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Nala and Damayanti (A Great Series of Paintings of An Old Indian Romance)

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Item Code: NAK661
Author: B.N. Goswamy
Publisher: Niyogi Books
Language: English
Edition: 2015
ISBN: 9789383098897
Pages: 264 (Throughout Color Illustrations)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 12.0 inch x 9.0 inch
Weight 1.60 kg
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About the Book


Three things come magically together in this remarkable series of paintings: a great text, a delectable old romance, and the work of one of the most talented families of painters known to Indian art. The text is the 12th century Naishadhacharita of sriharsha, one of the last great kavyas of Sanskrit literature; the story told with the utmost delicacy, centres around the intense love that grew-mutual sights heard of, but yet unseen-between King Nala and Princess Damayanti; and the painter family that produced this exquisitely painted series came from the small principality of Guler in the ‘Pahari’ hills; today’s Himachal Pradesh.


The intent of the painters was to cover the story in close to 110 paintings, but for reason unknown, the work was interrupted: only 47 paintings could be completed- all of them now in the collection of the Amar Mahal Museum and Library at Jammu, and here published-the remaining having survived only in the form of highly finished drawings. But none of this interferes in the slightest with the magic that the paintings weave: the golden hamsa-bird continues to speak in a human voice and carries messages between the lovers the ripening pomegranates hanging from a tree keep reminding the lover of the breasts of his beloved the love lorn Damyanti swoons, the gods play their usual but unfair games , Nala assumes invisible form. Trees bend in symphthy with the lover’s state of mind, aerial chariots race through the cluouds, diaphanous dupatta veils flutter in the air. Everything is bathed in luminosity; it is all stated every nuance of emotion explored poetically with limpid clarity.


About the Author


B.N. Goswamy , distinguished art historian, is Professor Emeritus of Art History at the Panjab University, Chandigarh. His work covers a wide range and is regarded, especially in the area of Indian painting, as having influenced much thinking. He has been the recipient of many honours, including the Jawaharlal Nehru Fellowship, the Rietberg Award for Outstanding Research in Art History, the Padma Shri (1998) and the Padma Bhushan (2008) from the President of India. Professor Gosway has taught, as Visiting Professor Goswamy at several universities across the word, among them the Universities of Pennsylvania, Heidelberg, California (at Bekeley and Los Angeles), Texas (at Austin), Zurich, and the ETH (Federal University) at Zurich. He has also been responsible fro major exhibitions of India art at Paris, San Francisco, Zurich, San Diego, New York, Frankfurt, and New Delhi.


Among his many publications are: Pahari Painting: The Family as the Basis of style; Painters at the Sikh Court,  Essence of Indian Art, Wonders of a Golden Age: Painting at the Court of the Great Mughals; Pahari Masters: Court Painters of Northern India.




Ever since the dawn of civilisation India has been a major focus of artistic creativity, and down through the ages we have produced some of the greatest works of art known to man. A special feature has been that each region of India at one time or the other, and in one or other of the plastic or performing arts, has made contributions that have enriched the total fabric of Indian art. This fascinating, even bewildering, diversity has been a major feature throughout Indian history, and has greatly enriched the contribution that India has made to world culture. Not only has our artistic expression varied from period to period along the time scale, but also within the same historical period different regions have excelled in one or other form of artistic expression. The total impact of the entire process puts India in the first rank of nations who have evoked and concretised the innate human urge for artistic expression in a sustained manner.


The paintings reproduced in this beautiful volume were created in the second half of the 18th century in the Dogra-Pahari region of North India, mainly in what is now Himachal Pradesh. Apart from their martial qualities and rich folklore, the several schools of Pahari art have been a major contribution of the Dogra-Pahari people to the grand mosaic of Indian culture. Professor B.N. Goswamy has, with great competence traced the historical and geographical background in which these paintings were produced. I would only add that they combine the beauty and freshness of the mountains with the rare delicacy and grace of the people living in that area.


