Tuesday, February 28, 2012

notes on Kashmiri Painting

Kashmiri Painting by Karuna Goswamy
(with 90 color Plates)
Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla
(Aryan Books International)
1998, Rs. 1800
 Buy Kashmiri Paintings by Karuna Goswamy From Flipkart.com


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.
In this book, she helps us recognize this art. In detailed notes and accompanying sketches she tells us how planes are drawn in a Kashmiri painting, how a war is sketched, a killing, gods, kings, queens, saints, a man, a muslim man, a pandit man, a muslim woman, a pandit women, a women ('with no emphasis on breasts'), and so on. Then she also tells us about the people who created this art. Perhaps the most surprising of the tales here is of families of Kashmiri scribes who, just about the turn of previous century, would travel to the plains of Haryana to offer their skills as copiers of manuscripts. A tradition, a profession now done. I came across a photograph of one such artist family (with their art) in a book titled 'Afoot Through the Kashmir Valleys’ (1901) by Marion Doughty. I didn't grow up in a house that had 'Kashmiri art' on walls, there were the usual framed lithographs as found in any middle class Hindu household anywhere in India around two or three decades ago. The old Kashmir tradition of family Priest bringing a work of art to the house of his patron in a Holy Day (Gori'tri), as mentioned in this book too, was still there, but he took brought printed lithographs. Hand-painted stuff was already gone. [You can check some of these old hand-painted stuff here and some sketches from Kashmiri Ramayan here]. I don't know much about art but there were somethings in this book that made me wonder - How precise can a writing be on a dead art that was once very much alive? How much re-interpretation is done to fill in missing gaps left by lack of information?

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
Another painting that I found in the book is this:

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.

picked kashmir at Delhi book fair, 2012

February 26, 2012

The loot this year:

Balti Phonetic Reader
by K. Rangan
Central Institute of Indian Languages
(1975. Rs. 8)

Hindi-Kashmiri Common Vocabulary
by Jawaharlal Handoo and Lalita Handoo
Central Institute of Indian Languages 
(1975, Rs.20)
Rupa Bhavani
by S.L. Sadhu
Sahitya Akademi
(2003, Rs.25)
 Early Terracotta Art of Kashmir
by Aijaz A. Bandey
Centre of Central Asian Studies, University of Kashmir, Srinagar
(1992, Rs. 20)
Haba Khatoon
by S.L. Sadhu

Sahitya Akademi
(2003 (first published 1968), Rs.25)

 Kashmiri-English Dictionary for Second Language Learners
by Omkar N. Koul, S.N. Raina and Roop Krishen Bhat

Central Institute of Indian Languages
(2000, Rs.80)

 Khazir Malik Safai
by Shad Ramzan (Translated by Mohammad Aslam)

Sahitya Akademi
(1999, Rs.25)
This Kashmiri Sufi poet (d.1920), among other things came up with a version of Moulana Jalaludin Rumi's  Tota Nama.

 Languages of Belonging: Islam, Regional Identity, and the Making of Kashmir
by Chitralekha Zutshi
Permanent Black
(2003, Rs. 695)
 History of Kashmir: Tarikh-i-Kashmir of Saiyid Ali
English translation with Historical Analysis by Abdul Qaiyum Rafiqi
Gulshan Books
(2011, Rs. 795)
The Stranger Besides Me: Short Stories from Kashmir
Edited and translated by Neerja Mattoo
Gulshan Books
(2007, Rs. 450)

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Kashmir Canvas of Bombay Progressives

In 1947, just when geographic borders were getting re-defined in this part of the world, a bunch of artists started on a journey that was to alter the borders of Indian art.  Six young artists founded the Progressive Artists Group in Bombay. These were FN Souza, SH Raza, KH Ara, MF Husain, SK Bakre and HA Gade. Around same time three men in Kashmir were also going Progressive. These were S.N. Butt, Triloke Kaul and P.N. Kachru. When SH Raza reached out to these artists in Kashmir in August 1948, the result was formation of 'Progressive Artists Association' in Srinagar in October. It's first exhibition was held in May 1949 and by October that year the exhibition traveled out to Delhi. The two progressive groups continued to inspire each other for many years to come. Raza famously went on to explore the Tantric symbolism in his painting inspired by Kashmir. In 1950s, Raza went on to mentor one of the best known progressive artists from Kashmir - great G.R. Santosh went too made his mark by Tantric symbolism. But before moving to abstracts, most of these men did try painting the colors of Kashmiri landscape.

