October 30, 2013

Modi’s quotatation from Mawlana Hali

by Sarvesh K Tiwari

Hearing the speech that lAT naresha delivered from pATaliputra in the campaign to snatch the rAjadaNDa of bhAratavarSha from the dasyus of chAchA’s party, we were struck by his usage of a farsi-laden urdu couplet which he had meant to apply in praise of how India and in particular the plains of Ganga had bravely halted the victory march of the invaders. 

Hardly anybody has understood the couplet if we are to go by the commentaries that have been produced for or against the sense of history demonstrated by NaMo; most have ignorantly taken the couplet to be pointing towards the campaign of Alexander the Great, not realizing the true context of the lines. 

Therefore this short note on this once well-known couplet from an urdu tome written in 1879 by a comrade of Sir Sayyid Ahmed Khan by latter’s inspiration.

vo dIn-e hijAzI kA be-bAk beDA
nishAn jis kA aqsA-e Alam me pahunchA
mazAhim hu-A ko-I khatrA na jis kA
nA ummAn me ThiThakA na qulzum me jhijhka
ki-e pai sipar jisne sAton samandar
vo DUbA dahAne me Ganga ke A kar

Above lines make for the 113th musaddas in the diwan written by Mawlana Khwaja Altaf Husain ‘Hali’, entitled Madd-o-Jazr-i-Islam (“The Flow and Ebb of Islam”), more commonly known as Musaddas-i-Hali.  A musaddas is a monorhymed 6-legged persian meter often employed for reading mersiya, the verses of ritualistic lamentation of the Shi’a-s on Muharram.

The above quoted lines represent a lamentation of the poet over what became of that victorious march of Islam against which no obstacle could withstand anywhere in the world but which simply fizzled out as it reached the shores of India:

That audacious armada of the religion of Hijaz -
Whose insignia reached every corner of the world
Which learnt no obstruction from any fear
Which felt no hesitation in Persian Gulf or faltered in the Red Sea
Which valiantly crossed all the seven oceans
Oh, drwoned was that armada (of Islam), when it reached the mouth of Ganga!

This is the context and literal translation of the lines quoted by the lAT naresha.

June 27, 2011

[Part 2] M F Husain in a New Light: A Hindu Art Perspective

by Sarvesh K Tiwari

[1]

“किम्प्रमाणं?”, demanded an intrigued Bhojadeva.

Bhojadeva, the best exemplar of that Hindu intellectual and cultural flowering, upon which an iron curtain was drawn by the marauding ruffians, as the AchArya of mAnasa-taraMgiNI so astutely puts it, should stand in need of no introduction to the learned Hindus.  The rAjan had once commissioned a grand shivAlaya to be constructed, in a new metropolis that he was founding, of which he was himself both the urban planner and the architect, and which metropolis, or whatever has become of it, is known today as Bhopal.  Now, when Bhojadeva had grandly and exuberantly renovated the shivAlaya-s of faraway lands not even in his domain, like the famous shrines of kedAranAtha, somanAtha, pashupatinAtha, and a famous shivAlaya in the kashmIra country of which nothing is left anymore, then certainly this one had to be so grand and mesmerizing as to rival, even surpass, the beauty and power of those in the draviDa country constructed by his friend and ally the choLa rAjan.  Thus a battery of architects and masons, painters and sculptors, from all over bhAratavarSha, was engaged at Bhoja’s grand shivAlaya project.

The rAjan once rode out to inspect the works in progress.  One artist from gujarAta country was busy sculpting the shiva-gaNa-s at the shrine, and had just finished his work on an important member of the shiva-shAsana, bhR^iMgI.  But seeing what the artist had sculpted, Bhoja was intrigued, shocked.  The artist had depicted him to be starving like a beggar, in tatters almost naked, reduced to mere skeleton with eyes bulging out of sockets, staring in the direction of mahAdeva.

And the learned rAjan, himself the author of the best handbook on Hindu shilpa, chitra, engineering and more, samarAMgaNa sUtradhAra, did not like nor understood the artist’s idea.  He was irritated, and naturally so, it was after all the most ambitious shrine that he was dedicating to his iShTadevatA.  So the King demanded of the artist, “किम्प्रमाणं?”, what is the proof of your concept?

The startled artist struggled and muttered out some explanation in apabhraMsha tongue, some incoherent explanation, which made no sense to the learned man who had to his credit the composition of eighty-four books, all on different subjects as diverse as medicine and grammar, engineering and yoga,  politics and poetics.

A good artist gets used to speaking eloquently through his brush and through his chisel-hammer, so much and so often, that the common faculty of articulation often escapes him, it becomes less and less relevant to him.  What the artist tried to explain could not convince Bhoja, who got even more irritated.

One poet from Bhoja’s retinue named dhanapAla decided to intercede.  He examined the art, conversed with the artist, and then articulated the artist’s concept through this following poem:

दिग्वासा यदि तत्किमस्यधनुषा तच्चेत्कृतं भस्मना
भस्माथास्य किमङ्गना यदि च सा कामं पुनर्द्वेष्टिकिम।
इत्यन्योन्यविरुद्धचेष्टितमहो पश्यन्निजस्वामिनो
भृङ्गी सान्द्रशिरापिनद्धपुरुषं धत्तेस्थिशेषंवपुः॥

[Since mahAdeva is digambara, (who lives naked and depends on his begging bowl), which property has he (like a vaishya) to protect by keeping a Great Bow as he does? And if he does keep a bow (like a kShatriya), what need has he to smear the ashes (of shmashAna) upon his body (like a sanyAsI)? And if indeed the ashes he must smear upon him, why take a wife (like a gR^ihastha)? And if a wife he must keep, why vanquish the (poor) kAmadeva? Looking at, contemplating upon, but unable to comprehend these and the other great mysteries and ironies in the nature of his Lord mahAdeva, has bhR^iMgI become crazy and malnourished like this (and that, is the concept of the artist.)]

Bhojadeva again examined the art for a few moments in this new light, then smiled apologetically at the artist, “अहो महोदय, गुणाढ्यो शिल्पिनो भवान्!” : “Ah Sir, a good artist you are!”, and thanked the poet for explaining the concept.

This is part of the oral mass of legends of Bhojadeva, a version of which comes to us recorded by the jaina historian merutu~Nga in his chronicle prabandha-chintAmaNi, and the semi-finished, vandalized, grand shivAlaya of Bhoja lies in ruin on the outskirts of Bhopal, almost as a telling memorial to what became of that Hindu intellectual flowering.

There are two layers of difficulty before any artist who wants to say either something new or something old in a new way.  The first is, since he has departed from the prevailing grammar and conventions, he requires help from a sympathetic articulator to let his work communicate with his audiences.  In absence of this, his art is only able to intrigue and irritate, even agitate, the intended audience. So that is the first difficulty: the audience may not understand what he or she says; this difficulty of the artist in the above legend is solved for him by the poet.

And then there is a second difficulty.  Since he is proposing something new, which may be different from the general aesthetic sense and taste of the audience and differ from the prevailing conventions, it may not be liked by them; this difficulty of the artist in the above legend is solved by the aesthetic liberality of the connoisseur, Bhojadeva.

In context of Husain, he is faced with both of the above challenges.  At first, his visual grammar, as we had attempted to demonstrate in the previous part, is entirely his own, is modern, although the spirit of his art is quite Hindu, rooted in the Hindu ethos.  But being modern, it is difficult to be understood, and what Husain direfully needs but does not find, unlike the fortunate sculptor in the legend, is that sympathetic poet, who can articulate and help bridge the communication gap between his art and his audiences.  Which art critic and scholar was, and is, in the field, with one foot firmly grounded in the Hindu tradition and the other in genuine and indigenous modernization, with points of references not in Cézanne and Matisse, but in chitra-sUtra and Abhinava Gupta, to do this articulation for any modern Hindu chitrakAra?

Recall Husain’s lamentation, that there had been no such writer after Ananda Coomaraswamy.  Indeed there has been no other Coomaraswamy after Ananda Coomaraswamy, no other Dasgupta after Prof Surendra Nath Dasgupta, no other Hiriyanna after Mysore Hiriyanna.  And that lamentation is even more relevant for the education of the artists themselves into our deeper roots and intellectual discovery.  For a fertile progress, art too needs a productive and firm intellectual ground.  On sand can grow cacti, not nAga-champA.

As to the second difficulty, far from the demands that any genuine modernization of Hindu art makes of its audiences, we find no  rasaj~na dhurandhara like Acharya Abhinava Gupta nor the powerful yet learned kalA-vichakShaNa connoisseurs like Bhojadeva Pramara and Krishnadeva Raya.  Indeed, not even a depression of their footmarks survive on the mud of the Hindu intellect, or so it seems to our eyes, wrong as we desperately hope to be proved in our pessimist assessment.

So those are the challenges, that can easily lead to confusion for any modernist artist of Hindu art.  And we speak  not for Husain — he is only a medium for us to highlight the plight of the Hindu chitrakalA tradition, a genuine revival of which had begun by such stalwarts as Acharya Nandalal Basu, but has since floundered.

We had tried to understand Husain’s tendencies and visual grammar in the last part, by exploring some of his paintings as are directly related with the Hindu themes, keeping the controversial ones deliberately aside, so as to not prejudice our purview.  And what we had found there was that there indeed is something lot more to his work than is popularly misunderstood.  The artist does not show any general tendency of either being a pervert or being an anti-Hindu, two explanations that are often given to explain his controversial paintings.  Far from it, we saw his tendency to be quite respectful, even positively honourable, towards Hindu culture, shows his concern for its survival and well-being.  And this came across not in one or two of his works, but in a large bulk: we had seen some Fifty-Seven compositions of his in last part, and not from any skewed time series: we have seen the samples representative of all decades of his career beginning with 1950s.

And therefore, the explanation of his controversial paintings, to be either from his motive of insulting the Hindu icons and faith, or of his being a pervert, do not reconcile well with what we saw.  Even a u-turn theory is not plausible to explain any change in him, since it was a consistent trend in what we saw.  And then, it is the controversial ones that are few and that are limited in clusters: both theme-wise and time-wise, rather than his Hindu-respecting paintings.  Therefore it is these controversial ones that we are forced to look again to see why Husain painted those, and what could have been his true motive.  In other words, should not, and could not, there be some other and better explanation of his motive behind those controversial paintings, which reconciles with his much larger positive work that we have seen in the last part?

That exploration would be the aim of this part.  That is, to understand his controversial paintings in a new light, in light of this hypothesis that he was neither a pervert and nor was he an iconoclast (known in the western art as Dadaists), and therefore might perhaps have a better motive when painting those controversial ones too.  This is a hypothesis of course, which we shall test keeping in mind the principles of sAmAnya nyAya darshana of testing a hypothesis, and for the subject matter itself we shall bear in mind the approach as given in the Hindu Chitra Shastra-s in its spirit.

Now, at this point we must pause to make a disclaimer and a suggestion.

The writer of these lines himself finds those controversial Husain paintings as outrageous and offending to himself.  The writer is neither concerned with, nor intends to, justifying those paintings.  His scope is limited only to understanding why and how the painter did those.  To UNDERSTAND and not to APPROVE is the motive of the writer.  If the reader finds difficulty in drawing a line between “Understanding” (as dhanapAla did) and “Approving” (as bhojadeva did), and/or, the reader has either not read the previous part in its entirety, or is not convinced by the writer’s conclusion, that is, that the painter entertained a respectable attitude towards Hindu culture, then we should thank our sudhI reader and suggest him/her to consider stopping here.

[2]

It is no accident that when the Adikavi of Kannada, Mahakavi Pampa, wanted to inaugurate a new poetic era that marked departure from old Kannada to new in the tenth century, he composed ‘samasta-bhArata’, a rendering of mahAbhArata.  It is also no coincidence that similarly in Telugu a century later, it was the rendering of mahAbhArata that heralded the beginning of a new era of Telugu by the worthy poet Nannaya, followed by Tikkana and finally Errana.  A century after Errana, the Adikavi of Oriya language likewise, Sarala Dasa, when decided to inaugurate poetry in Oriya in the fourteenth century, it is no accident that he too looked up to mahAbhArata alone, and produced its adaptation in Oriya, famed as ‘sarala-mahAbhArata’.  And it is also no accident that in modern Hindi likewise, at the beginning of the last century, it is the bhArata alone towards which the first modern Hindi poet Maithili Sharana Gupt looked, when he produced on it dozens of his poetic tomes including ‘jaya-bhArata’, ‘nahuSha’, ‘jayadratha-vadha’, ‘ajita’, ‘anagha’, ‘vaka saMhAra’, ‘sairandhrI’, ‘hiDimbA’, ‘vikaTa-bhaTa’, ‘shakuntalA’, besides his magnum opus ‘sAketa’, a unique retelling of rAmAyaNa by lakShamaNa’s wife urmilA who remained behind during the exile of her husband.  It is with help from our epics alone that the National Poet steered the direction of Hindi poetry, convincingly and for always, towards a new poetic standard of modern Hindi true to her saMskR^ita roots and free from the imperialistic residues of arabi-farsi.  And it is no accident that the poetry in the laukika saMskR^ita itself was inaugurated in the hoary past, as the tradition goes, with nothing else but the composition of rAmAyaNa by vAlmIki, the Adikavi (and Hanuman).

None of these cultural movements making use of itihAsa as their base were accidents, for our itihAsa-s are the living breaths of a living civilization.  Homer recoils from revealing himself to West that has severed its umbilical chord with its spiritual ancient, no matter how many Alexander Popes translate him how many ever times in howsoever beautiful ways; Homer is, for West, dead.  But not so the vyAsa and vAlmIki for the Hindus: our itihAsa-s are living itihAsa-s, they are our own story for today and tomorrow, for us that is why vyAsa is a chira~njIvI, he is immortal, and so is hanumAn, and that is why they have always been our bedrock on which to build any new awakening, any new cultural renaissance; for us the itihAsa-s are our divine blessings, and itihAsa-s are prANa of our civilization!

