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Exhibition on State at British Museum

By Staff Reporter

GUWAHATI, Jan 17 - The British Museum will hold a nearly eight month-long exhibition displaying the famous Vrindabani Vastra of Assam and the dance masks from the State�s Majuli Island. The exhibition named � �Krishna in the Garden of Assam: the cultural context of and Indian textile� -- will start on January 21, 2016 and will continue till August 15 next at room number 91 on the Great Russell Street, London campus of the Museum, said a British Museum press release received here.

According to the press release, the exhibition is the first in Britain to explore the impressive cultural history of Assam through objects. The Krishna narratives, which are a striking element of the devotional cult of Neo-Vaishnavism of Assam, founded by Srimanta Sankaradeva in the late medieval period, were recorded in the woven textile imagery. The Vrindabani Vastra is the largest surviving example of such a woven silk cloth. This will be the centerpiece of the above exhibition, said the British Museum in its press release.

It also maintained that this piece of woven cloth is one of the most important Indian textiles in the Museum�s collection and it is dated back to about 1680 and is today over nine metres in length. To produce this piece of cloth, the lampas technique of weaving was used and this cloth would have been woven on a wooden draw-loom using two sets of warp and two sets of weft threads. The lampas technique is now lost in India, but it produced vibrant and highly sophisticated figured textiles between the 16th and 18th centuries.

The Vrindabani Vastra is today made up of 12 strips of woven silk, each one being figured with depictions of the incarnations of Vishnu and with captioned scenes from the life of Krishna. These scenes are recorded in the 10th century text of the Bhagavata Purana and elaborated in the dramas written by the saint Sankaradeva.

The 12 individual strips were perhaps used to wrap the copies of the Bhagavata Purana and decorated the altar used for venerating this text. The episodes depicted include the defeat of the snake-demon Bakasura, swallowing the forest-fire and hiding the �gopis� clothes in the trees.

The later history of these twelve strips of cloth is fascinating. They were taken to Tibet, stitched together to make a massive hanging and then years later, were discovered in the monastery at Gobshi near Gyantse in southern Tibet during the Young husband Expedition. A military expedition was sent by Lord Curzon to open a trade route between India and Tibet. The correspondent of The Times on that expedition was Perceval Landon, a close friend of Rudyard Kipling. It was Landon who acquired the textile and then in 1905 gave it to the Museum, said the British Museum in its press release.

It further said that elements of the exhibition will be shown at the Chepstow Museum following the London display.

The exhibition will start with a 3-minute film shot during the 2014 Raslila festival in Assam. The illustrated manuscripts loaned from the British Library, which contain the leaves from the Brahmavaivarta Purana and have lively depiction of the life of Krishna and a remarkable survival now used in Chepstow Museum will also be on display in the exhibition, among others, said the British Museum in its press release.

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