I grew up in the 1980s when science was rated way above humanities. Whatever little I read on aesthetic lineage of India was limited to a few history lessons; in fact they too focused only on the series of wars and their winners. The only monument that I remember reading about, apart from the Taj Mahal, was in my Hindi textbook on Ajanta and Ellora. Sometime in the 1990s when my father got posted to Aurangabad, it was that chapter that danced before my eyes and I so looked forward to seeing those paintings and caves. It was only after the turn of the millennium, when I started living in South India and started travelling around that I developed an interest in ancient Indian art, and then began my journey to explore India through its ancient art. I went to the National Museum Institute in Delhi and did a course in Art History which helped open so many windows for me to explore in ancient Indian art forms.
I began understanding the iconography and hence the stories hidden within the sculpted stones. I began to understand the wealth of information that the painters had painted for us, that serve as a window into their times. I began to understand the socio-economic roles played by public structures such as temples; that they were more than just a place where the reigning deity of the village or town lived. I started appreciating the cultural values that get woven into the threads of aesthetic identity. When I returned to the present I always wondered if we, as a current generation, are creating anything that will tell the future generations about our times. When I look at yesteryear masterpieces and compare them with what we have today, all I see is lots of electronic gadgets and our lives bundled around them in the form of texts, pictures and videos and I just hoped that we would not become like the Indus Valley seals that the future generations can see but can make no sense of.
Earlier this month I was in Bundi, Rajasthan, a small town in Rajasthan known for the Bundi school of Art that is famous for its miniature paintings. In fact when you walk around the town you can see the paintings everywhere; on walls, on the gates of the havelis – telling you that you are in a place that is home to artists. On a guided tour of the Bundi palace we got to see many palaces that had walls and ceilings painted with mythological scenes and scenes from everyday life. The epitome of this came at Chitrashala at Ummed Bhavan palace – a blue green room full of paintings that shows us not just the faith and lives of the people in the 17-18th CE but also the skill possessed by the painters of that time. One has to zoom in into every small aspect of the painting to see the details. The Rasa Leela of Krishna or the marriage of Ram and Sita in the Ramayana or the layout of the Srinathji temple in Nathdwara are all dedicated to Vishnu while Shiva along with Parvati, Ganesh, Saraswati & Lakshmi are also present. Interspersed with the devotional scenes were the scenes of every day life especially the everyday life of women who can be seen playing board games, hunting and of course dancing. Look at the walls and it is like a written history of the times – you can see people values, what they wore, how they lived and what their day-to-day activities were. I came back mesmerized.
During my visit I had the opportunity to witness an art residency hosted by Justa Hotels in their Lake Nahargarh palace hotel. Taking inspiration from the Chitrashala at Bundi palace they invited 35 artists from 11 countries including India. They took the artists around South Rajasthan and then gave them the time and space to paint. Some of the artists were inspired by the picturesque surroundings and painted what they saw. Some of the artists brought their inherent style with them and the visuals of their homeland. Since they came from diverse ethnic backgrounds and working styles it was wonderful to see how they all looked at the same thing and created an entirely different interpretation of the same scene. David, an artist from Florida, painted the blood red moon shining in the lake at midnights as the white lake palace reflected in the lake with golden hues. Another artist from Thailand took us to the underwater world beneath the lake palace and his imagination created a whole Patal Lok for the venue. Other artists picked up the elements of Rajasthan such as its vibrant colors and brought them into their works like Hannah from Norway painted the Nordic lights with a bit of golden from Rajasthan. Avijit Mukherjee from Kolkata created magic with his pen strokes and little but vibrant use of colors. Can we extend this thought process and bring people from different walks of life together on a platform where they can infuse out of the box ideas in each other and create something new that we can leave behind! Can art be the platform to leave our times alive for the future generations?
Meanwhile, keep discovering pieces of ancient art that can be found in each and every district of this country.
(Writer is a leading travel blogger from India. You can read her stories at www.IndiTales.com and reach her on twitter @anuradhagoyal)