So, now, like in the verbal languages, surely would it not be the itihAsa-s alone which should also breathe prANa into modernizing our visual language?  And it was certainly done in past by Hindu artists many times, last well-known case being at the time of Akbar by the Hindu painters from Rajasthana and Jammu and Kayastha artists in collaboration with the Persian painters, when Akbar, newly departed from Mohammedanism, wanted to bring about a new Hindu renaissance.  (Some of their product is gathering dust in the museums of Jaipur and Kolkata, while the bulk is smuggled away, decorating those of London and Smithsonian)

Whether or not conscious of any of these facts, more likely not aware of these, for whatever reasons Husain was seriously drawn towards Ramayana and Mahabharata, and wanted to depict both of the epics in their entirety, from back to back, in his own visual language.  And this he did, first through over two-hundred paintings on bhArata and over a hundred on rAmAyaNa, spending more than a decade beginning in mid 60s, and then he revisited both of the epics, twice again in his career.

Now whatever be the artistic merit of that work, which is not of relevance to us at the moment, what seems certain is that as far as the artist was concerned, it seems he thought this was his most important work.  We see that in 1971 when Husain was invited to exhibit select paintings of his in Europe side by side Picasso, it is twenty of bhArata paintings that he prepared and exhibited.  And when he had to ceremoniously paint a canvas with Picasso looking on, it is a collage depicting representative scenes from the different parva-s of bhArata that he painted.  So whatever be the worth of his paintings, at least for him his work on the itihAsa-s was his signal and the deepest work.

This below is the cover sheet of the leather binding that he designed for his first set of visual retelling of mahAbhArata:

Cover Sheet with Quote by C Rajagopalachari

In the above cover, we can clearly see Husain trying to establish his work in the Hindu tradition.  For the svasti-vAchana, a famous R^ig-vaidika vAkya from the first maNDala is written on the top.   The format of the cover is shown as if it were a leaf from a tADa- or bhoja- patra manuscript.  The colour scheme is deliberately black and white to appear like a hoary work.  Title is given first in devanAgarI and then in English, but atop the English characters is given the nAgarI horizontal bar, a gesture to remind that the attempted modernization is not altogether imported mindlessly.  Beneath it is the familiar figure of the grandsire.  Further down are some written words.

The written words are a homage and an acknowledgement by the painter to Shri Chakravarti Rajagopalachari, whose books Ramayana and Mahabharata, as we came across the painter saying in an interview, were his constant companions from which he used to daily read a chapter.  And that would explain why it is to pay his gratitude, that Husain quotes a passage from his book ‘Mahabharata’ and prints it in imitation of Rajaji’s own handwriting, complete with an imitation of his signature ‘C. Rajagopalachari’.

Rajaji’s books were, it seems, Husain’s chief references and main sources.  But let us also see what else was going on when he began these paintings.

[3]

In the preface to the first edition of his Ramayana in 1957, Rajaji wrote:

“The sophisticated may be inclined to smile where I have often paused in the narration to moralise. To such I must point out that when I wrote the original of these pages I had in my mind always my very young readers.”

But right in the next decade, when Husain began his work on the itihAsa-s, we see that the Hindu zeitgeist had already departed from being satisfied with simplistic understanding of the epics laced with varjanA and moralisation.  We can see that the time now was to revisit the itihAsa-s in the original and revise our understanding, explore deeper layers of meanings, re-interpret the narratives, rediscover their values, and contextualize our sense of our itihAsa-s, without being afraid of sophistication and complexity; the  “very young readers” of Rajaji were now researchers and retellers.

Already in the same decade we see legendary poet Ramdhari Singh Dinakar rendering Mahabharata in a modernist Hindi poetry ‘Kurukshetra’, through which he questions the validity of the Gandhian pacifism and non-violence extremism.  Same poet was to next produce his ‘Rashmi-Rathi’ a poetic rendering of bhArata entirely from karNa’s view-point.  Harivansh Rai Bachchan was experimenting with a metrical ‘Jana-Gita’, an imaginative imitation in language and style of Tulasidas, of how the bhakta-kavI would have modernized bhagavad-gItA had he picked his pen for it like on rAmAyaNa.  Amrit Lal Nagar was writing his famous ‘Manasa Ke Hansa’ to enter the mind and psychology of the epic-writer himself.  History-novelist Chatursen Shastri was writing his epic-novel ‘Vayam Rakshamah’, a Ravana’s narrative of Ramayana, a bestseller for over a decade.  Sumitra Nandan Pant in his ‘Purushottam’ and Suryakant Tripathi Nirala in his ‘Ram Ki Shakti Puja’, were seeing Rama as a vulnerable mortal who, by his higher consciousness and commitment to Dharma, rather than due to any super-natural reason, becomes for us an inspiration more than a God-incarnate to be worshipped.  Narendra Kohli was writing his famous epic-novel ‘abhyudaya’ where Ramayana is as if a contemporary event, and Rama and Sita as if our neighbours who rise above the rest by their relentless struggle to uphold the values.  In a similar vein was writing Bharat Bhushan Agarwal his novel ‘Agni Leek’, as well as an important modern poet Naresh Mehta his ‘Sanshaya ki Ek Raat’, where epics are shorn of all miraculous elements, and their characters have their frailties and weaknesses and doubts and come from our own contemporary mundane world; their events are for us to read as our own story.

It is only because we are more conversant with the literature of Hindi that we give these examples from that language, but otherwise the literary spheres of her sister and cousin languages too were not isolated; the same zeitgeist was making waves there too.  Thus we find that in Marathi, Shivaji Sawant was writing  ‘Mrityunjaya’ in the same decade, a modern re-interpretation of the Great bhArata from karNa’s view-point, and we see Satyajit Ray attempting to make bhArata’s modern re-interpretation in Bangla, a project which he could not finish, though there was already the shadow of Draupadi on his ‘Pather Panchali’ (1955) earlier, and in Kannada we see the worthy pen of S L Bhyrappa already outstanding in contribution to the same milieu, his magnum opus ‘Parva’, rediscovering Draupadi for modern contemporary context, was to arrive in the same decade of 70s.

And in music also, we see that in the same decade, Mukesh was singing Rama Charita Manasa in an entirely new way, departing from how it was traditionally sung, and by using new tunes and musical techniques, so wonderfully amplifying the rasAnubhava of the original to amazing depths.

They were all genuine national avant-garde of 60s and 70s.  Reader should note that this was the cultural current with which Husain found himself connected, not with the leftists who were at this time creating their phony “peoples literature” subsidized by the Soviet.  To see what the leftists were doing in field of art, reader may find on internet the dadaist art of F N Souza, especially the likes of his ‘shakti’, ‘blue goddess’ and such paintings and sketches.  That is genuine iconoclasm.

We can see the influence of this national zeitgeist on Husain’s thinking, who too was to see his kR^iShNa as a revolutionary statesman and a founding father, as we saw him do in a painting in the last part.  We should bear in mind all these currents in middle of which Husain was painting the epics, while influence of Rajaji on him being the utmost as it was, his books being his chief reference and sources.

Then what went wrong?

[4]

His most controversial and provocative paintings include one where Husain has shown Hanuman with a figure of a copulating couple, one where naked Sita is seated near Ravana’s thigh, one where Hanuman is shown without a head, and then the one where naked Sita is shown on Hanuman’s tail.

Those who were saying that these were not outrageous, were either not healthy in their minds, or were not Hindus, or in all likelihood they were perverse Hindu-haters.  These paintings are genuinely offending.

But there is this curious question that intrigues our mind.  Why only in these paintings did Husain do what he did, since after all he has painted other paintings where Hanuman and Rama and Sita are present.  See for instance these following three paintings of his, from three different decades, and three different styles:

[Hanuman a Trimurthi, 1968; depicting Hanuman as devotee of Rama-Sita, and as a warrior and a sage]

Hanumans Proposal to Sita, 1979

['Hanuman's proposal to Sita', 1979; depicting Hanuman proposing to Sita to take her away from the captivity to Rama. Rama is represented with male motif up-triangle. Signed in Tamil]

Hanuman as Superman

['Hanuman as Superman', early 1990s, depicting Hanuman by borrowing the simile of Superman, he is like him tearing his outer self to reveal the inner self. That Hanuman is a superhero, but that beneath the superhero identity is a devotee to Rama-Sita.]

All of the above, and more, are quite respectful portrayals.

It is therefore, and considering his larger work as we saw in the last part, that we are no longer convinced with the simple explanation of his motive in those paintings, that he just wanted to denigrate Sita and Hanuman and therefore he did it deliberately through those outrageous paintings, or that he was a pervert. We must seek some other explanation, some other understanding, which is what we shall now do.

And it is unfortunate, unfortunate for Husain, that all of these paintings come from that single place in the epics, which is the most sacred part of the most sacred kANDa of our most sacred itihAsa.  At our place, and we believe it would be the same custom in other regions too, no major work would be taken up by the Hindus without first reciting the sundara kANDa of either Valmiki or Tualsidas, and if that were not possible, then at least that part where Hanuman is himself narrating his exploits in a first person narrative.

And sacred as it is, sundara kANDa is also aesthetically the most powerful portion of all of our literature, not only within the Ramayana, but we dare say, of the entire corpus of both the Ramayana and Mahabharata put together!  Maybe perhaps of all our literature put together, both sacred and profane!

Why do we say so?  We say so by its most complex and most powerful rasa-vinyAsa, which is almost like a magic, an unmatched literary wonder!

Here, there are not one or two, but six rasa-s out of nine (or eleven as per Bhoja), which are in close play, all at once, and if not simultaneously then in an extremely close proximity and in interrelation to each other.  And in these six here, are included all those four exclusive rasa-s, that are called in our nATya philosophy, utpatti-hetu rasa: those which give birth necessarily to some other rasa.  And three out of these six, are of absolutely equal strength, which hang in perfect balance taking help of the other three minor rasa-s.  And then all of these rasa-s are together made to reach a perfect crescendo at a point, as is simply unmatched anywhere else.  But let us understand this.

Let us understand this, for without this we shall not be able to understand the biggest crime, the biggest foolishness, the biggest folly, the biggest failing, and the biggest offense of M F Husain of his entire career, the crime which cost him, as it should have, very dearly.  And there is more than depicting Sita naked — that is only at the surface — the real problem of those paintings is at a deeper level.

So, in the original vAlmIki narration, first we have the karuNa rasa (pity), driven by the plight of Sita, serving which in equal strength is the viyoga-shriMgAra rasa (love-separation), driven by Sita’s longing and pining for Rama.  That is the first pair.

Then we have the bhayaMkara rasa (terror), driven by the tyranny of Ravana, assisting which is bIbhatsa rasa (revulsion/hatred) driven by his immoral insatiable lust, which vAlmIki paints wonderfully.  This is the second pair.

Then, we have the equally strong vIra rasa (bravery) led of course by Hanuman himself, assisting which in equal measures is the raudra rasa (anger, outrage).

Thus, here we have got three pairs of rasa combination: karuNa+viyoga-shriMgAra; bhayaMkara+bIbhatsa; and vIra+raudra.

That in itself is not unique, after all we have in bhArata, the kIchaka saMhAra, and we have many others, but what is unique is the actual effect, which let us try to further understand.

If the rasa-vinyAsa was not already complex, what is more is that the three poles of these rasa-pairs are equally strong and equally dominant.  We have the respective proponents of each rasa-yugma — Sita, Ravana, and Hanuman — at once being the strongest characters and highest embodiments of the respective bhAva-lalana.  Who can ever be a better nAyikA than Sita, and which woman suffers a plight more acute than hers?  And who can ever be a worse and a more powerful villain than the ten-headed tyrant?  And who can ever be a better super-hero than mahAvIra?  And so strong they are, that they are indeed the very archetype and role-models of the respective rasa-bhAva!  And in comparison to each other, they are equally powerful too, able to stand up to one another by their respective strengths.

And there is still more.  The rasa-s mix so intricately and so rapidly as if we were on a roller-coaster of emotional anubhUti; in a quick succession the rasa-s influence, ignite, subdue each other and we are quickly transmitted from first to the other to the next sthAyI bhAva.  And all of this is packed so compactly in so little transition time — all events occur in a short span of a few hours — that  the entire sundara kANDa itself is the smallest portion of Ramayana going by the number of verses and the second smallest by the number of sarga-s!  So, all of those rasa transitions take place very rapidly, very powerfully, in a very short span.

And then there is the best of the best, that is the crescendo of all the rasa-s, which vAlmIki detonates in our hearts, in the central scene of the sundara, that is, when the three embodiments of the respective rasa-s actually come together in the same act, physically at the same place: the Ravana-Sita dialogue overheard by Hanuman; that is the point of controlled explosion of deepest rasAnubhUti in our hearts!  Till this point, vAlmIki carefully builds up the three streams of rasa-s, one of pity+longing with Sita’s description and lust+terror of Ravan’s description, and the vIra rasa through the bravery and strength of Hanuman, beginning with his being reminded of his latent powers by jAmbavanta, less than a day earlier.  And then, with all these rasa-s having been separately built to their utmost maturity, vAlmIki makes them collide at once, and still in a very controlled way, from which he creates a massive build up of outrage which then we live through and then pour through Hanuman’s audacious deeds in the rest of the sundara.  That scene in itself is therefore unmatched, perhaps ever in all of our literature; or so is our opinion.

And that is why we say that this is the most complex portion of perhaps all the literatures that we have; no wonder its very name is “sundara”, aesthetic, kANDa!

And that is why Sundara Kanda also does in us the most powerful, most potent catharsis!  Sacred as it is, it is also a cure, a visarjana, a nistAraNa, a cleansing and a pathological treatment of many of our inner ills lying dormant in our subconscious!  Not without a higher wisdom did our ancestors ask us to do pArAyaNa with sundara kANDa before beginning a major work!!  It is not a drama, and if it is, it is a divine drama indeed!!

And this is the scene, painting of which, in the way he did, has sunk M F Husain for ever and always, from which it is impossible for him to ever redeem himself.  And we are interested in understanding how and why.  If one thinks he simply wanted to denigrate Sita so he did what he did, well, we shall not contest anyone’s opinion, but in our mind we can already see something else going on here.

