A Glimpse in to Three Generations of Modern Sculptures

The Itihasa exhibition at NGMA, Bangalore was a revelation. It showcased the work of 22 sculptures who were the first group of modernists in Indian contemporary art. The work of Devi Prasad Roy Chowdary, Ramkinkar Baij, Sankho Chowdari, Pradosh Dasgupta, Amarnath Sehgal, etc were displayed and they gave an interesting perspective on modern art scenario in the country. Metal, wood, marble, stone the sculptures were done in various mediums-each vying with one another in precision and details.

History of Modern Sculpture

Unlike the art movement in Indian painting that began in the late 19th century and ushered in Bengal School of Art, Santiniketan School, etc the modernism of Indian sculpture began much later. Before the advent of the British, the sculpturing was purely traditional.

In the colonial period, it was influenced by European styles and popular with the nobility. There was not much deviation towards individual expressions or styles-rather it confirmed to the academic art schools and the patron’s preferences.

After the 1920s however, sculptors began experimenting. Newer styles, techniques, and mediums started getting adopted. The early modernists of this period were Deviprasad Roy Choudhury[1899-1975], Ramkinkar Baij,[1906-1980], etc.

Deviprasad Roy Choudhury

Deviprasad Roy Choudhury was influenced by the French sculptor Rodin and some of his notable works are ‘God of Destruction’,’Triumph of Labour’, ‘When Winter Comes’ etc. One of his temple sculpture ‘After Bath’ done in bronze kept in the exhibition showed great form and details.

Triumph of Labour

Photo Source: By RasnaboyOwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Ramkinkar Baij

Ramkinkar Baij was a pioneer in the realm of sculpturing. He had joined Santiniketan and initially was influenced by miniatures. Later on, he went on to pave his own path choosing to paint in oil and sculpting. Some of his notable works are ‘Lamp Stand’, ‘Santhal Family’, ‘Harvestor’ etc.  26 of his works are displayed at NGMA event like the plaster works of Yaksha, Yakshi, the bronze of Tagore, Gandhi in cement, etc.

The Santal Family

Photo Source: By Biswarup Ganguly, CC BY 3.0, Link

Other sculptors:

Other popular sculptors who came in 1940-1950 were Pradosh Das Gupta, Dhanraj Bhagat, Amarnath Sehgal, and Chintamani kar.

Pradosh Das Gupta was trained under Deviprasad Roy Choudhury and later under Royal Academy of Arts, London. There is rhythm and beauty in his forms. His works ‘Fallen Figure’ and ‘Twins’ are displayed at the museum. Dhanraj Bhagat another notable sculptor of the times used unconventional mediums like metal, wood, ceramic, papier-mache, etc. His styles evolved towards cubist and geometric forms. Some of his works are Standing figure and Flute player, Monarch Queen… His work ‘Standing Woman’ in copper is graceful and feminine.

Amarnath Sehgal’s ‘Cry’ is a figure depicting agony. His art is candid, impassioned and depicts human expressions vividly. Chintamani kar’s[1915-2005] work ‘Flight’ in mahogany is graceful and has traces of European influences. Though he was trained at Indian Society of Oriental Art run by Abanindranath Tagore he also studied in Paris and worked with stone, metal, vitrified clay, etc. His work ‘Skating the Stag’ won an award at the 14th Olympic exhibition in London.

Post Independence:

Post-independence with advancements in industrialization, art mediums were impacted too. Machines and tools were integrated into the field.

Sankho Choudhury, was one such artist. He was the student of Ramkinkar Baij. He used unconventional materials; metal, planks, employed welding, etc integrating industrial tools and giving rise to abstract forms. His work titled toilet’ in marble and Two Heads are displayed at the event. Another popular artist was Adi Davierwalla(1922-75)who experimented with glass, aluminum, lead, plastic, etc. He was self-taught and his works Icarus and Man in iron are displayed at the event.

In 1970, Pilloo Pochkhanawalla was a name to reckon. She has worked with different mediums like wood, copper, steel, etc and has used scraps in her works.

Many artists over the year have contributed significantly over the years towards Indian sculpture. And some of them like the nudes of Jitendra Kumar, the works of Uma Siddhanta who was the student of Prodosh Dasgupta, the abstract works of Kewal Soniare are displayed at the event. One of my favorites is the bronze beauty ‘Win Min Than’-a Burmese beauty with flowing hair and chignon done by Shirin Jal Virjee. The model was an actress in the 1954 movie The Purple Plain.

