Archive for ‘Commentary’

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.

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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

April 30, 2011

Brave Hindus of Bali, a 1963 Photo Feature from Dharma Yuga

by Sarvesh K Tiwari

“kAla-jayI pUjA of mahAkAla: A Thrilling Photo Feature from Indonesia”

Under the clear blue skies of Bali, we were sitting on the broken steps of an ancient village temple of Ubud, when my companion, Ida Bagus Sudharma, renowned photo-journalist from Indonesia, narrated to me this thrilling and shocking tale of bravery. Of how, in the Phalguna of 1963 lakhs of Shiva-Bhaktas of Bali, Java and Sumatra, had gathered in the complex of Besakih Shiva Temple, to observe Ekadasha Rudra Parva ritual that is here only performed once in a hundred years; and how just two weeks before the ritual, the Mount Agung volcano, the largest active volcano of Bali, on the very slope of which the temple is located, had erupted, emitting terrible smoke and river of lava, threatening all-round destruction. And how, in face of such imminent calamity, brave Hindus of Bali stayed committed to properly performing the centennial ritual to mahA-kAla and only on the proper muhUrta assigned, come what may. And they indeed evacuated only after having acomplished the feat, to continue unbroken the tradition from several centuries.

Of the havoc wrought by the earthquake and volcanic eruption, news were published in papers all over the world, including some sparse coverage by Indian media too. But in Bharata, the abode of Shiva, who had ever heard of this unique tale of steadfast faith and unwavering bravery; unique indeed it must be in the annals of courage and of dharma!

But thanks to the Balinese photo-journalist Shri Ida Bagus Sudharma’s camera, a courageous witness to those events, Dharma Yuga presents that audacious tale of faith for the first time. — Dharma Veer Bharati.

One would scarce believe that the Times of India group once used to publish such magazines as ‘Dharma Yuga’ edited by legendary author Shri Dharmaveer Bharati (an important contributor to the neo-Renaissance movement in Hindi led by Shri Harivansha Rai Bachchan and Shri Sumitra Nandan Pant); a magazine which for over two decades had the claim to be the largest circulated fortnightly in any language world-wide. And who could also believe that it was this Times management which had conceived and initiated the Gyanapeeth Samman, to recognize and reward one literary personality every year for contribution to the wealth of any Indic language, including saMskR^ita. It is sad that with the change of hands in the 90s, the new Times of India management, hostile to dharma and saMskR^iti, closed down all these vernacular ventures including Dharma Yuga, Dinamaan, Sarika, Parag, and many others, which indeed used to be successful portals of cultural revival.

Well, in the same chest of old periodicals that we had earlier discovered from our ancestral place, we were amazed and delighted to stumble upon this one leaf from a 1960s issue of now defunct Dharma Yuga magazine, plucked aside to preserve it for future (likely by our pitAshrI but he does not remember it, so possibly by pitAmaha).  Wish we were a kavI to be able to describe our feelings when we discovered this blessing from our pitR^is…

It is a Photo Feature narrating a story of audacious bravery and defiance displayed by the courageous Hindus of Bali, when they dared their life in middle of a volcano eruption but did not shrink from keeping the millennia-old tradition of centennial ritual worship at the famous Shiva temple at Besakih, the kailAsha of Bali.

 

The famous volcanic Mount of Agung in East Bali is called the Kailasha of Bali.  Belief here is that Mahadeva spends the winter months here.  Once in a hundred years is celebrated that rare mahA-yoga when ekAdasha rudra mahApUjA is performed.  And this graha-yoga was to occur in the March of 63, for which the ritual preparations were on for the last two month.  Image above shows the Besakih Temple on the slopes of terrible vocanic Agung .  The three pIThikA-s are dedicated to bramhA, viShNu, and maheshvara.


Devotees carrying a dhenu-shAvaka for viShNu after bathing in sea


The devotees lining up in the Complex for darshana after bathing in the sea. The gathering and mela was spread over miles.


And the sleeping Agung woke up! Eruptions started and tremors were felt. Our journalist captured this image from an aerial survey.


What to do? Whether to evacuate? The purohita-s, managers, eminent devotees gathered to confer about the course of action in light of the danger.  But in a single voice, it was unanimously decided that come what may, the mahApUjA would be performed with full splendour and observing complete traditions, no matter what.


And then, disregarding the danger, all devotees went back to their duties.  In above image, ladies prepare floral AbhUShaNa-s with which the devatA-s would be adorned.  The bright tADapatra tied to their foreheads announces their cleanliness to perform such duty.


On Feb 18, the landscape was threatening. Agung was vomiting fire and lava. Earth was shattering. Sky was black with smoke.


But unmindful of all this, devotees were preparing for the ritual. A sample of colourful floral decoration with which the temple was decked.


The patAkA-s and masts were raised. Dancers in full traditional dress and preparation, continued to pour into the complex to perform.


And the groups of devotees, unmindful of the danger, continued to pray faithfully, bravely and steadfastly…


On March 17, the burning flood of lava engulfed the entire region, two days after the mahApUjA was accomplished and concluded, and devotees evacuated. (Wiki says, the flood of lava came up to this place, but missed the temple complex merely by few meters.  Overall, 1700 casualties were claimed by the 1963 volcanic eruption.)

 

***   *   ***

A 2010 video tour to this temple complex:

April 19, 2011

Subhas Chandra Bose – Another Look Part 5: The Jehadis of Azad Hind Fauj

by Sarvesh K Tiwari

Continues from
Part-1  (the beginnings) 
Part-2 (the Urdu-phile Secularism)
Part-3 (“Mahasabha is communal”)
Part-4 (“the Holwell Monument”)

The Jehadis of Azad Hind Fauj

When Bose arrived in Germany, Berlin and Rome were the bastions of international pan-Islamists from all over the world.  In the well established Axis policy, support to global Islamists was an important element of geopolitical strategy, primarily to cultivate Jehad against British dominated and controlled Moslem-populated countries including India.  Nazis were hand in gloves with such a wide array of Islamists now gathered and hosted by them as the fanatical Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Amin Al-Huseyni from Palestine, Rashid Ali al-Gilani the ex-Prime Minister of Iraq whose credit was to have abetted the Farhud pogrom against Jews in his country, Shah Amanullah the dethroned Sultan of Afghanistan, pan-Islamist Shakib Arslan of Lebanon, Muslim Brotherhood Jehadists from Egypt, and Bosnian Islamists who massacred the Serbs — all of them, bedfellows of the Nazis as part of the policy of abetting Islamists all over the world.

Before Bose even made an entry in the picture, such Indian Jihadists as the Faqir of Ipi of Waziristan and Inayatullah Khan al-Mashriqi of Punjab, were receiving covert support from the Nazis.  Interestingly, the latter of these, the founder of the Khaksar movement, Inayatullah Mashriqi of Lahore, was the first ever Indian leader whom Hitler had personally met in Berlin, as early as 1926 when Hitler was still a struggling small fry [foot note 1].

In reality, this policy of co-opting Islamists was only a continuation from the pre-Nazi German policy since WWI itself, and was a scholarly studied and researched geopolitical doctrine of how to cultivate Jehad to foment trouble for the British-French [Footnote 2].  It is a telling symbol of this policy that the first masjid ever erected on the German soil, was constructed in 1915 for and by none other than the Mohammedan PoWs of British Indian Army captured during WWI and camped in the Berlin outskirts.  Around WWI already, the German Emperor had financed and propped up such Indian Jehadis as Mawlana Barqatullah Bhopali, who dreamt of an Afghan invasion to India for liberating Hindustan (for Moslems), and from this pious motivation had become a fellow traveler with the Ghadar Party and Hindu-German conspiracy revolutionaries [Foot note 3].

