An exhibition of a sumptuously illustrated manuscript of the Khamsa (quintet of tales), completed for Mughal emperor Akbar the Great in 1598, is enthralling New Yorkers, and art connoisseurs from around the world . This exhibition at New York’s famous and authoritative Metropolitan Museum of Art remains open to the public up to mid-March.
Visitors are fascinated by the Islamic calligraphy and intricate motifs on items in the exhibition. Some visitors observed the contrast in atmosphere at the exhibition, in comparison to the recent cartoon rage elsewhere, including at the United Nations, where Secretary-General Kofi Annan stated that "free speech is not a license: it does entail exercising responsibility and judgement".
The Metropolitan Museum exhibition of the Khamsa features illustration and calligraphy executed by some of the most important artists in the service of emperor Akbar at the imperial court in Lahore—in present day Pakistan.
The text of the Khamsa manuscript was copied court in nasta’liq script by Muhammad Husain al-Kashmiri, a renouned calligrapher from Kashmir known in the Mughal court as Zarin Qalam (who writes with a golden pen).
Amir Khusrau Dehlevi (1253-1325), the famous Persian language poet of the Delhi Sultanate, wrote the text of his Khamsa on the model of the earlier manuscript of the same name by the Persian master Nizam-ud-din Ilyas Ibn Yusuf, popularly known as Nizami. Khusrau’s manuscript was incorporated into Akbar’s imperial library, more than two centuries after Khusrau’s death.
Khusrau describes epics and legends in his Khamsa as "pearls", spilling from his lips— invoking the bird that symbolized eloquence in the Indian-Persian tradition.Thus,he refers to himself as the tuti-I-hind (parrot of India).
"The showing of this spectacular Islamic Art manuscript in galleries that are usually reserved for the presentation of Asian art, allows us to present this extremely important exhibition, while our galleries for Islamic Art are under construction,"stated Phillipe de Montebello, Director Metropolitan Museum.
"Due to the encyclopedic nature of our collections, this placement will by enable viewers to draw their own cross-cultural connections," he added.
The five epic and legendary narratives in Amir Khusrau Dehlevi’s Khamsa,include the A’ina-yi Sikandari (Mirror of Alexander), Matla ‘al-Anwar (The Rising of the Luminaries), Majnun va Laila, Shirin va Khusrau and Hasht Bishist(Eight Paradises). Khusrau’s text gained such wide popularity that it has been copied in other parts of the world since the late fourteenth century
Among the items exhibited which Americans find particularly intriguing, are illustrated pages from the Khamsa’s section entitled, Aina-yi-Sikandari. One manuscript folio depicts Alexander the Great visiting the philosopher Plato, who offers words of advice on how to rule. Another folio depicts Alexander the Great on an exploratory voyage, that included the Greek philosopher Aristotle, and shows Alexander being lowered into the sea in a diving bell. In other items of this section, Alexander’s portrait as a warrior and philosopher are depicted in epic poetic tales about his various exploits—including his quest for the elusive Aab-I-Hayat—or the Fountain of Youth.
... more. No photos, alas and the Met's page for the exhibition doesn't have any of the Alexander images.