For the first time all the 18 miniatures, illustrating the well-known Sanskrit love lyric of 12th century A.D, known as Chauraparichasika, are reproduced in this album in actual colour. They belonged to the late N.C. Mehta, who was a distinguished scholar of the Indian Art; the text has been provided by his daughter Leela Shiveshwarkar. These paintings along with the entire collection of Indian miniatures of the late N.C. Mehta Gallery of Miniature Paintings in the Gujarat Museum Society at Ahmedabad.
These are perhaps the only known illustrations of the Chauraparichasika. These early 16th century miniatures are of exceptional importance in the history of Indian paintings.
About the Author
Leela Shiveshwarkar, daughter of the distinguished scholar and art-critic, the late, N.C. Mehta, studied at the Lucknow School of Art and at Shantiniketan. Later, she worked with Jamini Roy and George keyt. Her paintings were exhibited in the Royal Academy exhibition of the Arts of India and Pakistan in Burlington House, London in 1947-48. She has illustrated a number of books, viz. Indian Fairy Tales by Mulk Raj Anand, Ketab Press, life of Buddha by Amir Ali, Oxford University Press an stories of India by Verrier Elwin in 4 volumes, Oxford University Press.
She is responsible for starting in Junagadh the Museum of Sculptures, found in that area, and the Museum of the Maharaja of Banaras at Ramgadh Fort and also arranging N.C. Mehta Gallery of Miniature Paintings in Gujarat Museum Society, Ahmedabad.
The Chaurapanchasika has an important place among poems in Sanskrit portraying the reminiscences of a lover. Its lyrical charm makes it appropriate for delineating the ideas with colour and brush. It is indeed a great service to Sanskrit literature that patrons of painters, fascinated by the poems, have encouraged them to illustrate texts, like the Amarusataka, the Chaurapanchasika, the Meghaduta and the Gitagovinda. The usual representation of the Ramayana, the Bhagavata and other texts composing religious literature in miniatures, is more an expression of piety than appreciation f literary beauty.
That one of the finest short lyrics in Sanskrit has excellent illustrations for many of its individual verses, which are by themselves examples for special study of the development of the style and technique of Indian miniature painting, is a great good fortune. This is the set of paintings known illustrating the Chaurapanchasika.
That this important group of paintings came into the collection of the late Mr. Nanalal Chamanlal Mehta is a rare piece of good luck that cannot be exaggerated. Mr. Mehta belongs to that great class of scholars from the Indian Civil Service who have contributed vastly to the understanding of India's achievements in the field of art. His passion for enjoyment of aesthetic quality of Indian art is matched only by his clear exposition of it in his 'Studies in Indian Painting ' Gujarati Painting in the Fifteenth Century' and other writings. He was a true rasika, and was preparing to give an excellent exposition on the quality and importance of these miniatures when he was suddenly cut off prematurely, leaving a great void in the field of scholarship in Indian art.
To know Mr. Mehta personally meant knowing first hand, not only his great scholarship and taste, but also a more important aspect of him his human qualities and his unbounded affection for younger scholars.
It was given to Mr. Mehta's art-minded daughter Mrs. Leela Shiveshwarkar, to prepare this delightful monograph with the aid of her father's notes. The world of scholars is beholden to her for it. Herself an artist, with a fine aesthetic eye, and brought up from childhood in an atmosphere of connoisseurship under the tender care of an art-loving father, she is eminently suited for this task.
The National Museum has already published four books on the Kangra School of painting by Dr. M.S. Randhawa. This book on the Chaurapanchasika by Mrs. Shiveshwarkar, illustrating a delightful Medieval Sanskrit lyric, throws considerable light on an important school of paintings. The National Museum is indeed very happy in presenting it to the world in its series of publications.
If with a full awareness of my limitations, I write these few introductory lines to this lovely book, it is because I consider it a divinely ordained mode of thanksgiving to one of the greatest scholars in Indian painting, who bestowed on me, as on Dr. V. S. Agrawala and Dr. Moti Chandra, affection and appreciation in abundance from our earliest days of literary activity.
This monograph contains part of the unfinished notes made by my father, Nanalal Chamanlal Mehta, on the Chaurapanchasika paintings in his collection. He was working on them during a holiday in Kashmir, when he suddenly died of a heart attack, on 18 May 1958, at the age of 64. The text is based on the notes he left behind and also on new material that has subsequently come to light in the attempt to make a memorial worthy of him. In this effort I am greatly indebted to Shri Karl Khandalavala and Mr Basil Gray whose books and articles on this group of paintings I have closely followed.
