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A. RAMACHANDRAN'S LILA OF LIFE

A. Ramachandran’s recreation of the lotus is a divine symphony replete with meaning, expression, power and command over artistic expression

In 2016, he took the metaphor of The Earthen Pot from a poem by ONV Kurup and used it as the title for his 'Earthen Pot – Image Poems 2016' – an exhibition of twenty-one drawings at Vadehras in Delhi. For a voracious reader, one of Indian art history's greatest Professors and an artist who creates his own paradisal ponds – A. Ramachandran needs no introduction.

Dulcet drawings

Now, two years hence, at the Shridharani Gallery in Delhi, curated by his student the talented Manisha Gera Baswani, Ramachandran's ruminations on the lotus pond and a number of black and white ink drawings speak of the mystique of myths and decorative elements – an integral part of his works and his powerful command over contours, to create a dramatic air of atmospherics in the capital city as it welcomes winter.

Ramachandran recreates aspects of fertility, memory, through landscapes which were central to the series. We see motifs recurring predominantly in the dulcet drawings: the tree, the vitality of nature and the self portrait of the artist as if enveloped inside the womb of the earthen pot; amidst the lehenga-clad Bhil women as the central figures.

The iconoclast has behind him years of research from the Barahmasa and Ragamala paintings as well as the mural painting traditions of the temples in Kerala. The Ragamala and Barahmasa paintings, known to represent the ragas in Indian Classical Music through the different times of the day and the evocation of different moods during the changing seasons in twelve months of the year, become his paradisal backdrop – Ramachandran explores visual dictionaries created in these medieval era paintings.

Exploring moods

He explores 'mood' as evoked visually and adds poetic expression with his lithe lines through his compositions. The drawings express a longing and yearning to be in the midst of nature as if dreamt by the artist. The central figure of the woman is again a reference to and a derivation from his earlier works as the symbol of fertility, while different kinds of birds and creatures also add to the mystery of the works. The contrast of colours that defines most of his drawings and paintings subsides to give way to a subdued colour palette which defines the works in a much more fluid manner. Filled with textures, the details create a complex and invigorating body of work.

Lotus Pond Lila

Ramachandran's lotus pond meditations are mythically bound and metaphorically timeless. But there are touches of the fantastical. In a number of paintings, time has dried up and also lent its erosive contexts into the shadows of the lotus leaves that don't always match up to the flowers from which they have ostensibly been cast. The light is now bleached and eerie – and you come to the role of sandhya (sunset) in the artist's way of looking. It seems as if Ramachandran has recast the lotus pond in the dimlit recesses of the sandhya to give us a twilight sheen that is full of the magic of caprice of the sunset of one's own life.

The lotus pond for Ramachandran is representative of creation and cosmic renewal. It also represents longevity as the arid flowers now wilting seem rooted in the mud. It is also symbolic of detachment. In the best of Ramachandran's works, these two worlds – the real and the imaginary, the mythic and the real – begin to mesh. One has the sense of looking at something real through the lens of imagination, old age and sensorial experience.

Obviously, the lotus pond is the metaphor for nature's perfection in the samsara (universe). 'The images in my works convey ideas of different planes and views. I am concerned with the pictorial idiom, what should be a new language. I am not a modernist and I don't need to look at Jasper Johns or anyone in the west to find my idiom. Mine is the language of tradition,' said he in 2016 to me.

`I use an extraordinary variety of colours to reflect an equivalent sensual and tactile experience. The Lotus as it moves its petals towards the sun or away from the sun becomes my artistic ferment,' he added.

Elements born of the soil

The magic of the show lies, then, in the conventions of the genre as much as in Ramachandran's presentation of the lotus pond in all its fleeting splendour. In the opportunity that the show affords simply to look, to contemplate the physical aspect of the world in its most basic forms, Ramachandran brings us both women and lotuses who are born of the soil and live with the elements – the dust, wind, rain, sand and sun.

It is Ramachandran's immortal embrace of the genre, his skilful participation in this worthy and essentially sensual tradition of classical Indian art that brings an oasis of creation that echoes the vitality and vibration of the mythical looking glass in the lotus pond. What emerges is the caprice of the divinities born of the womb of stillness. The lotus pond exemplifies not just the measure of one of nature's waterfronts, it is also the harbinger of truth and harmony, it is pure reality – born of a metaphysical domain encrusted in – the city of Obeshwar that became the oasis of the Lila of a single lotus pond frozen in time.

Uma Nair

Uma Nair

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