While the same tactical reasoning of WWI days of abetting Jehad world-over was still a prominent component of the Berlin thinking, their collaboration now had a deeper purpose and ideological compatibilities including the shared hatred for the Jews.  In a telegram to the Grand Mufti, Himmler wrote:

“The National Socialist movement of Greater Germany has, since its inception, inscribed upon its flag the fight against the world Jewry. It has therefore followed with particular sympathy the struggle of freedom-loving Arabs, especially in Palestine, against Jewish interlopers. In the recognition of this enemy and of the common struggle against it lies the firm foundation of the natural alliance that exists between the National Socialist Greater Germany and the freedom-loving Muslims of the whole world…”

This Grand Mufti Mohammad Amin al-Husayni, as is common knowledge, was an important lynchpin of Nazi policy towards Moslems all over the world including India.  While Bose would not be deemed important enough by Nazis to even get him an interview with Hitler for almost a year, and even then only once for a brief meeting, Grand Mufti on the other hand was a much sought after personality flying in and out of Hitler’s & Mussolini’s offices and commanding great policy influence.  Grand Mufti was one of the chief interlocutors to deal with Bose.  Bose would often meet and dine with the Grand Mufti and Rashid Ali al-Gilani in trying to impress them with his mission and his plans.  [Foot note 7]

Then too, before Bose appeared in the Axis scheme of things, there was already an Indian Jehadi squatting in Rome for some years under Mussolini’s direct patronage as the India policy man.  This was Mohammad Iqbal Shedai of Sialkot, a pious disciple of the Ali brothers and a staunch pan-Islamist to boot, who had migrated from India under influence of Mawlana Muhammad Ali Jouhar’s fatwa declaring India a dar-ul-harb and calling Moslems to migrate elsewhere.  This Jihadi was declared by Mussolini to be the point man for India policy, and he was already running much of the same operations which Bose would later try to run, including a radio station airing Islamist propaganda in India [Foot note 6], and recruitment of the Indian PoWs.  Shedai’s organization had consisted entirely of the Moslems alone and included among its officials such people as a close relative of the Grand Mufti and an ex-minister of Afghanistan.  Bose had to cooperate (and compete) with Shedai, take his help in setting up his own radio infrastructure, even staff, and retained even the name of Shedai’s organization “Azad Hindustan” with a minor abridgement as “Azad Hind”. [Foot note 4]

Thus, Bose who had since beginning of his career pursued Islamist-placatory policies, if needed any encouragement to go farther in that direction, Berlin gave it to him in abundance.  All these pressures would further force Bose to demonstrate himself as being a fellow traveler of the Islamists, a path not new to him anyways.

To appease the Islamists, he would on one hand continue to criticize the Hindu Mahasabha and Akalis even in Berlin, and on the other, in the initial days, maintain an ambivalent stand about Pakistan.

From a news broadcast on Berlin Radio:

“Speaking over the Radio on Monday, the noted Indian Leader in Berlin, Subhas Chandra Bose … pointed out that the majority of the Muslims, except those in the Muslim League, had joined the Congress and fighting side by side their Hindu brethren for the emancipation of India.  He condemned the Hindu Mahasabha and the Akali Sikh leaders for their selfish policy of ignoring the national cause and for trying to secure power and influence for themselves.  He assured Mr. Jinnah that his Pakistan scheme will never materialize so long as the British were in India. He emphasized that Pakistan could be created only under a national government.” [Foot note 8]

Notice above, that Bose does not lash out at the concept of Pakistan itself, but only that Jinnah should postpone it until after the exit of the British.  This was his stand in 1942, and then, even after that period in Berlin days, his criticism to Pakistan would remain limited to (mistakenly) claiming that Pakistan idea did not have a majority Indian Muslim support, or that it was a wile ploy of the British.  As though, if proven that the majority Indian Moslem opinion was indeed in support of Pakistan (as the upcoming assembly elections showed), the idea became legitimate or acceptable to him!

On 26 January 1943, Bose organized a celebration of Indian Independence Day in a Berlin hotel, attended by about four or five hundred people, mostly Indian diaspora, students, and Axis diplomats.  The Chief Guests carefully chosen for the function by Bose were none other than the bigoted pan-Islamists: the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Amin Al-Huseyni and Rashid Ali al-Gilani the ex Prime Minister of Iraq.  Subhas Bose led the proceedings, dressed not in his military uniform or European suits nor in his dhoti-kurta which he otherwise would, but calculatedly in a black Sherwani.  In the speech that he delivered he assured these pan-Islamists that the Indian Moslem opinion was safely in favour of a united India and Pakistan was indeed but a British propaganda:

“By the beginning of the present century, the British … discovered the Muslim problem in year 1906 when Lord Minto was the Viceroy.  Prior to this there was no such problem in India.  In the great revolution in 1857, Hindus and Muslims had fought side by side against the British, and it was under the flag of Bahadur Shah, a Muslim, that India’s first war of independence was fought…. Consequently, the British policy has now fallen back on its last hope.  If Indian people cannot be divided, then the country – India – has to be spilt up geographically and politically. This is the plan called Pakistan which has emerged from the fertile brain of a Britisher.  Though the vast majority of the Indian Muslims want a free and independent India, though the president of the Indian National Congress today is Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, a Muslim, and though only a minority of the Indian Muslims support the idea of Pakistan, the British propaganda throughout the world gives the Indian Muslims are not behind the national struggle for liberty and want India to be divided up.” [Foot note 9]

He would insist that Jinnah, by allying with the British, is the one who is actually acting against the interests of Islam and Moslems:

“…British are the enemies of Muslims and Islam, and their policy has been always directed against them.  It was the British who brought about the downfall of the Moghals and enslaved India… Mr. Jinnah is always surrounded by Muslim landlords and capitalists who are loyal to the British… A free Indian Army has been organized to deliver India from alien bondage, and Indian soldiers will render a great service to Islam by uprooting British influence from their country.” [Foot note 10]

Bose would also express, on multiple occasions, his support to Palestine, and oppose creation of the Jewish settlement (to later become Israel), though not vocalizing his opposition to latter too obviously.

Bose would never tire of asserting that it is the Moslem Prisoners of War who joined Azad Hind Fauj that made the backbone of his movement, and present it as a proof that the Moslem separatism did not exist and was merely a British propaganda:

 “I can confidently assert that the Hindu-Muslim question is a British creation.  This is proved by the fact that though the Indian National Army is mainly composed of the Moslem soldiers, there is perfect harmony between them and their Hindu comrades. ” [Foot note 11]

The later paragraphs  in this essay will demonstrate the real motivation behind the Moslems of INA, but the above statement does reveal that if Bose really needed yet another reason to bend towards placating the Islamist sentiments, the high concentration of Moslems among the PoWs was one. 

As a matter of policy, since the last two decades, British had increased the proportion of army recruitment from Moslem majority regions, especially Punjab, Waziristan and Balochistan.  As a result, while at the officer level in the British Indian Army, Hindus and Sikhs were still in a majority, at the Jawan level the proportion was more tilted towards the Moslems.  This seems to have been the British policy since late 1920s, and was indeed one of the reasons why Savarkar had vehemently called out to Hindu youth from all over India to enlist in the Army, while Congress (and, back then Bose himself) were all out for the boycott of the army recruitment efforts around the breakout of WWII.  In later days Bose would, for once at least, publicly praise Savarkar for his policy:

“When due to misguided political whims and lack of vision, almost all the leaders of Congress party have been decrying all the soldiers in Indian Army as mercenaries, it is heartening to know that Mr. Savarkar is fearlessly exhorting the youths of India to enlist in armed forces. These enlisted youths themselves provide us with trained men and soldiers for our Indian National Army.” [Foot note 12]

Bose would though dare not say of course that it was the Hindu youth that Savarkar was exhorting to join Army, surely Bose was not only aware of it, but also had reason to silently appreciate it, as the following paragraphs will show.

