What Happens in the Margins

Prof. BN Goswamy

Prof. BN Goswamy explores the use of 'hashiyas' or margins in Indian paintings.


Hashiya is the word we generally use for a margin or border, and this is the word that a close friend, Mamata Singhania, chose as the title of a lively exhibition that she organised recently in Delhi under the auspices of her art gallery. Ten distinguished contemporary painters — some of them from across the border, in Pakistan, and others from home — were invited to participate with their works, but each with reference, consciously, to the hashiya: responding to the very idea. Nearly every one of them was aware of the traditional, pre-modern, work that our land is so rich in — paintings, manuscripts, and the like — but the assumption was that not every one might have paid equal attention to the margins, the surrounds. When the works came in, however, it was wonderful to see how everyone had paid close heed, for there they were — margins — informing every single work: at times expanding a theme, at others making a comment, at still others raising suggestions, evoking memories, asking questions. It was as if everyone was thinking of what the great poet, Ghalib, had said once: “kuchh aur chaahiye vus'sat merey bayaan ke liye” [more space than this I need to say what I have to say]. 

A portrait of a Prince, 18th century, Provincial Mughal, Gouache and gold on paper, H. 29 cm, W. 18 cm, PTG.00647
However, in this context, I might turn to an essay that I was asked to write in conjunction with the exhibition. In that I veered — somewhat naturally — towards what I knew of hashiyas of the past. And, of these I was able to recall a large number of bewildering variety. When, years ago, I was working on Mughal documents — farmans, land grants, yad-dashts, parwanas, and the like — one remained concentrated on the main text of the document, which was called matn, and then shifted to the margins where attesting witnesses, each identified by a name, placed th

Related Content