I have vowed to gag myself (i.e. not blog) until I’m done writing my wretched book but I figured copying something out doesn’t amount to a real blog post. Plus, this was just too good to not share. From Partha Mitter’s “Much Maligned Monsters“, a wonderful book that is available only as an import in India which is a damn shame:
Undoubtedly Marco Polo’s first love was China, so that he had relatively little to say about India. There is none the less a passage among his descriptions of the people of south India which deserves our attention. The passage describes an idolatrous practice prevailing on the Coromandel coast of India:
“they have certain abbeys in which are gods and goddesses to whom many young girls are consecrated; their fathers and mothers presenting them to that idol for which they entertain the greatest devotion. And when the nuns of a convent desire to make a feast to their god, they send for all those consecrated damsels and make them sing and dance before the idol with great festivity.”
… The painting, based on Marco Polo’s description of the consecrated Indian maidens of the Coromandel coast, was executed by the workshop of the Boucicaut Master, considered to be one of the finest late medieval painters. … If the caption had not clearly stated the subject of the picture, it would have been impossible for us to recognize it as Indian. There is hardly any resemblance between those blonde nuns and Indian devadasis, or consecrated maidens, or between this dark-skinned effigy and Indian images. … It was inevitable that Boucicaut relied entirely on Marco Polo’s description. The problem before him was the method to be chosen for translating a purely literary description into a visual image. The particular solution he reached, which he no doubt felt would be meaningful to his audience, was to follow the text faithfully. The Venetian traveller had mentioned nuns in charge of abbeys in south India (‘nonnain do mostier’). He had also implied that the function of Christian nuns and Indian consecrated maidens was the same. The logical outcome was the picture of Indian nuns dancing before a nun-like idol.
And all this time we were worshipping Mithun for his moves…