Manaku: The one who entered God's world
The lives of exponents of Pahari paintings are shrouded in mystery. Those who are interested in paintings of Hindu religious epics are well aware of Nainsukh, the younger son of the painter Pandit Seu but only a handful are aware of the conservative painter and the older brother of Nainsukh.
After documenting 'Nainsukh of Guler,' Dr. B N Goswamy – a distinguished art historian and Professor Emeritus of Art History at the Punjab University, Chandigarh – intrigued by Manaku, reconstructed whatever little is known of his life in 'Manaku of Guler.'
"Most of the painters have remained uncelebrated and it has been an obsession of mine to try and do something in terms of going back to the painters themselves; see what we can learn about them or just try and reconstruct the way they thought about things," sighed the author with despair on the anonymity of many such great Indian painters.
Manaku came from an obscure little town in the hills of northern India – home to his singularly talented family – and yet his vision knew almost no limits. Endowed with soaring imagination and great painterly skills, this man – with a name that literally means a ruby, was capable of painting giant rings of time upon timeless waters, envisioning the world of gods and demons, littered with cosmic battles and earthly triumphs, but also gazing, with tender eyes, upon the world of two lovers in which there is tortured loneliness at one moment but, in the next, 'her garlands fall on his chest and glisten like white cranes on a dark cloud'.
At least three great series were painted by Manaku – 'the Siege of Lanka' which took forward the narrative of the Ramayana from the point where his father, the gifted Pandit Seu, had left it; 'The Gita Govinda' – Jayadeva's immortal 12th century Sanskrit lyric – which he completed in 1730; and 'The Bhagavata Purana', that remarkably extensive text, revered and recited by millions to this day, which he set about to negotiate with his brush in ca. 1740–45.
After careful observation of Manaku's paintings, Dr B N Goswamy believes that through his paintings of Hindu religious relics, "he entered the world of the gods." He further says, "Manaku had the ability to look gods into the eye and converse with them as if they were colleagues. He never used any honorifics to describe a god. It was as if he had the absolute ability to talk to the gods without any formality and turn what they were doing into paintings. This ability of him; to just close his eyes and see that this is what must have happened between Ram and Raavan or Krishna and Radha, and depicting it so beautifully is what intrigued me to write this book".