Sanjay Bhattacharyya's Durga

The beauty of this Durga is not just the form, but the lissome contours and flat planar dictates that Bhattacharyya presents to us

Sanjay Bhattacharyyas Durga

Opening today at the Habitat Centre is Sanjay Bhattacharyya's exhibition 'Shrines' which in one sweep of monumental canvasses and three drawings talk to us about the power of forms in divinity even as it presents realms of religious rituals all over the country.

Amongst the drawings, my favourite is the heavy hipped Durga which makes me feel comfortable because these hips are akin to mine. The beauty of this Durga is not just the form, but the lissome contours and flat planar dictates that Bhattacharyya presents to us. The tribal forms of Durga have been done by Bhattacharyya for more than two decades. The naturally of form and figure come easily to him. The Durga makes me think of the most popular Durga Puja in Shantiniketan which was started by one of India's greatest abstract artists Badhan Das, in Santiniketan in 2001.

It seems that this Durga Puja has become a tourist attraction because of tribal cultural programmes, folk songs, and handcrafts that all come together as an amalgam at Shantiniketan. Devotees from Bengal and Jharkhand visit the Puja, locally known as Badhan Das's Puja or Hiralini Durgotsov, which is organised in the Khoai area of Santiniketan.

Bhattacharyya says Das, a teacher at the Government College of Art and Craft in Calcutta, had bought land in Santiniketan near the Sonajhuri forest in 1990 to open a studio. After 10 years, he decided to organise a Durga Puja in the compound of his house involving tribal people from neighbouring villages such as Banerpukurdanga and Ballabhpur. The specialty of Das's Durga Puja is its idols. There are five separate idols made of terracotta, bamboo, wood, earth, and iron.

Bhattacharyya's 10 armed version of the goddess Durga does not stand upon a pedestal upon which she vanquished the buffalo demon Mahishasura, trampling him with one foot while transfixing him with Shiva's trident. He creates differential proportions. The Trishul is placed as a diagonal in which it becomes the weapon and the instrument of divinity in the vanquishing of evil. This iconography is the supreme expression of the power of this goddess, "the Unassailable, the Unconquerable."

The flat image with clean contours creates a kinetic energy. This Durga is both benign as well as filled with feminine attributes. Her striped attire speaks of simplicity and elegance. The fervent finish and the sculptonic command of form create an image of great beauty and divine intensity. The fact that she is not robed and jeweled gives her a nomadic tribal flavour and we can imagine her standing in a dimly lit thatched roofed hut that turns into a sanctuary, the beauty of this large vertical canvas is the truth that wherever she dwells, in whatever form Durga always has an awesome presence that engulfs and embraces the devotee who stands before it. At the India Habitat Centre, this drawing is bound to be the cynosure of all eyes.

Uma Nair

Uma Nair

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