The secularists look back at the Azad Hind Fauj days with misty eyes as that golden moment when Moslem soldiers marched arm in arm with their Hindu-Sikh comrades for liberating their common motherland, as perfectly symbolized in the “Sahgal-Dhillon-Shah Nawaz” trinity of one Hindu, one Sikh, and one Moslem INA officer jointly facing the famous Red Fort trial of 1946.  But if only one explores the Azad Hind history more deeply and sincerely, the uncomforting facts stare at one’s face about the motivation behind most Moslems in joining the INA.

We provide four different evidences from four different sources.

We have a loud and clear testimony of INA senior officer Capt. Abdul Rashid Ali, who held very senior positions in the Azad Hind Fauj, at the same level as Dhillon, Sahgal and Shah Nawaz Khan.  During his later Trial & Court Martial by the British in 1946, he clearly stated that his predominant objective in joining the INA was to serve the interests of Islam and safeguard the Indian Moslems from getting dominated by the Hindu-Sikhs of INA.  His court martial testimony, unlike those of Shah Nawaz and others, are never ever quoted by the secularist narratives. 

A newspaper report:

“Reading from written statement, in a clear ringing voice, he [Capt. Abdul Rashid Ali] declared, I was cut off from the rest of the world and could get only such news as was supplied by the Japanese.  I was convinced that the non-Muslims who were the moving spirit in the INA were going to invade India with the help of the Japanese.  I was also convinced that this would result in the domination of India by the non-Muslims [helped] by the Japanese.  In order to safeguard the interests of my community I decided like the rest of the Muslims to join the INA in order to arm myself and thus be in a position to safeguard the interests of my community in India…” [Foot note 13]

Rashid Ali was awarded seven years of imprisonment by the British, and was turned into a hero by Muslim League.  In his honour and to demand his release, Muslim League announced to observe 12 February 1946 as Rashid Ali Day and to hold demonstrations and agitation all over India on that date.  As is usual for the ignorant and moronic Hindu leadership, eager still to forge some kind of Hindu-Moslem unity and gain some approving nod from Muslim League, foolish Hindu leaders too announced support to this Rashid Ali Day (of course they called it ‘INA Day’!) and held joint rallies and protest marches especially in Calcutta!

Most, if not all, secularist narratives ignore Capt. Abdur Rashid Ali’s testimony. 

But the motive of most Moslems joining INA, as reported by Capt. Abdur Rashid Ali, is also corroborated by multiple other independent testimonies of other INA Moslem officers.

In the earlier Trial and Court Martial of Sahgal-Dhillon-Shahnawaz trio, testimony of some Moslem soldiers and officers of how they joined INA is also documented.  The argument delivered by the Defence Attorney Advocate Bhulabhai Desai includes quoting the testimony of one witness Muhammad Hayat (a PoW who had refused to join INA), reproduced below:

“The Camp Commandant was Capt. M. Z. Kayani, who was succeeded by Col. Shah Nawaz Khan.  I heard Col. Shah Nawaz Khan [was] lecturing to the camp.  I was not present at the lecture he delivered at the camp, but I was present at the lecture he delivered in the Mosque.  He said that the Sikhs and Hindus had already volunteered, and that Mussalmans should also join.  He said: ‘Muslims must join the INA because when the Hindus and Sikhs go [victorious to India], they will trouble you in your homes in India’… He did not say that he only wanted sincere men [i.e. interested in the INA cause].” [Foot note 14]

This is Shah Nawaz Khan, the INA hero, coercing Moslem PoWs in a mosque, to join INA not to fight for the emancipation of their motherland or to serve the cause of the Indian liberation, but to empower Moslems against the Hindu-Sikh soldiers!  And in his own statement during the Court Martial, Shah Nawaz Khan himself stated that he had reluctantly joined the first INA of General Mohan Singh and Rash Behari Bose only to sabotage it from within, and had had his part in its failure, but that he underwent a change of heart after seeing Subhas Bose’s character and ideology (which is not surprising as we have already seen what it was.)

Muhammad Hayat and some other Moslem witnesses also narrated another episode when yet another Moslem INA officer applied similar communal reasoning to motivate them to join INA, albeit using a different pressure.  Maj. Aziz Ahmed of INA charged the Moslem soldiers of a PoW camp in Burma, of having captured some cows from the local Burmese village and having slaughtered them in the camp.  This charge was used as a pressure to create fear and coerce the Moslem soldiers in either joining the INA thus becoming equally empowered as the Hindu-Sikh soldiers, or remain a PoW and face being sent to the concentration camp (by the Hindu-Sikh majority INA) for having done that.  The episode was corroborated by other witnesses, that in reality no such act of cow slaughter had taken place, but Maj. Aziz Ahmed wanted to frighten the Moslem soldiers into joining INA.  It further shows how Moslem officers of INA were driven by the same fanatic passions and motivations, to recruit more and more Moslems in INA, their object being to not let Hindu-Sikh soldiers becoming too dominant in INA.

By the early part of 1945 in Manipur & Burma, Azad Hind Fauj faced several instances of treachery by their own officers.  Bose as the “Sipah Salar” (Supreme Commander) of the INA issued a Pronouncement of Purge on March 13, 1945.  Excerpts:

“We were hoping that with the advent of the New Year, all evidences of cowardice and treachery would be wiped out… But that was not to be… the recent treachery of five officers of the H.Q. of the Second Division has come as an eye opener to us that all is not well in our ranks and that the seeds of cowardice and treachery are yet to be wiped out.  If we now succeed in exterminating this cowardice and treachery once and for all, this shameful and despicable incident may, through God’s grace, prove to be a blessing in disguise.  I am, therefore, determined to take all possible measures necessary for the purification of our Army.”

The Order then goes to list eight points of how the Purge was to be carried out and declares Death as punishment for the actions of treachery after the Purge.

This much is a common knowledge.  But what most secular-sensitized narratives skip over here is the motivations behind the treachery in INA, and no surprise, one of the main and indeed catalytic reasons was desertion and active sabotage by many Moslem INA officers due to their pan-Islamist ideology.  Once they began deserting, in many cases actively assisting the British against their INA comrades, it resulted in a cascading effect of severe moral handicap for the still loyal INA troops who too either surrendered as PoWs or deserted.

From the diary of Col. P K Sahgal who was an eye witness to these events:

“After a very careful study of these points, and the circumstances under which the unit fought, I am of the opinion that these desertions were due to the following causes:

i) Turkey’s alignment alongside the anti-Axis powers has had a very adverse effect on certain Muslim Officers.  In spite of our efforts to explain to them the circumstances under which Turkey has been forced to join the War, the officers feel that by fighting against the powers that are allied with the Turks, they are being disloyal to Islam.

ii) In the minds of a number of officers and men there is a lack of faith in our final victory.  They are in their own minds convinced that the Anglo-Americans are going to win the war and it is futile to carry on the struggle.

iii) In this particular operation, after the desertion of Lt. Yasin Khan and his companions, there was a general feeling among the officers and men of the unit that it was useless to continue fighting the enemy, so superior in numbers and armaments, and helped by the traitors who had gone over to his side.  Majority of these officers, in normal circumstances, would never have done anything treacherous, but finding themselves so overwhelmed, they did not have the moral strength to continue… ” [Foot note 15]

Thus again, we are staring at the same phenomenon which keeps hammering Hindus from time to time but from which they always refuse to learn the lesson: that no matter how much Secularism Hindus would display as Bose did, in Moslem psychology Islam and its interests come first and foremost, all other loyalties are secondary. 

