Recreating Indian Miniature Paintings

If you have been (periodically) reading my (sporadic) blog posts, you know that I love Indian Miniature Paintings. While at Columbia studying Art History, I wrote a paper on the topic as well. Recently, I tried my hand at painting two works I love. The first one is an official portrait of Shah Jahan riding a stallion. I fell in love with it the minute I saw it.. perhaps because of the beautiful use of blues, greens and turquoises that make the background. I have a serious thing for blue. The second one is a portrait of a woman, Abhisarika Nayika, going to meet her lover in the rain. This one I chose because I like almost all paintings depicting the Indian Monsoon. It was only whilst researching it that I got to know a lot more about it.

Here are my renditions of these paintings, and a few interesting facts about them.

Shah Jahan riding a stallion, Mughal Court at Agra, ca. 1628

Shah Jahan riding a stallion, Mughal Court at Agra, ca. 1628

The Metropolitan Museum, NYC had an exhibition called the Wonder of Age which showcased the Master Painters of India from 1100-1900. This was the lead painting of the exhibit. The folios displayed were deliberately chosen to ‘refute the long-held view of anonymous authorship in Indian Art’. This was interesting because while traditionally paintings have been classified by regions or dynastic styles eg. Kangra, Gujarat, Delhi court etc., this exhibition, based on pioneering research identified individual artists and their collective works through an analysis of their style.

This original painting was made by a Hindu artist called Payag (1590-ca.1650) who was active in the Mughal courts of Delhi, Lahore, Allahabad and Agra. The one thing that never ceases to amaze me about miniature paintings is the intricacy of details in limited space. While the painting measures a smallish 11″X8″, the detailed artwork (jewellery, weaponry, clothes) is hugely awe-inspiring. I tried to recapture what I could, with a lot of patience and diligence, but the original is nothing short of a masterpiece. Particularly tough for me was to get the details flawlessly painted on different fabrics. In addition to working on details, I tried to stay as close as possible to the soothing blue-green tonality of the original. Also not messing up Shah Jahan’s exquisite facial features was top of agenda. (This, of course, is idealized portraiture – I’m not sure if the emperor’s real profile was this perfect!) By far the most intricate painting I’ve made,  this was especially hard as I don’t have brushes suited for super fine work, or even the colors. I just had my trusty Cotman waterpaints that had dried up on me because of lack of usage. Ah well, I don’t think it turned out too shabby 🙂



Abhisarika Nayaka

Abhisarika Nayika

The second painting I made was one of Abhisarika Nayika, which literally means a nayika (heroine) going to meet her lover. The rain, rich thick night, green forest, dancing trees with their beautiful leaves all went into creating a mood I adore. That’s why I started painting this. However here’s what I learnt as I read more.

In ancient Indian literature, one finds a treatise on performing arts called Natya Shastra written by sage Bharat somewhere between the second century BC and third century AD. It details treatments of not just drama, but all diverse arts like dance, music, poetics, painting and general aesthetics. The Ashta-Nayika (Eight heroines) is a collective name for eight types of nayikas or heroines that represent eight states in a woman’s relationship to her hero and these states have been illustrated in Indian painting, literature, sculpture as well as Indian classical dance. Notable medieval paintings that depict the Ashta-Nayika are the Ragamala paintings, as well as those from the Bundi school of painting.

One of those eight, the Abhisarika Nayika is the quintessential heroine who is off to meet her lover. The painting I have made was made by Maula Ram (1743-1833). Credited with originating the Garhwal branch of Kangra School, Maula Ram was not only a painter but also a poet, historian and a diplomat. The original painting shows the nayika traversing different (metaphors of) danger such as snakes, the dark night, lightning, rain, a broken anklet to go meet her lover. However, when I was painting, I didn’t want these dark metaphors (plus I particularly cannot deal with snakes) so I did what felt true to me. I just painted a woman in what are to me, beautiful surroundings. So the night is not as dark and menacing and the rain and lightning are not as threatening. The only concession I made was that I did keep the snakey look of lightning, which is commonly how lightning is painted in Indian miniatures 🙂



Hopefully, I paint more in 2019, so the posts don’t remain as sporadic as they’ve been and I hope you enjoy reading them!



The purge is ugly, messy and painful, but the ongoing #MeToo movement is of immense historical significance. And contrary to what one may think, it hasn’t arrived late; the ecosystem necessary for it to thrive, not just survive, has only just come to be.

It was less than a century ago that women, in numbers that mattered, started receiving a meaningful education, one beyond embroidery and the kitchen. A liberal, non-religious Education with its twin, Awareness, have always been bedrocks of progress. Women’s suffrage, which led to female political voice being heard, also roughly followed the same timeline. And then the catalyst occurred – women stepped out of their cocooned existences to work shoulder to shoulder with men. They exhibited a hitherto unseen belief in their own competence, a solid sense of confidence. Equal, not inferior.

These were necessary building blocks to what we see happening in several parts of the world today – a grudging recognition of, and an angry purge of patriarchal privilege. A demand for respect. There is nothing soft about this movement; it is, as it should be, a whiplash.

As a woman, I cannot count the number of ways by which ingrained patriarchy and misogyny affect my kind in our day-to-day life. The catcalls we endure, eve teasing that shakes us up, blank calls with heavy breathing that jolt us, men exposing themselves in blind alleys, uncles feeling us up in the guise of bear hugs… all these aren’t happenstances. These are scars at the very tip of a mountain of scars that every woman bears. Mind you, I haven’t even come to what is legally termed sexual assault. This is just everyday life as a female.

Wresting Power from those that have exercised it since times immemorial is not going to be pretty because Powerplay never is. But the only way to claim one’s space is to step up and fight for it. The old guard needs to fall. So yes, there is anger, rabidity and some individuals that take the focus away from the movement to play the limelight. But many more women and men are fighting very hard to expose ingrained, normalized sexual offences.

There is more than a quorum wanting a better world for our children. Let’s focus on that. The Feminine is finally fighting back, and that’s why we have to realize we are indeed living in interesting times.


(Image Courtesy: GivingCompass.Org)

On This World Environment Day


Dehradoon used to be a small town I spent most of my summer holidays in. We would escape the opressive humidity of Mumbai right after school results, and head straight into the pulversing heat of Delhi in May. The scorching capital could never hold us for more than a couple of days and soon enough, we would find ourselves at the foothills of the Himalayas, where Dehradoon is nestled.

The palette of nostalgia is golden and so do forgive me a gilded narrative, but this is how I remember Dehradoon of my past, a town primarily known for its elite schools, cantonment and glorious weather. We rarely needed anything more than a humble celing fan in Doon even at the peak of Indian Summer. Litchi trees would sway in the backyard of every house. By the the third week of the May the rains would arrive – such amazing sound and light shows by way of thunderstorms that I have seldom witnessed anything parallel. A month in the Doon valley was constructed with blocks of family, food, nature walks and trips to hill stations like Mussoorie and Dhanolti. The mountains were green, cars few, and trees many. With the arrival of rains, seasonal rivers would flow down, bringing with them rocks, rich soil and minerals, rendering many a road unusable – for a while atleast. Dehradoon of my memory is golden, yes, but also it is luminously green.

