The announcement by the Minister of Finance, Government of India, in the budget speech of March 2014 to sponsor the Everlasting Flame Programme delighted many Parsis who were listening at the time. For all those involved in the original exhibition, held in the Brunei Gallery in 2013, their effort was rewarded with a chance to take the exhibition on tour - the first time a SOAS exhibition has left the confines of the University of London. For those who supported the exhibition in 2013 their generosity was rewarded by the creation of a visual narrative that people elsewhere in the world wished to see.
Taking the exhibition to India has given the curators the opportunity to expand the collection to include new objects, paintings and textiles that have been described in a Supplement to the existing Catalogue, published by the National Museum. The additional material includes some original wall paintings from Penjikent, introduced by Frantz Grenet, courtesy of the State Hermitage in St. Petersburg. These are drawn from several of the Rostam cycles depicting the great Persian hero in combat either with demons or warriors. Pavel Lurje describes the site of Penjikent and its history. Rostam and his horse Rakhsh also feature in the earliest written version of the Rostam Cycle, a Sogdian fragment from Dunhuang, China, dating from the ninth century CE.
Rostam in battle and having his wounds tended to by the mythical bird, simorgh, is also the subject of two illustrated folios from a copy of the Shahnameh in the National Museum, Delhi. These have been selected and researched by Khatibur Rahman. Different manifestations of the simorgh (Pahl. senmurv) occur throughout the exhibition (Catalogue 89, 109, 110, 116. Supplement 13, 15, 19, 23, 34). We are pleased this time to include textile fragments from the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, that depict the senmury in decorative pearl roundels. These are discussed by Jenny Rose in her piece: Beasts, Real and Imagined.
One of the more beautiful acquisitions for this exhibition is the enameled reliquary casket from Limoges. The casket portrays the biblical Wise Men who made the journey to Bethlehem to worship the Christ child. Formerly displayed in the exhibition Wise Men from the East, Zoroastrian Traditions in Persia and Beyond (British Museum, 2014). Vesta Sarhkhosh Curtis and Almut Hintze discuss the biblical account and its Iranian connections.
The exhibition has been greatly enhanced by loans from the National Museum of Iran, Tehran. The Sasanian silver dishes, in particular, complement those that have been lent by the State Hermitage Museum. Prudence Harper introduces this collection - most of which is from the Sasanian period.
Some additional and important manuscripts have been loaned from the British Library. These acquisitions elaborate on some of the themes of the exhibition and have been researched by Ursula Sims-Williams. They include an imperial copy of the Shahnameh illustrated around 1613 in the studio of the Mughal statesman Khankhanan Abd al-Rahim. She also introduces the coins from the Mughal period of which the gold mohurs of Emperor Akbar are particularly significant insofar as they show the Zoroastrian month names. Ursula Sims-Williams and Firoza Punthakey Mistree discuss the supposed encounter between the Zoroastrian priest, Meherjirana, and the Emperor at the court of Akbar. The Dasatir-i asmani sheds light on religious beliefs current during the reign of the Emperor Akbar through the eyes of the spiritual leader Azar Kayvan.
Firoza Punthakey Mistree gives an account of the connection between the Parsi artist Pestonjee Bomanjee, and the author Rudyard Kipling, through Kipling's Just So Stories for Little Children. She has also contributed many captions on the new paintings, textiles and furniture from Mumbai that we are pleased to be able to display in the Delhi exhibition. Some exquisite garas have been added to the exhibition in Delhi. Shernaz Cama introduces these in her piece on Parsi textiles and embroidery.
This exhibition would not have been possible without the generous sponsorship of the Ministry of Minority Affairs (MOMA), Government of India. We are grateful to the National Museum and Director General, Sanjiv Mittal, for hosting the exhibition. Also for the time and effort devoted to the project by the Museum's dedicated Outreach team: Joyoti Roy, Ruchira Verma, Vasundhra Sangwan, Rige Shiba and K.K Sharma (Exhibitions). Joyoti Roy especially should be warmly thanked for her role in liaising between London and Delhi over many months to make this a truly collaborative event.
There are many at SOAS who have contributed to the success of the exhibition. In particular I would like to thank our Director, Valerie Amos, School Secretary Chris Ince, John Hollingworth, Galleries Manager, and Jahan Foster, Exhibition Assistant. We also thank Cohn Morris and his team at CMA, our exhibition designers, who have worked in collaboration with the National Museum team and Soku Designs. We are
greatful to Anjan Dey for the design and layout the catalogue.
I would like to thank my co-curators Firoza Punthakey Mistree, Ursula Sims-Williams, Almut Hintze, Pheroza Godrej and Shernaz Cama for all their help and expertise. Ursula and Firoza have given generously of their time to ensure the successful production of the Supplementary Catalogue and the installation of the exhibition in the National Museum. I am also grateful to the Advisors to the exhibition, Frantz Grenet, Philip Kreyenbroek, Alan Williams, Jenny Rose and especially Vesta Sarkhosh Curtis, who has helped to source the objects from the National Museum of Iran, Tehran. Thanks are due to the Bombay Parsi Punchayet for the restoration work undertaken on the new loans of paintings, particularly those from the Bhabha Sanatorium in Bandra.
Our gratitude to the Zoroastrian Trust Funds of Europe and the Aequa Foundation for providing the core funding for the 2013 exhibition in London, as well as the Catalogue, should also be recorded here. We are grateful to Dr Cyrus Poonawalla for sponsoring the construction of the fire temple and the Persepolis glass installation. Both were created especially for the London exhibition and will be shown again in Delhi.
We learned recently and with great sadness that our former Director and Principal of SOAS, Professor Paul Webley, passed away on 3rd March. Professor Webley supported the Everlasting Flame project from its inception, and its continuation is in large part due to his advice and support. He was delighted to learn that the exhibition would travel to Delhi.
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