Ian writes a very fine blog. He mainly writes about events and attractions in London; interlacing history, architecture, exhibitions, and snippets of trivia into the online equivalent of an emporium of wonders. You can read more of his work here.
One of this recent posts caught my eye… not only did it combine Indian textiles, but also the British Museum, but amazingly, the Younghusband Mission to Tibet of 1904.
(Both) avid readers of this blog will know that I am a big fan of all things Asiatic, and my doctoral thesis looked especially at the looting that occurred at the time of the Mission, and what has become of the items carried across the Himalaya, and thence to the ‘drawing-rooms of Empire.
Anyhow, Ian has noticed how a vast Vrindavani Vastra (literally ‘the cloth of Vrindavan’) has gone on display in the British Museum, filling an entire wall of the gallery. This Vrindavani Vastra is 9-metre long and made of woven silk and figured with scenes from the life of the Hindu god Krishna during the time he lived in the forest of Vrindavan.The Krishna scenes on the textile are from the 10th-century text the Bhagavata Purana, and are elaborated in the dramas of Shankaradeva. A verse from one of these is also woven into the textile, using immensely sophisticated weaving technology, now extinct in India. It is the longest example of its type, and was woven in Assam between 1567 and 1569. Think tea. Ian explains how it was first taken to Bhutan and then later to Tibet.
It was ‘found’ in Gobshi, a small town on the route between Gyantse and the Karo La, by Perceval Landon. Landon, a friend of Rudyard Kipling, was the correspondent from The Times on the expedition. He gave the textile, along with a vast array of Tibetan items, to the British Museum in 1905. The thesis has all the details if you can get to the fifth chapter.
Over the years there have been futile efforts by the Indian Government to bring back the silk drape back to India. In 2013 the Assam government requested the British Museum to exhibit the Vrindavani Vastra so that “art lovers, researchers, and local people with Assamese heritage could admire it”. Accordingly, it is now on display until August 2016 in the exhibition ‘Krishna in the garden of Assam: the cultural context of an Indian textile‘ in Room 91 of the British Museum. Entry is free.
PS, Landon’s account of the Mission is a great read: Lhasa: An Account of the Country and People of Central Tibet and of the Progress of the Mission sent there by the English Government in 1903–1904. Published 1905.