The quest for beauty and perfection has been one of the earliest signs of civilised man. When, after millions of years of evolution, man was able finally to overcome the basic problem of survival, some mysterious factor within impelled him towards the quest for perfection. Very often, this took the form of religious and mystical practices, and indeed a large proportion of art has traditionally been associated in one way or the other with religion. This has been particularly true of India where great religions-Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Islam-have all contributed to towards artistic achievement. However, although the basic motivation may be religious, the artist in India has often treated many entirely secular themes within his broader context. The present set of paintings are a remarkable example of the way in which a theme from a great religious classic the Mahabharata as treated in Shriharsha's Naishadhacharita, has been represented in a largely secular setting. Nala and Damayanti in these paintings emerge as archetypal lovers in a story full of romance and intrigue, mystery and magic. In the hands of these anonymous artists of two centuries ago, the personages and events of the Nala-Damayanti story take on a new significance. Here we see not only the lovers themselves but also a large number of individual people portrayed with great feeling, and one wonders whether the artists took for their models actual people living at the time in the courts of the many hill kingdoms. There are also a number of other creatures-elephants and peacocks, deer and domesticated birds-portrayed with an intensity which is quite startling. The whole effect is to transport one into a fascinating miniature world with its own aura and ethos.


The story of how these paintings came into my possession has its own interest. Back in the mid-fifties, when I was Sadr-i-Riyasat of Jammu & Kashmir, I received a message from Pandit Kunjlal Vaid who lived in Basohli, itself the seat of a former hill kingdom and of one of the major schools of Pahari painting, which bears its name. The message said that the pandit was anxious to see me, but could not undertake the journey to Jammu due to his advanced age and failing health. He, therefore, requested me to visit Basohli as early as possible in order to meet him. I was at Kashmir when I got the message, and the subsequent winter when the Government had moved down to Jammu, I decided to visit Basohli. I had been there only once earlier as a boy with my father, and had no clear recollection of the place. I arranged the visit, and while I was in the Oak Bungalow, Pandit Kunjlal called upon me. Although his health was advanced-he must have been over 80 at the time-his eyes were keen and his speech clear. He met me with great affection and, to my surprise, placed before me a parcel wrapped in a large square handkerchief. He undid the cloth and, one by one, showed me the exquisite paintings with loving care. He said that many foreigners had come to him wanting to buy the collection but he had not agreed to part with it. Now that he was old and had no children, he would like to present the paintings to me. As he put it in Dogri, 'these paintings came from the Royal Palace, and it is there that I wish them to return.'


I was overwhelmed by his gesture, and deeply moved by the sentiments behind it. I remonstrated with him and said that I could not possibly accept a gift of this nature unless he was prepared to take an adequate price in return. At that, his eyes filled with tears. He said that for many generations his family had been deriving sustenance from mine, and that he would under no circumstances accept any payment or remuneration. This put me in somewhat of a quandary. On the one hand I was reluctant to accept the paintings as a present, but on the other I realised that these were a valuable national heritage and that if I did not take them they may well be lost as soon as the pandit passed away. I decided to accept them. He was overjoyed, asked me to keep them carefully and look at them on hot summer days when they would 'cool the heart'. Later that year I happened to go South and purchased a sandalwood and ivory walking stick which I sent to the pandit. It was the only present that he ever accepted from me; a few months later he passed away.


The 47 paintings of the Nala-Damayanti series, which are illustrated in this volume, brought out by the National Museum, form an important part of the Amar Mahal Museum & Library (AMML) that my wife and I have set up in jammu. This institution also houses a family portrait gallery, a gallery of modern art, a memorabilia section on my mother, and my own library that I have built up over the last 20 years including a few books that I was able to salvage from those belonging to my father and grandfather. It is my considered view that such collections should not in this day and age, remain simply confined to a few individuals. They are a part of our national heritage, and should be made available to a wider public. It is with this in mind that we decided to convert the picturesque building known as Amar Mahal in jammu, with its magnificent location overlooking the Tawi River and the great triple-peaked mountain of Vaishno Devi, into an institution that would be of value not only to jammu but also to the entire nation. This will be open to scholars and to the public, including the large number of tourists who visit jammu or pass through it to the valley. In due course, it is our hope that this Institution, sponsored by the Hari-Tara Charitable Trust that we have created in memory of my parents, will grow in scope and cover a number of scholarly and research activities in the academic and cultural fields. The very first hall displays the Nala- Damayanti series, and I like to feel that the words and the vision of Pandit Kunjlal Vaid have thus been fulfilled. The paintings have come back into the Palace, and the Palace in turn has gone back to the people.






List of Plates and List of Figures


Pahari Paintings of the Nala-Damayanti Theme: An Essay


Colour Plates with Notes


Sanskrit Text of Chitrarthadipika with Translation


Appendix I: Preliminary Sanguine Drawings of the Nala-Damayanti Series


Appendix II: Select Word List with Diacritics


Select Bibliography







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