October 8, 2021 9:33:09 am
Ram Partap Verma grew up fascinated by the wall paintings of the numerous havelis of his hometown Bhiwani, Haryana. Art was all around him in the town situated on the border of Rajasthan and for him, this was a way of life. As a child, he watched his mother painting images of Gugga Pir or Gangaur festivals, related respectively to snake-worship and veneration Shakti or womanhood, on the walls of their home and played with monkey-rattles and cloth toys made by her.
Even before joining the Chandigarh Art College, Verma painted cinema hoardings and signboards in his hometown. Seeped in art, his journey back to his hometown to capture the vanishing wall paintings on film, camera and text, is a thanksgiving of sorts to the place which sowed the seeds of art in his heart and soul.
‘Wall Paintings; The Vanishing Treasure’, a beautifully illustrated book and a documentary film based on the book, are valuable works, released this week by the Chandigarh Lalit Kala Akademi. Both the book and the film are a labour of love, with Verma working many years to capture both in words and on reel, the lost treasures of his hometown with the hope that a heritage, art group or the government, will make an effort to restore, preserve and protect this ‘vanishing treasure.’ Verma says his journey of 40 years as an artist is rooted here and the book is a eulogy to his wife, Sarita, who hailed from the same place and is always alive in his memories.
As an artist, says Verma he has made an attempt to document the relics of the wall paintings done on the havelis at Bhiwani.
“These remarkable paintings, executed since the 18th century, are a world by themselves, based largely on mythological themes. These unnoticed and vandalised paintings, hopefully will reach out to art lovers through the pages of this book and film. The pigments used in these paintings 200 years ago are still intact. Some paintings documented in this book do not exist anymore because many havelis have been demolished to make way for modern houses. A few paintings that were destroyed because of ignorance or mishandling have been re-touched. The sketches are shown along with the destroyed paintings to depict the damage that has been done to this treasure. A few existing havelis are in a pitiable condition and may not survive long, if not preserved as valuable heritage. The prevailing condition of these havelis portray the disregard and insensitive approach of the owners, caretakers and the government authorities.
The local community has also been insensitive; perhaps they don’t understand that these are rare treasures of art and heritage. These wall paintings, the vanishing treasures of Bhiwani, are waiting for caring hands and a willing heart to preserve them,” says Partap, adding that text in Hindi and local dialect is written alongside the visuals to describe the scene or name of the character painted.
Decoding these paintings on the walls of havelis of Bhiwani, says the artist, is like unveiling the wonders of visual art, for these works are a unique showcase of knowledge and skill of the painters, who had their own styles. In the book and documentary, Pratap takes art lovers closer to these treasures, as he spent months in these havelis, taking photographs, researching the history of these painters, their styles, the use of colours, the influence of history and society on their art. It is difficult to trace the evidence of any art school in this region during the 19th century, he says, as many varied influences of different time periods and cultures are seen in the paintings, as well as the architecture.
The compositions painted are random, broadly based on mythological themes and scenes of court and war and the painters used primary colours like ochre, indigo and green as secondary. Some compositions on the ceilings of the domes include multiple mythological scenes with various characters, not related to the scene, and are painted as space fillers. “This world of silent paintings and broken walls, whispers the glory of the time gone by,” adds Partap, who laments the fact that many of these priceless works have been lost to time and neglect.
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