Written by Animesh Kaushik and Utkarsha Gandhe
The National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA), Bengaluru, has curated a rare and significant exhibition showcasing Nandalal Bose's 'Haripura Panel', revered as a national treasure. The exhibition, the first of its kind, will continue to impress art lovers until April 2024. It includes 77 of 400 water posters, each depicting the daily lives of Indians.. This panel was commissioned by Mahatma Gandhi for the 51st session of the Indian National Congress in 1938 at Haripura in Gujarat and is of historical significance. Since the Haripura Congress took place at a pivotal juncture in the Indian National Congress's political campaign, it holds special significance in the country's pre-independence history.
Commissioned for a pivotal session, Nandalal Bose and his students created a series of monumental decorative panels. These works aimed to visually capture the essence of India's independence movement, showcasing its diversity, culture, and legacy. The panels covered a range of topics, from traditional Indian arts and crafts to rural life and iconic historical figures. Notably, Mahatma Gandhi featured, spinning khadi on a prominent panel, symbolizing the endorsement of hand-spun fabric as a representation of independence and self-sufficiency.
“This exhibition has been in the works for five to six years. These pieces of art are as relevant today as they were decades ago. The subject focuses on ordinary people. It gives a lot of insight into rural life and the self-sustaining rural economy. More than 50% of Indians still reside in villages and their daily lives largely remain the same,” said the director of NGMA Bangalore, Smt. Nazneen Banu in an interview with Deccan Herald.
Nandalal Bose's Haripura panels served a political and cultural function in addition to being artistic creations. They sought to inspire and unite India's diverse population in the common cause of independence. The use of indigenous themes and traditional artistic techniques was intentional to highlight the link between the freedom movement and India's rich cultural heritage.
Born in Bihar, Bose first studied at the Calcutta School of Art under the tutelage of Abanindranath Tagore, a notable artist, and Rabindranath Tagore's nephew. Nandalal Bose eventually became close to Rabindranath Tagore and was involved in art’s instructional efforts at Santiniketan, Tagore's educational institution.
Traditional Indian art genres such as Mughal and Rajput miniature paintings, as well as the Ajanta cave paintings, inspired Nandalal Bose. His approach was a seamless combination of ancient Indian techniques and contemporary creative sensibility. He stressed the utilization of local themes and techniques, and his art contributed to the nationalist cause.
Bose went deep into the village of Vita Nagar near Haripura to create the Haripura Panels. These panels clearly show various aspects of rural life, giving a constant insight into people's daily lives.
Besides the 'Haripura Panel', the exhibition also displays other treasures of Bose, including a copy of the 'Constitution of India' manuscript with his photographs. A linoleum statue of Bose with Mahatma Gandhi leading the Dandi March is also on display. This unique exhibition invites its visitors to a fascinating journey into the life of Nandalal Bose.
“LADY ON A HORSE” BY NANDALAL BOSE
In 1948, the then Constituent Assembly of India approached him to adorn the handwritten copy of the constitution with his designs. It was a mammoth task, as Bose had to infuse the spirit of a country with so much culture, history, and diversity into a document that would serve as the primary pillar of Indian governance. He worked with his students from Kala Bhavana, the art school of Shanti Niketan, where he was the principal. He drew from India's vast visual tradition to add many cultural and historical elements to the pictures. The artwork incorporates depictions of India's ethnic richness, historical events, and national symbols.
One remarkable feature is the representation of the "Lion Capital of Ashoka" at Sarnath, which was selected as India's national emblem. Another image is that of Lord Buddha, who represents peace and compassion and embodies the inclusion and tolerance inherent in the Indian Constitution.
“CHOLA BRONZE NATARAJA” BY NANDALAL BOSE
Nandalal Bose and his colleagues' artistic endeavor aimed to graphically express constitutional ideals—justice, liberty, equality, and brotherhood. They intentionally incorporated indigenous art forms, bridging the modern constitutional framework with India's rich cultural history. On January 24, 1950, a day before the official establishment of the Republic of India, the adorned Constitution was delivered to the Constituent Assembly. Bose's creative contribution provides a culturally entrenched dimension to India's basic document, acknowledged as a crucial element in the nation's constitutional history. Honored with medals, including the Padma Vibhushan, Bose's legacy inspires future artists, celebrated as a grassroots trailblazer and pioneer of the Indian art Renaissance. In 1914, Rabindranath Tagore succinctly encapsulated Bose's impact in two lines fitting for a person of his calibre :
“Your paint-brush colours India’s heart
And fills Bengal’s treasury with new riches.”
For more information, visit the National Gallery of Modern Art, Bengaluru (ngmaindia.gov.in)