When my genteel, hard-working grand-parents finally moved into their own home towards the end of their working life, my mother gifted them a gorgeous hand-painted panel of Lord Krishna and Radha. I vividly remember the effort and patience it took her to paint the details on a panel of raw-silk. I have been eyeing those patterns since then (over two decades, actually) and planned to paint them myself some day. Finally, I got around to painting them a brilliant turquoise and contemporized them using chunky box frames not really knowing the origin of these patterns.
So when I chanced upon this image in a book, I was pleasantly shocked (Handmade in India: Crafts of India, Aditi Ranjan and M.P Ranjan).
Sanjhi paper stencil from Mathura, India
These patterns are originally Sanjhi paper stencils of Mathura, depicting the life of one of India’s favorite mythological Gods, Lord Krishna. These stencils are still used to create rangolis, powder transfers, on the ground and on water in the temples. These scenes are cut freehand using either scissors or a blade and are often held together by just thin strands of paper. To know that I have unknowingly preserved a traditional craft is a divine pleasure indeed.
One of the most famous Venetian painters, Canaletto is famed for his panoramic paintings of the Grand Canal. His paintings capture not only the architectural facet of Venice but more significantly, the social aspect. The paintings have captured and preserved the ethos of Venetian society in 17thcentury, their customs and festivities, their pleasure choices and business dealings. Canaletto’s paintings project Venice not only as a grand city but a culturally endowed living society.
I have been captivated by Canaletto ever since I was introduced to his paintings at a visit to the Queen’s Gallery in Buckingham Palace nearly a decade ago. So, when I chanced upon the paintings of Shirwadkar at Jehangir Art Gallery in Mumbai, I felt like I had stumbled upon the Indian Canaletto. His depiction of the ancient city of Benaras along the Ganges, with its tall facades and ornate galleries was fascinating. But it was the depiction of social element of a completely different society, their religious customs and interactions, set in a vastly different time context that mesmerized me.
Two different artists, two different places and times, two vastly different cultures; but a common message that a city, however beautiful, is empty and lifeless without its society.