Publication Date

April 2015


Phillip Wagoner


Art History


English (United States)


This study is an analysis of the independent Harivamsa manuscript produced for the Mughal Emperor Akbar in the 1580s. Although this was the second copy of the text commissioned by Akbar, the manuscript exhibits unique characteristics that distinguish it within the Mughal manuscript tradition. Notably, while the first copy was produced in 1582 as a mere appendix to a translation of the Mahabharata, this new version of the Harivamsha commissioned in the late 1580s was produced as a standalone manuscript of exceptionally high quality. Additionally, although the text of the Harivamsha had already been translated from Sanskrit into Persian for the earlier manuscript, a new translation was commissioned independently of the original translation for the later copy. Despite these distinctive qualities, the independent Harivamsha manuscript has been largely ignored and the little scholarship that refers to it is highly generalized or inaccurate. In order to rectify this oversight, this study pivots around the manuscript’s singular illustration of Krishna Holding Up Mount Govardhana. Through previously unutilized methodological approaches, such as analyzing the singular illustration of Krishna Holding Up Mount Govardhana within its codicological context, placing the manuscript within the multicultural geography of northern India, and situating it within a broader frame of cultural production, this study illuminates the independent Harivamsha manuscript’s relationship to political, religious, and cultural trends of late sixteenth century northern India.



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