Born to a small landowner, a Mongol tribe’s chief of Transoxiana, a village some fifty miles from Samarkanda, now in Uzbekistan, Timur rose to the status of a military leader by 1360 itself and within thirty years, to the supreme political power in Central Asia. For his mass-massacres for centuries after his invasion his name evoked horror and aversion in people’s memory in India. Disabled in a battle Timur had become lame and out of hatred he was nicknamed, generations after generations of Indians, as ‘Temuralanga’ – Timur, the Lame. However, not only Central Asian and European historians lauded him as a great conqueror but even European poets from around fifteenth-sixteenth centuries like Marlowe made him the theme of poetic works, some being epical.
The painting, as its earlier version by Shahjahan’s court-artist Govardhana, is an imaginary portrait of the family of Timur representing three, or perhaps four, significant generations together transcending time by some two hundred years for Timur was born some two hundred years before Babur’s death in 1529 A.D. The painting represents Timur as occupying the hexagonal throne in the central of the platform under the canopy. For further distinction his seat has been conceived with a taller back and greater height. On his left is portrayed Humayun, and on his right, Babur. The seats of Babur and Humayun are square and are not as tall as Timur’s. Timur is extending towards Babur a crown, studded with rubies, emeralds and diamonds, the stones Shahjahan liked most and hence represented in Mughal paintings of his time.
Among other three persons standing below the platform the central figure with a turban without ‘kulah’ – the raised knot in the centre, corresponding to Akbar’s ‘atapati-pagadi’ – casually worn turban, looks like Akbar, the eighth descendant in the Mughals’ dynastic line. Though this Akbar-like looking figure has not been attributed a seat along his father Humayun or grandfather Babur, perhaps out of a technical compulsion for with four figures there could not be a central position due for Timur, the artist has so positioned Akbar’s figure that a nimbus-like design of the floor-spread, exactly like a nimbus, illuminates his face distinguishing him from other two. Such perception of Akbar’s personality is perhaps more befitting for Akbar was one who sought his glory and strength in the grass-root and was able to lay a deep-rooted foundation of Mughal dynasty. The painting is an outstanding example the queer blend of ‘real’ and ‘fiction’, for while it is a fact of history that Timur headed the Mughal dynasty, clubbing these generations together on a single canvas across two hundred fifty years is a fiction.
This description by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr. Daljeet. Prof. Jain specializes on the aesthetics of literature and is the author of numerous books on Indian art and culture. Dr. Daljeet is the curator of the Miniature Painting Gallery, National Museum, New Delhi. They have both collaborated together on a number of books.