Over the last two decades however, and especially after it was crowned the capital of Uttarakhand, each time I visit the valley, I come back with a lump in my throat and pain in my heart. The hills have been balded for wood and gouged for minerals and rock. Grey high speed expressways taint what was once a lazy agricultural landscape, and ugly flyovers many still under construction, dot the city. Houses now extend all the way from Dehradoon to Mussoorie, the two towns are now one, overflowing with concrete.  The litchi trees are all gone. Characterless malls have usurped old bazaars and most houses have air conditioners to see them through summers. This small town, in its zeal to morph into a big city lost its character and charm, but does anyone care?

The Himalayas are being systematically killed. Murdered.

I am sure if I start digging for statistics, I could spit them out dime a dozen, but this post, which has been a long time coming, is more a cry of anguish than a scientific piece establishing that which is obvious for all to see.  We are ruthlessly, foolishly destroying this planet in the name that Trojan horse – Development. And this is true everywhere. I was walking down the posh Bandra Bandstand seaface neighborhood of Mumbai in 2016 with my children, the tide was low and all they could see were mangroves covered in plastic bags. Plastic bottles and empty bags of chips were littered all over. All they could smell was the smell of sea mixed with the smell of shit.

I see no trees in Gurgaon. I see only concrete in Manhattan. I hear of fish dying because of plastic they ingested, and humans dying in Karachi heatwave. Karachi! I see Americans wasting everything- from food to toilet paper, with zero understanding of how that food gets to their plates. How many animals never really live even while alive, just to feed them. How many trees are killed for their houses, paper and tissues. The huge dollops of ketchup routinely left on plates, plastic straws used once and tossed carelessly for Mother Earth to process. The popcorn thrown at each other as a party game.

It’s mindboggling how stupid our species can be.

This World Environment Day,  my biggest hope rests in our children. I see them being educated about the mayhem prior generations have caused, and how they can help correct the equilibrium. People like my friend Stacy, rabid about environmental causes provide me succour. We all have to pitch in, we must, else it is all going to be such a huge waste.

Because I would really like to see the Himalayan foothills green again, one day. And my children would want to see Mumbai beaches as I saw them. Someday.


The Great Indian Monsoon Trick

Back in the day, June was about two events: school re-opening (always on 13th), and arrival of the great Indian monsoon.

The catharsis monsoons provide is much like a revolution. Months of heavy heat and yellow dust finally give way to thundering, dark skies, gusty winds, perceptible drops in temperature and finally, rain. Dull brown transforms to glistening green-blue. Oppressive ennui melts into gutters overflowing with rain water. The smell of earth in rain makes you stop and inhale. And.Inhale.And.Inhale. Inhale the romance. Just to clarify, my paean to the monsoons is simply me being Indian. Kalidasa wrote Ritusamhara in praise of Indian seasons way back in 5th century CE, royal workshops over hundreds of years churned miniature paintings with lightning bolts, dancing peacocks and lovers in trysts. Rains seep through and soak classical, folk and popular music and art. Indeed Indian children grew up learning rhymes like Ye Re Ye Re Pausa, Tula Deto Paisa; a Marathi rhyme where a child is bribing rains to make an appearance. [It’s another thing that english medium children like me also learnt Rain Rain Go Away, Little Johnny Wants To Play, never questioning the absurdity of the rhyme in rain deprived India where children, parents and grandparents wait eagerly for the rains precisely to play *in*them.]

Monsoons are to Mumbai what winter is to Delhi. The incessant downpour (never a drizzle) can dampen many a faint heart. It is not like Mumbaikars like the omnipresent damp ceilings, swollen, peeling wall plaster, constant dripping outside, fungus infested leather shoes inside, water logging, trains stopping, or tragically wilting biscuits. Mumbaikars dislike all of the above. However miraculously,  an ingrained affinity

img_4334for the monsoon despite all its rigours is the litmus test of a true-blue Mumbaikar. I firmly believe that the wild, slate grey Arabian Sea has a role to play in that. If I’d get a penny for each time I played hookey from college while it was raining just to walk along Juhu beach, eat vada pav watching the crashing waves of Marine Drive, sing songs sitting on the rocks of Versova Beach, head for picnics (yes) to Madh Island, I’d have enough to afford a 2BHK in Andheri. I’ve waded through knee deep water just for fun, celebrated rainy day holidays and religiously bought rainy shoes and gum boots, both of which were utterly useless in the face of ferocious MumbaiMonsoons. (this is an absolute favorite song on the season and my city.)

Dehradoon, a hill town nestled up in the Himalayas where most of my summers were spent, puts on the most dramatic son-et-lumiere shows to showcase its monsoons. The lightning and thunder take on a booming entity of their own in Doon valley where trees sparkle anew with the rains. Of course, with the first thunder-clap you can be sure the
electricity will be out for 3-4-5-6-who knows how many hours, but who cares? I remember sitting in our veranda making paper boats to sail in little rivulets that cropped img_4336up magically everywhere in this hilly town. Those rains that bestowed upon us hard, heavy hail were deemed extra special because that was the closest we ever got to snow. (Hail surprisingly tastes just like ice was what we re-learnt every year.) Steaming ginger tea, nani’s  piping hot pakodas, samosas and rain dances on terraces.

Any passage on monsoons would be incomplete without mentioning Kerela – the place where the monsoon is born. The exact shade of emerald-green that the tea estates of Munnar glimmer with when freshly drenched is indescribable. As is the havoc that rain infused breeze wrecks on your senses when it carries fragrances from spice plantations of black pepper, cinnamon, coffee, cardamoms. The swollen fierce rivers that flow in all their might, the leeches and mosquitoes that dance in great delight. The waterfalls that appear suddenly everywhere, the backwater boats that take you there.

My heart doesn’t do calisthenics when it rains in New York. There’s no magic. No petrichor. No kids dancing. There’s no feeling of deliverance with rains – and that’s borderline unsettling, alienating almost. And maybe that’s why there is something visceral about how much I miss India, and its incredible monsoon..starting June 13th.

Lippan/Chittar Kaam-Mud and Mirror Work


Lippan/Chittar  Kaam, also known as Mud and Mirror work, is a traditional mural folk art form from Gujarat, a western border state of India. Gujarat’s Rann of Kutch (The Great Salt Desert) that lies between India and Pakistan is home to several desert communities, many of which do this mud relief work in their own distinct style. One such, the nomadic Rabari people, are especially associated with it. Desert life is tough, but the indomitable spirit of human beings is perspicuously at display in the art these people choose to create, despite harsh, inhospitable environs. Lippan Kaam is usually done inside, and sometimes, outside the mud huts (bhungas) in far-flung villages.

Traditionally, a mixture of camel dung which is rich in fibre is mixed with mud and molded between fingers before being stuck directly on walls. Kutchi motifs such as peacocks, birds, animals, human figures, trees and geometric patterns are sculpted freehand in bas-relief. Muslim communities stick to geometric patterns since depiction of human or animal form is considered un-Islamic. Each pattern in embellished with mirrors (aabhla), of various sizes and shapes – round, diamond & triangular. Authentic Mud and Mirror work is almost always colored in white clay, or at best, in shades of neutrals. The white comes from the sand of the Rann desert, rich as it is in salt content.

