Love for Pleasure
Wine, Tobacco and Drugs in Indian Paintings
Wine, tobacco, cannabis and opium: for the first time, the Museum for Islamic Art will stage an exhibition of Indian paintings from the 16th to the 19th centuries whose subject is the pleasurable use of intoxication. The pictures introduce us to the widespread consumption of drugs at the courts of the ruling families of India: princes smoke water-pipes, ladies-in-waiting sip from wine bowls, lovers feed each other with betel quids. Opium was also indulged in at court: dissolved in wine or water, or swallowed as pills. Only much later did it become fashionable to smoke the drug by means of a pipe.
What appears, today, as decadence of a ruling elite was, at the time these paintings were made, the "done thing". Express religious reservations to the contrary, the passing round of intoxicants was customary at banquets, both at the Mughal court of Muslim India, the Deccan, and among the princes of the Hindu Raj. People drank and smoked, recited poetry and listened to music in the relaxing atmosphere created by these intoxicants.
Sensual pleasures also had a social and religious component: betel, for instance, was offered on important festive occasions, such as births, marriages, and deaths, and used as a sacrificial offering at shrines and in temples. Wine was praised in song by poets, along with opium and hashish. All three substances permitted the user to reach a state of delirium: images of orgies and mystical (Sufi) gatherings suggest the expansion of perceptions, and the experiencing of the Divine. And all such states of altered perception may be seen in this delicious small exhibition, mostly drawn from two private collections (Habighorst and Reichart) and supplemented from the collections of the Museum of Islamic Art.
Changed Visitor Entrance 07.01.2013[PDF
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During the current stage of renovations, the hall containing the Pergamon Altar is due to remain closed to the public until 2019. The north wing and the gallery of Hellenistic art are also affected by the closure.
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