The curated figures try to showcase the history of Indian sculpture in a concise way. So if you would like a glimpse then head to NGMA. The event is on till the end of the month.

–Usha

 

Raja Ravi Varma and his paintings

Critics have called Raja Ravi Varma’s paintings by many names- kitsch, vulgar naturalism, not real art etc. The artist was also termed as a historic failure when it comes to the progress of modern Indian painting. His meeting with Theodore Jensen is termed as a catastrophe- modern Indian painting did not progress instead it got set back by fifty years.

Yet none of these come to mind when you gaze at the divine figures in his paintings. In fact, you glory over its beauty and splendor. His paintings of Lakshmi, Saraswati, his tales of Shakuntala, Damayanti, Sita, Radha, his realistic colorful paintings of Kerala ladies renders you speechless. None of the paintings may depict reality yet for a moment you are lost-lost in the moment, submerged in the painting in front of you.

The Ravi Varma Heritage Foundation at Lavelle Road is one such place where you get immersed in the artist’s works. The foundation was established in 2015 by Ravi Varma’s great-great-granddaughter Rukmini Varma. It works to spread awareness about the great artist, his life and times[1848-1906] and immortalizes his paintings through various events. When I visited the place a couple of lithographs were on display. There were plenty of books about the great artist and about his paintings.

The paintings of Raja Ravi Varma didn’t go cheap. Recently one of his paintings, Damayanti was auctioned at 11 crores in New York. His collection of 14 paintings was brought by Raja of Baroda for 50000 Rupees back then in the 19th century. No wonder then that the artist established an olegraphic printing press in Bombay on the advice of his friend, the Diwan of Baroda so that his paintings could reach the masses.

There are a couple of places where you can order Ravi Varma prints for your home. The online Art Print store is one of them. Since 2008 it has been selling Raja Ravi Varma’s prints on canvas. The prints rendered on canvas using the latest printing technology make art affordable.

Some of the art prints that are available here are worthy of grazing your homes. There are prints of Sita Vanavas, Hamsa Damayanti, Krishna as the envoy, Radha Bilas, Mahananda, Arjun-Subadra, etc.  Sita Vanavas is an 1880 painting of Sita lost in thought. The sage in the background, however, is confusing. The painting could also be that of Shakuntala. The painting Mahananda or titled ‘Belle of Malabar’ is a painting created in 1890. It depicts a Kerala lady with a traditional mundu on her head playing a musical instrument. She is also lost in thought. Then there is the popular Hamsa Damayanti who is enthralled with the swan who is the messenger from prince Nala extolling his virtues.

The Radha Bilas of 1890 shows Radha in a playful mood with Krishna. The oil painting of ‘women holding a fruit’ displays the mood of innocence with flirtiness; the ‘stolen interview’ depicts two lovers adjacent to pillars in different moods-one shy and the other intent.

The Krishna as an emissary depicts Krishna as a messenger of peace sent to Duryodana’s court. He is however humiliated here and a devotee Satyaki is seen flashing a sword in Krishna’s defense.  The paintings of the master artist be it Krishna, Arjuna-Subhadra, Shantanu and Ganga, Sita Vanavasa, Yasodha, and Krishna bring the epics, Puranas to life.

So whether Raja Ravi Varma showcased Indian culture at its best or was he a painter who worked on portraits refusing to adopt the techniques and progress of the West is perhaps a matter of perspective. Personally, for me, his paintings have always been sheer nostalgia heralding me decades back when hanging a painting from Raja Ravi Varma in the homes was a matter of pride, the various Hindu gods occupying the prayer rooms majestically and his calendars with the Saraswati-the goddess of knowledge hung in the living rooms. Simplicity at its best!

–Usha

Photo Source:

By Raja Ravi Varma – Art UK, Public Domain

By Raja Ravi Varma – 6gF0Oy3EKSRBhg at Google Cultural Institute

 

Inspirations from Mirza Ismail

The other day I happened to search archives for a book on Mirza Ismail and I stumbled on one of his works ‘ My Public Life’. What an insightful page turner it was.

328px-Diwan_Sir_Mirza_Ismail

For those of you who have never heard about him he was the diwan of Mysore, Jaipur and for a short while, Hyderabad. For his astonishing work in the field of industrialization, irrigation, rural electrification, city development, the ruling Maharajas heaped praises, paid tributaries to him. The popular M.I road in Jaipur is one such road name after this diwan.

The reason why I feel this book is worth a read is this. His vision and farsightedness are astonishing. And his short book is inspiring.