Kashmir by SH Raza ( Came across it in a CD 'Indian Paintings' produced by Publications Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting Government of India.)

Kashmir by Hari Ambadas Gade. 1950 [via: Saffronart]

Gandharbal Kashmir by N.S. Bendre. [via: cyberadsstudio]
G.R. Santosh trained under bendre too for some time. 

A Night Scene Jammu

A Night Scene
Countesy, Jagdish and Kamla Mittal Museum of Indian Art, Hyderabad [check out this wonderful resource on the Museum and its collections and their website]
Found it in a CD titled 'Indian Paintings' produced by Publications Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting Government of India.

Jammu Night. 2012.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Ali Mardan Khan's Shiva Persian Poem

The story goes that Ali Mardan Khan, the Kurdish governor of Kashmir appointed by Shah Jahan, the governor who built Chameshahi Garden, the supposed owner of a philosopher stone got from a dead snake woman, was one night strolling around Shalimar Garden when his eyes suddenly fell on Mahadeo peak and saw something, believed he saw Shiva himself. He went on to write a poem on his experience. No one was to later claim that he must have been smoking or drinking Shiva stuff that night.

I find the story interesting not just because of the obvious 'Muslim Man singing Hindu Hosanna' thing but because in this particular story and the poem associated with the story, the whole unique Hindu concept of 'Darshan' and the concept of God having physical attributes is also adopted.

I have read the story and reference to the poem in a lot of 'our great culture' writing on Kashmir. But never was the poem presented in entirety. The usual - someone knows 30% about something, he shares 15%, someone else is happy copying 10%,  and in the end you get only 5% but that doesn't matter cause you get a lazy 'our great culture' kick even in that 5% and that's how the matter remains. In my case, OCD causes me all kind of pirablems. I need to know more even if I don't understand it. Even if it is all Persian to me.

Last month, I found the poem in an Hindi-Kashmiri Aarti /Bajan book dated 1993 lying among my grandmother's god books collection. Here's the complete poem, in what may or may not pass for Persian, with what may or may not pass for translation:

Huma Aslay Maheshwar Bood
Shabshahay Ki Man Didam
Gazanfar Charam Dar Barbood
Shab Shahay

I saw him at night, I am sure it was Maheshwar
wearing a Lion skin on him, that night

Zee Bhasamsh Jam-e-Bar Tan
Zonarsh maar bar gardan
Ravansh gang bar sar bood
Shab Shahay

His body covered in ash, a snake around the neck
Ganga was flowing down from his hair, that night

Say Chashmash bar jabeen Darad
Zee mehroy roshan tar
Say Karan Dast Bastah bood 
Shab Shahay

Three eyes on his face, his face all illuminating
for that reason, my hands paid him respect, that night

B-dastash Aab-e-Kosar
V-bekh Nakusee Nilofar
Hilalash Taaj bar sar bood
Shab Shahay

Water of bounty, a lotus conch in hand
his head was lit by moon, that night

Uma Az Soi-la-Bingar 
Zi Sad Khursheed Taban tar
Svarash Kulib-e-nar bood
Shab Shahay

Uma to his left, bright like a thousand suns
their ride was a Bull, that night

Ajab Sanyaas-e-didam
Namo Narayan Guftam
E-Khakay paye bosidham 
Shab Shahay

I saw a strange renouncer, my lips uttered - Namoh Narayan
I kissed the dust flying off his feet, that night

Nigahay bar manay Miskeen
Namood Az Chashim Tabaan Tar
Makanash Laamkan tar bood
Shab Shahay

He looked deep into me with his shining eyes
I saw his house in the uninhabitable infinite, that night

Manam Mardaan Ali Khanam 
Gulam Shah-e-Shaham
Ajab Israar may Beenam 
Shab Shahay

I, Ali Mardan Khan, server of King of Kings
I witnessed something very strange, that night

Ali Mardan Khan died of dysentery on his way to Kashmir in 1657. 