We have asserted that this scene as vAlmIki has created, as a point of controlled detonation of rasa, is unmatched, and we can observe this, by reviewing how our literary stalwarts have treated it.

mahAkavi kAlidAsa is the very emperor of saMskR^ita poetry, close to whose ability nobody ever came after him, perhaps in any language we might say.  How does kAlidAsa, who has churned out such a powerful literature, treat this scene in his raghuvaMsham?  kAlidAsa avoids going there at all; limited as his scope is, he is done with this scene in one single shloka in the twelfth sarga of raghuvaMsham.  And then too, not by any direct uddIpana, but by utilizing his famous arsenal of upamAna, to describe the situation of Sita being like a saMjIvanI suffering entanglement in a cobweb of poisonous creepers.

mahAkavi bhavabhUti, the master dramatist, is second only to kAlidAsa in the eloquence, elevation of diction and rasa-yojanA.  And bhavabhUti shrinks altogether from going there at all.  He bypasses the whole scene, by simply having the events indirectly known to the audiences through a dialogue between Trijata and Malyavan, in the opening act of the sixth a~Nka of his mahAvIra-charita. (On a little study of one act of this a~Nka from the standpoint of Hindu drama, reader may see our earlier note on it).

Our favourite poet Tulasidas, the very moon of Hindi poetry, cuts down three out of the six rasa-s, tones down the remaining three, and wraps up the Ravana-Sita dialogue in a meagre ten chaupais and only one doha, without getting into that crescendo of rasa at all.  And this he does on purpose.  What is more, a sujAna poet as he is, he buffers the scene on two sides, purposefully, to further mild down the effect on the audience; on the preceding side with shAnta rasa through a dialog between Hanuman and Vibhishana, and on the succeeding side with hAsya, by mocking the Rakshasas at the hands of Hanuman’s deeds.

Two renowned poets decide to go there.  mahAkavi bhaTTI in saMskR^ita language, and mahAkavi kamban in Tamil.  And what do they do?

bhaTTI dares, but he is careful not to disturb the complex chemistry of vAlmIki.  He follows the lead of vAlmIki like a child being led by his father holding his finger, and almost exactly retells what vAlmIki has told, in the eighth chapter of his poetry rAvaNa-vadha, only changing the meters and the alaMkaraNa.

And so does mahAkavi kamban.  He honestly tells us that he is now daring to go there, and then strictly follows vAlmIki, actually translating to Tamil what vAlmIki has said in saMskR^ita, including his metaphors and similes, and adds his own only to further embellish.

And all these stalwarts did wisely, being totally conscious of the enormity of the task, and knowing the wonder that sundara kANDa of vAlmIki is.  And vAlmIki himself lets Hanuman handle the situation and narrate a large part of it — after all Hanuman is himself the ablest poet and wisest grammarian ever.  And in mahAbhArata, vyAsa does no different: he has Hanuman himself narrate this AkhyAna when he would meet bhImasena in the araNya.

Therefore, “where the angels fear to tread, the fools rush in”, this proverb comes to mind seeing a foolhardy M F Husain daring to attempt this crescendo of rasa on his canvas.

And what does he do?

[5]

As in drama, so in painting.  bharata muni instructs the dramatists and play-writers in his nATya-shAstra, to first practice painting.  And mArkaNDeya reciprocates the sentiment in chitra-sUtra, “विना तु नृत्यशास्त्रेण चित्रसूत्रं सुदुर्विदम”, that without knowledge of drama, painting is extremely difficult to grasp.  And it is no accident that our best filmmaker Satyajit Ray was a good painter too, and our first filmmaker Dada Saheb Phalke was, few people know, an artist-assistant of Raja Ravi Varma!  A good painter has to, he must, thoroughly understand the nuances of drama, for painting is but another expression of the same aesthetic principles in a condensed form.  Sage mArkaNDeya says in his pravachana, “यथा नृत्ये तथा चित्रे”.

Reader may recall the concerned painting, that is, one of Sita, Ravana, and Hanuman.  We are not going to put that and the other such ashubhadA chitra-s up on our blog.  An ashubhadA chitra, which will bring only misfortune to one who paints it, one who sells it, one who buys it, one who displays it, and one who sees it.  To the painter it has already sent the ruin of a long career; and the buyer, a well-known American art collector from Boston, died in a car accident hardly months after buying these ashubhadA paintings we are talking about; this we incidentally learnt during our research.

But we digressed.  What is the visual design of the painter, and what does he want to do?

Looking at the visual design, it seems, painter is wanting to follow the same rasa-yojanA and the same transitions as done by vAlmIki.  He divides the canvas to three almost equal spaces, not geometrically but optically, and wants to dedicate each to the three proponents representing each of the rasa-yugma-s mentioned earlier.

His plan is to follow the transition scheme in the same order, that is, first the plight, then the tyranny, then ending up in outrage.  And he wants to do this by taking the viewer’s eye in that sequence from right to left.  Why not usual left to right, this we shall soon see.

He first catches the viewer’s eye on the right by the naked Sita.  By this he hopes to perform a strong uddIpana of emotional energy, that is of plight.  But this vibhAva that he uses, is very loud and very uncontrolled uddIpana, and therefore a very loud and uncontrolled emotional energy instantly appears.  However what the painter wants is that it would be that of the sthAyI-bhAva of plight which should emerge, but loud as the uddIpana is, what ends up happening is that it is not the mood of plight that appears in mind, rather it is of outrage that does.  We shall return to this; for now let us see what else he visually plans.

Next, the painter has seated the figure of Sita on the left thigh of the central and the largest figure, that is of Ravana.  This is what is both an Alambana vibhAva to enhance the mood of plight, as well as, a stimulation for vyabhichArI-bhAva, that is, transition to the next mood, that is of tyranny.  So by seating her on the left thigh of the tyrant, the painter’s plan of transition is from the first, that is plight, to the second, that is tyranny.  And for this transition, Husain is hoping of using a known Hindu convention.  Showing one’s left thigh to a para-strI or asking her to sit on it, is mark of the highest dishonour that is possible in our world to a woman — recall the sabhA-parvan where Duryodhana invites Draupadi to sit on his bare left thigh — and this convention the painter wants to invoke here, as a vyabhichArI-bhAva, to transit the viewer’s mood from plight to tyranny.  It is only for using this cultural convention that the painter paints the painting from right to left and not his usual method of left to right.

Then next, he has the central figure, that is of Ravana, in ugliness and ghastliness, frontally confronting the audience, by doing which, the painter hopes this figure to face the wrath of the viewers mood of tyranny and then outrage, that he hopes will now emerge.

Now, if the contact of the left thigh was painter’s plan of vyabhichArI-bhAva, transition from plight to tyranny, he also inserts an active interaction between the two by introducing what is an anubhAva, a deliberate stimuli, of Ravana raising his right arm to hit Sita, as vAlmIki says.  By this, the painter hopes to make a close loop between the plight and tyranny, amplifying both, and resulting in further generation of outrage by this interaction.

And then, in order to transit to the third rasa-yugma, he makes Ravana lean to his right, as if to face Hanuman, who is here shown in form of a monkey (as says vAlmIki), shown in anger, ready to pounce on the former.  Painter gives an isolated area to Hanuman, and a lot of blank space in that area, and it is in a bright colour, matching the colour of Sita.  By this plan, the painter wants the subconscious mood of anger to finally flow and gather here, and then from here, get pointed through Hanuman pouncing at Ravana, towards Ravana.

This is his visual design.  But this all is what the painter *hopes* to do.  What he ends up doing is terribly different.

In the first place, the uddIpana through naked sItAdevI, fails to evoke plight.  And this we say after totally detaching ourselves from thinking that she is even Sita.  Even if she is not Sita, and an ordinary woman, or not even an ordinary woman but just a shadow, the female figure does not evoke plight, it first provokes disgust and then outrage in itself.  And this happens on its own, without requiring either the Alambana of she being seated on the left thigh or requiring the anubhAva of striking right arm.  Both of which though, further amplify the outrage.  So, the first mistake from rasa standpoint: a very loud uddIpana, an uncontrolled uddIpana, and wrong type of uddIpana.

Next, the three rasa poles are supposed to adequately counter-balance and support each other.  However, in this composition, in comparision to the first rasa-yugma, which in itself ends up in a wrong bhAva, the other two poles are not strong at all.  Which is why the emotional energy, that is quite strong, refuses to follow the transition plan that the painter has created to take the audience from the first mood to the next.  The transition of vyabhichArI-bhAva is too weak in comparision to the uddIpana of first.

Then, therefore, resulting from the above two, an unending loop of outrage alone remains active, which does not, can not, follow the outlet that the painter has planned for it, since the outlet is too weak to control the intensity of mood that has been evoked; intense as it is, it is also uncontrolled; the painting fails to channelise this energy of outrage through Hanuman’s figure onto Ravana, as the painter was hoping.  And therefore, the anger remains, it keeps building, going into no catharsis, and as a result therefore, it has to go into and towards the painting itself, and then towards the painter himself.  And it is a very active painting, therefore even more anger is what it generates.

Finally, there is another very unforgivable element on the canvas, that is, there is an unmistakable sensuousness about it.  Where is that coming from and why, this is also significant to explore, but that we shall do in detail, a section later.

Now this is what is called an utkaTa painting.  In chitra-shAstra, such utkaTa chitra-s are prohibited from being displayed, excepting certain situations.  Otherwise, filled with powerful negative energy, they only bring ruin and misfortune to all concerned.  And this painting is a living exemplar of it, and a lesson for the aspiring Hindu art modernists.

Then the next two offending Husain paintings of this context are easily understood.  One with Hanuman without a head, is the next in sequence, and is to narrate Hanuman’s remorse after having mindlessly burnt the city in his outrage.  In vAlmIki’s narration, the plight of Sita has so overtaken Hanuman’s mind, filling it with utter outrage and extreme anger, that the plight of Sita becomes more powerful than Sita herself.  So angry is Hanuman by the plight of Sita that while burning the city he forgets all about Sita.  But it recurs to him after he has done his deed, and then he becomes remorseful, he curses himself, he calls himself a fool and a sinner.  He calls himself a monkey to have not thought that Sita also might get hurt in this fire.  And the plight of Sita that was his anger so far is now his remorse.  He contemplates whether Sita would have gotten burnt in the fire he has lit, then thinks that to be impossible, but still returns to Ashoka Vatika to check if Sita is alive.  This is vAlmIki’s way of shamana of raudra-rasa, extinguishing the outrage, by re-invoking karuNa rasa through remorse.  That is what the painter wants to depict, and there is nothing much to explain in it.  Headlessness to show Hanuman’s extremely reckless outrage, the mudrA of his left palm, to show his astonishment with himself at his deed.

The last offending painting of this sequence is where figure of Sita is on Hanuman’s tail.

(Most people who were defending Husain have not even understood the painter’s concept, and were defending him!  We read an article by one gentleman, who teaches in an American university, where he says in support of this painting that this scene depicts Hanuman’s proposal of carrying Sita back to Rama!  There can be no more ignorance and lack of imagination than that!)

In painter’s concept, this painting is meant to be in context of Hanuman leaping across the ocean from Lanka back towards his comrades waiting on this side of the shore, and while he is doing that, his mind is occupied by no other thought but that of the plight of Sita, which is not anger anymore but is a lingering pain.  And in painter’s visual design, he wants to depict it like this.  The figure of Hanuman is shown leaping from left to right, but while in air his face is looking back to Lanka.  His eyes are looking back towards the horizon thinking of Sita. His face is painted in ash-colour, and his face is in deep sad thought.  And a figure of Sita is stuck on the tail.  But this is a shadow of Sita, as depicted in the first painting, and it is in an ash colour matching Hanuman’s face.  What did the painter plan by this?  Why Sita on tail?  This is what Husain imagined:  While Hanuman’s tail was burning with which he had burnt the city, he had felt no pain in his outrage (vAlmIki has Hanuman wonder why his burning tail causes him no pain.  He says it is by the grace of his father, of Rama, and of Sita).  Now the outrage is gone, and the pain should return, but so engrossed is Hanuman’s mind contemplating at the plight of Sita, that it is this pain of Sita’s plight, not the physical pain of his burnt tail, that is lingering in his mind.

Now this is what the painter *thought*.  But the result, besides being outrageous anyway, does the similar mistakes as we understood in the first, the most important being in our opinion, of an uncalled for, unpardonable, and unmistakable sensuousness on the canvas.  To that account we shall return.

The last of the list, and from the same context, is the portrait of Hanuman where Husain depicts a copulating couple in the background.  Reader may recall a painting we had shared in the last part, where Hanuman is shown as an infant in the center of a Yin and Yang formed by a masculine and feminine body, to depict the make up of Hanuman’s personality of having both the sides as equally dominant.  In this painting, and by using the context of the sundara kANDa, painter wants to say something else about Hanuman in a similar vein.

This is his concept:  Hanuman is the perfect Urdhvaretan, he is the perfect bramhachArin, and with this, he is also a perfect vIryavAn, he is mahA-vIryavAn, that his every hair, every strand, every pore, is full of vIrya, that a drop of his perspiration is sufficient to procreate makaradhvaja, his son, Hanuman not even being aware of him.  And the painter wants to use the context of sundara kANDa, that context when searching for Sita, Hanuman enters Ravana’s palace and the inner chambers that night.  He does not like it, it is against dharma, but Hanuman has to go through seeing all the hundreds of women that are sleeping in Ravana’s rooms.  And he has to bear with all the ghastly lust of the female demons that he sees there.  And he is not in the least affected by it, he does not even feel disgust, only pity.  In the painting the couple shown are a rakshasa pair, they are in a dAnavI copulation.  Then there are some complex metaphors used in the painting, like a mountain or a desert, and there are more things, which we do not understand.  It is because the painter wants to separate the metaphors from the real narrative, that he creates a separate section on canvas by dividing it in two horizontal areas.  Top is the real Hanuman, everything in the bottom a metaphor.  In top he borrows the idiom from Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘Vitruvian Man’, by showing a small Vinci-like shoulder-projection around Hanuman’s shoulders: to say Hanuman is the embodiment of the Perfect Man imagined by Vinci.  In bottom, besides the rAkShasa couple, there is also a small projection ejecting from the navel of Hanuman.  This is to show him having fathered a son, makaradhvaja, without maithuna:  the projection from naval to remind of the mAnasa birth.  Both of the separate events take place the day Hanuman spent in Lanka, first while searching for Sita, and second after arsoning the city.  Since the painting is too complex, painter also creates a separate verbal description in a frontispiece painting that accompanies the set.

