Millennium Post

The Beckoning Murals

It was around 1993, during a visit to  Pradip Zaveri’s native place in Kachchh when he observed wall paintings in many villages and recorded his observation in a photo-document. It was at this time that preparation for this work, Wall Paintings Of Northern and Central Gujarat, took off.

Indira Gandhi Manav Sanghralaya of Bhopal was the first to recognise this work. The massive effort put to this work is not solely for the purpose of the writer’s artistic gratification. This work is an effort to restore a fading culture, it intends to create awareness about this extinct heritage of Kachchh.

The interest and quest for wall paintings took Zaveri to various locations in many districts of Gujarat. His collection includes photo-documents from various sites beyond Gujarat as well. Many wall paintings can still be found but in a neglected and dilapidated state. The period between late eighteenth century to late nineteenth century saw an upheaval. Despite this, the encouragement by the patrons of the Swaminarayan philosophy in the Kheda district kept this tradition alive.

The themes of murals vary from incarnation of Vishnu, Krishnaleela, durbar scenes, hunts, to romantic escapades. Myths and legends are prime subjects depicted in this art form. This art is also influenced by Maratha Kalam style of painting. Not only are these paintings a valuable source of socio-economic and cultural history, they also compliment other forms of  art like iconography, local tradition, folk poetry, and prose.

The aesthetic sensitivity and creative urge of man is traced as far back as the pre-historic rock shelters. The earliest example of Indian paintings are found in the caves of Kaimur range in the Vindhyas in central India. Those paintings record wild animals, war procession and hunting scenes.

Although crude in draft, they are realistically drawn with the help of blunt stone tools. Branches and twigs were their brush and the source of colour was different minerals.

Painting in India has a very old tradition. It was common for households to paint their doorways, facades, and even rooms and guest reception areas. Painting also served as a medium for the expression of visual fantasies. In the paintings of Mewar and Kangra Valley, idyllic nature scenes were created to convey a sense of joy and wonder, or a mood of unspoiled romance and eroticism.

The paintings are not just an exclusive documentation of wall art, they provide a comprehensive insight into general cultural history. Buddhist manuscripts were mainly calligraphiy between eleventh and twelfth centuries. These are sacred manuscripts which are studied even today for religious as well as academic purpose. Buddha Ghosha in a commentary expresses, ‘there is nothing finer in the world than the art of painting’.

Some of the oldest texts on painting are Chitrasutra and Vishnudharmottara Purana, composed and compiled between the fifth and the seventh centuries. Vishnudharmottara is a dialogue between king Vajra and sage Markandeya regarding the importance of painting and its interrelation with other forms of art. In this manner the discourse covers all technical aspects of wall painting: from preparing ground work to the final touches given after the completion of the paintings.

The popular Sundarkand of Ramayana is also not devoid of explicit mention of elaborately adorned walls of the palaces of Ravana and Kaikeyi. The art of wall painting also mesmerised Kalidas who described the palaces of Ayodhya adorned with vivid paintings. Some of the finest wall paintings in Rajasthan are found in the popular Amber palace near Jaipur. Different princely states in Rajasthan started developing their own style of painting based on their culture and heritage. Chief among them were Mewar, Jodhpur, Kota, Bundi and Nathdwara . All these schools had one thing in common, they were based on folklore associated with Krishna, Ramayana, and Mahabharata, apart from the usual scenes of hunting and procession, local folklore and legends.

The commercial and maritime activities of the nearby ports brought prosperity and economic supremacy to Gujarat region in the ancient times. Little wonder that  even today, Gujarat is a trade-centric province. In a prolific economy, it is natural for  aesthetic occupations and art forms to develop and receive encouragement.

The reign of the last Mughal ruler Aurangazeb caused irreparable damage to this heritage. As the art of painting was not in accordance his religious beliefs, he ordered the paintings to be destroyed. Even the Murals at the tomb of Akbar was white washed out of existence.  Gujarat has suffered myriad onslaught of civilisation and struggle for supremacy. What has survived the test of time is its art. This work by Pradip Zaveri is a heartfelt endeavour to revive a dying inheritance.

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