Nanalal Chamanlal Mehta took his Tripos at Cambridge and joined the Indian Civil Service in 1915. The greater part of his service career was spent in the United Provinces, now known as Uttar Pradesh. He retired in 1950 as Lieutenant Governor of Himachal Pradesh. His interest in Indian art began with his first posting as a junior officer in Mathura, where he had the opportunity of seeing some of the best examples of Indian sculpture. It was, however, in 1917, when he met Shri Rai Krishnadasa-the present Honorary Director of the Bharat Kal Bhavan at Banaras Hindu University-that he was introduced to the world of Indian miniature painting. His friendship with Rai Krishnadasaji led him to the study and love of this branch of art. Sanskrit and Hindi literature, and miniature painting claimed his life long interest, and his unerring judgment of aesthetic values enabled him to collect, over a period of forty years, one of the most important private collections of Indian miniature paintings.
In 1926 he published Studies in Indian Painting, which remains a major contribution to the subject. Apart from the sensitive analysis and keen critical acumen displayed in the text, the book was of special value on account of the lavish scale of illustration-61 large plates, of which 17 are in colour-many of which were published for the first time and were a revelation of the variety and charm of Indian miniature painting. Studies in Indian Painting was followed by Gujarati Painting in the Fifteenth Century (India Society, 1931) and by a paper entitled 'A New Document of Gujarati Paintings-A Gujarati version of the Gita Govinda' published in 1945 in the Journal of the Gujarat Research Society. He also wrote a book in Hindi, (Bharatiya Chitrakala, Hindustani Academy, Allahabad, 1933). But though he published so little, his writings awakened people to beauty which lay outside the scope of casual appreciation and enlarged the range of one's understanding. His independence and alertness of mind were beyond question and there can seldom have been a critic with a more universal aesthetic sensibility-a true rasika. No form of artistic expression was too remote or too humble for him to give it his enthusiastic attention. Throughout his life he was at pains to give an impetus to the younger generation in their understanding and love of the culture of their country. He was instrumental in founding the Government School of Arts and Crafts at Lucknow. It was his belief that art-criticism in India must be freed from too much theorizing and use of abstruse language and his constant appeal was to the actual experience of art. N, C. Mehta along with Rai Krishnadasa, O. C. Ganguly and Ananda Coomaraswamy were among the pioneers in the study of Indian art and today the tremendous interest in the art of this country owes a debt to them.
At a time when little was known of Indian mural painting beyond that of Ajanta and Bagh my father drew attention to the then newly discovered paintings from Sittannavasal in South India, an early Pallava phase of art with which the world was still almost unacquainted. He also contributed greatly to the understanding of medieval Western Indian art, particularly that of Gujarat, laying stress on the broad vision and knowledge of Painters and sculptors who were at home with Brahmanical, Buddhist and Jain religious lore and iconography and managed with equal skill to present every variety and theme, proving that there was no special class of artisans for any particular sect or religious creed.
Radiant enthusiasm and a sonorous voice combined to make my father a most persuasive lecturer and most of his later work was in lecture form. It has been my great privilege to have looked at' many works of art with him. His wonderful skill in pointing out the greatness of conception, its symbolism or some tiny detail has again and again revealed beauties that I should never have noticed myself. These were the moments when I seemed to have gained a new insight and learnt a new language-these moments remain in my mind like glimpses into a room full of beautiful pictures, which I shall not see again.
My mother, Shrimati shanta Mehta, thought that there could be no better memorial to the memory of my father than to give his priceless collection to the nation. The N. C. Mehta gallery of Miniature Paintings, Ahmedabad, was opened by the late Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru on the 9th of May, 1963.
I am indebted to the National Museum, New Delhi and to Dr Grace Morley for making this memorial volume possible; to Shri C. Sivaramamurti, a very dear friend of my father, for his help with the Sanskrit text (in the paintings); to my husband, Shri Sadanand Shiveshwarkar, who helped me in collecting different recensions of the Chaurapanchasika; to Shri Karl J. Khandalavala for supervising colour reproduction of the paintings; and to Dr P. Banerjee, Dr Anand Krishna, Mr R. E. Hawkins and Mr Joseph Campbell for their help in reading the proofs.
For any inadequacies that remain, I am alone responsible.
The Sanskrit text of the Chaurapanchasika, printed in Appendix A here and also the English translation of the verses occurring on the paintings are based on S. N. Tadpatrikar's edition, Poona Oriental Series, No. 86.
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