But before moving on to the next part of the discussion, we would want to emphasize one important point to those who would listen to us.

mahAkavI bhAsa’s popular drama dUtavAkyam is about kR^iShNa going as a peace-emissary to kaurava-s to avoid the war.  There is a scene in the drama, in which duryodhana has commissioned a large painting which shows the scene of draupadi’s dishonour as described in sabhAparvan.  And to show kR^iShNa down, duryodhana invites him to see the painting.  kR^iShNa is a kalA-vichakShaNa, a learned critic, who knows the depths of art.  The painting is so large that it takes bhR^itya-s to unroll the rolled canvas before duryodhana and kR^iShNa.  Duryodhana, to insult kR^iShNa, praises the painting; after all draupadI was a sister to kR^iShNa.  kR^iShNa however does not take offense, far from it, he rather studies the art.  Then like a vichakShaNa should, says yes this is a good work of art, there is beauty in it, there is life in it, but let me tell you something more, this is ashubhadA, it will bring ruin.  And duryodhana obediently orders the painting to be removed.

We do not understand the depths of the art, but we can safely say this.  That, all of these paintings, especially the two of Sita, as well as the last one described, are, in our opinion, terribly ashubhadA chitra-s, inauspicious paintings.  They are utkaTa, which have negative active energy.  And they are not dead paintings, they have some prANa, like most of Husain’s paintings.  One may call it superstition, and we are superstitious, but our shilpa and chitra and nATya shAstra-s all tell us that if a chitra or shilpa or poem or drama can do good, a bad one can also do a terrible harm.  And these paintings can only bring misfortune to also those who display it or see it.  We shall suggest the well-meaning but ignorant people who have splashed the digital images of these paintings all over the websites and blogs and social media, to remove those bad ones for ever.  The actual paintings themselves are nowhere on the display.  After the terrible death by a car accident of their owner, an American leather businessman, who had bought these directly from the painter, we understand that these paintings are now in possession of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, California, and there, these are not on display but in the curator’s vault for over a decade now.  One should let those remain buried there, and let their digital images better be removed from the Internet-sphere too.  This is of course our own opinion, addressed to those who would listen.

[6]

In those paintings it is not the nudity, but a peculiar sensuousness that disturbs our mind; sensuousness is not at all of the sacred variety, which a sane Hindu would instantly understand, but sensuousness with an unmistakabe tinge of profane concupiscence that we can feel is apparent in these paintings.  There is more than the physical form that offends; it is in the psychic element of these paintings.  And it is this same element that comes across also in those scrawl paintings of devI-s.  But it is most amplified in these sundara kANDa paintings.  But why?  Why so?

We think the answer lies at two levels: in sundara kANDa and in Husain.

We had mentioned earlier the complex and wonderful aesthetic arrangement of the sundara kANDa by vAlmIki.  Every sentence, every word, every syllable of the kANDa is a magic.  Even the message of Rama that Hanuman delivers to Sita, is the highest example of a love-letter that can ever be written, that Sita faints hearing what Rama has said to her.  Every gesture that any character makes is full of layers of meaning.  Every simile and every metaphor of vAlmIki elevates our mind to some other universe.  It is so beautiful.

And, however, it is also easy for an unprepared reader or listener to go astray if not cautious, not prepared.  The rasa, especially where the sthAyI-bhAva of lust is invoked, is built very carefully by vAlmIki.  It is present but very well controlled by the great poet.  And it is to sub-serve a great purpose.  And still, it is possible for an unprepared audience, to not receive a complete catharsis, and not receive the right flavour of rasa as is intended in the text, rather get waylaid by own saMvega, impulses, and go astray.

And this is the reason, perhaps, to our mind, why Sant Tulasidas prays right in the preface of his sundara kANDa like this:  “भक्तिं प्रयच्छ रघुपुङ्गव निर्भरां मे, कामादिदोषरहितं कुरु मानसं च”.  This is the last line of a beautiful prayer to Rama that he has written in saMskR^ita to inaugurate his sundara kANDa.  And do notice what he asks from Rama.  He asks devotion for himself, and for the book he is writing he asks it to be free from Lust and such defects — kAmAdi-doSha-rahitaM kuru mAnasaM cha —  here “mAnasa” has a dual meaning, it refers both to the mind, as well as to the name of his book, Rama Charita Manasa.  And why does Tulasidas think of asking this before starting his sundara kANDa? Because he is not only a self-realized master and bhakta, but he is also a clever rasa~jna poet.  He knows the potential trouble a wrong understanding of sundara-kANDa can cause for the audience.

Rajaji likewise, before beginning to translate vAlmIki’s sundara kANDa, also makes this caution quite explicit, and wants his reader to become prepared and alert before getting into this:

“As one reads or listens to this sacred story, one should form a mental image of Seeta in her present state.  One can imagine the agony of despair of any good woman who has by misfortune fallen into the power of a lustful man.  What must be the state of Seeta, daughter of Janaka and the wife of Raamachandra, in such a predicament?  To appreciate Vaalmeeki’s metaphors and similes in this context, one should purify one’s heart and fire it with piety.” [Raamaayana by C Rajagopalachari, 1st ed, PP 218]

That is a wise counsel, a sagacious advice.  For, while there is lust carefully treated by vAlmIki, it is by our own faults we might misunderstand it.  And there can easily be a gap between the rasa as depicted by vAlmIki and as received by a reader.

And this is explained in detail by the rasa-shAstra dhurandhara AchArya abhinava gupta, who gives us seven reasons why those “vIta-vighnAH pratItiH” can happen.  And three of those seven, we find relevant here in how it could have resulted in distortion of Husain’s imagination.  First, “प्रतिपत्तावयोग्यता सभावनाविरहुः”, one is incapable of grasping the deeper meaning and getting into the bhAva of the writer; second, “स्वगतत्वनियमेन देशकाल विशेषावेशः”, one’s mind is limited by the limitations imposed by the difference of time and space between him and the writer; and lastly but most importantly, “निजसुखादिविवशीभाव”, that one is helpless by his temperamental inclinations like pleasure etc, therefore receives the rasa in his way, not the way it was meant.  This last is very important.

Though Husain perhaps intended well, he picked a very complex subject to begin with, which his art was not up to, but what is more, waylaid by his own temperamental sensuality, he ended up doing blasphemy.  This is our considered opinion, the learned reader is free to draw his or her own.

Could he have not known what he had done?  To this, we think no he could not have immediately known what he had done.  A poet and an artist needs someone else to guide him.  In our chitra-shAstra, there is an important step after a painting is complete.  The ancient Hindu chitrakAra used to take his paintings to the experts, kalA-vichakShaNa-s, for a review.  They used to study the art and critique it for the benefit of the artist and the audience, providing not only their judgement on artistic worth, but also guidance to the painter from their deeper depths of understanding of art.  In our times, who were/are the critiques with whom Husain would have worked?  Perhaps those, who have no idea of Hindu aesthetics, Hindu rasa-shAstra, Hindu chitra-shAstra, for whom only Cezanne and Matisse are the guides.

However, we think Husain had realized his mistake after the controversy had begun.  And he was doing his prAyashchitta by painting the rAmAyaNa all over again in a hundred new paintings.  That is how an artist can do the prAyashchitta.  And that was his last project, noncommissioned, when the daivI niyati did not let him complete it.  We shall perhaps come to see in future his paintings from his unfinished rAmAyaNa series.

But we should explore this sensuality in Husain, which led him astray, just a bit more, which will also explain the other cluster of his controversial paintings, the scrawl like sarasvatI etc.

[7]

Few people know that Shri Aurobindo was, besides other things, also an accomplished art critic.  In his journal Arya, he used to regularly write columns on Hindu Art.  And he had also written at least two books dedicated to the rejuvenation of a genuine Hindu art, entitled “Basics of Indian Art” and “Significance of Art”, and he used to be in communication with Ananda Coomaraswamy and E B Havell on one hand and the svadeshI artists on the other.

In the early 1920s, Abanindranath Thakur once painted a composition titled ‘Bride of Shiva’.   The way it was painted had angered some.  An album of this painting and others of Abanindranath was brought before Aurobindo in Pondicherry to take a look.  The conversation that took place in the March of 1926, was recorded by a disciple in his diary and published as follows.

Sri Aurobindo: Are these pictures of Abanindranath his latest ones? They have given me a peculiar impression.

Disciple: They are his paintings and portraits since 1923.  Do you find that he has deteriorated?

Sri Aurobindo: No. But they all seem to be from the vital world. Of course, all Abanindranath’s paintings are from the vital world. But this time they appear to come from a peculiar layer of the vital plane.  I felt something like that vaguely, so I asked the Mother and she pointed out that it was the colouring which was responsible for the feeling or impression.

Disciple: We have many paintings of Nandalal dealing with Puranic subjects. But I find one or two are failures.

Sri Aurobindo: In Nandalal’s paintings you find the background of a strong mental conception; while Abanindra-nath’s paintings are from the vital world.  I would like to see some of his earlier works. My idea is that in Abanindra’s case the inspiration from Ajanta is not so strong as that of the Moghul and Rajput schools.

Disciple: Of late he has been leaning more towards the Moghul school. Besides, he has been changing his technique so often that it is very difficult to say which style has really impressed him. His subjects may be such as to suggest Mahomedan influence.

Sri Aurobindo: I do not think that the impression is due to the subject at all. It is due to the peculiar layer of the vital plane to which the pictures belong. For instance, take his “Bride of Shiva”. It is an Indian — a Hindu subject.  But it is not the bride of Shiva at all in his painting.  If at all it is Shiva’s bride, it is “the bride of Pashupati”: Shiva’s bride from the vital plane.

[Evening Talks with Sri Aurobindo, by A B Purani]

A good painter must paint by being in manomaya koSha, if not vij~nAnamaya.  In case of M F Husain, he is all about vital plane, all his paintings are the paintings from the lower prANamaya kosha.   Half of his 20,000 plus paintings are all about horses — unbridled, unsaddled, uncontrolled horses — stampeding and running amuck, tirelessly!  The other paintings where they are not running, it is because they are hurt and injured!  This painter was all about vital!  Never forget the vaidika and aupaniShadika imagery of horse which R^iShi dayAnanda and Shri Aurobindo used to explain as to mean prANa or senses.

And this painter was all about prANa.  Remember he lived to be over 95.  And he was about lower prANamaya.  And he was about mUlAdhAra.  Remember that besides the horses, of what remains, half the paintings are all of gaNesha.  gaNesha, the gatekeeper and the lord over mUlAdhAra.  This was Husain’s default base.  And gaNesha was his devatA in real sense.

We don’t think, he meant insult to sarasvatI when he painted those scrawl paintings, he just did not have access to sarasvatI, and being an artist he did want that access.  His sarasvatI was his frustration.  This is not sarasvatI, can not be even the basest level of sarasvatI.  And the painter knows that she is not sarasvatI, that is why the painter writes her name in bold!  Painter is convincing himself, even as he knows she is not sarasvatI.  The whole cluster of those three scrawl paintings are out of this artistic-spiritual frustration, and all of those he had painted at the same time in middle of 1970s.

And in middle of 1970s, having finished the first set of mahAbhArata and rAmAyaNa, Husain was interested in doing yaugika and tAntrika paintngs.  In this he would of course not succeed, but his paintings of those period show what he was doing.  He was painting bhairavI, he was painting uchcHiShTa gaNesha.  We also have come to see a mixed media, a photograph of a painting over a photograph, that is from 1975.  In this we can see Husain painting over a photograph of his own sitting naked in siddhAsana.  And he shows his mUlAdhAra flared up.  We shall not be able to put that picture here for obvious reasons.  Then there is another painting of gaNesha, which he titled ‘Frolicking Ganesha’, where Ganesha plays amuck with a canvas that is in the painting, on which there is woman’s sketch.  In the same period, same year, he also painted this below, which he had left untitled:

Untitled (Gandhis Sexual Experiments)

Notice the above, though it is untitled, it is clearly about Gandhi’s experiments with his bramhacharya/sexuality.  His upper garment is slipping away.  His right palm is restrictive, prohibitive, and doubtful.  And mUlAdhAra is symbolically highlighted with dark sphere.

All of this, we think, tell us about that phase when he did those things, and of course he was always driven by sensual energies; that was his base.

And he tried to atone for having sinned, having blasphemed.  He then painted dozens, maybe hundreds, of paintings with devatA-s, and respectfully, never doing that folly again.  This is how an artist can atone in our opinion.  Not by verbal apologies but visual.

Sarasvati

We think we can conclude here, we are convinced in our mind that he was not an anti-Hindu, and to denigrate the Hindu deities on purpose was far from his motive on those paintings, offending as those are.  That is our opinion.

We can conclude here, but let us end with two of his 1971 paintings from his first set on the great bhArata.  These two were in the set which he displayed before Picasso.

Mbh Chariot of Arjuna

We have already seen a couple of Husain’s depictions of pArtha-sArathi theme in the last part. This is another of them, and is here to narrate one episode from the last day of the war, when as soon as returning to the camp arjuna descends from his chariot, it explodes. kR^iShNa then explains to arjuna that his chariot had already been destroyed by the arrows of karNa several days back, but that it was by his yoga-bala that he had sustained it for arjuna.  We see in the painting, the concentric elliptical-like shapes encircling the chariot which is held in balance by the playful elephant that is holding the cosmic ball, that there is a bigger chariot than that is visible to arjuna. arjuna is shown as astonished. Elephant stands for the kR^iShNa’s yoga-bala here. Smoke flying away reminds of the exploded ratha.

Mbh End of War

This is the last in the mahAbhArata set.  In this the painter has depicted the period of re-construction after the war is finished. On the right most section we see yudhiShThira depicted as a sagacious monarch, his left palm is shown in a mudrA as if contemplating and discoursing on policy and dharma. In the left sections we see many figures, but the gANDIva of arjuna and gadA of bhIma are most visible, the smaller figures are of the youngest pANDava-s; Arjuna’s right arm is shown as if pushing a boundary with his bow, representing the series of conquests by the four brothers in four directions.  In the central section the female figure represents draupadI, who is as if in conversation with a bird that has alighted on her left shoulder, representing that she has at last found peace after the whole sequence of tragedies. There are some bruises on her body, but those are fading.  We see a small falling figure in blue, near her thighs, showing that the tragedies were like a labour pain to deliver a new era.  The kaliyuga.