Let me quote a couple of them here.

  • The State did not boast of electricity in the early 20th century. And when electricity did come in State it was provided to important places like the Kolar Gold Fields[1902], Mysore, and in Bangalore city in 1908. Mirza Ismail views were however different. He believed that electricity was not the purview of few. And he came up with rural electrification thereby 500 plus villages in Karnataka or rather Mysore State back then were electrified. Mysore was the first State in the country to do this.
  • To quote another instance Micro irrigation was given due importance during his tenure. The production of Ganjam figs had gone down due to lack of water. Though the village was near Kaveri, it was not getting sufficient water to irrigate the figs. These figs were delicious and were often sent to Palace and served to foreign dignitaries and officers. And they were being grown from Tipu Sultan’s era. Realizing this, the Maharaja of Mysore, Mirza Ismail was the diwan then, supplied pumps and gave lands to fig farmers. Thus the figs production revived. It is a different story however that it has a similar fate today.

His faith was broad enough to encompass all religions. He fervently believed that he would be nearer to God by serving people of all faiths.
He says,’ I felt that one please the almighty even more by serving other faiths than one’s own’

Sanskrit was given due recognition during his times, religious intuitions like temples and churches flourished.

Lastly, in his tenure as Diwan, he introduced the weekly sessions with common people. The common man could come and meet the diwan and tell him his troubles.

In the book he says

‘ It is a taxing duty as can easily be imagined-seeing dozens of people each with his request or grievance. But it was worthwhile’
Such was the level of his commitment that in-spite of having a tight schedule, he took time out to hear people out just to satisfy them.

Not satisfied with this he also used to conduct weekly inspections of the city. All this in the mid 20th century. Today’s leaders can take a leaf out of him.

There is more. His belief in a federation of India, his talks with Jinnah to dissuade him for campaigning for a separate Muslim nation, talks with  Nizam of Hyderabad showcases his love for the country.

The book is worth reading. It is freely available online in public archives. Along with his powerful ideas, you will also get a glimpse of the South Indian History especially life and times of Mysore then.

Top Five Dishes to savor at Iftar Walk

This month and the next, Unhurried has organized Iftar Food Walks. Here are five delightful delicacies that you can savour during this food walk.

 

1. Brain Puff: Unique to Bangalore this dish is not for the faint-hearted. A whole piece of melt in your mouth goat brain is stuffed with spicy masala inside a crispy puff shell and baked to perfection. This baked goodie is available at Albert Bakery during iftar. Other days only on Saturday.
2. Keema Samosa: The crispy and crunchy beef, mutton and chicken samosas with a hot cuppa chai is a hit among our customers. Packed with flavors the samosas contain pepper, onions, chilies and dill leaves, stuffed in a filo style wrap and fried to perfection. Best samosas in Charminar, Taj Tea Stall, and Rahamms
3. Dum ka Chai: Tea cooked in a dum vessel for 6 to 7 hours and the concentrated tea is mixed with condensed milk the rich and creamy tea is a hit with our customers. Tea lovers will enjoy this Indian style brewed concoction which originated from Hyderabad. It is also referred to as truck driver chai at Taj Tea Stall.
4. Kababs: One can find meats beef/chicken/mutton cooked on coals and stone. The smoky flavor kababs are always a crowd pleaser. People travel far and long for iftar just to taste this regional cuisine. Must try kababs are seekh, fried chicken kabab and pathar ka gosht (meat cooked on stone). Best kababs at Charminar, Taj, and Chichabbas.
5. Haleem: 5 lentils, barley, and wheat bulgur are simmered with beef, chicken or mutton for 6 hours. This rich porridge is tempered with ghee and fried onions and served with lime wedges. Wholesome and awesome tasting dish loved by our customers on our walk.
These 5 picks are popular and most raved dishes by customers. We also get to taste Harira, Sulaimani chai, Biryani, Keema roti, Phirni, caramel custard, double ka meetha, khova naan, shawarma and more at stalls.
–Vidya,Unhurried Team

Gayana Samaja-Oldest Cultural Institution

A couple of days back I had cause to visit Gayana Samaja at KR Road. The occasion was Nagaswara performance by Chinnamanur A Vijay Karthikeyan and Idumbavanam V Prakash Illayaraja. The refurbished building of 1962, one of the oldest cultural institutions is located at a rather desolate place. Located next to the Theosophical Society, the stretch of road connecting Gayana Samaja from KR Road was lined with many basket weavers- making and selling their wares. Perhaps because of white topping work going on for the road-it gave an impression of being deserted and vacant. However appearances are deceptive as I was to discover later.

