(with 90 color Plates)
Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla
(Aryan Books International)
1998, Rs. 1800
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Apparently there has been a lot of writing on Kashmir paintings but as the author of this beautiful and informative book writes:
'A little like the thousand-petalled lotus of Indian myth, the art of Kashmir, especially its manuscript painting, has been more believed in than explored. The extent to which its roots extend, the sources from which it drew its nourishment, the direction of its growth across time, its texture, even the full, colorful range of its expanse, are but poorly known.'
That probably makes this book by the good professor from Panjab University the first of its kind work that tries to explore the distinct Kashmiri art produced in 17th to 19th century with a fusion of Pahari, Buddhist, Persian, Afghan and Mughal style. It's not an easy task, its a formidable challenge, as Karuna Goswamy writes in her introduction to the 'roots and development' of Kashmiri paintings:
'The chronology of Kashmiri painting as seen in illustrated manuscripts is not easy to establish. The material are widely scattered, and securely dated works from earlier than the eighteenth century are rather rare. This does not have to lead to the conclusion that there was no work done in the seventeenth century or earlier: documents may well have been lost. In any case, when we encounter, towards the end of the seventeeth century, an occasional dated document, the style seems to be well-formed, evolved, with an identity of its own, not simply a provincial version of Iranian work that it is sometimes taken to be. Here, one is not speaking of the much earlier work in painting, of the kind represented by the Gilgit book covers, the Toling leaves, or the murals of Ladakh and tabo- they lie far back in the past. Nor does one speak here of Persian or Mughal works - the Sadi of Fitzwilliam Museum, or the work of Muhammad Nadir Samarqandi, or that done for Zafar Khan: that work is recognizably of a different order. The paintings that are here regarded as Kashmiri, belong to illustrated manuscripts, or exist independently of them, represented by the manuscripts and paintings discussed and reproduced below: they constitute the mainstream of this work, work that is instantly identifiable once one has learnt to 'recognize' it.'
|'Group of Hindu artist'|
from ‘Afoot Through the Kashmir Valleys’ (1901) by Marion Doughty.
It was specifically the below given painting:
'The Goddess and Shiva receive homage', as it is called in this book, is lying in Chandhigarh Museum and is believed to be from around 1900 A.D.
On first look, it looked like any other similar painting given in this book, gods, goddesses and devotees. But a second look and I knew what I was looking it. I know this place. I have been there. With that in mind I found the explanation of the painting provided by the author very interesting.
'What the artist presents here is homage being offered to the Goddess, and to Shiva, from all directions, celestial and earthly. The Goddess, seated cross-legged on lotus, which is placed in turn upon an octagonal, large chowki. is seen full-faced, four-armed, objects in her hands clearly specified: a vessel, a large sword, a lotus, and a cup. Crowned with a chahatra atop her seat, garlanded, a serpent adoring her neck and upper part of the chest, she looks resplendent her, the effect being added to by a large group of pennants - gaily colored in yellow, pink, red and white - that flutter around her, having been planted perhaps as offering.[...]It is possible that a 'family shrine', or at least one which is resorted to by the members of a pandit family, is shown here[...]the Kashmir, the women in particular, dressed in a long woolen gown, her middle secured by a scarf, a veil draped over her head and falling down to the ankles behind her, a small skull cap and jewellery adorning her head and face. The men are not dressed in the usual fashion of Kashmiri pandits as seen in paintings from Kashmir, with kantopa caps, but in turbans. '
The writer gets it almost right. It is a shrine. The woman and men are Kashmir. There are flowers. But as the shrine is not identified, the writer misses the fact that the flowers are not planted there, in fact they are floating. This is a painting of famous Kheer Bhawani Shrine of Goddess Ragyna at village Tulamulla. The shrine is identifiable by the 'seven-sided' holy spring, an important icon in its tantric representation. The shrine is also identifiable because the it is one of the few places where Shiv and Shakti are kept and worshiped together. The Pandit woman on the right is holding a sugar candy in her hand (called 'kand' locally) that is ritually offered to the spring, usually once a year on Jesht Ashtami ( May-June). The men on the right are in 'realistic' Kashmiri Turbans of the time and not the 'unrealistic' kantopa of earlier times. The artist has gone photographic in his representation of the spring. The spring is still covered with flowers when the devotees come visiting, That the author got the representation of a water body wrong in her description is what I really found interesting. I see it as a gap in information. Hence, this footnote of a post. [The above painting can also be found in 'A Goddess is Born: The Emergence of Khir Bhavani in Kashmir' by Dr. Madhu Bazaz Wangu. According to that book the painting is lying in Kashmir Library Collection Kashmir.]
|A Muslim Kid selling 'Kand' and other samagri at the Kheer Bhawani Shrine|
|Devotees clearing flowers collected in the Spring|
Called in the book 'A Sacred Design', the author sees it for what it is - a depiction of 'Sagar Manthan', the great churning of the ocean, but it is the pattern that the author fails to decipher. Karuna Goswamy sees 'Rama' written in Sharda script all over this painting, in various patterns and colors and writes:
'What the significance of all this is, whether the word 'Rama' is repeated a thousand times on this page as a virtuoso exercise, is not clear. Nor is it possible to make out why the writer/designer shifts from black into red. whether the consideration simply is to retain a memory of different colored backgrounds in different parts of the page, one would never be able to know. That there is some deeper meaning to the whole thing is all that one can guess at.'
We may never know, but a guess can be made. An educated guess. My guess, at one time it was a popular tantric ritual undertaken by a person seeking spiritual awakening.
Given above is a handwritten drawing of Omkaara in Sharda script from around 1925 by a Pandit saint re-named Bhagwan Gopinath (1898-1968). He was around 27 at the time he drew it and was experimenting with all kind of ways to attain 'oneness'. The note alongside this drawing in the saints biographical sketch (first published in 1974) by SN Fotedaar explains:
'All the space around and within Omkaara I is filled with Raama Raama except that inside each double line forming the Omkaara. This suggests that Raama is an abjunct of Omkaara. Likewise, Shiva Shiva is written in the case of Omkaara II, the space between the two lines forming the Omkaara being blank. The blank spaces in the case of each Omkaara seem to represent the Formless, Immutable and Eternal Brahman round which everything centres.'
I don't know what it all exactly means. But right now when I see at these symbols, empty space and space filled out by written word, I see a parallel to knowing something and not knowing and not knowing and knowing somwthing. I see an information theory. I ask myself, what do we read, what do we know.