June 17, 2011

[Part 1] M F Husain in a New Light: A Hindu Art Perspective

by Sarvesh K Tiwari

“थीं चित्रकार भी स्त्रियाँ चित्रलेखा-सी कभी
अंकनकुशल नायक हमारे नाटकों मे हैं सभी!
“इतिहास काव्य पुराण नाटक, ग्रंथ जितने दीखते
सबसे विदित है, चित्र-रचना, थे यहाँ सब सीखते!

“हा! जो कलाएँ थीं कभी अत्युच्च भावोद्गारिणी
विपरीतता देखो कि अब वे हैं अधोगतिकारिणी!
“अपमान हाय! सरस्वती का सह रहे हम लोग हैं
पर साथ ही इस धृष्टता का पा रहे फल-भोग हैं!

“अज्ञान के अनुचर यहाँ अब फिर रहे फूले हुए
हम आज अपने आपको जो हैं स्वयं भूले हुए!

“Why! We used to once produce such fine painters as the renowned female artist Chitralekha; our ancient dramas invariably portray their heroes to be skilled in fine arts; Itihasa-s, Poetries, Purana-s, Drama, all declare in one voice how in the days of old each one used to be trained in the fine arts… Alas! The very arts which once used to be our mediums to express the loftiest, see the irony, are now degenerated to become the hallmarks of the basest! Lo, insult to Sarasvati herself we must patiently bear! But then the fruits of that perversity, who else but we alone should prepare to suffer?  …But why do the followers of ignorance roam about puffed with glory?  If not, that is, because we have ourselves verily forgotten our very own selves!”

Reading the fresh rounds of debate that followed the death of the late painter M F Husain, the above poetic anguish from the pen of the National Poet Shri Maithili Sharana Gupt surfaced in our memory.   The legendary poet had written those lines in the first decade of the last century, at a time when the Hindu Art revival had yet not begun, but we were left wondering whether those lines did not precisely reflect the reality of our own times more accurately than ever?

In ancient India it would seem that painting was such a popular art, that anyone who did not know how to appreciate and judge an artwork was not considered groomed enough!  kAlidAsa portrays in abhij~nAna shAkuntalam an amazing episode in the sixth part, where king duShyanta being lovesick for beloved shakuntalA, makes a portrait of her. And in the scene there is a character, who unable to appreciate the deeper rasa or bhAva of the painting to get to the true narrative of the painter, merely finds it “sweet and beautiful”.  And important to note, kAlidAsa appoints this character to be a vidUShaka, a clown!  The king and a couple of female assistant artists then educate the clown and make him cognize the deeper bhAva-s of pain, agony and love-ache that permeate the surficial forms of the painting howsoever sweet and beautiful.

bANabhaTTa says in his novel that every educated household used to cultivate at home a good vINA to play at, and a set of tUlikA-s to paint with, so widespread was the learning of arts in Hindu society.  The connoisseurs of fine arts are often spoken of in the saMskR^ita literature, and respectfully called as kalA-vidagdha.

Of all types of arts – music and poetry, sculpture and drama – it is the chitra-kalA, the art of painting, which has always been considered the most precious lalita-kalA by the Hindu civilization. “कलानां प्रवरं चित्रं धर्मकामार्थमोक्षदं”, says viShNu-dharmottara, that of all the arts chief is the art of chitra-kalA, which helps one advance towards each object of human life. It is therefore, it says further, “यथा नराणां प्रवरः क्षितीशस्तथा कलानामिह चित्रकल्पः”, that like a monarch is amongst the men, so too is the art of painting amongst all the diverse formats of arts.

And like the other fields of knowledge, Hindus had also elevated and committed the art of chitra-kalA too into a most evolved philosophy and a faculty of knowledge. Thus we find in the Hindu sphere quite a diverse set of well-formed theories of painting. We find writers dedicating entire theses to exploring the theories of Art in such works as chitra-sUtra appended in the viShNu dharmottara, in samarAMgaNa sUtradhAra by rAjan bhojadeva the pramAra, in mAnasollAsa by chAlukya rAjan someshvaradeva who himself was an accomplished artist, aparAjita-pR^ichcHA a 12th century work by an artist-master from Gujarat, dedicated sections in a work entitled shilpa-ratna, and chitra-lakShaNa by nagna-jita. Besides these works that deal with the fine art in great detail, we also see descriptions about the theories of aesthetics and art of painting as peripheral discussions embedded in various purANa-s, dramas and works of poetry, as rightly alluded to by Shri Maithili Sharana Gupt.

It is thus even more unfortunate, as the poet lamented, that the very art which had received such celebration in Hindu universe, had to undergo such sorry decline, faring probably worst among all forms of arts during the centuries of existential civilizational distress.  But the worst calamity is not so much of the art among the artists, but more so of the declined sense of  art in the general Hindu public, which seems to have lost touch with the traditional sense of aesthetics and genuine appreciation for art, as also the poet has rightly diagnosed.

With such sentiments in our mind, in reaction to the eulogizing obituaries for M F Husain on one hand and damning criticism on the other, we decided to take a fresh look at his work, and here are our thoughts.

Husain was of as much a Muslim outlook as someone from the Shiite Bohra community can have.  His ancestors were Arabs from Yemen who persecuted by the Sunnis had fled to India around after the downfall of Awrangzib.  One can easily discern in Husain’s work, a distinct Bohra identity, which one might say, is more pronounced among Ismailis, their sibling sect, considered by Sunnis to be more of Hindus than Muslim.  With belief in dashavatara and incarnation, religious books referring to vedas, especially the atharvan, alongside Quran; Quran itself they consider limited in scope of time; while there are Prophets, no particular Prophet is final for all times to come; their religious texts speaking of Rama, Krishna and Buddha alongside Muhammad, nor merely in missionary rhetoric but also in prayers;  no obligation to visit Makka-Madina or observe fasts during Ramzan, and most do not, nor do they have obligatory five namazes a day; and whose mosques give out no azan to call momins to prayer, let him come who wants to come to the mosques which resemble more like gurudwaras where women and men sing prayers sitting on separate carpets in the same hall; and who are, no wonder, being given in Pakistan and elsewhere in the Islamic sphere, a treatment similar to the Ahmadias.

But we digress.  Husain was brought up with as much a Muslim worldview of life as being from a Sulemani Bohra Shi’ite family would permit, and we can see this from his early themes that he chose to exhibit: Muharram (1948), Maulavi (1948), and Duldul Horse (1949): Muharram being the mourning of Shias, Duldul the horse of Imam Husain on the battle of Karbala so important to Shias, and his preference of Maulavi over Mawlana is also conspicuous.  On his self-portraits till 1957, Husain continued to perceive his self-image with a black sulemani cap, which he had otherwise discarded already.  In later period for many years, Husain would continue to paint on Islamic themes; calligraphy on watercolours etc., but in our estimation such works never had that kind of emotional force as he demonstrated in the early ones, and indeed, it is our estimation that the mental and emotional depth of Husain towards the Mohammedan themes continued to decline, if we shall only listen to his works.  In fact we read in a recent interview of his, from earlier this year itself when he was engaged in a project commissioned in Qatar, that his object is not depiction of Islam but Arabic civilization.  There is more to Arabia than Islam, said he.

Now, at a time when Husain began his career as an artist in the late 1930s, there were two main thought currents that were then on the ascendancy in the then contemporary art, besides the colonial British school which was already in decline.  We find much confusion about these two schools among both the supporters of Husain and critics, so it would be pertinent to first understand the two separate nationalistic currents.

The first was svadeshI current, which was by then a mainstream force in all walks of national cultural life.   Like in other fields, in art too, svadeshI group was aiming towards rediscovering the indigenous sense of aesthetics, rejuvenating the traditional artistic theories and progressing from there, and rejecting the alien.  The ideology, intellectual inputs, and philosophical framework came from such scholars as Shri Ananda Coomarswamy and Shri Aurobindo, as well as a genuine Hinduphile British artist-scholar Dr. E B Havell.  The result was a profound renaissance of Hindu art in the making, with such stalwarts as Abanindranath Thakur, Asit Haldar, Kshitindranath Majumdar, K Venkatappa, Sarada Ukil, Jamini Roy, Amrita Shergil, C Madhava Menon, Ramkinkar Baij, and above and more than all, Acharya Nandalal Basu, trying to nurture the sapling of genuine Hindu art again, and trying to water its deep roots.  Because most of its painters were concentrated at Shanti Niketan, they came to be popularly known as the Bengal Art Renaissance group, though they never called themselves so; indeed in their vision was entire India and they had many non-bengalis among its stalwarts; they called themselves the svadeshI group.

Closely related to them in the stated objective of reviving the Hindu Art, but distinct from them in outlook and mental makeup, was another group of artists, most of whom were from the traditional painter families that had been attached through generations with the princely or business families, and which had kept intact in whatever form, the styles and formats of old.  Their role model and inspiration was Raja Ravi Varma, who had already departed three decades back.  Some of the representative products of this group are chitra-rAmAyaNa and the artworks of Gita Press Gorakhpur artists.  Admirable as their efforts were and beauteous their product, they entertained no tendency of any fresh intellectual inquiry, no textual or visual scholarship, no philosophical or historical study of Hindu art; their aim was limited to simply creating attractive posters, calendars, and magazine art, on well-known religious or patriotic themes, improving only on the beauty of the form and style.   They represent, to paraphrase the succinct words of Dr. S Radhakrishnan, that tendency of the decaying Hindu intellect that refuses to strike any new note at his vINA, simply repeating the tunes learned from ancestry, only improving on the volume; a tendency  that had helped us save what we could save during the times of distress, but in times of progress, a burden!  Most of these artists were concentrated in suburban cities of Maharashtra and UP, they are referred popularly as the Bombay Revivalist group.

If we were to use the language of the American art critic Clement Greenberg, this second group represented the popular kitsch while the former a genuine nationalist avant-garde.  Modern Hindus would do well to clearly understand the difference between the two, because their ignorance allows Hindu-drohin leftists to distort the discourse and peddle their phony theories, and also because the same difference exists between the genuine and the pseudo nationalism in other walks of life too, including politics.

Now, also like in the other fields, in art too there was then emerging a marxist group, for whose votaries art was, like any other field, a medium to spread propaganda to bring about some utopian revolution as revealed in the marxist handbooks.   In their ideological shibboleth they would treat both of the fore-mentioned as an impediment to their so called progress.  Leader of this marxist group was a Goanese Christian, Francis Newton Souza, a card-carrying member of the Communist Party of India, who in the 1940s set up Progressive Artists Group, a front organization of the Communist Party.

These were the main currents prevalent when Husain came to Bombay to learn and pursue a career in art while earning his livelihood as a cinema poster painter.

Husain was actively persuaded by Souza and recruited to the Progressive group in 1947.  Both the critics and the leftist supporters of Husain keep mentioning this point to support their respective arguments.  Leftists, trying to aggrandize the school of committed marxists by subsumption, and critics to show how Husain was therefore against the nationalist current.  But let us look at the facts again.

Apart from Souza, hardly any other artist member of the so-called Progressive group was committed to Leftism.  And also apart from Souza, no well-known member was against the nationalist painters, also known as the Bengal group.

Let us read, for instance, what Sayed Haider Raza, a co-founder of the Progressive Group, himself says:

“…though some of my colleagues like Souza and others thought differently, I had the conviction that renaissance of art in Bengal was extremely important, not only in literature and music, but in painting as well. It was important because it brought our attention to our own culture. I mentioned painters like Abanindranath Tagore, Nand Lal Bose, Asit Kumar Haldar, Binod Bihari Mukherji and others. And I feel that what they did is important not only in the history of Indian art but also because they brought our attention to Indian painting.”

“Then there were books by Ananda Coomarswamy who brought to our notice many hidden things about Indian Art and Aesthetics.

[...] Souza was not interested in the renaissance of Bengal art, in painters like Nandlal Bose and others; he thought the vitality of our life was different. Our expression should be different. We should give a new direction.  I did agree with this to a certain extent without undermining the importance of renaissance school of Bengal; even at that time I knew that three of the most important painters of the first half of the 20th century were the poet Rabindranath Tagore, Jamini Roy, and Amrita Shergil.” ["Passion: life and art of Raza", by Sayed Haider Raza and Ashok Vajpeyi]

Raza remains even today a signature artist painting almost exclusively on geometric presentation of esoteric Hindu concepts, darshana-s, tantra, yoga etc., and is in our estimation, one of the important contemporary artist of our times.

This was Raza, the co-founder of the Progressives.  But we read the same sentiment from Husain too.  Below is from a 1997 article that Frontline, a leftist magazine, had printed based on his oral narrative:

“We had our own parallel national movement. We were part of the Progressive Artists Group; there were five or six painters in Mumbai and a few in Calcutta. We came out to fight against two prevalent schools of thought in those days, the Royal Academy, which was British-oriented, and the revivalist school in Mumbai, which was not a progressive movement. These two we decided to fight, and we demolished them.”

One should carefully note above that Husain is not talking about fighting against the genuine Hindu art renaissance group of Nandalal Basu etc, but specifically the Bombay revivalist group, which we have mentioned earlier.  With that in our mind, let us hear Husain further:

“The movement to get rid of these influences and to evolve a language that is rooted in our own culture was a great movement, and one that historians have not taken note of. It was important because any great change in a nation’s civilisation begins in the field of culture.”

“The movement started in the 1930s with Souza, Raza and others. I joined in 1947. Our concern was to evolve not only art as a profession to make a living, but to do serious research to evolve a language for Indian contemporary art. It had to be rooted in our culture and all the points of reference had to be ours, but it had to use modern techniques as well. There was no point in painting like Indian miniatures, or like Ajanta and Ellora.  The main difference between Indian art and Western art is that in the West, after the Renaissance, they had the Impressionists, then Cubism and so on.  We, however, had already passed those stages.  They were not necessary, because in our Indian folk art and tribal art, we had all these elements, and we have them even today. It is a living art form. After the Renaissance, artists in the West were concerned with depicting space and matter. We had already gone beyond that in our sculptures and paintings. When Michelangelo and others were trying to create the human form, we had passed that stage. The image of Nataraja is the highest form of art; it corresponded to the cosmos.