One does not expect Bose to have known the dark history of the debacle at Talikota, about 390 years before the above events, when Vijayanagara army had fallen precisely due to the Moslem commanders trusted by Emperor Ramaraja having deserted at the crucial moment in the battle to the invading Sultan at the cries of allahu-akbar.  But one surely expects Bose to have known the facts of not so long back about the behaviour of the Moslem soldiers of British Indian Army during the WWI, when at many places they deserted and joined the Turks for the pious motivation of the call of Islam being above any other mundane loyalties and pledges:

“…a much more serious incident took place in February 1915 among the Muslim infantry posted at Singapore.  Thinking that they were going to be sent to fight the Turks, they mutinied, shot eight officers, gave a pitched battle and escaped into the hinterland.  Again in 1916, several killings and desertions were reported from among the Afridi units.  In fact, a large number of Indian prisoners of war, especially after the fall of Kut al-Amra (April 1916), fought alongside the Turkish forces on various fronts.” [Foot note 16]

But well, little blame to Bose; this is a common disease of Secularism among Hindus which causes them becoming semi-blind to reality, inviting debacle after debacle and calamity after calamity!

Another Moslem INA officer who deserves mention before we move on is Brig. Habib-ur-Rahman.  This was the same famous INA officer whom Bose had chosen to accompany him on his attempted escape to Soviet Russia, when the fateful crash took place allegedly killing Bose.  The survived Habib-ur-Rahman, originally from Kashmir, would within months become the chosen handyman of Jinnah to architect Pakistan’s plans of annexing Jammu & Kashmir.  Habib-ur-Rahman was first instrumental in leading the diplomatic mission to Srinagar for coercing Maharaja Hari Singh Dogra and his Prime Minister Ram Chandra Kak in acceding to Pakistan, and then when Maharaja declined, it was the same INA veteran Habib-ur-Rahman who not only provided training to the Kabailis and armed them as Mujahids but also architected the whole Pakistani Army operation of the 1947 invasion of Jammu & Kashmir.

The remaining legacy of Bose is visible in the activities of his brother Sarat Bose, who in the crucial partition days, led the efforts to “Keep Bengal United”, which really meant partitioning India with the whole of undivided Bengal, that is today’s West Bengal and Bangladesh, becoming a separate “secular” country. “If dividing India is a sin”, Sarat Bose would declare, “Dividing Bengal is a bigger Sin!!”

Another Subhas Bose supporter and Forward Bloc leader in Punjab, Sardul Singh Caveeshar, would float the similar secular plan of keeping Punjab united, which too meant taking the whole of Punjab to Pakistan. 

Thankfully, Mahasabha and Akalis were strong enough in East Punjab to douse this crackpot proposal before it got any life.  The Bengali Hindus also had already had enough of such utopian secularism, when right before their eyes they had seen what the undivided Bengal meant through bloodbaths from Calcutta to Noakhali, and led by Syama Prasad Mookerjee they also bounded up Sarat Bose from going too far with his “plan”.  Sardar Patel also came and read to Bose his riot act which was sufficient to make him silent.  Mujib-ur-Rahman, after the formation of Bangladesh in 1971, would remember Subhas Bose in his first speech, wistfully recalling that had Bengal stuck to Bose’s vision, Bangladesh would have already been in a much better shape!

Indeed!

Concluded. (Or as Sita Ram Goel said, the trouble is that this past is not really past, the same behaviour patterns, of both the seculars and the Moslems, are intact and repeating right before us.  Can we at least learn something from the past and do something about it for our present?)

Foot Notes:

1: In his memoirs entitled Tazkirah, Mashriqi gives the details of their conversation which included the subject of Jehad and political vision of Islam.  Hitler and this ghazi seem to have kept in touch and shared mutual admiration, and if Mashriqi’s claims are to be believed, he played an important part in influencing Hitler’s ideas towards Moslems, India, Jehad and Ummah. (See Claudia Preckel, “South Asian Muslims in Germany”, 2008)

2: Eminent Orientalist & archaeologist Max von Oppenheim was the author of this doctrine both during the WWI and also during the Nazi regime.  His case is not unique at all, that Indologists and Orientalists were key players in geopolitics and subversion then as they are now.

3: After this jehadi’s name, senile Hindus have named the University of Bhopal!  Also for a detailed treatment of pan-Islamists around the WWI, see M. Naeem Qureshi, “Pan-Islam in British Indian politics: a study of the Khilafat Movement, 1918-1924”, Brill 1999.

4: He disappeared around this time to emerge some years later in Pakistan but he returned back to live in Rome in early 1950s.  Apparently Mawlana Azad, then the Education Minister, met Shedai in Rome and offered him a lucrative post to come to Delhi and work for the Government of India, which he declined.

5: It was this Grand Mufti who continuously stalled the efforts of transporting the Jews from many European countries to Palestine or elsewhere, and willingly pushed them to the concentration camps.  It was also his inspiration in raising Bosnian battalions which massacred the Serbs.  Google for this fellow’s name and read much material available online.  For Rashid Ali al-Gilani, see “Coordinated Farhud Anti-Jewish Pogrom in Iraq”: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Farhud

6: The radio broadcasts that Shedai was airing in India from his Himal Radio, were a total Islamist propaganda, supporting Islamization of India, Pakistan, and Muslim League.

7: What a tremendous soft power Islamists have always managed to project since a long time!  Look at the WWII itself, every party was bending itself backwards to courting them.  Allies, Nazis, Congress, Bose – every party indeed!  Even after the WWII, Allies themselves would shield both the Grand Mufti and Rashid Ali.  French government stalled all efforts to have them prosecuted for their war crimes and made part of the famous tribunal.  They both lived to their ripe age and continued their Islamist activities in different countries.  There were some rumours that Israel wanted to avenge the Jew pogroms by taking clandestine action against them, but such step was forestalled by the Anglo- Americans.

8: Berlin Radio, October 7, 1942, “Testament of Subhas Bose, 1946”.  In later days, especially in Singapore and Burma, Bose would more unequivocally oppose Pakistan, but still on the ground that Muslim League was not the sole representative of the Indian Moslims, and also that in his opinion majority Moslems of India did not want Pakistan.  Being abroad he might not have known, but most of the other Moslem parties and individuals whom he would appeal in his broadcasts to oppose the plan of Pakistan had either already sided jubilantly with Muslim League, or had meekly given in.  Only notable exception being NWFP khidmatgar pathans under Abdul Gaffan Khan, who continued to be vehemently vocal against Pakistan and sided with India and Congress, to be of course let down by Nehru in not supporting their claims to joining India.

9: This was broadcasted over Berlin Radio. “Testament of Subhas Bose, 1946”.

10: An interview on Bangkok Radio on July 18, 1943. “Testament of Subhas Bose, 1946”

11: An interview on Bangkok Radio on July 18, 1943. “Testament of Subhas Bose, 1946”

12: Azad Hind Radio, June 25, 1944. “Testament of Subhas Bose, 1946”

13: Star of India, Calcutta, January 28, 1946. Quoted in “Communalism in Bengal: from famine to Noakhali, 1943-47” By Rakesh Batabyal, PP 210

14: INA Defence Committee report, Defence Address by Advocate Bhulabhai Desai, Senior Defence Counsel, October 1945

15:  Durlab Singh, Formation and growth of the Indian National Army (Azad Hind Fauj), 1946. Hero Publication, Lahore. PP 115-116

16:  M. Naeem Qureshi, “Pan-Islam in British Indian politics: a study of the Khilafat Movement, 1918-1924”, Brill 1999, PP 78-79

April 8, 2011

Subhas Chandra Bose – Another Look Part 3: Crush Hindu Mahasabha “By Force If Need Be”

by Sarvesh K Tiwari

Continues from Part-1  (the beginnings) and Part-2 (the urduphile secularism):

The applied smokescreen of secularism hinders one’s vision from both the historical perspective and the contemporary reality, of the Islamic behavior patterns.  A study in the attitude of the secularists during the period from the early 1920s till the partition of India makes for a perfect microcosmic analysis of this fact.  It was purely this optimist-to-death secularism contrary to hard realities that informed the national leadership in assessment of the so called ‘communal question’ and therefore the formation of their un-questionable ‘diagnosis’ and the ‘solution’ which can be summaries as follows:

1) It is the British that are alone to blame for creating and festering the ‘discord’ between Moslems and the rest of the Indians as part of their Divide and Rule strategy; neither the history of the ‘discord’ is any far-reaching nor are its origins inherent in anything to do with Islam and its intercourse with India

2) The mainstream psyche of Indian Moslems is patriotic & nationalistic, while the separatist element being nothing more than some misguided cranks without any popular backing

3) Without the Moslem support, the destiny of Indian movement is neither possible nor worth it, and therefore, an all out and continuous effort to secure the Moslem approval is a must and a prerequisite, for gaining which no sacrifice is too costly

When Gandhi returned empty handed and sullen faced from the futile second Round Table Conference in 1931, which yielded no result on the key “communal question”, Subhas Bose’s take on the chief reason of that failure was, that to counter the Moslem League ideologues Gandhi had failed to carry enough ‘Nationalist Moslems’ on his London entourage! 

