Textiles were India’s great contribution to the maritime commerce that connected it with the international arena. In Southeast Asia Indian textiles were, for a time, essential items of barter exchange, traded for sought-after agricultural products, particularly spices. The large stamps at each end of this textile indicate it was made in Gujarat in 1500 during the reign of Mahmud Shah I (1459–1511). The cloth was traded to the Indonesian archipelago where it was treasured as a sacred heirloom and a symbol of high status in the Toraja region of Sulawesi. It was brought out only on ceremonial occasions, particularly those relating to fertility and the agricultural cycle.
The imagery of this textile, however, is purely western Indian. The beautiful and graphically decorated cloth features six pairs of female courtiers. The faces are drawn in the distinctive style of Jain manuscripts of the same period, with the far eye protruding beyond the profile of the face. Their garments and musical instruments, and the animals and birds which animate the scene, are also typical of the art of the western Indian region. The scene reflects the flexibility of hand painting, with each attendant individually costumed in varying patterns, and carrying a different item of regalia.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra