Composite Elephant

Dublin Core


Composite Elephant


Medieval Deccan


Composite Elephant consists of nine female Hindu dancers, a Muslim ruler, and a woman riding with the ruler. The position of the four women making up the legs visually conveys a sense of motion, and the gestures of several of the figures, including the Sultan, indicate that the animal is moving forward. This can represent the Muslim leader guiding his majority-Hindu kingdom. The overlapping of all the figures making up the elephant also strips away the individuality of the dancers, making them truly appear to all be part of the whole, until you look closer.

In terms of the specific cultural connections featured in this painting, the use of a composite animal to depict the impressive athleticism of Deccani acrobats is important. Not only were the acrobatic feats of these women an important part of Deccani society in the time of the Qutb Shahi dynasty, but they continue to be today. Composite animals were also a very prominent part of Deccan art and so this practice offered a fitting medium to apply the use of bright and vivid colors, which could have been borrowed from 16th century Persian works of the Safavid dynasty. (Janson's History of Art, p. 306) This helps portray the image of Golcandan society as a harmonious and mutually-beneficial coexistence between Muslims and Hindus in the peninsula.

I believe that Composite Elephant would work well as a supplement to Allegory of Worldly and Otherworldly Drunkenness (fig. 9.31) because it would demonstrate both the importance of Safavid culture throughout the growing Muslim world and the syncretism this produced. There are several similarities between the two paintings, most notably their bright colors, the chaotic feeling and sensory overload produced by the number of figures in the piece and the relatively similar depictions of the men in the paintings. However, there are also sharp differences like the use of the composite animal. This combination of artistic techniques from Persia with a regional style as far away as south-central India demonstrates the kind of syncretism that a highly influential culture, like the Safavids, can produce when it comes into contact with the existing cultures of another region.



The Metropolitan Museum of Art


Early 17th century


Patrick Conley, '20


Public Domain




Golconda Kingdom

Still Image Item Type Metadata

Original Format

Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper

Physical Dimensions

Page: 9 11/16 x 8 in. (24.6 x 20.3 cm) Text box (recto): 9 5/16 x 5 11/16 in. (23.7 x 14.4 cm)




“Composite Elephant,” accessed June 16, 2019,