“One cannot help thinking what a change it would have made if the Mahatma had come to London with a full contingent of Nationalist representatives of Moslems and other minority communities…”, he wrote.

It never occurred to the leaders like Bose or Gandhi that rather than spending so much energy in futile bargaining with and appeasing the Moslem leaders, better to consolidate the genuine nationalists and counter the British from that strength. 

Writes Sita Ram Goel:

“The basic and the big mistake made by the national leadership was that it could not conceive of a native nationalism which would march ahead under its own impetus even if the Muslims were reluctant to participate in it or remained hostile to it. The national leadership was all along in a hurry to bargain with the British on the basis of Hindu-Muslim unity, and consequently failed to give sufficient thought and attention to the consolidation of genuine nationalist forces. The residues of Islamic imperialism spotted this weakness of the national leadership very soon, and exploited it to the hilt. Their price for co-operation went on soaring in direct proportion to the nationalist solicitation for it.”

But there is more.  The secularism of the national leadership, of which Bose was now an important participant, started equating the Hindus and the separatist Moslem leadership!  Writing about a meeting of his with Gandhi before the Conference, Subhas Bose writes:

“I remarked (to Mahatma) that the Congress should only care for an agreement between Nationalist Hindus and Nationalist Moslems… and that the Congress need not bother what other anti-Nationalist elements thought or said…”

Notice the reference to “Nationalist Hindus and Nationalist Moslems”, out of compulsion, as if there was a body of Hindus that could be called not Nationalists!  But such was the typical tendency of not being able to speak about the anti-national Muslim League without in the same breath reducing the Hindus to also some fictitious not-nationalist bogey.  The reference here is to exclude the Hindu Sanghatanist organizations, which were carrying on the work on the lines of Maharshi Dayanand Saraswati, Bankim Chandra, Lokmanya Tilak and Lajpat Rai.  Such was the perversity of outlook and terminology already set in the Congress leadership by 1930s, that these people were now called “communal Hindus” while the secularists of Congress called the “nationalist Hindus”.

Elsewhere, the same attitude is on display when Bose introduces the Moslem leaders and the Hindu Leaders of Congress in the same breath:

“Within the Indian National Congress there is an important and influential Moslem group and this group has its representatives in the Congress Cabinet, that is, the Working Committee.  In this group are Moulana Abul Kalam Azad of Calcutta, Dr. M. A. Ansari of Delhi, and Dr. Mohammed Alam of Lahore.  Mr. Sherwani of Allahabad, Mr. Asaf Ali of Delhi and Mr. Khaliq-uz-zaman of Lucknow also belong to this group.  Among the Hindu leaders of the Congress there are some who are more inclined towards the Hindu Mahasabha, for instance Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya of Benares and Mr. M. S. Aney of Berar.”

Throughout Bose’s writings and speeches he would allude to the Congress Hindus as the Nationalist Hindus and the likes of Hindu Mahasabha as communal, and every time equate them with the Muslim League.  In fact it was during the Presidency of Subhas Bose that the Congress banned the dual membership of Congress and Mahasabha, so what if such eminent Congress leaders of past such as Pandit Malaviya and Lajpat Rai had been patrons and leaders of the Hindu Mahasabha! 

Justifying that resolution in face of the fact that Congress before Gandhi was solidly led by none other than such very communal Hindus as Lajpat Rai and Pandit Malaviya, Bose later wrote a signed editorial in his Forward Bloc weekly on May 4, 1940 under the title of ‘Congress and Communal Organizations’. 

“There was a time not long ago”, wrote Bose, “when prominent leaders of the Congress could be members and leaders of the communal organizations like the Hindu Mahasabha and the Muslim League.  In those days the communalism of such communal organizations was of a subdued character.  Hence Lala Lajpat Rai could be a leader of the Hindu Mahasabha and the Ali Brothers could be the leaders of Muslim League.  In Bengal, an ex-president of the Bengal Congress Provincial Committee and of the Bengal Provincial Conference, like Maulana Akram Khan, could be a leader of the Muslim League.  But in recent times, the circumstances have changed.  These communal organizations have become more communal than before.  As a reaction to this, the Indian National Congress has put into its Constitution a clause to the effect that no member of a communal organization like the Hindu Mahasabha or the Muslim League can be a member of an elective committee of the Congress.”

Thus in Bose’s estimation Hindu Mahasabha was ‘communal’ and to be placed in the same bracket as the Moslem league, indeed he mentions Mahasabha before Muslim League every time he refers to the so called “communal organizations”. 

But if one looked back at the history of both Hindu Mahasabha and the Muslim League, one cannot but conclude that there was no such significant change in their character as Bose seemed to have observed.  If there was any change, it was in the character and leadership of the Congress itself and therefore its newfound outlook that considered Hindu Mahasabha communal!  It was the change in the outlook of Congress itself by the advent of Gandhian secularism that now saw “Hindu Communalism” into what was earlier Indian Nationalism, and equated it now with the “Muslim Communalism” which in reality was nothing else but the same force that urged the revival of the Islamic Imperialism.

Noting this perversion in the Congress outlook as reflected in its altered terminology, Sita Ram Goel astutely observes:

“Hindu society had been reduced from the status of a nation to that of a religious community in the counting of heads which the British rulers described as their census operation. Nationalism was now increasingly being labelled as Hindu Communalism.  A revaluation of the national resurgence could not lag far behind. It was soon stigmatised as Hindu Revivalism…  This terminological swindle … was brought about by the combined efforts of the British imperialists and the residues of Islamic imperialism. They shared a problem in common. The problem was the rising tide of National Resurgence in the indigenous Hindu society… the use of a new terminology had far-reaching ideological consequences.”

In the same vein, Bose would continue to also display the delusional assessment of the ‘Nationalist Moslems’ too, typical to the Gandhian secularists.  Recalling the same meeting with Gandhi as was referred before, Bose writes, “Dr. Ansari and some of the Nationalist Moslem leaders including Mr. Sherwani, …, said that if for any reason the Mahatma gave up the demand for a common electorate for both Hindus and Moslems and accepted the demand of the reactionaries for a separate electorate, …, they would oppose the reactionary Moslems and also the Mahatma”.   But then retrospectively he records, albeit briefly and only in a footnote, his bafflement at the altered behaviour of the very same “Nationalist Moslems” after the Communal Award was granted, “…the attitude of the Nationalist Moslems in 1934 to the Prime Minister’s Communal Award is inexplicable!”

It was inexplicable to Bose only because he did not try to view the attitude of the Moslem leadership without the optimistic glasses of secularism.   Otherwise, it would be evident to him that while his “Reactionary Moslems” were hard Jihadists, most of the so called “Nationalist Moslems” were also soft Jihadists differing from the former only in methods but not in the objectives.  In their eagerness to embrace these soft Jihadists as the “Nationalist Moslems”, the secularists also always did a great disservice to the true Nationalist Moslems like the reverence-worthy Azeem Ullah and Ashfaq Ullah, who cared nothing to lay down their lives along with their Hindu comrades at the altar of the motherland in pure love for her; for secularist the chosen models of “Nationalists Moslem” are not they but the likes of Mawlana Abul Kalam Azad.  Bose would later name a regiment in INA as Azad Regiment, in honour not of Chandrashekhar Azad, (lest one thought so), but of the Mawlana Azad.  No Ashfaq nor Azeem Ullah.