Husain’s assessment of Indian Art having not only already seen those phases of progress but actually having evolved those to utmost maturity is absolutely right.  We can read in mAnasollAsa, how the chAlukya rAjan deals in such detail with the diverse theories of painting that one can easily recognize many points of concordance with what the European masters would later discover, impressionism, naturalism and so on.  In a commentary by bauddha scholar buddhaghoSha upon dhammasaMgani, a third century BCE pali text, the author describes a way of painting.  Citing this, Prof Surendra Nath Dasgupta demonstrates how the Indian artists had also conceived of what the European masters would later call Expressionism, and that what buddhaghoSha describes merely in a few paragraphs in his commentary is a more perfect definition of Expressionism in art than what Croce would manage in a massive tome two millennia later!

Similarly, for a pristine example of the art-philosophy of Naturalism in the Hindu Art, see for instance how in meghadUtam, mahAkavi kAlidAsa has the love-sick yakSha describe his approach to creating a portrait of his long-seperated wife: “I try to satisfy my soul by trying to discover the expression of your beauteous shape in the beauty of nature. I look at the latA-s to seek your form and movement; I look into the eyes of startled deers to find similarity with your love-glances; I look at moon to seek your sweet face; and at the feathers of peacocks for your curls.  But alas My Beloved, this nature fails to inspire my imagination in scale to your beauty that is etched in your picture on the walls of my heart.”  An extremely pristine example of the artist in a dilemma between Naturalism and Expressionism, this stage Hindu artists had already seen, centuries before the European masters would discover it.   Similarly, we can notice that what is discovered as Dynamism by the post-renaissance European masters later, as a way of representing movement by simultaneous multiple depiction of the same object, is openly evident in its full glory in the iconography of naTarAja’s arm-movement, or in Rahasalila painting of Kangra, as well as in the famous depiction of buddha ascending the staircase of buddhahood.  For the Cubism likewise, see how the jaina architects were able to conceive of a very sophisticated synthesis of pure geometric play of shapes, repeated and patterned across multi-dimensional planes.  If only had the European Cubist masters of last century, Picasso and Braque, visited Western India and seen the jaina designs at Shatrunjaya and Ranakpur, they would have immediately found for their Cubism a more sophisticated aesthetic connection with Hindu antiquity!

So we tend to agree with what Husain is saying.  Let us continue with Husain’s narrative:

“The West claims modern art as its own. This is wrong. It is Eastern, they took it from Japan and from Africa. Because their media are strong, they have dominated the art scene.”

“Also, we do not have a single person, a writer, who has a historical vision of our culture and can make people aware of it.  After Ananda Coomaraswamy, there has been no such person.

Reader should take a note of Husain’s appeal to Coomaraswamy, and understand his frame of references.

“I am a misfit in the mainstream of contemporary Indian art. It has no relevance to our culture. Its points of reference are in the West, and that has to change. The problem with Indian contemporary art is the lack of a historical perspective. It is not only the painter, but even the general public that has lost touch with our rich heritage.

“I had done paintings of Ramayana, about 80 paintings over eight years. We took them to villages near Hyderabad on a bullock cart. The paintings were spread out, and the people saw them, and there was not one question. In the city, people would have asked: Where is the eye? How can you say this is Ram? and so on. In the villages, colour and form have seeped into the blood. You put an orange spot on a stone and the people will say it is Hanuman. They would never ask where the eye was and so on. This is living art.”

The above is from 1997, when controversy had not yet been heard.

All we can discern from Husain’s verbal narrative in the above is that far from any Leftist sentiment, here is a painter who seeks, or at least claims to seek, a genuine Indian artist tradition.; whose frame of reference is Coomaraswamy not Croce and Picasso; who is tradition-sympathetic, interested in the genuine Hindu chitra-kalA.

That was Husain’s verbal narrative, now let us look at his visual narrative, as we should be able to understand the mind of an artist, a poet, a writer, better through his creation more than his verbal biographic narration, besides as they say, a picture can speak more eloquently than a thousand words.

So let us now get into his art, and for a moment detaching ourselves from the controversy try to understand his visual grammar first.  By doing this is how we shall be able to also explore the answers like whether Husain had been deliberately disrespectful to Hindu devatA-s, and why if so, etc.?

Now as far as the criticism of Husain around the controversy is concerned, what is discomforting is the small sample size of Husain’s works being considered.  Surely when the painter has created hundreds of pieces, it does not seem fair to only look at a dozen or so of his offending paintings.  Then too, almost all the samples have come from a short span of about four middle years of 1970s, and few from 1996-97.  For Husain, who had been active for over seven decades, we should look not only for a larger set, but also representative distribution over all the range of years, and understand his work as a whole, including and particularly those paintings that are not offending.  And then we would be prepared to understand and analyze something about the offending ones too.

Now, there is only one precaution, indeed a preparation, that one must carry in one’s mind.  We should remember that Husain was a modern painter.  A modern painter by definition has his own visual grammar, different from the prevailing grammar with which audiences are familiar, therefore, one must be patient with any modern painter to really understand, if not like, the saundarya-bodha of that work.  As to this difficulty of any modern artist, Clement Greenburg rightly observes that since a modern painter, “breaks up the accepted notions upon which must depend … the communication with their audiences, it becomes difficult. [...] artist is no longer able to estimate the response of his audience to the symbols and references with which he works.”

kAmasUtra says, “सा कविता सा वनिता यस्याः श्रवणेन स्पर्शेन च, कवि हृदयं पति हृदयं सरलं तरलं च सत्वर भवति”, that, in short, a poem and a woman are good (for you) if they melt your heart.  But not all poems and not all women can melt all hearts; does it also not depend upon the taste and aesthetic-sense of the perceiver for an art or poem to strike that rasa in his heart?  Indeed as is well said by the medieval Hindi poet Bihari, ” मन की रुचि जेती जितै, तित तेती रुचि होय”, that is, his poems can not be liked by all, only those who have a similar aesthetic-liking (ruchi) in their heart that matches his, would find his poems beautiful (suruchi), and for the others it might even sound repelling (kuruchi), but he appeals to the audience to at least understand if not appreciate what he creates.   So, in the similar vein, the precaution we need in studying Husain’s art is, to only be sympathetic and open and understanding, not judge it only by our personal aesthetic sense nor by the traditional norms and symbols; one may still appreciate or at least understand an art, a poem, even if one does not find it to their liking or taste; this would be the approach of our traditional rasaj~na AchAryas, and this is how let us look at Husain’s works.

So let us start, theme by theme.  As an auspicious beginning, let us start with gaNesha, who seems to have much fascinated Husain and had been his favourite subject on canvas besides his horses.  Following are some of the samples of his gaNesha:

Ganesha

Ganesha

Ganesha

1972:
Ganesha, 1972

1975:

Ganesha, 1975

Early 80s:
Ganesha on Mridanga, 80s

From 1984:

Ganesha, 1984

From 1993:

Ganesha, 1993

From 1998:

Ganesha writing Mahabharata, 1998

And in 1997, on the eve of the 50th Indian Independence day, It is gaNesha whom Husain invited on a symbolic tricolour:

Ganesha on Tricolour, 1997

Above are only some samples. There are hundreds (literally) of his colourful paintings and sketches and drawings devoted to gaNesha alone, and a lot more where gaNesha shares canvas with some other central themes.  None of his gaNesha depictions seemed offending to our eyes even by any stretch.  In fact we also read an interview, where he says he would begin any major painting by first drawing a gaNesha on the canvas, as an auspicious beginning.  In some paintings of Husain, indeed gaNesha is just present lurking in some corner although themes are entirely different.  Let us remember this fascination of Husain for gaNesha for we shall again refer to this later.

Let us now look at his depiction of the other Hindu deities.

Besides a painting of shiva-pArvatI from 1970s that has been included in the list of “offending”, we could see how Husain has depicted mahAdeva and gaurI on multiple occasions in a variety of styles, and still quite respectfully.  Indeed Husain’s first major foray into depiction of Hindu deities started with his painting in early 1960s, titled by him as umA-maheshvara:

Uma Maheshvara 1960

Another of his painting depicting the shiva family from the same decade:

Shiva, Parvati and Ganesh 60s

Both of the above are aesthetically quite pleasing.

In this watercolour showing a street of Hyderabad in 70s, notice his depiction of umA-maheshvara on a film poster:

Shiva-Parvati on a cinema poster

He again revisited umA-maheshvara in 70s in this one:

Uma Maheshvara

Below is his expression of ardha-nArIshvara form of umA-maheshvarau:

Ardha Narishvara

In the following watercolour from 1970s, he depicts shiva is in a female naTinI form, playing mR^ida~Nga and dancing, with kR^iShNa giving him company on flute:

Le Dieu Shiva Dansant, 70s

That brings us to kR^iShNa, whom too Husain seemed to have quite adored as a subject, and whose depictions on his canvas have quite a strong emotional appeal.  Some samples:

Gopala, 1972:
Gopala, 1972

Gopala

His depiction of Krishna Lila is not at all vulgar or obscene, indeed there is a strong romantic and mysterious appeal:

Same theme in a different style and format:

Krishna Lila, early 1980s:
Krishna Lila, 80s

And look at this quite powerful pArtha-sArathi presentation in the following oil painting:

The Charioteer, 1980s

In the above one should observe Arjuna shown ready to abandon his gANDIva and jump from the chariot (notice the depression on this side of the wheel); bi-colour sun represents the conflict between dharma and adharma; horses pulling in different directions representing confusion.  kR^iShNa, not represented in form but commanding a central presence merely by the symbol;  His tarjanI raised upright with sudarshana, and the famous words emitting in devanAgarI. Also do notice another fine point in the above. Because the width of the painting did not allow Husain to place kR^iShNa in the exact center of the painting geometrically, so he finds an artistic way to do it visually. He deliberately paints a different and paler background on the left side, so that kR^iShNa optically becomes the exact center of his painting.

There is another Husain painting on pArtha-sArathi theme, which is considered offending by some.  Here it is, though we could not locate a higher resolution version:

One must carefully digest what the painter is depicting in the above.  What he has used in the above is an idiomic Expressionist Morphism, using which he sends kR^iShNa to the background, like in the previous one, to participate in the theme symbolically, through a large dark palm making an upadesha-mudrA. Arjuna likewise in background with his bow is morphing into a figure in the foreground. This figure that dominates the foreground is of George Washington with the old version of American flag, leading the revolution and war for American Independence.  The foreground is merely to lend the symbols and idiom to the real message which is embedded in the background.  Here Husain is trying to portray the war of mahAbhArata as a revolution, a war of independence, of national political integration, and its hero, kR^iShNa, as a Revolutionary, a Warrior, a visionary Leader, and indeed the Founding Father to India as Washington is to the American nation.

Is that not the message of mahAbhArata?  One who feels offended by this painting, we must say, has either little understanding  of the epic, or can not appreciate such an obvious messages of this modern art, or more likely both.

There are plenty of paintings where Husain depicts kR^iShNa, and to our eyes all of them are quite pleasing, even emotional, and powerful.   There are some paintings where a Mother Teresa like figure is shown tendering to boy-kR^iShNa.   In Husain’s visual grammar, as we noticed how he utilizes Washington’s attributes to say something about kR^iShNa, likewise in depicting mother, he uses the symbol of a white dhoti with blue border, iconic of Mother  Teresa, borrowing the symbol of generic motherhood.  Rather than getting offended, we must first understand the painter’s methods.

While on mahAbhArata, following is Husain’s “Bhishma, or the 10th Day on Kurukshetra”, a watercolour on paper, from 1980s, depicting the grandsire:

Bhishma or the 10th Day

In above too, notice the powerful usage of symbols.  Half Sun, showing the wait of the pitAmaha for the uttarAyaNa; ten window panes, depicting the count of days; and a raised distorted point of illumination raised above the chest, depicting his will over death.  Again a powerful depiction to our senses.

Then look at the following collagesque depiction on mahAbhArata themes:

Now devI-s.

What most people seem to have missed noticing is that after the understandably offending paintings, Husain had once again painted the same devI-s in a way that could not have offended any sane minded Hindu, or so we think; and could there be any better way for a painter to make a statement?

Also, those offending ones are not the only depictions of devI-s by Husain.   Let us look at some.

This is a 2001 oil on canvas, depicting pArvatI as a mahArAShTrIya woman with a little gaNesha in her lap.  This reminded us to the choLa sculptures which often depict her as a typical draviDa housewife carrying a tiny (and truant) gaNesha in one arm while managing ShaNmukha with the other.

Parvati with Ganesh, 2001

This one is different in style but similar in sense:

Uma, 1979

Following are his depictions of sarasvatI, already in mid 90s when there were no protests yet:

Sarasvati

Above is the image of a modern Indian woman, her face, and the confidence that emits through her pose, are all very modern; and yet, she is dressed up in an entirely Indian dress, modern but distinctly Indian.  And the painter also shows, symbolically by the flute and the music notes, how the traditional functions and duties of hers she does not abdicate.

This is Husain’s Sarasvati.  You may like it, you may dislike it, but there is no disrespect here; indeed it shows only reverence of the painter; and indeed a way of Husain praying to sarasvatI for herself leading the modernization of Arts. Do not miss the symbolism of her lifting the Sun by her right arm, bringing a new dawn; and he is showing how easy it is for her to do, she is not even glancing towards it.  And also notice another message: which type of modernization is Husain asking for sarsvatI to bring about?  He is not asking sarasvatI to abandon vINA and take up Sitar or Guitar, he still wants her to only play vINA, but just that she now takes up the help of new techniques, new technology: she can print her favourite musical notes on paper!  That the forms should be new, looks might be new, technique also new, but the essence continuing to be what has eternally been in the Hindu sphere: vINA remains!

This reminds us of the famous prayer to sarasvatI by Shri Suryakant Tripathi ‘Nirala’, a modernist Hindi poet, who is asking sarasvatI to make everything anew, only the old vINA remains and she remains:

“नव गति नव लय, ताल छ्न्द नव,
नवल कण्ठ नव जलद मन्द रव
नवनभ के नव विहगवृन्द को,
नव पर, नव स्वर दे
वर दे, वीणा-वादिनि, वर दे!
प्रिय स्वतंत्र रव अमृत मंत्र नव भारत मे भर दे!”

[New Rhythms, New Tunes, New Beats, Meters New
New voices, New clouds of imagination, Melodies New,
New Chirping and New Feathers to the New Birds on a Horizon New,
So Bless O Player of Vina, Bless that -
With a Nectar of Newness, is filled anew my Beloved Bharat independent New!]