With increasing numbers now living in concrete homes, and with the younger generation trading traditional arts and crafts for lucrative city jobs, the preponderance of Lippan Kaam is decreasing in villages (see video below). However the upside to the story is that the art form has gathered some traction over the years, and made an entrance into mainstream art world of India. Onwards from bhungas into fancy city homes and spas… and now, Manhattan!

This is my first attempt at Lippan Kaam and I’ve attempted to stay as authentic as possible, trying to retain the rustic look and white tones these murals sport. Since the designs are traditionally handmade, their lines are seldom precise and the end result is almost never factory-like perfect. I love these little nuances, and incorporating them in my work was important to me. But there are a few adaptations made, mostly with regards to the materials used. A detailed list is given in the end. This artwork has been created on Hardboard so it can be mounted on walls.

img_2689To start, I researched traditional motifs and patterns and came up with a final design; a process that involved multiple iterations. Then, after applying two layers of Gesso to the hardboard, it was painted with thin acrylic paint. The decision of staying with a white palette was one I took rather early on and that helped with planning the work as it proceeded. Once the acrylic dried out, the design was penciled.

With the design traced, I glued-in mirrors. All circular mirrors used are glass mirrors whereas the other shapes are cut out of Tim Holtz Mirror sheets. I loved working with the latter because of the freedom of being able to craft out any shape, and also, because the sheets come with a transparent cover which is very convenient when working alongside materials like clay and color. It keeps the mirrored surface free from fingerprints, colors etc.

Apoxie® Sculpt substituted regular clay for two reasons. One, it  offers the benefits of sculpting clay and two, it has the adhesive power of epoxy so I did not need glue to stick clay to the board. It is  smooth and putty-like in consistency, relatively simple to mix and use, even for first timers like me.

The Apoxie self-hardens (no baking required) and cures hard in 24 hours to appear with a semi-gloss finish. [Tip: I mixed small batches at a time, covering small portions of the larger design, since leaving epoxy out for long durations makes it hard and unwieldy.] The clay work was followed by sticking of cowrie shells. This is entirely my touch, don’t think shells are traditionally Lippan Kaam materials.


I’ll be honest, coloring was the trickiest part, for multiple reasons. First of all, conjuring multiple shades of white/neutrals was more difficult than I’d anticipated. Trickier still was avoiding coloring over tiny mirrors. Tedious. And last but not the least, ensuring that details of clay designs stay visible (and not get washed out by white acrylic color) took most time. If you look closely, I applied a wash in terracotta color over these just to give the details a pop, and followed that with a super diluted wash of white acrylic, in-line with the white overall look. Very. Tedious.

Once any art work is nearly done, the last bit is all about refining – bringing out the hits and covering the misses. In this case, since I intentionally wanted to leave the work rustic, this last step was more about drawing lines on where to stop..despite instinctively wanting to go on.

The end result is here for you to see.. I love it since it’s a little piece of the Rann hanging on my wall. The interesting thing is, while I lived in India, I knew not much about its rich artistic heritage. However post settling abroad, I feel a need to connect to my roots be it the philosophy, religion, sociology, arts or crafts. Don’t be surprised if they make an appearance here, often!


List of Materials used:

– Apoxie Sculpt 1 Lb. White

Round Glass Mirrors, Assorted Sizes, 25-Pack

Mosaic Mercantile 8-Ounce Adhesive

100 Pcs Bulk Cut Sea Shell Beads Cowrie Craft

White acrylic paint and Gesso. Any good brand will do, I used Liquitex and Blick

Here are two links. 1: shows a village woman, Valuben, making this work of art the traditional way. 2: is a short read on the Rabari people.

Hope you enjoy!



Navigating Parenting

thinkingman4A few days back my nine year old casually declared that he doesn’t believe in God. “There is no place like heaven, so where does God even stay? It’s all a wash.”

I did not (could not) reply immediately, busy as I was turning his words back and forth, up and down in my head with wonder. A need to comment responsibly stemmed from the fact that I am a believer. Don’t know how it happened, having grown up in a pretty non conformist household with an atheist mother but here I am,  a believer. Not rabid though, far from it, I don’t follow the numerous rituals my religion calls for, don’t visit the temple every month- or even six- but I believe in the divine and I do find comfort in God.

Calibrating my response was important because having my son tow my line of thinking just because I birthed him is not my cup of tea. In fact, I take a disproportionate amount of pride in the independent thought process he displayed. Think about it, how many Democrats have Republicans for children? Or how many hardcore hagglers have their progeny getting ripped off when shopping? I’m sure there are some, but they don’t constitute the norm. What cannot be overstated is the influence parents exert consciously or unconsciously over their child’s life choices. So I laboured yet again on an interesting, unending debate I often have in my head. God vs Science. Fear vs Self Belief. Unknown vs Known. Fate vs Action …and so it went till it dovetailed (as it always does without fail) into concepts of Karma, Dharma, Moksha, Kismet, Universe, Circle of Life, Meaning of Life…

Needless to say, I still don’t have a cogent enough response for him. But after all that rumination I know that I will encourage him to draw *his* conclusions based on *his* life experiences, *his* knowledge of the world and *his* ability to process religion and philosophy. How exciting, I can’t wait to write more about about our discussions going forth.

Plus he’s only nine; for all you know one day he may run his own religious cult in Utah!


Feminism and Nirvana

Screen Shot 2016-01-15 at 11.49.52 AM

Prologue: Someone on Twitter airily noted “Maybe feminism isn’t the ultimate nirvana for all women. I think we should trust individuals to make the best decision for themselves. THAT is freedom.”

 This is my answer not just to him but many others that think like him, unfortunately.


You are a man, father to an adorable little boy, about to have another baby and your father says, “God willing it won’t be a boy again; we will be blessed with a girl.” You look at your little son, smiling at you from a corner of that room. He was born male. Big fault. Whose? The one who birthed him of course. You.

An ambient reality is that your country doesn’t allow sex determination before birth. Boys are killed in-utero because they are, boys. But the really incredible part is that nobody dwells much on it. This gristly fact just sits there, gathering dust in the very rooms it should be dissected and discussed.

As a little boy, you are told to cover up modestly, to never sit legs apart. Knees together or crossed. You adapt quickly because rebukes drench you hard and relentlessly like tropical monsoons. You laugh, but with a hand fluttering over your mouth, daintily. Such a modest butterfly! Holding books against your chest as you walk to school is second nature. Are you subconsciously shielding your breasts? Whatever the reason, you never learn to carry them quite like those carefree girls – you know, dangling to the side? You “run like a boy”, “walk like a boy”, and that’s a funny way of doing things. See, girls run and walk differently, correctly; the way God intended things to be. You and your sex my boy, just didn’t get the memo.

You must learn to cook at an early age because it’s the No. 1 skill for a boy to possess. Soon it’ll come as handy as a smartphone is and let’s face it, those smartphones sure are handy! You, the little b(r)other, cook for and serve your elder sister who doesn’t enter the kitchen because she needs to concentrate on more important things like sports and school. She also needs more milk than you.. actually make that more food in general. She’s the girl. You’re the boy. Remember.

