Seated at the entrance of the hall at National Museum, a 10th century stone Ganesha from Central Asia is having an interface with another representation of the elephant god across the room. This comes from 20th century Rajasthan, a pen and ink on paper. In the backdrop are parrots woven on a 19th century Kashmiri shawl, delicately embroidered in intricate patterns. For CL Bharany and his father RK Bharany the medium did not matter. All art was one. “The intention is to highlight the role of one collector and the huge donation made,” says Dr Giles Tillotson.
Having worked on a book on the collection, he is also co-curating an exhibition featuring it at the National Museum along with Pramod Kumar KG and Mrinalini Venkateswaran. “We have juxtaposed the pieces to showcase how RK Bharany had extremely diverse taste. He was not interested in hierarchies and did not distinguish between rural, folk and courtly,” adds Tillotsan.
The over 100 artifacts in the room testify his opinion. Collected over several decades, the pieces speak for the owners and their varied taste. Donated to the museum in 1976, while some pieces from the collection are part of permanent exhibitions, the remaining are usually in storage. “There is no central piece. All are equally important,” notes Tillotson.
There are highlights though. So Tillotson points out that the early 20th century painted Kathakali villain figure in wood is not common. “I know of only two more of them,” he says. Placed at the entrance in one of the inside rooms, the 17th century wooden Dwarapala from Kerala is also magnificent, much like the 18th century temple toran from Nepal.
There are lessons to take back home too. Pichwais might have the deity as the central figure now, but in the past its focus was varied. To present a 20th century Rajasthani pattern in a contemporary manner, the curators have it suspended behind a bronze Vishnu. The corner also has other mythological representations of Vishnu, from Ramgopal Vijayvargiya’s watercolour of Radha and Krishna to Hritkdas’s gouche of Sharada Devi and Ramakrishna goddess Kali.
The energies spent on exhibition design are also evident. For instance, shawls aren’t on the walls in a frame, but hung in corners, acting as backdrops. A 19thcentury phulkari creation is on the roof, above it’s reproduction on a plastic sheet which can be walked over. “The aim is to have an interaction with the collection,” notes Tillotson. So walk in and look for the reproduction of a 19th century embroidered shawl from Kashmir hanging as a canopy at the door. The original is inside the exhibition is believed to be used as one, once upon a time.
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The exhibition at National Museum, Janpath, is on till August 14 Contact: 23792775