We are with M F Husain in the prayer.

sarasvatI on vINA

Following is his ‘Sita and the Golden Deer’, from 1991:

Sita with Golden Deer 91

Some three depictions of his Hanuman have caused much protests, and understandably so, but let us also look at his other depictions of Hanuman  and see them from the eyes of how a modern painter would have looked at the subject.

Hanuman

Giridhara Hanuman

Hanuman

Hanuman

Hanuman

vAnara

This above one has also caused some offense as “Hanuman” is shown in such a disgraceful posture.  But this is how we read it.  First off, one must understnad that the scene is depicting the vAnara-s bringing stones for the setu-bandhana.  The watercolour above, depicts not hanumAna but a vAnara (do observe the differences in form, colour, etc.), plucking a huge rock from its base, lifting it up and placing on his left shoulder.  We do not see any offense meant in this.

The below watercolour is Husain’s depiction of a Hanuman shrine with female figures performing their devotion:

Hanuman panj Bajrang

This below painting has also been considered offensive my some people:

Hanuman

But those who consider the above offensive do not observe the message of it.  Here we see a male figure and a female, making a vartula, which is rotating in a whirl with a small Hanuman in its center.  The vartula of male and female would easily remind one of the famous Chinese dvaita motif of Yin and Yang.  The yang on top, that is the well-formed muscular body, and yin, the female on the bottom.  What the painter shows here is the make up and conception of Hanuman, which is why Hanuman is being shown in his infancy; on one side you have the powerful masculine side of his, he is vajra~Nga after all, but on the other side, equally dominant feminine qualities of Hanuman, that is, his devotion, service, sublimity and wisdom; both sides combining to make the concept of what Hanuman is.  That is how we read this modern painting.

Below is a painting of his, which he titled as “Vedic”, collagesque depiction of the Hindu religious traditions.

Vedic

Let us now explore an important attribute of Husain’s grammar, his attitude towards and depiction of Brahmins. After all he is accused of having insulted Hindus by showing a naked Brahmin together with a fully clothed Sultan; so let us try to understand that painting by first going through Husain’s other portrayals of brAhmaNas.

This one is entitled ‘Brahmin'; it is from 1980s:

Brahmin, 1980s

In the above, do observe the aesthetic sense behind the abstract. Husain depicts a mere head as the brahmin, quite like the vaidika imagery of brAhmaNa being the shira of the cosmic puruSha. Center of the painting, locationally and visually, is at the base of the nose with brightness flowing upwards from Aj~nA illuminating the tall forehead. The eyes are silent and content yet commanding, lips are thin but not sensuous, face is lean without luxurious cheeks; it can easily remind a traditional Hindu of a virtuous sadAchArin brAhmaNa.  Then do not miss at the bottom, an almost straight, thick line, in same colour that dominates the face, cutting across the width of the base, and on this line the brAhmaNa rests.   By this line, Husain is trying to depict a boundary, which represents the maryAdA, the borders and code of conduct that a Brahmin can not cross, which governs the entire life of a Brahmin; and that is why this line is the very base on which the whole existence of the Brahmin rests, if the line goes, the Brahmana falls!

What a powerful Art!!  mahAkavi bhAsa would have said, as he does in his drama dUtavAkyam, “अहो अस्य वर्णाढ्यता, अहो भावोपपन्नता, अहो युक्तलेखता, अहो दर्शनीयोयम चित्रपटम!”

A very powerful portrayal of the abstract concept of brAhmaNa is what we find painted by Husain here.  One who can not demystify this one and has been calling him a blasphemer is himself one and must apologize to Husain!  This is one of the best we have seen!

This another one is from late 80s, an untitled watercolour on paper, depicting a brAhmaNa playing on a vInA:

Brahmin playing on Veena

This indeed is a very powerful painting we should say.  The halo, the tilt of head, the tanmayatA, the light over darkness!

Another depiction of a Brahmin playing vINA, an abstract from 1998:

Vina Playing Brahmin

The above is quite powerful if one understands the context and Husain’s grammar.  This one he had painted after attending a music concert by vocalist Maestro paNDita Bhimsen Joshi.  The photo-frame is Husain’s symbol to represent the continuation of a past reality into the present, and one can easily understand how.  There are two faces of the brAhmaNa, one facing frontally in the picture and playing the vINA, represents the old, the other face, turned to the right but with open lips represents the modified continuity of the same body into present.  The vINA and the peacock, in symbol representing sarasvatI’s kalA, permeate across the two levels.

In 1970s, Husain had gone to attend a vaidika atirAtra in kerala.  This below is his modernist portrayal of the homa, which he titles, “Performance of Fire”.

Performance of Fire

In the above abstract, the sacred Fire is represented simply by the well-understood male-motif of Hindu iconography, an up-pointing triangle.  Notice the banner on which Fire is represented has the geometrical steps, and the banner itself stands for the yaj~nashAlA.  Man and woman holding up the banner are the yajamAna, who have carried this Fire (from their home), signifying how it is done and that is how it should be.  The brAhmaNa shown playing on mR^idaMga represents the singing of vaidika uchchAra.  The masked kathakalI dancer in the left background, stands for the elaborate rejoicing and fanfare that surrounds the phenomenon.  Also observe that Husain signs his name on the top right, not in his usual devanAgarI nor English, but in Malayalam, which is, in our eyes, Husain’s tribute to kerala for its exclusive contribution of continuing the ritual.

This one below is Husain’s expression to a traditional Tamil Brahmin household in contemporary times:

Tamil Brahmin

Now let us look at some more where Husain depicts a Brahmin in social contexts, which will also tell us about what Husain thought of the social role of the brAhmaNa.

Brahmana education

The above darkish watercolour on paper is also from the same period.  There are multiple human figures, however the central and imposing figure is of a brAhmaNa.  This brAhmaNa is the only figure which besides being central and the largest, is given a chair to sit on, and reads from a news paper.   All other figures, a woman with specs with back turned to us, a fisherman leaning on a coconut tree, some tribals, and other figures in the background, are all reading a newspaper too.   The message of the painting is the spread of knowledge, education, culture all round the nation to all sections, and alludes to the central role of brAhmaNa for it.  It is only temporally situated in a malayalIya landscape as Husain had painted it when it was announced that Kerala had achieved 100% literacy.  It tells us how Husain viewed the brAhmaNa-s.

With the above themes in mind let us now look at another one in which Husain positions Brahmins in a social context.  This below was created by Husain in 1981, using it would seem ink pen and sketch on paper, and has been left untitled:

brahmins, 1981

This is very interesting, and may even seem somewhat intriguing if we do not understand Husain’s concepts and symbols, which we hope we understand to some degree by now.  In the above, we see a Brahmin being in the exact center of the sketch with a lady seated by his left, who is neatly dressed up in a traditional Hindu attire, sari, bangles, ma~Ngala-sUtra, bindi, and veNI in her hair;  she is holding up in her raised left arm a plate with flower-ornaments, which are apparently for the deities, for that is why the plate is raised high up.   On the left, we notice a distorted and convoluted wheel in the background, with exactly twenty-four spikes, by which our painter seems to be representing the cycle of time, the kAla-chakra.  Exactly from the center of this time-wheel has, as if emerged all of a sudden, this other lady looking like a Hollywood animation character, wearing western dress, boots, mini shorts, a fancy hat and a face mask.   Her posture is threatening and aggressive, and has in her right arm a pistol, pointed at the Brahmin couple.  The Brahmin has his right arm raised defensively, as if in protection for his wife.  The face of Brahmin lady itself only shows shock and astonishment.  The Brahmin’s face is turned towards the western lady and his neck bent in a vulnerable way.

The temporal meanings aside, the real message of Husain from the above is very easily discernible and displays Husain’s take on the conflict of westernization with our traditional ethos and way of life.   Do observe also, that Husain signs his name on the left bottom, not in his usual Devanagari but in Tamil, which too says something.   Hope the readers will have enough imagination to appreciate what Husain is saying.

So we have seen in all the above portrayals of Brahmin by Husain, how for him, Brahmin does not merely stand for a “Brahmin” alone, but represents on his canvas the ancient Hindu culture and civilization, knowledge, tradition, higher intellect, and nobleness.  In the last one, that is what is under invasion by the aggressive cultural enemy, is what he is saying.

With this component of Husain’s visual grammar in mind, along with his respectful attitude that we have seen towards the Brahmin, let us again look at this supposedly anti-Hindu and insulting painting of his:

Brahmin and Sultan

We now know already, how Brahmin stands for the Hindu civilization; it does not take a poets imagination to see that the naked is also an attribute of the vulnerability.  Then we have an aggressive Sultan of threatening appearance, of almost equal in size to that of the naked Brahmin, but now edging beyond him.  Dominant object on the canvas is a large sword in his right grip, and the Sultan almost ready to attack.  And worst of all, the Brahmin, that is the Hindu civilization, is looking the other way, ignorantly.

Must it be explained in words what Shri M F Husain is visually depicting?  Indeed like the brAhmaNa figure in the painting, one must have his eyes turned the other way, or one must be blind by imagination, to not understand what the painting is so openly telling us.   Also, it is not without a reason that our painter has left this painting untitled, to keep it vague, and let only those of his audiences understand it who know how to understand it.  But how blind the Hindus are!

While at it, let us also look again at Husain’s supposedly insulting painting of Bharatamata.  She is shown in this like a vulnerable mother with ghungharu tied on her feet and she is being charged at by mad bulls, and the painting is torn from the middle in two pieces upside down.  This one Husain had painted day after the Ghazi attack on Mumbai, and had titled “Rape of India”.  One who can not understand the anguish of the painter in it and rather takes it as insult to Bharatmata, has little understanding of art.

rape-of-india

While the above painting shows the painter’s anguish, the below, which Husain had painted in 1971 after India had crushed Pakistan in the Bangladesh war, easily has, to our eyes, a sense of jubilation:

The March of Durga, 1971

In the above, some had felt he had depicted Indira Gandhi as Durga, which is possible, and is not out of the ordinary when Shri M S Golwalkar and Vajpayee had also mentioned Indira Gandhi in a similar vein.  (Also, let us mention here, at the cost of diversion, that the same liberals who were damning the Hindus for feeling offended, in the recent years, had their liberal predecessors themselves expressing outrage at Husain’s naked portrayal of Indira Gandhi, and as Durga.  They would do well to read up the archives.)

Now let us look at another social context on Husain’s canvas. This below is another untitled acrylic on canvas, from 2002:

Untitled (Meera)

Let us first observe the background. We see two full and two partial female figures as if struggling and climbing on a rock.  The female figures are of distinct Indian bodies, brown skin to highlight their Indianness.  On the foreground is the dominating figure, that is of Mira, beautifully poised, emitting sure confidence and purity. She is tilted towards these climbing figures, as if watching over them as a guardian.  With her left arm she is playing her iconic ektara while at the same time, in a very feminine way, holding her upper dress, in a very India-like feminine sense.   Her right palm is raised in abhaya-mudrA saying ‘fear not’, and the direction of her palm is such that tarjanI, the index finger, is pointing straight towards the moon, as if encouraging the climbing females to such heights.   This is M F Husain’s message to the Indian feminists: Mira, not ‘burn-the-bra’, represents the Indian women’s aspiration for progress.  We find it very powerful and meaningful painting.

In 1989, Husain painted the following painting, entitled “Fallen Bicycles of Tiananmen”, while the Indian lefty worthies were busy justifying the massacre of students by China.

FALLEN Bicycles of TIANANMEN

In the aftermath of the Delhi anti-Sikh riots, he painted “Guru Gobind” in solidarity with the Sikhs:

Guru Govind

In tribute to Lokmanya B G Tilak, Husain painted “Svarajya”, which was adopetd as a postal stamp.  In this he displays Tilak as the most prominant figure of the struggle for Swarajya, etching his famous words in Devanagari.  Also notice the Lion figure behind Tilak.  This is Husain’s way of giving the honor to the ‘Bharata Kesari’, that Tilak was.

swarajya

Below are some of his depiction to Hindu festivals, landscapes and so on:

Holi, 1960s:

Holi, 1960s

The landscapes of Varanasi, 1980s

Varanasi

Benares

In the end, having heard Husain in his own words both verbal and visual, we don’t think he was either a pervert or an anti-Hindu.  We do have now a new-found respect for his art, in our eyes he was a good artist, who did have a connection with the Hindu roots.

What about those paintings of his, one might ask, which are quite offending?  We shall say, those are certainly offending, particularly three of those paintings, one each of Sarasvati, durgA, and lakShamI, and then one or two more; but we shall quickly add, it was clearly not the painter’s intention to hurt or offend, nor was he a pervert nor a jehadi.  We also think that those paintings do not define who he was, rather his hundreds of the other good ones do.  What is more, looking at those paintings of his in the new light and through the eyes of the Hindu art, we can now understand how and why he painted those and gone astray there.  We shall try to explore that aspect from the perspective of the Hindu chitra-shAsta, hopefully sometime in a subsequent post.

This below is his final self-portrait that is available. It seems he saw himself as a chitrakAra perhaps of the Gupta era or bhojadeva era, only with a brush that is modern rather than the old one (usually made of the hair of male calf from behind his ears and bamboo shoot). Notice a subtle photo frame like presentation with two vertical lines and which he is coming out of. This is his self-image. He perhaps felt like a traditional Hindu artist from the golden eras of Hindu art, who has stepped into the times that are ahead of us, thus taking the old tradition to the new times.

We wish that the Atman of Shri M F Husain, a much misunderstood artist, would fulfill its desires, and find happiness, evolution, peace.  ॐ शम.

Continues to Part 2 here.

Self Portrait

June 2, 2011

homarIyam :-)

by Sarvesh K Tiwari

आदिपर्व :  अखिल्युस-कोप

अखिल्युस क्रोश कराल!  देवि, प्रवच अधुना सलय,
गाथा अमिट अकाल, रौद्र यवन दुर्धर्ष की!
रोषि असीम अथाह!  प्रेषित अगणित वीरगति,
श्वान-गृद्ध प्रति ग्रास, हन्ति अनेक रणिष्णु जिन!
नियति यथा विधाय, देव-प्रवर द्यौ-पितृ यत!

अविकल सकल सुमानसी, अथ तव अब आख्यान!
भिडे यदा योद्धा युगल, किम निमित्त केहि मान,
अखिल्युस अमोघ पल्युस तनय, अत्रेय आगमम्नान?