Like waves lapping beaches in myriad ways unfailingly, you will be reminded of your sex and its place in society by The Agreement .Whereas you (the second sex) will be in agreement with all societal considerations (The Rules or Traditions) applicable to your gender. For societal good, for civilization, for the earth to keep spinning it is agreed that you and your lot are where and how you were meant to be. Internalize. Embrace. Never forget.” And whereas you, my boy, will sign this Agreement without reading because (i) When every male around you is blindly signing up, it can’t be all that bad (ii) Understanding lengthy agreements takes far too much time and effort (iii) Who reads agreements anyway?

You may or may not attend school. You may or may not graduate. But that is not important. A pre teen you is walking down the street when your building watch-woman whistles as you pass by. Shocked, scared, confused and angry you continue walking, heart beating fast. On an early morning walk in the neighborhood park with your buddies, a middle-aged woman bares her goods, licking her lips, looking you in the eye. What to do? Run I guess. Returning from school, a driver from in a parked car calls out to you. You look. She is masturbating. Sigh, run again. In a crowded train someone presses against your privates. Who was that? Couldn’t even see! Groped under the garb of Holi revelry. Scream? Can’t share your shame. How embarrassing. How scary. Mostly though, how scarily routine.

You could panic but this is benign “adam-teasing”. “Cat-calls” are girls being girls. Those calls from dirty talking-hard breathing women may make you want to disappear off the earth, but everything passes. The trick is to overlook it all. (The real trick is to internalize that girls can overwhelm, overpower. They *are* stronger.) We won’t teach girls how to behave but you, we control. Remember that in the end, YOU, the boy, are inflaming these passions.  Ensure that doesn’t happen. Take control.

So. Cover yourself head to toe, like a beautiful pearl protected by the oyster. Only loose fitting clothes, nothing too tight or short. Wear a burqa actually, that’s the best; an ingenious way to stay sublimely secure. Cover up, it’s what your father does, your uncles, your grandfathers, your neighbors, the men of your city, your country. They guard their modesty like that dainty pearl. It’s their choice. Hell, men fight for this restrictive lifestyle *because* it defines their identity. By the way, Dolce and Gabbana now have a line of designer burqas. So sexy. You can have your cake and eat it too! (note: just don’t say sexy aloud.) Don’t look up, walking down the street, come straight back home from school. Don’t step out in the evenings. Don’t talk to girls in class, girls only want one thing and it is bad, bad, bad (note: just don’t say what it is aloud.)

First period? Can’t cook on “those” days, can’t enter a temple. Can’t even water Tulsi (what the holy basil) Defiled every month now on, you will stay in your territory, a territory marked by others. Dirty. Soiled. But hey young man, don’t lose heart. The beauty business loves you; it wants your skin radiant and hair shiny. Just that things aren’t ever good enough. Sigh. But keep buying; your confidence depends on it. Only when you are confident will you get that wife or job, you know the one where the prospective wife or interviewer are enamoured by your aforementioned radiant skin and shiny hair. Hope you’ve seen advertisements that clearly demonstrate how impeccably colored nails matter more than credentials. Learn that self-esteem is rooted in appearance, not ability. Keep buffing your nails, ego and self-worth, staring vacantly into space at fancy beauty salons.

You (are asked to) fast regularly; it’s good for you. Not so for your sister because fasting is a Boys-Club special. Monday for Shiv ji, Thursday for a good wife (most important), Saturday for Shani Maharaj. Of course you do it, it’s what your father, al. do diligently. Tradition. From the day you were born little boy, your parents have been buying (at least) one piece of jewelry every year. No one said dowry planning was easy, plus the wedding is an expense borne by the “boys side”. Sigh. Boys are such expenditure while girls rake in all the cash. Obviously everyone wants a girl! But first things first, when the girl’s family comes to “check you out”, cook up a storm. Walk like a dream whilst they listen to a litany of your skills. Always be bashful; never look anyone in the eye. If all goes well, you’ll catch yourself a big fish. Life’s mission accomplished. By the way, should anything go wrong with the marriage, you cannot return to your parent’s. “Paraya dhan”, you never were theirs anyway. Your “kumardaan” has happened, you’ve been given away, donated, you dispensable, bothersome creature.

You move in with your in-laws after marriage. As a newly wedded groom, you *must* sacrifice. Everything their way. Plus, wear one million chudas, chudiyan, sindoor, bichhu, mangalsutra et al. Basically even an alien in space passing swiftly past the Earth, sitting inside her spaceship should be able to tell you’re taken. Your wife on the other hand needn’t participate in such symbolism. Her marital status is no one’s business. Each year just like those dashing heroes in movies, you must fast an entire day, without water, for your wife’s long life. So what if she doesn’t fast for you? She married you, its enough. All of the above is your choice. Your father, grandfathers et al did it all too. It is To Be Continued..

When you get pregnant, everyone (including you) will wish for a girl. While the baby will carry forward its mother’s family name, you, the father will carry the baby. For 9 months. Months filled with nausea, vomits, pains, gazillion visits to the bathroom, blood checks, ultrasounds, weird food cravings and that penultimate manna from hell – labor. The baby is born with you at your parents’ and the birthing expenses are borne by them too. But again, the child will bear the mother’s family name because, The Agreement.

Mostly you aren’t allowed to work outside the house. That is not a man’s domain. If you do work, you must manage career and home equally well. It is acceptable for a woman to be ambitious, but not a man. Anyway, you live life kingsize because what does a househusband really do? Keep the household running by restocking refrigerators, keeping hot chapattis ready, doing the laundry, looking after children and their homework etc. Boring stuff. No big deal. Especially rearing children. Any fool can do that. And that’s what you are, always have been and always will be. A fool. A helpless, disenfranchised male.


Only that you really are a female. But the absurdity of patriarchy hits so much better when the tables are turned.

For ALL the women out there, don’t follow The Agreement blindly. Feminism is an ideal, and it is one worth fighting for. Equality and equal opportunity. Freedom from patriarchy and patriarchal baggage that all of us carry unknowingly or unknowingly.

Nothing is perfect, this isn’t a perfect world. But it can be bettered. I got lucky and have a good deal going, but age and experience have shown that blinders off, what’s out there is scary. I feel it my duty to call out bull shit when it’s smeared on my sex ritually, condescendingly, knowingly, unknowingly.


This note won’t be complete without stating that I don’t appreciate the brand of feminism that treats men like pariahs. Some of the staunchest feminists I know are men, just as some of the most regressive and aggressive women haters are women. Lets not give the world any more reasons to distrust feminists and feminism.

This One Is For My Love

Music is like water.


It quenches the soul, cools scorching days,

Calms frenzied minds, plays heart’s candy,

Powers the being;

Music sustains.


Lullabies to dirges,

Music remains.


Walkmans to discotheques,

Bhimsen Joshi to Pink Floyd,

Soothing ghazals to brisk songs of protest;

Iceland to Tahiti,

Music remains,

Ever so personal.

Ever the universal.


Expressing what words cannot –

Hope, anguish, elation, hunger, freedom.


Music captures – and – music sets you free.