It was but another culmination of such self-tied hands of the national leadership that the British Government in collaboration with Muslim leadership pushed through the so called Communal Award, which laid down for the upcoming assembly elections, besides the General seats, separate reserved electorates on the communal basis.  In states where Moslem population was in a minority, the award ensured far greater number of seats than the numerical proportion of their population.  Thus in the state of Bombay where their population was only 9.2% the seats reserved for them were more than twice the proportion, 30 out of 175. Likewise in UP, population 15.3% but seats 66/228; in Bihar-Orissa, population 10.8% but seats 42/175; in Madras, population 7.9% but seats 29/215; in Central Provinces, population 4.7% but seats 14/112, and so on, while in the states where Moslems were a numerical majority, i.e. Bengal and Punjab, a permanent reserved majority was ensured in the respective Assemblies.  Sindh, hitherto a part of Bombay, was carved out as a separate state so it could enjoy its own Moslem majority government, which was ensured to it through a majority separate electorate (70.7% Moslem population, 34/60 seats).  Only NWFP was a state which despite over 91% Moslem population left a respectable number of seats for the non-Moslems (14/50).

Despite all the posturing and lip service, this communal award was meekly accepted by the Congress, just like the partition later.  And just like the partition which created a Moslem state but denied a Hindu state, in the matter of the communal electorate too it is only the Hindu electorate which Congress would pounce upon and treat as secular.  The Congress President at the time was Subhas Chandra Bose, when on the basis of such Communal Award the state assemblies went to elections in 1937.

Congress, contesting primarily on the “Hindu” electorate, secured majority in seven out of eleven states.  And for all their powerful and influential Nationalist Moslems in Congress, it was thrashed in the Moslem seats almost across all the states.

Savarkar, writing in a foreword to a book sometime in 1938, chastised Congress and Bose in following words:

“Congress Candidates are not ashamed of subscribing themselves as “Hindus” in the election season, that is, in that season they do not think communal to own themselves as Hindus.   For, otherwise they would not be eligible to stand as candidates at all and get elected on Hindu votes!!  But as soon as the elections are over and they have raised themselves to the posts in the Councils and in the Ministries on the strength of the Hindu votes, they disown their Hinduness, condemn the Hindu Organizations like Hindu Mahasabha as communal, while keep dancing attendance on the most fanatical and anti-national Moslem organizations as the Moslem League!”

“Witness for example, the instructions issued by the Bengal Congress inspired by Mr. Subhas Chandra Bose himself, that Congress Hindus in Bengal should not agitate against the so-called Communal Award; or the action of the Congress party in the Bengal legislature, which practically supported Mr. Fazlul Haq’s outrageous bill to reserve 60% of the services for the Moslems alone! Why, Mr. Sarat Chandra Bose (Subhas’ elder brother) and Congress party dared to betray Hindu interest in that treacherous fashion, only because the Hindu electorate, they were sure, would not take them to task!”

Such rising tide of utopian secularism disgusted many Hindus even within Congress.  Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee was one such staunch Hindu who was forced to abandon both his Congress leanings and his academic pursuits.  Then the Vice Chancellor of Calcutta University, and having been twice elected to the assembly, once on the Congress ticket (1929), he was dismayed at the growing anti-Hindu tendencies and Muslim-placatory policies of Congress.

In 1937 election in Bengal, Congress emerged as the largest party though way short of majority.  If Congress wanted, it could have easily formed a coalition government with Fazlul Haq’s KPP and Hindu Mahasabha to keep Muslim League out of power.  Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee, who had himself won as an independent, advised this course to Congress leaders as being the least evil.  But, in their short-sightedness they spurned the idea, and instead actively helped Muslim League and Fazlul Haq’s KPP to come together and make a coalition government (a Congress wheeler-dealer close to Bose group, Nalini Ranjan Sarkar, was the anchor of this arrangement).  This helped Muslim League consolidate Bengali Moslems under its own banner in a short time, just like congress support to Khilafat had done over a decade before.

Subhas Bose was then the national President of Congress and Sarat Bose the Bengal Congress (BPCC) President.   Even within the Assembly, Congress under Bose brothers could have still played an important role in safeguarding the Hindu interests in face of the repressive anti-Hindu League-KPP government; and as we learn from Mookerjee’s diaries, he often approached Bose brothers for cooperation, but returned disappointed.  Mookerjee at one place wrote, “(Congress) hesitates to oppose acts and bills, avowedly anti-Hindu and anti-national, lest it should be dubbed a communal body!!” (Dr. Anil Chandra Banerjee, “A phase in the life of Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee”,  APILOSPM)

It is during this period that Mookerjee, who was not affiliated to any party for the last seven years, came in touch with Savarkar when the latter came in 1939 to Bengal for extensively touring all over the state, meeting Hindu intellectuals and leaders, addressing students and villagers; in short to exhort Bengali Hindus to reclaim that rightful place in the Indian Nationalism, that they once held, not a long time ago.  Mookerjee later wrote that Savarkar was “greatly perturbed at the helpless position of Bengali Hindus whom the Congress failed to rouse and protect” and at how the “spirit of resistance against outrageously communal aggression was dying out.” (APILOSPM)

Mookerjee was greatly influenced by Savarkar and immediately joined Hindu Mahasabha.  In a very short time Hindu Mahasabha in Bengal started taking shape of a force to reckon with, gaining important and renowned members of the Bengali Hindu intelligentsia as well as popular support.  In December of the same year, it was in Calcutta that the annual All India convention took place and was a roaring success.  Bengali Hindu was again finding his self-confidence and a voice through Mahasabha.

Subhas Bose did not like it.  He feared that under Mookerjee Hindu Mahasabha would create in Bengal a body of popular support to rival Congress, and ‘communalize’ the politics!  Dr. Mookerjee records in his diary that Bose met and told him that if he went about building Mahasabha as a political body in Bengal, “he (Subhas Bose) would see to it, BY FORCE IF NEED BE, that it was broken before it was really born!” (APILOSPM – emphasis added)

And Subhas Bose meant business!

Writing in his journal, in aftermath of a failed negotiation, Bose bitterly wrote a signed editorial in Forward Bloc on 30 March 1940 about Hindu Mahasabha in Bengal:

“The annual All-India Conference of the Hindu Mahasabha was held in Calcutta towards the close of the last year.  As a conference it was a great success, and it afforded considerable satisfaction to the Mahasabha leaders who began to hope that their organization would forge ahead in Bengal.  … It has come forward to play a political role and to make a bid for the political leadership of Bengal, or at least of the Hindus of Bengal, who have been the backbone of nationalism in this country.  With a real Hindu Mahasabha we have no quarrel and no conflict.  But with a political Hindu Mahasabha that seeks to replace the Congress in the public life of Bengal and for that purpose has already taken offensive against us, a fight is inevitable.  The fight has just begun!” 

The bitterness is not even guised.  But some events that took place in the last three months must be mentioned.

First, in 1939 League-KPP government passed the Calcutta Municipal Bill, which reserved 46 out of 93 seats in the Corporation for the Moslem candidates alone.  This massively disproportionate representation to Moslems, who formed only 28% of city population, was against any rhythm or reason, except that the powerful body of Calcutta Corporation and its resources must come under the Moslem control.  Speaking in the assembly, Mookerjee opposed the bill saying that a 50% Moslem reservation in Corporation was an act of robbing the Hindus “who form 70% of the total population of Calcutta, 76% of total tax payers, and 80% of the eligible voters of the Corporate!” But as usual, despite the opposition as well as Congress lip service, the Bill was passed (No satyagraha, no hunger strike.)  On this new basis the Calcutta Corporation elections were due to take place in the beginning of 1940.