Adiparva: “akhilyusa-kopa”

akhilyusa krosha karAla! devi, pravacha adhunA salaya,
gAthA amiTa akAla, raudra yavana durdharSha kI!
roShi asIma athAha! preShita agaNita vIragati,
shvAna-gR^iddha prati grAsa, hanti aneka raNiShNu jina!
niyati yathA vidhAya, deva-pravara dyau-pitR^i yat!

avikala sakala sumAnasI, atha tava aba AkhyAna!
bhiDe yadA yoddhA yugala, kim nimitta kehi mAna,
akhilyusa amogha palyusa tanaya, Atreya AgamamnAna?

(feedback welcome)

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May 23, 2011

Confessions of bANabhaTTa 3

by Sarvesh K Tiwari

Continues from

ambe bhAratI!  sarasvatI!!  Do thou nourish forever all that is worthy and noble and do thou squelch always the ignorance and poverty from the minds of those that knowest thee not as surely as from the minds of those that seekest thee!  May thy swift channels flow on forever, O Mother, with hundreds of ever-fresh spills and glacial streams guided by varuNa running to thy clasp, and may these banks continue to provide in abundance and till eternities, as they have since hoary past, the courage and inspiration for higher quests that set one free from the three bondages mundane!  All the four varNa-s are but thy santati entreating thee alone for blessings O Mother most magnanimous!  For, thy one bountiful glance might turn, if thou will, like petty pebbles into chintA-maNi, the ordinary minds into a kAlidAsa or a kAtyAyana, a pANini or a pata~njali, a dvaipAyana or a saumilla, a vAlmIki or a bR^ihaspati, a kauTilya or a kaNAd, a jaiminI or a janaka; then do thou bless ambe, bless all thy children!

In the first muhUrta of uShA we performed our sandhyA on the stepped banks of sarasvatI, which flows through the outskirts of sthANvIshvara, though she is here called ‘oghA’ by the local folks.  (It is later that we learnt, going through the great itihAsa, that this name was not uncommon even in the long bygone days.)

We had spent the night, not an uneventful one, at one of the Ashraya-s in the vicinity.  The place was overcrowded, bustling mostly with the pilgrims who had come hither from faraway janapada-s en route to the celebrated mahA-pITha of kArttikeya at rohitaka, or to the famed shrine of Aditya at mUlasthAna, and some to the siddha pITha of vaiShNavI.  Most pilgrims stop over to perform their devotions on the banks of sarasvatI at sthANvIshvara, a pilgim center in its own right.

Then there was also a party of the mukta-kachcHa-s transiting from, as we learnt, the frontier chaitya-s of kubhA-gandhAra to the vihAra-s of kushInagara.  Some of these muNDaka-s were also chIna-s who spoke in otherwise chaste saMskR^ita, albeit to our amusement, with a strange boisterous nasal accent.

We had retired to the corner bed under the covered wooden yard that the one-eyed elderly gurjara boniface of the inn had given us.  No sooner had the hustle of the sweet-sellers and milkmen settled down, neither our contemplations about the future course nor the atrocious mosquitoes could prevent us from quickly slipping into slumber, exhausted and spent as we were.

But hardly a prahara must have passed that we were roused from our sleep by uncertain hushed voices which sounded like sobs and gasps.  We sat up and straining our eyes in the dimly shade of the corner lamp, looked at the secluded beds to our right, and found that a man was sitting up with the head of another in his lap, the latter babbling in sunken voice.  Going towards them we asked whether there was any matter.

But the matter was evident to us as we went closer.  Even in the dim light, we could see the face of the young man lit up with a burning jvara, his pale eyes turned upwards.  We asked the older man whether we might take a look, and not waiting for the answer, reached out for the oil lamp bringing it closer to the man.

During our endless toils of wandering life, we had also spent over a year at kA~nchIpura in the draviDa country, serving under a rasa-vaidya and training with him.  While we could not pursue that line and had to leave kA~nchIpura due to certain embarrassing reasons that are better left out of these leafs, we had learnt enough of basics and always carried a small peTikA of OShadhi-s for own use.

The menacingly high santApa with trembling shivers, delirious speech and shrinking nADI-gati, blackening lips and turning pale eyes, and as we opened the leather vest of the patient, reddish koTha patches all over his chest and abdominal desha: this surely was no ordinary prAkR^ita jvara nor doShaja jvara, we suspected this seemed like a gambhIra caused by some toxin.  Unless he was quickly attended by an Agad-pravINa vaidya, the patient had little hopes, we candidly told the companion of the suffering man.  But whence could a vaidya be fetched at this midnight hour in an unknown country?

Not until the morning, grimly told the one-eyed gurjara innkeeper who was now at the bedside.  Though, after another prahara he could arrange to take the patient to chAruSheNa sharman, a renowned chikitsaka.  If the patient survived the night, that was, which to us seemed uncertain looking at his sinking breaths.

We hesitated, and then reluctantly told the older man that while we were no practicing expert, we were still trained in medicine and knew the OShadhi-s that might help the patient a bit, and if he so consented we could attempt at reviving the patient until the care of a proper chikitsaka was arranged.  kiM-kartavya-vimUDha, the man looked at us helplessly, then slowly nodded.

We asked the elderly gurjara to fetch some curd, dhR^ita, and saktU preferably of barley, and then for a brief moment remembering the AchArya who had taught us, set out to prepare a yavAgu with suitable OShadhi-s: pR^iShNiparNI, bilvamUla, trAyamANa-phalAdi that we had in our possession, while sorely missing the others that we knew were required but we had not.  For a moment we considered whether emesis through vamana should be first attempted, but then remembered the counter-indication in the saMhitA in case the toxins had gone beyond the stomach, and decided against it.  With an atharvan mantra on our lips we administered the first oral dose to the patient, and applied paippalAdi mixed with dhR^ita on his upper limbs, uttering a kaumAra mantra that we had received from our teacher.

After a few ghaDI-s of thus treating, by the grace of our learned AchArya, and certainly because the patient had more life destined to him, he showed improvement.  While the fever was still high, we observed perspiration of sveda, stabilising breathing and improving nADI-gati.  We then administered another dose and now had to wait until the gurjara could arrange the patient to be taken to the vaidya at the dawn.

The grateful older gentleman opened up to us, and as we sat observing the patient, he told us that they were sons of a merchant from kAshI, and had led a sArtha of a five-hundred shakaTa-s laden with various merchandise to bAlkha and pArasIka countries.  Having done their business there, they had gone further west towards the metropolis of bhagadAda to buy merchandise for import, as they had done several times in the past.  But not this time.  This time they returned plundered and desolate, thankful for their lives.  There was some devilry in the making, told the merchant.  “How could the pArasIka armies be defeated in their own backyard, not by the yavana-romakau but barbara desert-dwelling aravaka-s!”

“And why not?”, joined the gurjara, “have you forgotten the invasion of the hUNa-s only two decades back at our own frontiers?  Had it not been for mahArAjAdhirAja prabhAkara vardhana’s visionary policy, the barbara hUNa-s would have overrun even sthANvIshvara!”

The gurjara had in his youth, we learnt, served the different armies as a soldier, sometimes under the uttara-gupta-s, the other times under the vardhana or maukharI-s, and had seen action when the joint armies of different mahAsAmanta-s  had marched under the generalissimo of prabhAkara vardhana, the father of harShadeva, to flush out white hUNa-s some years back.  We did remember those events from what we used to hear in our childhood.

“And now”, continued the gurjara, “you would not even imagine the different desha-s under now independent mahA-sAmanta-s, ever joining forces to replulse an external invasion leaving that duty to be faced only by those on the front!”, then spitting the tAmbUla, “Why, see the treachery of gauDa-naresha narendra gupta, who now takes the title of shashA~Nka!  See the treachery of maukhAri mAlava-naresha, who has stabbed the vardhana-s in the back!  Can you even imagine these petty minded mahAsAmanta-s ever rising above their selfish ends!  May shiva only protect us from any barbara invasions at the moment!”, then lowering his voice, “Why, let me tell you, I am even suspicious of all these chIna-s now making rounds to our country here”, throwing a glance in the general direction of the chIna muNDaka-s, “who could say how many of these are spies!”

The gurjara was referring to a recent stratagem by which the va~Nga naresha shashA~Nka had deceptively gotten rAjyavardhana, the elder brother of harShadeva, assassinated only a few months back.  The prince whose nAmakaraNa was celebrated yesterday, was a posthumous son of rAjyavardhana.

Our mind was not in the talk, as our attention was focused on the patient, who was now showing definite improvement.  We were relieved as the sky began becoming gradually illuminated and the gurjara rose to arrange for a shakaTa to take the patient to the professional.  As we took leave from the merchant to bathe and perform our sandhyA, the grateful man thurst something in our palms.

From the river, we were now retreating back towards the rAjapatha with sluggish steps, not sure where we should now go.  We intuitively began following a group of brAhmaNa-s dressed in bright shuklavarNI-s, with bright chandana lepa on their foreheads, which so reminded us of our pitAshrI.

We had hardly proceeded a few paces in the vIthikA that led towards the rAjapatha when we heard a female voice tentatively calling out, ‘bhaTTa?, bhaTTa??’

At first we thought that the lady was perhaps calling someone from the group ahead of us.  But we turned.  Or shall we say that it was our fate that really turned sucking us into a whirlwind of events?

It was nipuNikA who stood before us!

The same mocking smile, the same rebellious pair of eyes, the same defiant posture with the left arm confidently resting at her slim waist.  Had she changed not a bit since we had seen her last in ujjayinI, maybe six or was it seven years back, on the stage in the play of mR^ichChakaTikA, finally playing the part of vasantasenA that night?

[Guess this is where we must stop the atrocity.  With apologies to AchArya Hazari Prasad Dwivedi]

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May 12, 2011

Confessions of bANabhaTTa 2

by Sarvesh K Tiwari

Continues from

Not without a reason do we enumerate each chapter of these pages as an uchcHvAsa, a warm breath let out reluctantly when it became unbearable.  But then who has not his own parcel of misfortunes and baggage of sorrows to bear upon his shoulders as we have on ours?  We entertain no desire of letting the sympathetic reader carry any of our load for us and get encumbered with even a tiny portion of our tragedies; indeed only some pleasing, some wondrous, maybe some curious memories of ours we intend to invite him for partaking from the otherwise worthless story of our life; and in this if we occasionally slip, the reader of these leafs must be generous in pardoning his narrator.

The memory of that fortunate day is still quite vivid in our now otherwise hazy mind, when wandering all over bhAratavarSha without any planned itinerary or constant fellow travellers, from one wonderful country to the next, yesterday in that janapada and today in this, picking a trick or two here or learning a trade there, at one time serving trifles of a tyrant danseuse and at other time assisting a kind-hearted merchant, now painted in face like a wandering kAlamukha from karNATa country and now dressed for pretending to be a paurANika reteller from va~Nga, thus in summary flying like a fallen leaf whither the wind of fate might carry it, we had found ourselves on the outskirts of the famed metropolis of sthANvIshvara, also called thAnesara in prAkR^ita tongue.

And no mean welcome waited upon us!  As we climbed up the sprawling rAjapatha which seemed from a distance raised like the back of the massive turtles that we had seen on the sea shores of the utkala country, the city seemed to us to be bustling with some celebration, the pleasing hum of, as it seemed, hundreds of mR^ida~Nga-s and bherI-s coming to us from afar but steadily growing with our hypnotic eager pace.

A grand procession it was, and colourful.  As far as one’s glance could reach from behind the shoulders of the tall onlookers, (we must say that the men of this country are quite tall), one’s eyes only met as if a tide of beautifully clad pretty ladies slowly marching, dancingly and playfully.   So large was the entourage itself of these women that surrounded the tall royal shivikA-s carrying the royal family, that you could not get even a distant glance at the royals.  From far if the beats of mR^ida~Nga-s and bherI-s incited you, here they were subdued by the rhythmic and teasing symphony that their peers made: paTaha, kAhala, veNu, shaMkha, vINA and who knows how many other instruments which I would not even be able to name!

The colourfully dressed women marching, would raise their arms and in perfect synchrony make them subtly fall, and as they did that their bejewelled bangles and  heavy anklets with countless tiny bells would raise such a magical rattle that stood out even in that riot of sounds!  The movement of their palms coming down was so delicate as if they seemed to be plucking some AkAsha-kusuma-s from a galaxy!  Nay, to us they themselves seemed like some divine flowers fallen down from the suraloka, for they would laughingly also throw in air, now and then, sweet smelling colours, which mixed with their perspiration had so painted their faces and bodies!  The locks of their hair had all become pink and yellow and green!

Then there was in the front a large troupe of dancers, ever smiling through their beautiful faces and singing in their melodious voice.  When they turned and paused on beats in striking graceful poses, we still remember how their tall kesha-latA would curl up to embrace them and gently stroke past their breasts like an expert lover!  To the then young heart of ours these martyaloka-apsarA-s seemed like skillful and confident generals of an invading army marching under madanadeva himself who had set out on conquering some distant lands!

But we later learnt from a fellow onlooker, a curd seller, that the procession was to go towards the mArttaNDa temple.   mahArAjAdhirAja shrI harShavardhana deva had been blessed with a nephew, and on that day was to be held the nAmakaraNa saMskAra of the infant.

Ah! blessed be the prince, we prayed in our heart!  At least there was someone whose birth was so celebrated with delight.  We were reminded of our own childhood, spent without the love and care of a mother and as a burden to our karmavIra father, who had heavier duties to detain him from smiling at his boy, smelling his hair or kissing his forehead.  And still, we did not complain, nor do we today, for whatever little was noble or good in us, it is because of the kR^ititva and blessings of our aged pitAshrI, who left us alone and orphaned when we were thirteen or fourteen.

Even in this Ananda-kolAhala, our heart shed a tear silently.  We looked skywards, and thought our pitR^i-pitAmaha-gaNa were also crying with us: where our ‘yashoMshu-shuklI-kR^ita-saptaviShTara’ vaMsha, and where this tail-less, run-away, unfortunate baNDa, whose worth was less than that even of the leash with which he was tied!  O dhariNIdevI, our heart ached, would you not give us escape and let this unfortunate child of yours hide in your bosom?

(based on the immortal novel by AchArya Hazari Prasad Dwivedi)

Continues to

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