*****     *****     *****    *****    *****      *****

Representing Mystical Love of the Gīta-Govinda


Crying sounds of cuckoos, mating on mango shoots

Shaken as bees seek honey scents of opening buds,

Raise fever in the ears of lonely travelers-

Somehow they survive these days

By tasting the mood of lovers’ union

In climaxing moments of meditation. 

The Gīta-Govinda is a lyrical poem composed by the poet-saint Jayadeva in Sanskrit. Dating back to the twelfth century, this masterpiece originated in eastern India, probably Orissa or Bengal. Called “Love Song of the Dark Lord” by Barbara Stoler Miller1, on the face of it the poem recounts a simple tale: the joy of Radha and Krishna’s initial union, the agony of their subsequent separation and the bliss of their ultimate reunion. However, rooted in medieval Vaishnavism, and as emphasized by the poet himself, the Gīta-Govinda is really a means for meditation and contemplation of Vishnu/Krishna. This meticulously crafted literary work universalizes erotic emotion and calms the distinctions of “I” and “mine” and “you” and “yours”. It seeks to break the imaginary barrier between the human and divine2. With the spread of Vaishnavism, the poem found widespread favor throughout the country and within a century or so, it was adapted to dance, music, painting and temple worship across regions.


Despite the passage of time, the text of the Gīta-Govinda underwent minimum change. That is why its illustrated manuscripts offer a great opportunity to study the nature of relationship between text and image. Such a study, as will soon become apparent, helps unravel critical developmental aspects of Indian miniature painting.

This paper considers a relatively tight time span of roughly two hundred years – the seventeenth century and the eighteenth century- to examine works of four miniature painting schools and analyze how their artists represented this story of mystical love. Painted Gīta-Govinda sets had obviously become popular around this time given the reasonably large number of dated sets found, and their study affords us a nuanced understanding of the artistic sensibilities and formal values of their folios. The four schools studied are: Mewari and Bundi from western India, Darbhanga from eastern India and Pahari from the hills of north. While examining these works, focus will be placed on understanding how the body is deployed to represent a love at once both human and divine, and how artists accomplish this while adhering to a style and sensibility specific to their regions.

Text and its Artistic Traditions

The Gīta-Govinda draws its structurally intricate form and concepts from various levels of Indian literary tradition3. It is organized into twelve chapters (sargas), with each chapter further sub-divided into twenty-four divisions called prabandhas. Each prabandha contains couplets grouped into eights (ashtapadis). Recognized as a chef d’oeuvre of religious ‘dhvani’ poetry, the poem adopts ‘suggestion’ (dhvani, vyangyartha) as its principal method, communicating emotions arising in a situation indirectly through suggestion, nuance or resonance. The happenings of the tale and the images it brings to mind are felt more intensely when suggested than when described. Passion is made palpable through sensuous descriptions of movements and physical form. Seasonal changes in nature and bodily signs of inner feeling are colored richly to create a dense atmosphere of passion. Through imagery, tone, color and rhythm Jayadeva interweaves levels of physical and metaphysical associations and the cosmic energy of Krishna’s love with Radha is condensed into religious ecstacy.4

Various artistic traditions were inspired to incorporate the Gīta-Govinda with all its resplendent imagery into their folds. After raga and tala were assigned to its lyrics, the poem was adapted to different musical versions and dance performances, especially in temples. Alongside, it also rapidly gained popularity in pictorial traditions. The artist’s familiarity with the totality of the poetic composition, its movement through cantos, sections and structure of verses within cantos provided the basic ground plan for the pictorial composition. The poetic counter-pointing of motifs, similes and metaphors and appellations was transfigured into a pictorial idiom…5 Upon examining inter-relations between these multiple traditions, it becomes clear that each set of folios was meant to be viewed together, like frames of a movie.

The first illustrated manuscripts of the Gīta-Govinda date back to the late fifteenth – early sixteenth centuries and originated probably in North Gujarat. They had close stylistic similarities to Jain miniatures of the period and were abstract in nature, without any human figures. Thereafter from middle to late sixteenth century, paintings were made in the Caurapancasika style where differences from geometrical segments of the Jain paintings and multiple plains of Mughal paintings became clearly visible. Seventeenth century saw the Mewari School gain dominance and this is the first school we will look at in detail.

Mewari School


Figure 1: Examples of Mature Mewari Idiom (Late 17th century- Early 18th century)

The Mewari paintings we examine date back to the late seventeenth – early eighteenth centuries and are executed in a mature Mewari idiom. They exhibit a deep understanding of the mystical and erotic import of the text, possibly an outcome of the spreading popularity of Vaishnava cults. The artist for the first time strives to elevate the human drama of the two lovers to the divine agony of godhood and the human soul (parmatma and jivatma) by rendering a faithful verse-to-verse translation of the text. He repeats refrains of the musical composition as motifs and thereby provides thematic and pictorial unity to a set. Thin arches of the Caurapancasika style become lush, arched bowers with dangling garlands representing consecrated space. Overcast clouds with a row of white flying cranes carrying messages of love, a motif popular in Indian poetry, make an appearance, thereby incorporating Jayadeva’s mystical metaphor of Radha’s white garland on Krishna’s dark body.

The compositional pattern of most paintings of this set is similar. Following a continuous narrative system, their surface is divided into different sections and the actors are repeated several times over in the same painting. This technique is also used to depict different moods of the characters. Colors are vivid with an ingenious use of white and empty spaces. Fine brushwork is evidenced throughout the set. Rajasthani text with some case endings in Gujarati appears on top of the folios in three of four lines, while Sanskrit text is found at the back. Let us now look at details of two paintings.

“Clouds thicken the sky.

Tamala trees darken the forest.

The night frightens him.

Radha, you take him home!”

 They leave at Nanda’s order,

Passing trees in thickets on the way,

Until secret passions of Radha and Madhava

Triumph on the Jumna bank.


Figure 2: Detailed look Mewari School (1)

This painting is interesting in the way it uses the body, specifically the size of it, to depict the transition of Krishna from a frightened, diminutive figure to a full grown adult; from a mere mortal to the mystical lover of the Gīta-Govinda. In line with the narrative system, the painting is divided into four sections.

In the first, a tall Nanda addresses Radha, who is second tallest in size and asks her to drop Krishna off since it is getting dark and it might rain. Clouds and lightening occupy the upper horizon. Nanda is wearing a typical turban (pagri) and cloak (choga) of Mewari paintings. Suggestively, Krishna is shorter than Radha. A seamless flow into the second section shows Radha bidding goodbye to Nanda and leading Krishna away.

The third section is separated from this one by a thicket of bushes and trees. It is observed that trees throughout this Mewari set serve three purposes: first, they decorate and beautify the frame, second, they act as section dividers and third, they help indicate passage of time. Thus in this third section, Krishna is painted bigger and taller. A symbolically meaningful concept is thereby rendered in a pictorially effective way. The viewer now views both Radha & Krishna as adults in an equal relationship as they gaze at each other lovingly.

