Directorate of Museums, Government of Assam

Arts Research and Documentation

Grant Period: Over two years

Our first grant in 2002 to the Directorate of Museums, Assam, enabled principal investigator, Samiran Boruah, to undertake extensive photo-documentation of the manuscript paintings of Assam. However, investigations during the project revealed that there were many more manuscripts available than had been anticipated. Further, the amount budgeted for travel had been insufficient, given that multiple trips needed to be made to the same location in order to access the manuscripts. Subsequently, IFA decided to award the Museum a second grant to complete photo-documentation of all known manuscripts, scan all additional photographs taken, create a catalogue of all documented paintings and purchase software that would enable access to digitised versions of the paintings.  

Apart from ensuring their preservation through photography, Mr Boruah also wants to continue his investigations into the relationship between these paintings and those belonging to older and contemporary miniature paintings traditions from mainland India. He feels that the documentation so far points to the fact that the paintings have identifiable connections with those from other parts of India, yet they maintain a stylistic individuality. Most of the paintings he has documented are from the 17th century, and he lists in his final report to IFA what to him appear to be general characteristics of these paintings. His contention is that despite the fact that these paintings were done in the 17th century “they really represent a much older tradition, which is much closer to the West Indian tradition.”

Mr Boruah has already visited a number of sites in Assam. During the course of this grant, he proposes to go to New Delhi once again to study the Indian painting collection at the National Museum – something he was not able to do on his last trip there. He also plans a tour to Ahmedabad and Jaipur to study the collections of the early Indian miniatures in the museums there. A trip to Kolkata and North Bengal to examine the originals of the Bengal School of Painting will also be helpful in his understanding of the Assamese manuscript tradition. So far, 28 manuscripts containing 2,085 paintings have been documented in 3,140 colour transparencies and 3,055 prints. 15 manuscripts are yet to be documented in different parts of Assam. Apart from documenting these manuscripts, a few photographs will have to be re-taken – some of them have defects in their frame alignment and focussing. The project’s output is an estimated 2,000 photographs and 2,000 colour transparencies. Scanning of the slides already taken is presently underway, and once all the slides have been scanned, they will be stored in a digital database at the Assam State Museum in Guwahati. A catalogue of the database, which has reference both to the folio number of the manuscript from where it is taken and to its serial number in the database, is partially completed and will be ready once the photo-documentation is over. The digital documentation of the paintings will also include textual information on the specific episode of the manuscript depicted in each painting. It is hoped that making this documentation available in digital form will provide for a better understanding of this relatively uncelebrated school of painting that has existed for several centuries.