Niamut Ulla of Delhi (now New Delhi), India. Wedding chest, ca. 1888. Wood, paint, and brass. Inscription on front edge of lid: “NLMATULLA J. L. KIPLING ESQUIRE.” © CSG CIC Glasgow Museums and Libraries Collections, 1888.109.co.

From the Exhibition:

John Lockwood Kipling: Arts & Crafts in the Punjab and London

One of the most interesting pieces in John Lockwood Kipling: Arts & Crafts in the Punjab and London, a large traditional wedding chest, was purchased by the Glasgow Industrial Art Museum from the International Exhibition of Science, Art and Industry. This exhibition, the largest one organized in Scotland during the nineteenth century, took place at Kelvingrove Park in Glasgow between May and November of 1888.

T. N. Mukharji, the colonial administrator who was in charge of the Indian section of the exhibition, gave John Lockwood Kipling, principal of the Mayo School in Lahore, five thousand rupees to purchase Indian objects from the Punjab for the show, and this wedding chest was part of his selection.

Used to hold the dowry of a bride, particularly her textiles and jewelry, this rectangular wedding chest, with a hinged lid, is painted red with paisley designs. The color red is often used to decorate wedding chests, since it symbolizes celebration, blood, and fertility. The box sits on four turned feet, which provide protection from dampness and insects. Its top lid is flat, so that it can also be used as a bench or a table. The framed sides are painted green with small floral borders, and the chest has two brass side handles for easy portability from the bride’s house to her husband’s residence.

The front edge of the lid is inscribed “NLMATULLA and J. L. KIPLING ESQUIRE,” the former being the artist who decorated the chest, Niamut Ulla of Delhi. Kipling had previously shown his work as part of the Calcutta Exhibition of 1883–84, in particular a set of wooden lacquered bed legs. This piece resembles a red wedding chest that belonged to Rudyard Kipling and is now located in his former study at Bateman’s, the family home in East Sussex. More information on Ulla’s work, especially his watercolor technique protected by varnish, can be found in John Lockwood Kipling’s article on “Industries in the Punjab” in the Journal of Indian Art 2, no. 20 (October 1887): 33.

Kipling participated in twenty-seven other exhibitions, from Australia to the United States, from 1865 until 1900. The exhibition and promotion of arts and crafts produced by Indian craftsmen in national and international shows was one of the major strategies that Kipling employed to “stem the degradation of design and workmanship” that was plaguing India under British rule. Display of Indian arts and crafts at exhibitions was the most effective form of advertising at the time in a country that was characterized by an “absence of advertisement and the localization of manufacture.”