The last section shows Radha & Krishna’s union in the forest. This consecrated area of the arched bower is demarcated by the distinctive use of white hanging garlands, which as previously mentioned are typical of the Mewari idiom. Radha’s embrace here is passionate, not affectionate or delicate as it was in the first two sections, and the depiction of the bodies here leaves nothing to the imagination.

Thus in this painting, the painter cleverly transforms written verses into pictorial imagery by the skillful use of the body and additional flourishes of cattle, shrubs, foliage and architectural frames.

When he quickens all things

To create bliss in the world,

His soft black sinuous lotus limbs

Begin the festival of love

And beautiful cowherd girls wildly

Wind him in their bodies.

Friend, in spring young Hari plays

Like erotic mood incarnate.


Figure 3: Detailed look Mewari School (2)

The second Mewari painting we examine is based on a verse in which Jayadeva condenses several levels of consciousness and is therefore a good example to study the representation of plurality of meaning in pictorial tradition.

To depict the universality of Krishna’s love spoken of in the first two lines, he is depicted towards the left of the painting in his iconographical form, bestowing blessings on everyone – kings, families, people, animals and aquatic life. This can be seen in the niches and the adjoining areas that show animals such as a horse, a cow with her calf and an elephant. Each scene is depicted in a demarcated area even as all such areas are connected. Thus everyone is a receiver of the joy (ananda) of Krishna’s love and there is bliss in the world.

To depict the plurality contained in the remaining verse, the painter utilizes renditions of the body beautifully. The dark, sinuous of body of Hari, is entwined, almost enmeshed with the bodies of the gopis such that it can hardly be distinguished from theirs. Dense foliage flowing into each other all around only serves to enhance this point of enmeshment. A tiny but conspicuous figure of the God of Love, Kama, is seen in the trees and appears to bring home the point that Krishna is in fact, the very embodiment (murtimaan) of the God of Love. This Kama figure is used liberally throughout Mewari sets to depict love, or more aptly, the affliction of love. Thus the painter uses the body to portray the idea of universality of Krishna, of mystical love – that a part of him is in everyone and everyone is in him.

In this Mewari set therefore we observe an integral relationship between the poetic and pictorial image and see it become the foundation of formal composition. Innovative artistic devices like the figure of Kama, or the consecrated space of the arched bowers make an appearance to enliven metaphors visually. While on the surface the paintings are merely pretty and decorative, on a deeper level they stand rich in plural meanings and symbolism. 

Bundi School


Figure 4: Examples of Early Bundi Drawings (Early 17th century)

The Bundi folio we study belongs to a set of one hundred and thirty five drawings made on hand-made paper with verses written on the back. It is illustrated in the early Bundi style and dates probably to the first half of seventeenth century. The drawings attempt to recreate verses of Jayadeva in all their symbolism through the sole medium of minimal pen line. Had these been finished paintings, they would have made remarkable examples of the Bundi School as the artist while maintaining fidelity to the Bundi style, never fails to assert his own interpretation of the theme. Like the poem, his drawings seek to move on multiple levels and even in their present form they exhibit great prowess in line drawing, spatial organization, and textual interpretation. That is why despite their unfinished, unpolished nature, these are included in this paper.

The Bundi set shows short, squat figures with distinctive sitting and standing stances. Some features of the figure drawings show similarities to the popular Moghul school of the seventeenth century, like illustrations of the profile and costumes of the females (cholis, odhanis and a lower garments with a centrally tied sash). Architectural details appear vague and while areas are demarcated for landscapes and floral motifs, they are vacant, probably left for later brushwork. Unlike the Mewari set, we do not see a verse-to-verse depiction of text and the main actors are not repeated multiples time in the same drawing. The artist here seeks to portray an entire prabandha in a folio.

Let us now consider a folio of this set in detail.


Figure 5: Detailed Look – Bundi School

 Let pearls quivering on full breasts

Move the depths of your heart!

Let a girdle ringing on round hips

Proclaim the command of Love!

 In the Gīta-Govinda, Jayadeva creates a picture of the universe with its plentiful fullness (purnakumbha). Radha is symbolic of this earth principle with the sensuous and cosmological interwoven in her being. Her breasts are auspicious pitchers (mangal kalash) representing earth’s bounty.

To this nuanced symbolism, the artist draws Radha & Krishna seated close together in a circular area. Krishna’s left arm gently rests over Radha’s shoulder as she has finally relented and their union is now imminent. Radha’s breasts are more clearly drawn and there is a suggestion of the girdle of her hips; in fact, each time the poet speaks of the full circle of Radha’s hips, the artist shows a seated, relaxed Radha with the line of her hips implying a circle.

This drawing is interesting in that almost all of its lines are circular, merging into one another, and this continuity of pictorial form is not broken anywhere. The two trees at the back are also interconnected with a horizontal line. This artistic device of merging, unbroken lines skillfully communicates harmony, union and love. The artist is able to show via this impressive technique that while on one level this is love play, on another it is the ultimate union of the manifest and the unmanifest; one is incomplete without the other.

Thus in the Bundi set we see a preoccupation with a single situation; a situation depicted through clearly defined foreground and background with great care and precision meted to communicating emotions. On comparing this set with the Mewari one it becomes obvious that the Bundi set exhibits a sensibility distinctly its own.

Darbhanga School


Figure 6: Examples of Darbhanga School (Late 18th century)

Skipping from the seventeenth century to the late eighteenth century brings us to the Darbhanga School in eastern India. For the Darbhanga artist, interpretations of the Gīta-Govinda were governed to a large extent by the more established painting styles. Several visual devices created earlier to breathe pictorial life into poetic metaphors now became rules of composition, sometimes devoid of charm and subtlety. To some scholars like Kapila Vatsyayan, in the Darbhanga Gīta-Govinda “…the comprehension of the text and its creative pictorial transfiguration are at the level of ritual rather than sensuous perception and spiritual experience.6

In the set under consideration, there are twenty-eight illustrated folios with sixty-five textual folios that follow related paintings. While similarities to the influential Mewari School become obvious immediately, some innovations are also observed and these help the paintings from being labeled mere conventional executions. For instance, in a noticeable departure, Krishna and Radha appear full faced and distinctly deified as evidenced from the halos around their heads. By this time, it is probable that Vaishnavism (Chaitanya and Vallabha Sampradaya) had accorded Radha a deified status and the painter portrayed this. Also, arched bowers of the Mewari idiom while present, appear enlarged, without any hanging white garlands. The Kama figure that symbolized the affliction of love is done away with, as are cymbals (manjira) and tambourine (jhanja) that the sakhis used for singing and dancing. They now have sarangi and tablas. Trees and plants appear more like a tapestry of geometrical design7 and don’t seem quite as alive as they did in the Mewari set. Peacocks are used liberally to depict emotions.

Like the Bundi set, a whole prabandha is depicted in the paintings and there is no continuous narrative at play. Colors used throughout the set appear lighter and brighter. Red of Mewari paintings becomes scarlet and crimson. Orange becomes yellow while blue and green become lighter. Occasionally a slight linear perspective is noticeable, but largely the principles of pictorial composition from the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries are followed. All this is observed in the folio we examine next.

Yadava hero, your hand is cooler than sandalbalm on my breast;

Paint a leaf design with deer musk here on Love’s ritual vessel!