Second, in the meanwhile, Subhas Bose was expelled from Congress in the shiniest democratic traditions of the party, having won the election to a second term of Presidendship against the Gandhi-backed candidate and then forced to resign by the hunger-strike of the Mahatma.  In Bengal PCC, the role of his elder brother was also curtailed by the high command, and all other Bose loyalists were either purged or sidelined too. 

The Corporation elections provided an opportunity for Bose to demonstrate to his rivals in Bengal Congress and high command, his strength and popularity by capturing the Corporation and becoming its Mayor; and it became for Bose a matter of prestige.

To improve the prospects of his Forward Bloc, Bose approached Mookerjee for an electoral tie up with Hindu Mahasabha.  Mookerjee, driven by his urge to consolidate the Hindu vote in face of the communal reservation, responded positively.  An agreement was worked out according to which both parties will contest an equal number of constituencies divided between the two parties as mutually agreed.  They also agreed about the candidates and finalized the list, except for two particular constituencies on which names could not be agreed.  A way was suggested and agreed that both parties should propose a panel of names to the other party, and the other party may pick up a name from it to be the joint candidate.  Accordingly, Bose picked up one name from the panel submitted by Mahasabha, and that candidate was accepted.  Likewise Mookerjee picked up one name from the panel submitted by Forward Bloc, but Bose would not accept it.  Bose started insisting on one particular candidate, who was a notorious goon, to whose candidature it was impossible for Mahasabha to agree.  For all the persuasion of Mookerjee, Bose would not abide by the agreement already made, and even threatened that the ‘Force was the ultimate argument’, and the Mahasabha-Forward Bloc pact broke down, having lasted for just nine days.  This is one version of the story, as given by Prof. Balraj Madhok (“Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee”, Portrait of a Martyr, 1953).  There is another version that gives a more complex agreement of candidate selection.  But in any case, suffice to say that the agreement was short lived.

Bose came true on his words that he was not averse to using force and intimidation to put Mahasabha down.  We now quote Prof. Balraj Madhok:

“Subhas Bose with the help of his favourite (the goon), decided to intimidate the Mahasabha by use of force.  His men would break up all Mahasabha meetings and beat up the candidates…  Dr. Mookerjee could not tolerate it.  He got a meeting announced, to be addressed by him.  As soon as he rose to speak, a stone hit him in his head, and he began to bleed profusely.  This infuriated the audience, and they fell upon the goondas including the strong man of Subbhas Bose.  They gave them a thorough beating.  That put the end to their hooliganism (once and for all).”

Forward Bloc won 21 seats, Hindu Mahasabha 16 and Muslim League 18.  Bose went over to Moslem League and entered in an understanding.  Mookerjee’s plea not to do this which would surely place Calcutta Corporation in hands of Moslem League, when the nightmare of League rule in Bengal Assembly was in front of everyone, found no favours with Bose.  Siddiqui, a Muslim Leaguer, became the Mayor and Subhas Bose just an alderman under him.  The agreement with Mahasabha lasted mere 9 days and broke down on triffles, but with Muslim League Subhas Babu worked the Corporation till the end of his disappearance and after conceding to all League demands.  He was criticised by one and all of the Hindu voice in Calcutta of “having betrayed the Hindu interests to League for  merely becoming an alderman”.

Bose later wrote that he was more concerned about fighting the British members controlling the Corporation! 

As we had said in the beginning, the smokescreen of secularism hinders one’s vision from both the historical perspective and the concurrent reality of the Islamic behavior patterns; and it blurs the vision of even the most talented, most well meaning, most patriotic, most sacrificing people.

Continued to Part 4: The Holwell Agitation and meeting with Savarkar & Jinnah

March 10, 2011

Subhas Chandra Bose – Another Look Part 2: “Urdu for Secularism”

by Sarvesh K Tiwari

Continues from Part 1

 “And now shall even the parrots of Hind be fed all –
On sugar-candy of Farsi even up to as far as Bengal!”

So writes a legendary Farsi poet Hafiz, in congratulating Ghiyasuddin Khalji upon the latter’s ascent to Bengal, but it would seem he spoke prophetically about the ascent of Subhas Bose!

The colonized Hindu mind refuses to see the continued colonialism that was set off by the conquests of the Islamite ruffians; indeed he foolishly refers to the remnants of that imperialism by such names as “syncretism” and “composite culture”, which as V S Naipaul rightly says are the common banal slogans of any defeated peoples.  The continued and thorough colonization of Hindu mind denies even recognizing Urdu – a bastard born in the war camps of the Islamite (therefore the name ‘Orudu’) and brought up in his brothels – from what it is: nothing else but a precise linguistic counterpart of the phenomenon in the medieval architecture — the Masjids and Maqbarahs squatting upon the foundations of the destroyed Hindu temples.  That is indeed what Urdu is: Arabi-Farsi squatting upon the foundation of the deshaja bhAShA!

But those Hindus, in whose hearts pride for Hindu heritage is alive and will for its resurgence not dead, have always raised the unmitigated tumult of revival from time to time, like in other spheres also in literary and linguistic battle.

“Listen, this is the only way I see if you want Hindi to have any chance of survival… Let them laugh at us, let them threaten us, but stay focused on one objective: create a flood of Hindi in which to drown Urdu…reach every Hindu household where a Maulvi Saheb has performed the bismillah of alif-bay-pay, and firmly plant Hindi… Promote her in everything we write from cash memos to commentaries… and do you not lose heart, not once, just persevere for some years and this garbage of Farsi-Chharsi will be blown from Hindi, from Hindus, and from Hindusthan… Let us not cease now from our effort. Leave the rest in the hands of God,” wrote from Kolkata in 1870s, Pratap Narayan, poet, journalist, and a friend of Bharatendu Harishchandra.

Few in our age could contemplate or imagine what an uphill task and what a momentous achievement it was for Bharatendu, to whose name we dedicate these pages, and his friends, to rescue Hindi from the clutches of the continued Islamic cultural imperialism in name of Urdu. Had it not been for their efforts, and it is hardly an exaggeration, that Urdu would have doubtlessly been the national language of India today, and Hindi as we know it relegated to the dustbin of the “dead languages” for Indologists to make their vulturine livelihoods on. Even at the cost of prolonging this preface, we quote Acharya Prof. Ram Chandra Shukl about that era when future of Hindi was staked at that crucial crossroad:

“Sitar-i-hind Raja Shivprasad kept sermonizing on the need for an “aam-faham” and “khaas-pasand” language, that is, Hindi studded with Arabic-Farsi words, (or simply Urdu by another name), but fate of Hindi had already decided her own course… When all other members of the Indian language family had, since eternity, taken energy from the familiar Sanskrit, her structure, vocabulary, and cultural continuity, how could Hindi be forced to abandon this emotional connection for adopting a foreign spirit through import of foreign words, as advocated by him? Now that Bangla, Marathi, and all her elder sisters in south had already gained the revivalist momentum, then no, Hindi was not destined to be bound in stagnation of foreign imperialism! She was not ready to sever her ancient and spiritual ties with her sister-languages. Born from the womb of the same mother, she was agonized at being forced to become a stranger to them… that is when, to her rescue, Bharatendu appeared on the scene.”

Acharya Chatursen Shastri perceptively writes that Bharatendu suffered from no fancies for a Hindu-Moslem unity if it meant Hindus having to bastardize their language. But for the secularists of course no cost was too dear and no sacrifice too great to secure the approval of the Moslems; sacrificing Hindi at the altar of their secularism was but a petty trifle!

Subhas Bose, it must be said, was another such secularist.

