Kolkata, Nov 25: The Gita is a text that has been interpreted and illustrated in many of India’s artistic and literary traditions and yet hidden gems keep emerging from this vast treasure trove.
The Gita: Mewari Miniature Painting (1680-1698) by Allah Baksh, a sumptuously illustrated and gorgeously produced work, is one such rare gem. The book features illustrations from late 17th century Mewar by a court painter, Allah Baksh, which have been published for the first time.
Each illustration features a wealth of minute detail, which is lucidly explained by Professor Alok Bhalla in his commentary. Each image also depicts the relevant Mewari verse from the Gita. The Mewari text has been translated into Hindi by Padma Shri awardee Chandra Prakash Deval and this Hindi text has been translated into English by Professor Alok Bhalla. The book is thus a multi-lingual, multi-layered text of the Gita, as well as a volume of breathtaking images.
Each of the almost 400 images in the book, are an invitation to pause, gaze deeply and marvel at the intricacy of the imagery as well as the craft of the painter(s) who created them. Commissioned by Udaipur’s Maharana Jai Singh, these paintings of the Gita are part of an illustrated Mahabharata folio of more than 4,000 works. Rich in colour and minute detail, each painting explicates a unique moment of revelation in the discourse between Krishna and Arjuna.
The book is beautifully laid out with an Introduction followed by chapter-wise depiction of selected paintings, as well as close-ups of certain features in the images, each explained in loving detail. The fine translation of the Gita from Mewari into Hindi by Chandra Prakash Deval makes the original accessible and enhances our understanding of the history of cultural exchange between the different regions and languages of India.
Chapter 11, where Krishna reveals his vishwaroopa form to Arjuna is particularly impactful, as the painter has used immense skill to depict the multiple faces and limbs of Krishna in all-encompassing
form. And yet, as the commentary says, Krishna is not terrifyingly unapproachable, but strangely serene and beautiful, gentle and calm.
As Arjuna says in Chapter 11, verse 19, ‘Hey God of majestic form! You are boundless; your power is infinite; you have infinite eyes; your mouths are like the sun and the moon; your mouth is a blaze of fire; the warmth of your radiance is spread all over the universe.’ The painter conveys this sense of Arjuna’s wonder at the grandeur revealed to him with sensitivity and grace.
As Arjuna seeks to further understand the nature of being and the purpose of life, Krishna answers (in Chapter 14, verse 19) ‘Hey Arjuna! When the seeker finds no other agent of action and recognises the divine qualities of nature, he becomes part of the cosmic Being.’
Allah Baksh has illustrated the philosophical text of the Gita, verse by verse. His images, sparse yet meaningful, convey a wealth of meaning with an economy of expression. Their colours are clear and luminous; their lines are restrained and precise. The folio reveals an artist for whom the Gita is a magnificent conversation between man and God about the pity and the sorrow of war.
They are without precedent in India’s art tradition. His art truly deserves an honoured place in the great library of Indian scriptures and their interpretations.
The publication of these illustrations depicting the Mewari version of the Gita preserves a unique aspect of India’s plural cultural heritage. The significance of Allah Baksh illustrating the Gita is a supreme example of harmony in the arts of India.
The beauty of the illustrations, the range and depth of the sensitive commentary, the multilingual approach of the authors and the handy size of the work, make this a book to be treasured and to be read and re-read, time and again. (UNI)