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

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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.

Imagine:

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, uncles..et 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.

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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.

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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.

Representing Mystical Love of the Gīta-Govinda

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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.

Objective

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

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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. 

Conclusion

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.

References:

  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.

Notes:

  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

Shakti, my way

IMG_0481She lost her mother a little too early in life. I was a management trainee then..doing the rounds of a factory in Punjab when I received her call. She was strong and collected – well as much as she could have been under the circumstances – and heartbroken as I was, I couldn’t have been prouder.

So when she moved into her swanky new sea-facing home and asked me to paint something for her bare walls, what else could I paint but Ma….Shakti…..that primordial female cosmic energy blessing her everyday, keeping her strong, vibrant and crazy as ever.

This is my house-warming gift to her. This is my love for aunty, one of the sweetest, kindest souls I’ve had the privilege of knowing .

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Painting details: Mixed Media on Canvas – acrylics, modeling paste, stamps, metal and glass.

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Mujh Se Pehli Si Mohabbat ~ Faiz Ahmed Faiz

While my father gifted me a book of Faiz’s 100 best works (curated by Sarvat Rahman) photo-69only about 6 months back, my introduction to Faiz happened as a child through music that always played in our home. Dasht-e-Tanhai, which remains not only a favourite poem of love but also a favourite ghazal, was my first exposure to Faiz. For a while he occupied the pedestal of most romantic poet ever… and then I came across works of his that boldly called out on & questioned several existing societal customs and norms. And then I loved him more because if there’s one thing I adore, it’s a rebel with a cause.

The nazm shared is Mujh Se Pehli Si Muhabbat (Don’t Ask Me Now, Beloved). While I understand it’s nuances best in Urdu, this English translation is pretty good.

To me the nazm is about coming of age, growing into this world we live in, understanding life in all it’s shades & hues. To me, this nazm is about Love

Urdu, written in English, translated into English

Mujh Se Pehli Si Mohabbat Meri Mehbub Na Maang
(Don’t ask me now, Beloved, for that love of days gone by)
Maine samjha tha ke tu hai to darakhshaan hai hayaat
(When I thought since you were, life would always scintillate)
Tera gham hai to gham-e-daihr ka jhagra kya hai
(That love’s pain being mine, the world’s pain I could despise)
Teri soorat se hai aalum mein baharon ko sabaat
(That your beauty lastingness to the spring would donate)
Teri aankhon ke siwa duniya mein rakha kya hai
(That nothing in the world was of worthy but your eyes)
Tu jo mil jaye to taqdeer nigun ho jaye
(Were you to be mine, fate would bow low before me)

***

Yun na tha, maine faqat chaha tha yun ho jaye
(But, it was not so; it was only my wish that it were so)
Aur bhi dukh hain zamaane mein muhabbat ke siwa
(Other pains exist than those that love brings)
Rahatein aur bhi hain wasl ki raahat ke siwa
(Other joys exist than those of lover’s mingling)

***

Anginat sadiyon ke taariq bahimanaa tilism
(Dark fearful talismans come down the centuries)
Resham-o-atlas-o-kamkhwaab mein bunwaye hue
(Woven in silk, damask and cloth of gold)
Jaa-ba-jaa biktey hue koochaa-o-bazaar mein jism
(Bodies that  everywhere in streets are sold)
Khaak mein lithrey hue, khoon mein nehlaaye hue
(Covered with dust, all their wounds bleeding)

***

Jism nikley hue amraaz ke tannuuron se
(Bodies that have passed through the furnace of ills)
Peep behti hui jaltey hue naasuron se
(With putrid ulcers which their humours spills)
Laut jaati hai udhar ko bhi nazar kya ki jiye
(How can I but turn my eyes sometimes that way?)
Ab bhi dilkash hai tera husn magar kya ki jiye
(Your beauty is still ravishing, what can I say?)

***

Aur bhi dukh hain zamane mein muhabbat ke siwa
(Other pains exist than those that love brings)
Rahatein aur bhi hain wasl ki raahat ke siwa
(Other joys than those of lovers’ mingling)

Mujhse pehli si mohabbat meri mehboob na maang
(Don’t ask me now, Beloved, for that love of days gone by)

The nazm has also been immortalized by Noor Jehan; have a listen.

Acknowledgement: 100 Poems by Faiz Ahmed Faiz ~ Sarvat Rahman

Thinking Of You On Your Birthday, Bhaiyya

My favourite cousin is 10 years older than me. The oldest child in our family

My favourite cousin shaped me growing up. He was So. Damn. Cool. Full of laughter & happiness, he was.. infectious

He introduced me to Dylan

He read me  Keats, Wordsworth, Vikram Seth

He got me Dostoevsky, Chekov, J.Krishnamurti, Ruskin Bond from the library

He taught me to strum the guitar

He shaved his head. And cut my hair short (that was so much fun!)

He allowed me to learn An American Prayer by heart while he was doing the same

My favourite cousin was a brill.i.ant dancer

Every nubile girl in their city’s la-di-dah club had her knickers in a twist if he wasn’t dancing with her

My favourite cousin was his school’s Headboy

He was suspended briefly after an altercation with the headmaster when “The damn authorities tried to stop a legit students’ protest”

My favourite cousin had Bruce Lee and Brooke Shields posters in his room; his room a disconnected servants’ quarter he occupied, the only room he considered his own

My favourite cousin was a national level tennis player. He loved the game

His little cousin always wondered why he wasn’t encouraged to pursue it seriously

My favourite cousin wanted to study Japanese at JNU

My favourite aunt and uncle wouldn’t allow it. “Science!” they insisted. “You have the marks

My favourite cousin fell in love

“We are Bengalis” said the girl’s parents. “Very different from you people”

They got his girlfriend married to a Bengali boy

My favourite cousin turned a Christian,

Then, a Buddhist

Then, an Atheist

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Something disconnected, somewhere.

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My favourite cousin did not feel loved or understoodHe never felt whole

My favourite cousin swallowed pills. Lots of them

My mother found him in his room that day. Listless. I saw him too

My favourite cousin was saved, just in the nick of time

And sent away to a university in UK ..to recover.

My favourite cousin studied environmental economics, became an authority on organic and sustainable agriculture

He became a scholar of ecological and environmental issues of Himalayan region

My favourite cousin now however, could not sustain any relationship

He barely spoke to his parents

He divorced his beautiful, loving Hungarian wife

He divorced his Nepali-daughter-of-a-watchman-second-wife-of-few-months. She staked a claim on his assets. Thankfully, he won in court

He had several meaningless liaisons

My favourite cousin has had multiple breakdowns over the last decade. Doctors say he has schizophrenia, occasionally paranoia

He doesn’t take his medication regularly

He’s very lucid most times

And incoherent sometimes

He can be the most knowledgable, witty, amazing, fun person in the room

He can also be the person who sits in a room for hours but just doesn’t speak

He loves me

He loves me not

It’s all such an ebb and flow

But mostly, it’s all such a waste

Of a sensitive, kind, talented, loving human being

My favourite cousin

The Best Kind of Falling

Very Valentine

Very fine is my valentine.
Very fine and very mine.
Very mine is my valentine very mine and very fine.
Very fine is my valentine and mine, very fine very mine and mine is my valentine.

~ Gertrude Stein

(Art: Connected-Souls by wadecreate on wordpress, Acrylic on canvas)