Update: 23rd Feb 2017

I sing it out.

Image: Bharava by Triloke Kaul. Private collection of the painter.

Shiva Folio from an Anthology of Prayer Texts Kashmir

Folio from an Anthology of Prayer Texts Kashmir : Sadashiva on Mount Kailash.
Museum Rietberg, Zurich
Folio from an Anthology of Prayer Texts Kashmir : Shiva and Parvati on Mount Kailash.
Museum Rietberg, Zurich

Came across these in a beautiful CD titled 'Indian Paintings' produced by Publications Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting Government of India.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Herath File

It has become a festival of sound. Right now, I  await a sound from Jammu. A phone call. My grandmother will declare that the pooja is over and that dinner can be had. The festival begins. 'The' festival. Right now, I see people searching for audio of 'Vatak Pooja'. They search for a sound. Instructions. I know the sound. Now too familiar. they search of unfamiliar instructions. I know how the scene will play: one controls the tape, one serves the gods, one manages the family, one plays the funny guy. No ordinary marriage this. The Ashen Mad god gets married. I pick this book, by someone who thinks he probably saved something. I read this ditty, explaining 15 days of Shivratri. Something survived. I know these sounds. Okdoh, Mavas, Herath, Vagur...

Akh tI akh Kho'daya,
One and One is God
ZItI zin gyaDIra
Two is bundle of firewood
Trayshkal  Duna
Three faced perfect Walnut
Tsor kunj alam
Four cornered world
PAntsh gAyi PanDav
Five were Pandavs
She'tI'she Re'shi
Six were Reshis
Sath ZalI satam
Seven are Jwala's flames
ATh Huri ATham
Eight, Her day. Ragnya's day.
Nav tsitIr navam
Nine, we meditate (rest)
Dah dya'rl aAhAm
Ten, money flows
Kah gaDi Kah
Eleven, let's eat fish
VagIri bah
Twelfth, god's messenger Vagur is here
He'rItsI truvah 
Thirteenth, Herath is on thirteen
KralI tso'dah
Fourteenth, pay the potters
Duni mavas
Fifteenth, let's eat those walnuts
SozIni okdoh
One, send out those walnuts
Wah BAli Wah ti wah Bali wah 
Dance, little girl! Dance!
And this is how it actually goes. Made this recording a couple of years ago at home. It is delightful madness. If it is Herath and you are missing the sound. Do tune in. Play around with the play button. And Herath Mubarak.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Mong Ver

Mong Ver. Moving, from hands of my aunts, to plates for gods, to hands of grand-moms, and then to me.


Thursday, February 16, 2012

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Guide To Kashmir, 1954

I knew it was vintage. But the description on ebay offered no date, it just said 'Guide to Kashmir', old, very old, or something like that. Once I bought it and went through it, finding the date proved to be fun little exercise. Clues: In which year a double room at Nedous Hotel cost Rs. 40 a day, a month in a Five room 'A Class' House boat cost Rs.800, Ahdoos was still there, there were only three Film theaters in the city and visitors needed permits to bring firearms into the state...in which year?

I talked around but got only approximations. In the end the fact that it was published The Tourist Traffic Branch, Ministry of Transport New Delhi proved to be vital. Searching the web led me to the listing for this booklet available in the National Library of Australia [link]. The match on the number of pages proved to be the clincher.

I present to you: Guide To Kashmir, 1954. Enjoy!

January 22, 2014

Uploaded the book to archive.org

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Ismail remembers Shammi

Mohd. Ismail is probably the biggest Shammi Kapoor fan from the state. Ismail spent most of his life doing odd jobs at Pahalgam, Gulmarg and other tourists spots that were popular with Bombay filmwallas. He met lot of stars, had himself photographed with quite a few of them. But Shammi Kapoor remained a lifelong favorite. While most of Kashmir Media was a bit quite on passing away of Shammi Kapoor, Ismail was publishing Remembrances. Ran into Ismail at my sister's wedding reception. He was supplying water.

Savoy Hotel Jammu. February 2012.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Jammu Morning

Parakeets(Shogaz in Kashmiri)

Roof Top Toilet

Synchronized Sweeping

Trikuta Parbat (Parvat)

Bada B tay Chota V

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