Detective work - Indian Script

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Thursday 4 June 2009
Mary Kisler

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Sometimes when I am researching a work I have to admit defeat and ask others for help, and that is what I'm doing now! In 2003 the Gallery acquired three Indian miniatures which are being restored in preparation for an exhibition after the Main Gallery building re-opens in 2011.

The back:

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While the subject matter of two have been easy to identify, I have been unable to find the exact meaning of the subject matter of this work, which we have tentatively called 'Attack on an elephant'. The work is painted in gouache, and there are two pieces of writing on the margins which may or may not help us identify the theme. There is also an inscription which says Of Hindu Music / Hamell Kanara Raqun 145. The red border indicates that this work was painted in India.

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Writing at the top.

The dead white elephant in the foreground has had his trunk cut off, and the ends of his tusks are being presented to a man in the background by two warriors.
 
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The elephant was an important symbol in Indian lore. One possibility is that the narrative relates to a tale in which Lord Buddha was incarnated as a white elephant only to have his tusks removed by a greedy forester. However, that tale doesn't mention the removal of the elephant's trunk, and the figures appear to be Mughal.

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If you know anyone who can read this script and who could help us solve this mystery we would love to hear from you.