The institution that is more than 110 years has been promoting classical music,dance,theater since 1905. However this site was not its present location. One of the founder of this institution was K Ramachandra Rao-the Head Master of London Mission High School-Bangalore and in its initial years the hall of London Mission school was used to hold concerts. Sometimes the events were held at Ekambara sahuji hall, Chikpete. It then shifted to old Sanskrit college building, then to Shankaraiah hall when the Sanskrit college gave way to Vani Vilas Hospital and finally in 1962 with funds from Centre,State,donations- the present site was selected as the venue for Gayana Samaja. The construction cost came around 2,60000, out of which 40,000 was derived from MS Subbalakshmi’s benefit concert.

As you enter inside, you will see pictures of yesteryear stalwarts  lining the wall. Some of the prominent ones being Sri Jayachamaraja Wodeyar- earlier patrons of Samaja, musicians and singers like Doraiswamy Iyengar,MS Subbalakshmi, T. Chowdiah,Diwan of Mysore, founder members and former presidents.In 2016,this building was renovated again;the columns and beams of the old building still being retained.

The 700 seater auditorium has improved acoustics, Led lighting and its new roofs are said to bring down the temperature inside the room by 2 degrees. When I went inside, the auditorium was jam packed,abuzz with activity in sharp contrast to the street outside. The concerts were in full swing and after the concert some 62 cultural institutions in the State were recognized and awarded with cash prizes.

There is a host of activities in the following months- award functions,vocal concerts and lecture demonstrations. The institution does not stick to Carnatic and Hindusthani music alone. Light music,folk,theater,dance are also given sufficient encouragement.  Most of these activities are live streamed at their FB Page- shaaledotcom.

In the initial years when the concerts had started out they were no mikes and were dependent on the acoustic properties of the room. In-fact the tiled roof of Sanskrit college provided the perfect acoustic environment. And there was also a screen like a ‘purdah’ in the Sanskrit college hall to seat the ladies who had come to watch the performance. Interesting isn’t it?The fact that a 115 year old cultural institution promoting classical music  has stood its ground in the city alongside Western music, pop groups and VJ’s  says something about the openness in our culture and love for music.

For more such amazing insights of the city join our Unhurried Heritage and Food Walks.

–Usha

References

http://www.gayanasamaja.org/

 

 

A whiff of History-M.G Road

M.G.Road is one of the busiest roads in the city of Bengaluru and is one of the most happening places too. Shopping malls, pubs,restaurants,art galleries, showrooms, banks dot this lively stretch. It is hard to believe that it was once a general parade ground with its barracks and regiments and from where the military and civil station burgeoned.

But look closely. And you will still see remainders of the by-gone era in the hidden houses tucked behind buildings,in the plaques of churches,in the signboards and statues….. Here are few fleeting glimpses of the station it once was.

At the east end of M.G.Road stands the Holy Trinity Church. It was one of the second churches in the area-the first was St Mark’s Cathedral. This century old church built in 1852 for the British Regiment has a number of tablets dedicated to officers who died in various battles of South East Asia.

There are tablets mentioning about officers of Mysore Revenue survey-there is one that talks about a officer who died from tiger wounds at shimoga; the 4th Hussars[Queen’s Own], King’s Dragoon Guards, Royal Artillery etc. Men who died at sea on their way to England,or of cholera on their march towards Bangalore finds mention here. Most of these are dated before 1880’s and gives a glimpse of society back then. During the summer of 1914, the Station had several troops-the 7th Hussars,the 26th Light Cavalry, the 13th Brigade R.F.A, 2nd and 44th Batteries,R.F.A,the 108th infantry etc.

As you make your way out of the Church you catch sight of  Mayo Hall- another colonial building dedicated to Lord Mayo,Viceroy of India. It was used as municipal offices,the upper floor was meant for public meetings.

Before this stately building is the statue of Rev Ferdinand Kittel, a priest from Germany who had joined the Basel Mission and had come to Karnataka to spread Christianity. However he is remembered for his first Kannada to English dictionary compiled in 1894. He mingled with the locals, understanding their culture,language and his dictionary reflects this trait. The 1758 paged book covered more than 70000 words and often included commonplace or local words apart from the usual meanings and synonyms of words. He is seen here holding a kannada flag.

As you wind your way up and come towards MG Road-St Mark’s Road you hit the 1912 stone building of Bible Society and the Tract and Book Society . The Bible Society is responsible for printing and distributing Bible in different languages. Today it also prints literature books.

