BY RUCHIRA GHOSH
About Nandalal Bose’s paintings Dr S Radhakrishnan (noted philosopher and a former President of India) had observed, “ when we come across a great genius who has abiding faith in the spirit of this ancient land, who has that rarest of qualities unhampered unclouded visions we feel we have come into our own world of art.Nandalal Bose takes his material from the classical myths and legends of India and gives new forms to ancient ideals.’ Nandalal Bose lived and worked during the period of India’s freedom movement. His works embodied the cultural Renaissance which traversed the land during that time.
Beginning his career as disciple of Abanindranath (nephew of the Nobel laureate)at the Tagore family’s ancestral home in Jorasanko,Kolkata, Bose travelled a long way in the sphere of Art, gradually imbibing the diverse influences of the land as well as experience acquired from voyages abroad. And finally it was his slogging out from the rigid environs of Kolkata with its band of strait jacketed artists to the open air and blue skies and idyllic surroundings of Santiniketan remained singularly significant for him. All these influences merged and blended into a harmonious whole and further enriched an art that was indigenous in body and spirit. Bose had a short stint in ‘kalighat pat’ a unique style upheld by painters who lived and operated in the vicinity of the iconic Kalighat temple in Kolkata, The predominant theme was deities of the Hindu pantheon as well as figures from legends and myths. The gifted artist that he was, Bose mastered this art form in no time and assimilated into his personal style.
His genius finally blossomed when Mahatma Gandhi asked Bose to undertake the decoration of the gateways and pandals of the Haripura session of the Indian National Ccongress in 1938. The new task opened up new vistas before Nandalal—providing him the platform to experiment with earth colour painting in folk style. The village structures and huts became his models; he made gates and arches entirely out of locally available materials. The painted panels were distributed and arranged with meticulous care—creating a rural ambience which merged with the village landscape and yet stood out as something unique displaying the lofty grandeur and elegance and village simplicity.
Nandalal Bose, a faithful adherent of the Bengal School of Art, was deeply attracted to mythology which prolifically appeared in his paintings viz Karna worshipping the Sun, Gandhari, Bhishma’s vow, Savitri and Yama, Sati, Drona imparting lessons in archery, Uma’s penance, Shiva consuming poison, to name a few.
As a young artist, Nandalal Bose was deeply influenced by the murals of the Ajanta Caves. The discerning viewers may easily notice how they appear and reappear in his masterpieces. He also painted insects, birds, animals, plants, flowers, mountains, mist, cloud, rains, landscapes and above all the vibrant life force which strongly asserts itself in myriad ways.
Bose’s mega portfolio comprises nearly ten thousand works: paintings, watercolors, drawings and graphics, thus representing the acme of his experiments with styles and media. These uphold his belief in the dignity and simplicity of life. Interestingly, to perpetuate the 1930 occasion of Mahatma Gandhi‘s arrest for defying the Salt Tax, Bose created a black-on-white linocut print of Gandhi walking with a staff, which later became the icon for the non-violence movement. Much later, in the post-independence era he was asked by Jawaharlal Nehru to conceptualize the emblems for prestigious (Government of India’s) civilian awards, e.g Bharat Ratna, Padma Shri and more. In tandem with one of his disciples Rammanohar, Bose also undertook the mammoth task of embellishing the original manuscript of the Constitution of India. It would be appropriate to wind up, with the great artist’s views on Art, ‘The fine arts rescue us from the drabness of everyday life by lifting us into the realms of joy”.