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The Classic Hamzanama


Classical depiction

of Amir Hamza


Classical depiction

of Emperor Akbar

The classic Hamzanama ("Epic of Hamza") is the narrated legendary exploits of the Mughal folk "Super Hero" Amir Hamza (loosely based on the character of Hamza bin Abdul Muttalib, uncle of the Prophet Muhammad) and sometimes referred to as the Odyssey of the Mughal Empire. The work was known as a dastan, a type of oral adventure story that was passed along across royal courts as well as village gathering places.The stories tended towards the fanciful, "a continuous series of romantic interludes, threatening events, narrow escapes, and violent acts", with our hero Hamza fighting injustice, bridging communities, and restoring peace. These stories were finally combined into the now more known large scale illustrated manuscripts, first commissioned by the Mughal Emperor Akbar in about 1562. Each illustrated page was captioned by a few lines of narrative describing the unfolding drama. With its primary emphasis on visual components, and revolving around the exploits of a single larger than life hero (Hamza) and its continuation across 14 volumes, the Hamzanama can be arguably considered to be one of the earliest known examples of a graphic/illustrated or "comic-format" series.

Emperor Akbar, who came to throne at the age of fourteen, greatly enjoyed the orally circulated fables of Amir Hamza and commissioned his court workshop to create a series of illustrated manuscripts early in his reign. The manuscripts were conceived on such an unusually large scale that it took fourteen years, from about 1562 to 1577, to complete. Apart from the text, they included 1400 full page Mughal miniatures of an extraordinary large size, nearly all painted on paper, which were then glued to a cloth backing. The work was bound in 14 volumes (or about 100 pages per volume). The size of the commission was completely unprecedented, and stretched even the huge imperial workshop. According to various accounts, about thirty main artists were used, and over a hundred men worked on the various aspects of the books in all. Today, only a little over a hundred pages of the original manuscripts survive, held in private collections world-wide. The stories that fed into the consolidated miniature collection of paintings extended beyond the Mughal ruled lands to South, Central, and Southeast Asia, North Africa, as was numerous languages and appears in a variety of folklore expressions including Indonesian puppet theatre.

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