She told the joyful hero, playing to delight her heart.

Fix flowers in shining hair loosened by loveplay, Krishna!

Make a flywhisk outshining peacock plumage to be the banner of Love.

She told the joyful hero, playing to delight her heart.


Figure 7: Detailed Look – Darbhanga School

With the end of the consummation of their union, Radha asks Krishna to re-adorn her with all the outer trappings of form and name that she left behind before entering his place of love: her garments and her adornments like anklets, earrings, girdle etc. This prabandha has been a favorite of poets, painters, musicians and dancers alike and the Darbhangha painter is inspired by the image of the flywhisk and peacocks. He repeats flowering lotuses, and peacocks with their plumage fanned out – a pictorial motif often used to signify union and completeness. Seated on the bed with Radha is Krishna, braiding her flowing tresses. The lines of Radha’s hair suggest a flywhisk. One sakhi behind Krishna holds the ritual vessel (mangal kalash) and another holds out a mirror to the deified lovers seated under tee consecrated space of the bower. This is one painting of the set in which linear perspective is observed in the way the white platform and the bed are placed – no longer straight and flat, these are shaped like parallelograms.

Overall, the Darbhanga painter attempts to suggest an overall feeling of peace and harmony in portraying this sensitive morning-after moment. It is interesting to contrast this work with that of the Pahari school to see how the Pahari artist interprets a moment from the same prabandha; given that he too was painting in the late 18th century.

Pahari School


Figure 8: Examples of the Pahari School (18th century)

 In his book on Rajput paintings, Ananda Coomaraswamy said of Pahari paintings “…their ethos is unique: what Chinese art achieved for landscape is here accomplished for human love. This art is only concerned with the realities of life; above all, with passionate love service, conceived as the means and symbol of all union8.

Pahari paintings can be classified into two larger groups: the northern series, the school of Jammu (Dogra) and the southern series, called the school of Kangra but extending to Garhwal. However, it is the Kangra paintings of the late eighteenth century that have come to stand for the term Pahari paintings. This of course is a partial and biased way of considering the school, but the value placed on them (Kangra paintings) is just 9.

Kangra style of the late eighteenth century is picturesque and romantic. A highly developed facility in drawing and coloring is its signature. Animated figures with fluent, easy lines are plentiful. Women are willowy and slender with very long and curved eyes (not round) and beautiful tapering fingers. Besides the idealized Krishna, many men types are created to add character (gopa boys, sage-like Nanda). Colors are glowing and brilliant. Even the backgrounds are no longer flat or monochromatic as a naturalistic air pervades. The architecture is ornate and refined. Some stylistic features of the school can be attributed to the close relations between Kangra and Mughal courts. What is also noticeable is a newly acquired skill in rendering night effects. Whatever action takes place is still shown in an abstract light, the figures are bright as they would be in day, with no shadows10. However the crowing glory of these paintings still remains human emotion, rendering states of mind, and transforming similes into paintings. All these developments come shining through in the set of paintings known as paintings of the first masters after Nainsukh.

The two Pahari paintings we examine are considered to be the finest examples this school. Painted by the first masters after Nainsukh, they belong to a set of 140 extant folios. It will be interesting to compare these paintings with those of the other schools we have already considered to see how the same verbal stimulus is treated differently now. These paintings have dark-blue margins and text is written behind them.


Figure 9: Detailed Look – Pahari School (1) First Masters after Nainsukh

Let us first look at a painting that depicts the same moment that the Darbhanga artist visualized in Figure: 7: when Radha asks Krishna to re-adorn her. We see here a very different treatment even though both paintings date to roughly the same period. A naturalistic feel and mellow grace abounds, and while there is a sense of space and openness, the figures in the foreground still remain cynosures of all attention. Radha’s body is young and lissome; her breasts are full and her hands ring of slender delicacy. Sitting in an easy stance, she is unabashed and in control as she asks Krishna to ornament her in every possible way. Krishna’s body is sinuous and deep blue. This is probably one of the few folios of this set where his upper body is covered by a yellow scarf. The impact of Radha’s nakedness waist-up is contrasted, and amplified well by Krishna’s covered upper body. The night is now over and the lovers sit in the morning light, shielded and also framed by trees. The village is visible in the background but Radha and Krishna are oblivious to it as Krishna obeys Radha’s command and paints a leaf design with deer musk on her breasts. The tenderness of the moment is beautifully captured; Radha’s triumph and Krishna’s submission is obvious to see. Symbolism of this morning after a long dark night cannot be missed.

The paper ends with a look at this painting deliberately – so that we may complete the circle and return to the point from where we started. Depicting like Figure: 2 the moment when love first blossoms between Radha and Krishna, the painting serves as a good example of the level of sophistication and mastery some Indian miniature painting schools had achieved in depicting love, mystical and human, over a relatively short time of less than two centuries.


Figure 10: Detailed Look – Pahari School (2) First Masters after Nainsukh

Visualized very differently from the Mewari style, the real strength of this painting lies in the way it captures the tender, delicate intimacy of the moment. The Pahari painter is not just pictorially communicating a tale; he is painting its emotions. From a purely narrative point of view, the decision to devote a whole folio to the quiet moment shared by the two lovers is an intelligent one. While passionate love will soon take over and the following folios of the set will be replete with color, brightness, flora and fauna, right now the artist wants us to see only this – two glowing figures in the stillness of the night sharing mystical love and discreet passion. Standing close to Radha, with one arm around her shoulder, Krishna gently reaches out for her breasts. Radha, overcome by her emotions and torn by demands of duty, points to the path they must take, but with little conviction. Her lissome body is turned elegantly, almost like that of a classical dancer as she gazes lovingly at Krishna. Bodies of these lovers stand out beautifully against a velvety, rich dark night with silhouettes of trees forms looming in the background.

Thus, while these exquisite paintings exhibit the absolute mastery the Pahari painters have over the medium, they also showcase that he goes beyond technical finesse to bring out the emotional content of this mystical love story. By creating a series of references essential to the immediate situation, he not only brings home the import of all that Jayadeva wants to convey in his poem but also lets the viewer read his/her own meanings into it. For instance, detailing of the foliage is perhaps used as a metaphor for the relationship between prakriti and purush, the male and the female aspect given that Jayadeva referred to the relationship between Radha and Krishna similarly. The viewer therefore enjoys this Gīta-Govinda set on multiple levels. There is more in it than elegance of color and form. The paintings touch off resonances11. 


Rendering the mystical love of the Gīta-Govinda and using the body to bring it to fruition has been a fantastic, adventurous journey of the Indian miniature. Because the content of this lyrical poem was thematically thin, true artistic genius lay in how the narrative was delineated. Inner emotional states needed to be dramatized faithfully, breathing life into textual metaphors and similes pictorially.

Our examination of multiple Gīta-Govinda sets leads to the deduction that how well the folios were executed was as much a function of pictorial mastery, draughtsmanship and command over the medium as of the artist’s ability to understand and respond to multiple nuances of the Sanskrit text. Because the human drama of the Gīta-Govinda is at the level of emotions and moods, not action, an inner sensitivity gave the artist an edge over restricted mannered style. Real skill lay in depicting not just the obvious, but also the unspoken.