Another section of the building facing the St Mark’s Road has the Hard Rock Cafe, that was a Tea room during the cantonment days, then went over to Tract and Book Society section and then to a music store, a pub and finally the Hard Rock Cafe.

As you trudge ahead you sight the St Mark’s Cathedral and then the Queen Victoria Statue at Cubbon Park. The park served as the buffer zone for the old city and the cantonment. After nearly an hour’s walk you realize that there are a lot of hidden jewels in the city that the unplanned urban development has not been able to erase. And you wish to learn more. That’s when you must book a heritage walk with Unhurried and tag along for a slow heritage walk with us.

–Usha

 

Lepakshi Attractions

Lepakshi is a wonderful weekend destination from Bangalore. Located in Anantapura district it is around 120 km from the city. There are plenty of intriguing things to see here.The hanging pillar, the red blotches on walls said to be bleeding eyes,the unfinished wedding hall, Lepakshi paintings with their colors still intact,the footsteps of Sita … Here is a quick summary of the attractions present at Lepakshi temple built during Vijayanagara times.

Watch out for Monoliths:

The temple Lepakshi is on a plateau surrounded by granite rocks and boulders. The Lepakshi sculptors have thus used the abundant rocks to carve out huge monolithic sculptures that are one of the highlights of Lepakshi. For instance the Nandi at the entrance of the temple is six feet high and eight meter long. Inside the temple complex is another sculpture- a seven meter high Naga statue carved out from a boulder-the Linga however is a polished black stone. Behind the Linga you see carvings of spider,hunter and elephant worshiping the Linga- perhaps the legend  of Srikalahasti itched here.

Check the inscriptions out:

On the walls of Virabhadra temple are some old Kannada inscriptions. One of them is dated to the period 1531 and talk about the Vijayanagara king Achyutaraya giving grant of village to Virapanna, a governor of Penukonda for services of gods Virabhadra, Raghunatha and Papavinasa of LepakshiVirapanna’s reliefs and paintings inside the temple vouch to the fact that he played an an all important role in construction activities of the temple. How did Virapanna get the king to donate? George Michell in his lecture on Lepakshi mentions that Virapanna was from Veerashaiva community. During the Vijayanagara times they were involved in long distance trading and that perhaps explains their influence. Virabhadra was their patron deity.

Lepakshi sculpturing on walls:

On the mandapa there are beautiful dancing figures-male and female both, exquisite yalis. The walls of Virabhadra shrine have two sets of carvings each going in the opposite direction. One tells the tale of Siriyala-one of the greatest devotees of Shiva who offered the cooked flesh of his only son to Shiva who had come disguised as a mendicant. In the opposite direction is the tale of Kirātārjunīya-the story of Arjun and Shiva disguised as Kirata. They  both simultaneously strike a boar and end up fighting.  Finally Arjun gets defeated and realizes whom he is fighting with and surrenders to Shiva.

Lepakshi paintings:

The paintings are a revelation. The ceilings of mantapas have paintings of Virapanna and his wife worshiping Virabhadra, story of Markandeya, Shiva as a wandering ascetic etc. The colors brown,black,deep red are still surviving and that’s what makes these masterpieces exciting. The Natya Mantapa or the dancing hall too has figurines of five headed Shiva,musicians,Bhringi -a sage with three legs etc. The ceilings too depict paintings like the story of Manu Needhi Chola- a king who killed his own son for the sake of justice to a mother cow whose calf was accidentally killed by Manu Needhi Chola’s son. Then there is the painting of Shiva as Bhairava with skull bowl and dancing deer. What makes this painting interesting is that in-spite of the frightful nature of Bhairava, the face of Shiva is calm. George Michell mentions that the fluidity found in these paintings is amazing. The later paintings after Lepakshi lack this aspect.  The paintings also give a fair idea of the textiles and costumes present then. There are cotton prints with Kalamkari work on them, conical hats,dhoti, tops,sarees etc. giving a glimpse of society prevailing then.

Apart from these attractions there is an unfinished mantapa known as the wedding hall with divine figures and sages sculpted on the columns; a hanging pillar that does not rest on the ground, the blotched red marks on the walls- said to be the plucked eyes of Virapanna who was  charged with embezzling funds from the king’s treasury. Anger at being accused he blinded himself.

The stories,the depth and details of paintings and relief figures will transport you to a different world. Lepakshi is a place worth visiting and makes for a good one day destination from the city.

–Usha