As the then Congress President, thus spoke Subhas Bose at the 51st session of Congress at Haripura in February of 1938:

“…we shall have to put all the minority communities as well as the provinces at their ease…To promote national unity we shall have to develop our lingua franca and a common script. So far as our Lingua Franca is concerned, I am inclined to think that the distinction between Hindi and Urdu is an artificial one. The most natural Lingua Franca would be a mixture of the two, such as is spoken in daily life in large portions of the country; and this common language may be written in either of the two scripts, Nagari or Urdu… At the same time, I am inclined to think that the ultimate solution would be the adoption of a script that would bring us into line with the rest of the world. Perhaps, some of our countrymen will gape with horror when they hear of the adoption of the Roman script, but I would beg them to consider this problem from the scientific and historical point of view… I confess that there was a time when I felt that it would be anti-national to adopt a foreign script. But my visit to Turkey in 1934 was responsible for converting me. I then realised for the first time what a great advantage it was to have the same script as the rest of the world.”

Bose in his stand on the language was no different from Nehru and Gandhi, indeed as in his Secularism in this question also he was only a step ahead of them.

Gandhi was advocating, along with Mawlana Azad, a so-called ‘Hindustani’ language to be made the ‘lingua franca’; this ‘Hindustani’ being nothing else but Urdu riding like vetAla upon the shoulders of Hindi and slowly consuming it as it had several Indian languages like Kashmiri and Sindhi. But when do secularists learn any lessons from History! Indeed from time to time Urdu zealots would “purify” that tongue, as comes out from this Urdu couplet, “Khuda rakkhe zuban hamne suni hai Meer o Mirza ki / Kahen kis muh se ham ae Mas’hafi urdu hamari hai!” [“By God we have heard the tongue of Meer and Mirza; Have we gall O Mas’hafi, to call the patois we speak, Urdu!”], thus laments Mas’hafi, an Urdu poet from Delhi at Urdu getting diluted and losing its affinity to Arabo-Persian as in the days of Mirza Ghalib and Meer Taqi Meer, the famous Urdu laureates.

Savarkar severely criticized Subhas Bose. He wrote,

“It is interesting to remind you here how two prominent Congress Presidents proposed to solve this problem of a National tongue and a National Script. Pandit Nehru thinks, leaving even Maulana Abul Kalam Azad far behind who only proposes Hindusthani, …, that the highly Arabianised Urdu of the Aligarh School or the Osmania University School is best fitted to be the National Language of India Including of course some twenty-eight crores of Hindus!

Desh Gaurav Subhas Babu improving upon the situation beats even Panditji’s ingenuity hollow by proposing from the Presidential chair of the Indian National Congress that Roman Script would suit India as the best National Script. That is how the Congress ideology approaches things National! Roman script to be the National Script of India! How imminently practicable, to say the least! Your Basumati, Ananda Bazar Patrika and all Bengali papers to appear every day in Roman script!

It is true as Subhas Babu says that Kemal Pasha abolished the Arabian Script as unsuited to print and took to Roman script. But this fact has a lesson for our Mahommedan zealots who want the Urdu script, in this very Arabian style, to thrust even on the Hindus as an up-to-date National Script, and it has no connection with the Hindus. Kemal Pasha took to the Roman script because the Turks had nothing better of their own to fall back upon. The Andamanese pick up Kauris and make a necklace of them, but is that the reason why the Kuber also should do the same? We Hindus should rather call upon Arabia and Europe to adopt the Nagari Script and Hindi language; such a proposal should not sound very impracticable to such inveterate optimists at any rate who seriously advance it as a very practical proposal to make Urdu the National language of the Marathas and to expect all our Arya Samaj Gurukuls to study the Vedas in Roman script?”

But eager thus to let go of Hindi and her Sanskrit roots, Bose himself did not know Hindi at this time, strange as would seem for a cosmopolitan and well-travelled Bengali as he was. A Forward Bloc comrade of his later recalled how Bose engaged later that year a tutor in Kolkata to teach him Hindi (or Hindustani), who later complained that “his pupil was too lazy to sit down and learn” Hindi, although he did learn enough to make speeches. (Hari Vishnu Kamath, ‘Some Intimate Recollections’)

And lest we thought that this language policy was simply a fantastic idiosyncrasy of Subhas Bose, he was very serious prescribing what he did, and indeed followed it to the letter during his Azad Hind days, which give us glimpses of what his vision for the proposed ‘National Lingua Franca of India’ was!

When Subhas Bose took over the INA from Ras Behari Bose, it was christened not “Svatantra Bharat Sena” but “Azad Hind Fauj”, in pure Farsi words.

The motto that Bose selected of Azad Hind Fauj also read pure Farsi in Roman script, “Ittefaq, Aitmad, Qurbani”, meaning “Unity, Faith, and Sacrifice”.

The provisional government that Bose set up was officially titled “Arzi Huqumat-i-Azad Hind” in pure Persian.

The commands for the Army were replaced by Urdu commands.

The title of Bose, as the Supreme Commander, was “Sipah Salar” with which he used to sign the declarations!

The decorations of the Azad Hind Fauj were, in order of precedence:

Shaheed-i-bharat
Sher-i-Hind
Sardar-i-Jang
Vic-o-Hind
Tamgha-i-bahaduri
Tamgha-i-shatrunash
and Sanad-i-bahaduri, a certificate of meritorious and commendable service.

“shatrunash” and “bharat” in the above appear like two native words jarring the otherwise pure Farsi decorations.

One document of Azad Hind Fauj, reproduced below, gives us glimpses of what that ‘National Lingua Franca’ of India looked like in Bose’s vision. This below is a template of form used for sending messages from army posts to the signals team. Do notice the pure unadulterated Urdu, only written in Roman alphabet:

“Paigam”, “Hidayaten”, “Dakhil”, “Kharij”, “Majmua Alfas”, “Tarikh Daftar”… not a single Hindi word is to be used! This was Netaji’s Hindustani!

The official daily newspaper by this provisional government, called ‘Azad Hind’, was published from Singapore. This paper was simultaneously published in five languages. English, Tamil, Malayalam, Guajarati, and Urdu in Roman script as Bose had fancied. No Hindi.

Never in his addresses would he end with the ‘Vande Matram!’ or ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ as was the tradition even within Congress, but instead with secular ‘Inquilab Zindabad’ in Farsi. Not even ‘Jai Hind’, with which he is incorrectly credited by his hagiographers. One should see his official broadcasts from Azad Hind Radio as are recorded, most of which he concludes with not ‘Jai Hind’, but ‘Inquilab Zindabad’ and ‘Azad Hind Zindabad’.

Then of course is Bose’s attitude that he displayed towards the question of the National Anthem. Bankim Chandra’s Vande Mataram had had the unquestioned status of the National Anthem all through the last several decades and Congress sessions would commence and end to its euphoric singing. Throughout every corner of India no other song was even close to the popularity of Vande Mataram. But Vande Mataram being offending to the Moslem ears was of course out of question for being adopted by secularist that Subhas Bose was. But strange as it may seem, even Rabindra Nath Thakur’s ‘Jana Gana Mana’ was also not good enough for him. Going two steps beyond Gandhi and Nehru, Desh Gaurav Subhas Babu felt that even ‘Jana Gana Mana’ contained too much Sanskrit to be suitable as the National Anthem of India! So he asked his ADC Captain Abid Ali, who had accompanied Bose on the trip from Germany to Japan, to de-Sanskritize Rabindra Nath’s ‘Jana Gana Mana’ and translate it into Urdu-laden ‘Hindustani’. The result was a pathetic parody, ‘sab sukh chain’, which Bose declared as the “Qaumi Tarana” (not Rashtra Gaan) of Azad Hind! Such was the Sanskrit-phobia of Bose. For the Marching Song of the Army was likewise picked up another Urdu composition, “Qadam Qadam Badhaye Ja Khushi ke Geet Gaye Ja, Ye Zindagi hai Qaum Ki Tu Qaum pe lutaye Ja”.

Therefore we had said in the beginning that when Hafiz wrote, “And now shall even the parrots of Hind be fed all / On sugar-candy of Farsi even up to as far as Bengal”, he might as well be prophetically speaking of Subhas Bose’s Azad Hind!

Continued to Part 3…

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