Some artists were able to do this better than the others, but the more important thing is that they all tried.


  1. Miller, Barbara Stoler, ed. Love song of the dark lord: Jayadeva’s Gitagovinda. Columbia University Press, 1997.
  2. Coomaraswamy, Ananda Kentish. Rajput Paintings. 1912.
  3. Vatsyayan, Kapila. Mewari Gita-Govinda. National Museum, 1987.
  4. Vatsyayan, Kapila. The Bundi Gīta-Govinda. Bharat Kala Bhavan, 1981.
  5. Vatsyayan, Kapila. The Darbhanga Gīta-Govinda. Abhinav Publications, 2011.
  6. Goswamy, Brijinder Nath, and Eberhard Fischer. Pahari Masters: Court Painters of Northern India. Oxford University Press, 1997.
  7. Chandra, Moti. Gita Govinda. Vol. 1. Lalit Kalā Akademi, 1965.
  8. Jain, P. C., Veena Baswani, and RK Dutta Gupta. Indian miniature painting: manifestation of a creative mind. Brijbasi Art Press, 2006.


  1. Miller, Barbara Stoler, ed. Love song of the dark lord: Jayadeva’s Gitagovinda. Columbia University Press, 1997.
  2. Miller, Barbara Stoler, ed. Love song of the dark lord: Jayadeva’s Gitagovinda. Columbia University Press, 1997. Pp.15
  3. Miller, Barbara Stoler, ed. Love song of the dark lord: Jayadeva’s Gitagovinda. Columbia University Press, 1997. Pp. 7.
  4. Miller, Barbara Stoler, ed. Love song of the dark lord: Jayadeva’s Gitagovinda. Columbia University Press, 1997. Pp.17
  5. Vatsyayan, Kapila. Mewari Gita-Govinda. National Museum, 1987. Pp ix
  6. Vatsyayan, Kapila. The Darbhanga Gīta-Govinda. Abhinav Publications, 2011. Pp.19
  7. Vatsyayan, Kapila. The Darbhanga Gīta-Govinda. Abhinav Publications, 2011. Pp.18
  8. Goswamy, Brijinder Nath, and Eberhard Fischer. Pahari Masters: Court Painters of Northern India. Oxford University Press, 1997. Pp. 7
  9. Goswamy, Brijinder Nath, and Eberhard Fischer. Pahari Masters: Court Painters of Northern India. Oxford University Press, 1997. Pp. 312
  10. Goswamy, Brijinder Nath, and Eberhard Fischer. Pahari Masters: Court Painters of Northern India. Oxford University Press, 1997. Pp. 316
  11. Goswamy, Brijinder Nath, and Eberhard Fischer. Pahari Masters: Court Painters of Northern India. Oxford University Press, 1997. Pp. 316

Discovering a Classic

This post is about art and aesthetics. Magic, music and movies. …or maybe I don’t know what I am really writing about. There is this kernel of an idea that’s been niggling at me for the last few days; so here I am, typing away, trying to stitch together a tapestry of random occurrences over time. Maybe towards the end, we’ll discover together what I was trying pin down all along.

Let me begin where it began for me..

As a good ’90s grunge-child, Smashing Pumpkins was a band I adored. Siamese Dreams was mind-bending, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness took the trip further. One song in particular, “Tonight, Tonight” captured my imagination – mostly because of its fantastical video. I loved everything about it: the idea, the flickering-faded-vintage vibe, surreal settings within a distinctly steampunkish faery tale atmosphere. I often say that while it is nearly impossible for me to respond to what my favourite song is, it is easy to name my favourite music video – Tonight, Tonight.


The genre of steampunk mixed with fantasy and sci-fi grew on me to a large extent because of Tonight, Tonight. A few steampunk paintings and art projects of mine find root in this adoration. Boxes of gears, watch faces, goggles, stamps and moulds always lie at home, waiting to be made into something to befittingly steampunk-cool. Books are borrowed from the library to dig deep into this genre. It may well be my never ending love story.


Watching Hugo for the first time about six months back, I saw faded, sepia visuals spookily similar to those of my favorite video. The feel was that of steampunk on speed. Things I had first seen in a 1996 music video now popped-out from a 2011 movie – a movie that was a period drama depicting the 1930s.  And so, even before the film was through, I was researching it and this led me to Georges Méliès and his iconic A Trip to the Moon (Le Voyage Dans la Lune).


Le Voyage Dans la Lune (1902) is a classic black & white and color (hand painted) silent film by the french director Georges Méliès. Méliès, and hundreds of his films long lay erased from public memory ravaged by the brutality that is rapidly changing times (and generations.) Fittingly, this temporary memory lapse was cured by time too. Today Méliès is revered, is considered a genius, and this 16-minute film of his is widely regarded as one of the most important works of film history.

Based loosely on two popular novels of the time: Jules Verne’s ‘From the Earth to the Moon’ and H. G. Wells ‘The First Men In The Moon’, Le Voyage Dans la Lune was the first to use science fiction as its theme even as it incorporated special effects that were state-of-the-art at the turn of the 19th century. Considered groundbreaking by many a student of cinema, this surreal work is absurd, dreamy and magical. It is poetry in the guise of science fiction and it reveals Méliès’ innovative work not just in its special effects but also in hand-tinting, backdrops and costumes.

The color version, considered lost for several decades, was found in 1993 in Spain, albeit in a desperate condition. In 2B4Qyd-YIEAEUUF5.jpg-large010, a complete restoration was launched, so that a new set of audience could experience its charms. And so it remains..the moment when the capsule lands in the Moon’s eye has become one of the most iconic and frequently referenced images in the history of cinema.


In all of this, what struck me most is how profoundly Méliès and his piece of art has inspired (and continues to inspire) the creative mind. I’m sure there are many, many more instances, but here are the ones I came across even while I wasn’t seeking them out actively..

  • There is Hugo, Martin Scorsese’s homage to Méliès.
  • The video Tonight, Tonight which ends with a poignant “S.S. Méliès” written on a steamboat.
  • My paintings, some of which occupy homes other than mine, all unknowingly inspired by Méliès!
  • Then there is the french band AIR (another one of my favourites) that put a contemporary spin on the classic movie by composing an original, modern soundtrack for it. The soundtrack made its debut at the Cannes festival 2011 no less, playing alongside the newly restored, colored print of the movie on show for the first time.
  • Spurred on by their work on this short movie, AIR decided to develop the project into a full album. AIR’s Nicolas Godin explained of their new album, A Trip to the Moon, released in 2012: “It is undoubtedly more organic than most of our past projects. We wanted it to sound ‘handmade,’ knocked together’, a bit like Méliès’ special effects. Everything is played live … like Méliès’ film, our soundtrack is nourished by living art.”
  • tttmAnd then just last week I saw this ad while leafing through the New York Times. It’s an ad for the auction of “The Copy of the First Animated Film Poster”, a poster of A Trip to the Moon and its auction was expected to earn between $225,000-$275,000.

I guess at the centre of this labyrinth… the thing I’ve been trying to pin down… is that great art is one thing, and one thing only

                                            …Great Art is Great Inspiration.