In memory of an exhibition that never took off....

My father Dr. Y A Raikar had conceived a one-of-a-kind exhibition INSIGHTS INTO INDIA THROUGH PAINTINGS for Anant Pai (fondly known as Uncle Pai) of Amar Chitra Katha fame. Unfortunately, the project was stalled for lack of commensurate funds.

In memory of both stalwarts, I reproduce the gist of the stillborn initiative in the words of my father.


Main objective

As I understand, the main objective of the exhibition is to unleash the potential of Indian tradition to provide inspiration for remoulding personal and corporate discipline. But tradition in our country, by and large, is misunderstood and misinterpreted. Where cherished, it fuels feudal mindset, where condemned, it leads to vandalism. Yet, let the exhibition do its bit.

The value of tradition has been recognized worldwide.

“In order to know what is new, you need to know what has gone before; otherwise you risk just repeating earlier triumphs, going round in decorous circles” - Walter Peter

“Without tradition, originality cannot exist; for it is only against a tradition that it becomes perceivable...what makes a great work of art original is the element of surprise with which they invest the forms of a tradition. Modernist popular culture fails to provide the experience of membership that was true in an age of shared religion culture” - Roger Sructon

“Every work of art has been subjected, consciously or unconsciously, to the traditional values in one form or the other. The truth is that there is nothing original under the sun” - Leonard Niles

“Tradition is a guide, not a jailor” - Somerset Maghum

“Tradition does not mean that the living are dead, but that the dead are living” – Glibert K. Chesterton

An Indian experiment to put tradition in perspective is long overdue. So what exactly is Indian tradition?

Traditional Indian Values and Traits

The traditional Indian does not consider himself as the master of nature but accepts himself as its integral part and lives accordingly. He walks the country to know the country.

He spends most of his time in open-to-sky spaces (courtyard, chowk, grove, tree shade etc.)

He has a good sense of repose. Despite all miseries and worries, he accepts himself and his lot, and is therefore composed if not content.

Illiteracy does not imply lack of education. An Indian attains knowledge, wisdom and philosophy through the culture of functional orality.

The traditional Indian garden is informal (“upavana”). We do not believe in disciplining nature.

Images of deities generally convey a relaxed poise, except in certain moods. Plasticity is vital, stiffness is a defect.

Capturing movement in stillness is a great quality of Indian art ( “Nataraj” for instance)

The normal life style and traditional work culture keeps the body flexible. No wonder, India has produced adept surgeons and instrumentalists.

Work is worship has been the principle of traditional life. Sadhana, tapa, riyaz, recitation etc have no shortcuts. There is a sense of pride in one’s own work, regardless of the reward.

The Indian philosophical ritual is to listen, discuss, argue, hold heated debates but never come to blows.

India has always allowed foreigners to settle and practice their own faiths on Indian soil. It’s the only country in the world where Jews were not persecuted. The Marathas classified Muslims as Irani, Durani, Turani and Hindustani.

Indians easily reconcile polytheism with monotheism. (Max Muller called it Kathenotheism) He also knows that the image is God and not God at the same time. Thus he has an inbuilt sense of relativity.

How is the exhibition one-of-its-kind?

It uses imaginative paintings in lieu of archaeological-historical visuals and objects.

It need not depend on a fixed number of paintings. Nor should it follow any rigid chronological order. Thus paintings could be added and removed without harming the ultimate purpose. Paintings could be put on display to judge instinctive response, as and when they are ready.

Each painting should provide insights into some facet of Indian life.

The effort is similar to the set of panels in the great cave at Elephanta, which does not adopt a narrative style but illustrates selected aspects of Shiva’s life to impress upon the viewer that Shiva alone could be the Mahadeva.

The target audience is people with curiosity, not students of history.

It is for the viewer to think and learn that observation in itself can be inspiring and creative. (I am fond of observation. I am also one who loves to think. I never get bored. – Sir Peter Ustinov)

The paintings could be supplemented by time lines and maps to indicate how far the viewer has been journeyed back in time.

The painting would occupy vertical space on the eye line, but some horizontal space below the eye level could also be fruitfully utilized.

Caution: The exhibition would have its obvious limitations. For example, it can do little to eradicate historical illiteracy. Yet, it should in no way affirm the anti-intellectual back-to-past wave of the 21st century. Certain topics, if found sensitive or controversial, may be best avoided.

List of paintings

Ajanta - in the Satavahana Period (2nd century BC to 1st Century AD) with only six caves (9, 10, 8, 12, 13, 15A)

Ajanta - in the Vakataka Period (4th century AD to 6th Century AD) with 30 caves

Aryans - A painting of Hittite warriors based on the Egyptian relief of 1400 BC

Indo Aryans - The oral tradition started by them and continued till today, preserved the Rigvedic dialect, which led to the birth of modern linguists

Pannini - The only person in the whole world who understood language as a system of 'sutras'. His significance in modern software.

Shankaracharya - (780-820 AD) his detached study of the Islamic faith in Kerala and Gujarat

Asoka - His use of written language for mass communication

Bapudeo Shastri - (1819-1890) For direct inspiration to young minds

Ardeseer Wadia - (1808 – 1877) For direct inspiration to young minds

Harappan Heritage - 1) the seafaring, risk-taking enterprising spirit inherited by Sind, Punjab, Rajastan and Saurashtra and 2) Town planning

Harappan Heritage - Art Dancing girl (Lost wax technique still in use)

Gangavataran - Myth preserving the relic of a geological truth

Himalayan Panorama - with quotations from Kumarsambhava. The mountains as a symbol of India – reservoir of water

Indian Ocean – as a supplier of water. The Himalayas and the ocean make the subcontinent an ecological unit, and a monsoon country with six seasons

Kalidas - the poet who understood, loved and eloquently described the splendor and significance of India’s vast geography and environs

© Dr. Y A RAIKAR, Author, Activist, Archaeologist