ARTWORK: The Power of Darkness
ARTIST: Manaku; From the Bhagawata purana series, ca. 1740-1745, opaque watercolour and gold on paper
WHERE CAN IT BE VIEWED: State Museum, Lucknow
The 18th century Pahari painter Manaku from Guler (Himachal Pradesh) is one of the miniature painters I have come to admire the most. Manaku hailed from an illustrious family of Pahari painter, his father Pandit Seu and his younger brother Nainsukh were much celebrated. Manaku, though lesser known at the time of his death, is today acknowledged and recognised as an exponent of the Pahari school of painting.
My initiation into art education, like most others, was through learning about western and European — modern as well as contemporary — art. Indian classical art, courtesy the Euro-centric view, was sidelined and categorised as craft. After my exposure to these gems of Indian manuscript paintings at the Victoria & Albert Museum, I was drawn to studying these art forms in depth, the idea of storytelling, the poetic narration and liberated perspective contrary to the scientific/realistic perspective much preferred by academic art. These paintings and sculptures offered a new world of pictorial freedom as compared to the realistic, logical narration we were more familiar with.
Once you get an opportunity to see Manaku’s initial drawings and unfinished paintings, you realise that they are unparalleled with regard to the raw energy, forcefulness of drawings and unhesitating lines. It almost feels akin to witnessing the artist’s thought process.
Here I have chosen the painting titled The Power of Darkness. I loved this artwork even before I got a chance to learn more about Manaku through BN Goswamy’s remarkable book Manaku of Guler (2017) A reproduction of this painting remains
pinned to my working table for many years. It has had a tremendous influence on my work.
In this painting, Manaku illustrates a theme that has never been illustrated before. He illustrates the creatures of darkness from the Bhagavata Purana. As the text narrates, “Among Brahma’s innumerable creations was not only gods and demi-gods
and humans but also ghosts and goblins. These creatures took over Brahma’s body, called ‘yawning’ which he then abandoned. By that body is created that sense of complete sluggishness of senses known as sleep among the living beings.”
Manaku uses his remarkable narrative intelligence, without any precedent to follow, to give form to this magnificent painting. In a cloud of unknown darkness, one sees creatures of the dark lurking everywhere. The clouds hang, dark, eerie and looming, and from behind them materialise these mythical, fantastic creatures appearing to play hide and seek — no figure is complete, they are seen only in parts.
Manaku gives this story a visual form with unprecedented and astonishing boldness. He had a brilliance for visualising abstract thought and combining pre-existing forms to create images of uncanny originality.
Known to present an alternate view and reconstructing historical iconography, Manjunath Kamath’s diverse oeuvre ranges from terracotta to painting and digital art. His figurative narratives often borrow from fables, folktales and myths and transport them to the contemporary world