In a rare and interesting portrayal of Hanuman, the allegory-filled central character in the Ramayana, the empty spaces within his silhouette outlined in black ink can be spotted bearing inscriptions in Arabic and Gujarati. The artwork from the 17th century, has its origins in either UP or Gujarat. The work lends clues on how its painter was a Muslim tantric worshipper of Hanuman. Many similar interesting facets of Hanuman and his varied depictions across the country find their way into the exhibition “Hanuman: The Divine Simian”, which is currently on display at Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA).
“The reason for doing this exhibition is that nobody knows about these works,” says BN Aryan, who has curated the show, which comprises 300 paintings, sculptures and masks centered around Hanuman. Bearing the brunt of time with its frayed edges and black spots, the tantric paintings of Hanuman, commonly known as the patakas in Jodhpur, show Hanuman with 11 hands and stepping onto a demon, reminiscent of the popular depiction of goddess Kali.
Another offbeat pataka painting shows the Navamukhi Hanuman, a nine-headed Hanuman, and has mantras in Devanagari beside it.
Aryan points out how his father, the late painter KC Aryan, was the first to preserve and promote these unknown paintings from Jodhpur. He says, “Nobody knew of their existence. These large-size paintings were done by pujaris from Jodhpur, and not by painters in a conventional manner. They are so vibrant and have now become extinct.
Even the local inhabitants are not aware of this fascinating artform of Jodhpur. I met Maharaja Gaj Singh of Jodhpur, and even he was not aware of this artform.”
Another important section is the Amritsar bazaar school of paintings done by local folk artists from Amritsar and executed by both Hindu and Sikh painters. In one frame, Hanuman leads a chariot carrying Ram and Lakshman in an early 20th century painting. Aryan says, “Nobody knows about the great contribution of Amritsar bazaar painters in folk style. They were so spontaneous and important and totally unconventional. Unfortunately those creating them were poor and didn’t have the money to buy mineral and stone colours. They were using aniline colours and would sit without shops or studios on the roadside in Amritsar.”
A 19th century miniature painting of Panchmukhi Hanuman from Kangra in Himachal Pradesh displays a moustached simian face with four heads placed around his scalp. A papier-mache mask of Hanuman dating back to the 20h century and a wooden variant from the 17th century also make appearances. Among the sculptures is a bronze icon of Hanuman from Odisha, seen carrying a mountain of the medicinal herb, sanjeevani buti, and a Hanuman figure placed on top of the handle of a ritual bell from Karnataka.
BN Aryan reveals how his father was an atheist before he turned into a great Hanuman devotee in 1954, after his daughter was cured when he offered his prayers t a temple in old Delhi. “He had a dream in the late ’60s of the god asking him to do a book for him. He set on a journey to collect artworks centered around Hanuman soon after,” he says.
The exhibition is on till January 6 at IGNCA,11, Man Singh Road