a community that travelled across the globe and came to India thrived here, politically, culturally and socially. Most of the immigrants came as slaves and some of them reached high offices in the army, some even became rulers,” says Dr. Mangalam Swaminathan, Programme Director, IGNCA, New Delhi.
According to Mangalam, this aspect of heritage isn’t widely known because of lack of information and research. “Even this exhibit, according to curator Sylvianne is only a fraction of the material lying scattered,” she adds. Through photographic reproductions of paintings from several collections across U.K. and U.S.A., the exhibition thematically displays several significant milestones of this heritage captured in diverse paintings spanning across eras. The exhibition showcases the role played by the Africans in four major kingdoms in the regions of Bengal, Deccan, Sachin and Janjira.
Some of the most famous African rulers were Prime Minister Ikhlas Khan who was Prime Minister and Commander-in-Chief for the Bijapur Sultanate, Malik Ambar, who was regent and Prime Minister in the Deccan and the Nawabs of Janjira and Sachin.
The forts, mosques, mausoleums and other physical testimonies to their skills as city planners, architects and rulers, can still be found in these regions. There were also some famous African queens, Mehr Lekha Begum Sahiba, Yasmin Mahal and Bamba Muller.
“The major aspect that one can take away India was a flourishing nation, where people came seeking employment, as far back as fourth century. Indian culture assimilated them into the society, as it had done with several other faiths, cultures and lifestyles. There was mutual give and take culturally, part of the broadminded tolerance of India. Africans in India are an indelible part of Indian history and heritage. We need to do more research and come up with exhibitions, research papers and publications,” says Mangala.
The exhibition was also taken to UNESCO in Paris, IGNCA New Delhi, National Science Center in Surat, M.S. University in Baroda and Gujarat National Law University in Ahmedabad. It was also shown at the India Africa Forum Summit in New Delhi.
The exhibition will be on view till December 26 at IGNCA-Southern Regional Centre (SRC), Kengute Circle, Magadi-Kengeri Ring Road, Near IIPM, Mallathalli, Jnanabharathi Post.