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Title: Saraswati
Artist: Gopal Kumawat
School: Kishangarh 

The Rigveda has conceived ‘Vak’ meaning ‘speech’, later deified as Vag-devi or Saraswati, as the primeval energy which Prajapati created out of himself at the very outset of the creation and created thereafter out of the same primeval ‘Vak-shakti’ the entire cosmos. The ‘Vak-shakti’ in Vedic tradition is thus both the ‘created’ and the ‘creator’. The artist Gopal Kumawat, while rendering this one of the most unique pieces of art, seems to have in mind this Vedic concept of Vag-devi’s cosmos containing form and translated the same on his canvas. He has obviously innovated Vag-devi’s ‘virat roopa’, or her cosmic form, which in Indian ritual, literary and art traditions Lord Krishna alone has been attributed with. The artist, instead of depicting various cosmic elements on his deity’s person, has identified her in music as the music represented to him the finest form of ‘vak’ or speech, the primeval energy and the source of all creation.

The outer frame of the created figure is her ‘virat roopa’, a broad cosmic perception, whereas its centre consists of deity’s minute yet elaborate form. The deity form on the top strips itself of all its features, or rather identity, and seems to a missile like rising into void. On the bottom it takes, via a lyre and mradanga, a kind of long horizontal drum, the form of cosmic vulva to symbolise on one hand the act of cosmic creation and on the other the unity of creative process and ‘vak’, the primeval source of all creation. The creative process manifests both the boisterousness of senses and the fineness of creation, which the mradanga and lyre represent. The artist has not bothered to render the figure of the deity below thighs for to him the body above the thighs alone had significance as it is only from the vulva and above that all creative and mystic processes begin.

The devotee figures rising waves like from the drums on both sides endowed with all creative attributes including the symbolic form of vulva too are components of creative process. The outer frame just beside them consists of massive bells. The bells symbolically transform the entire cosmos into the temple, the outer frame of the deity presiding within. Like the presiding deity the devotee figures, when they rise into the void, as well transcend into absolute and pure existence, that is, free of all individual attributes. Different from a conventional approach to the theme of ‘virat roop’ the artist here has used waves to represent land’s fertility, winds, that is space, and water, that is ocean, and thus the entire creation. The artist did not apply colours for eliminating colours, attributes and even forms was more significant in his approach to his theme.

If ever there was rhythm in line and excellence in workmanship, it’s in this sketch by Gopal Kumawat. This is one of his few last works, showcasing the apex of artistry he had achieved. He requires neither color nor expression to convey poetry in picture. Rhythm in a woman’s body is homologous to that produced by musical instruments is probably the point the artist is trying to make. Thus, one emerges and flows into the other.

The central figure of well-endowed woman emerges from the Veena. Her hair moving upwards takes the shape of two more female forms. There is no break in the three sections, oblivious to where one ends and the other begins. The space between the uppermost two images is used to depict female fertility. The eyes of the main figure are larger in proportion to the face and cover most of it. The nose and the lips are thin, almost inconspicuous. It is because they in no way benefit the grace the artist is trying to project. The bosom is as large as the waist is narrow, but the harmony is maintained by the wide hip area which again narrows to merge as part of the Veena.

On either side are two tablas (drums) out of which flow two more female counterparts. Their features are reminiscent of the Kishangarh style replete with almond-shaped eyes and curling tendrils. The neck of these figures cave in where the curve of the bosom of the central figure curve outwards. Similarly, where the waist of the main form cuts inwards, the outer female images rush to fill in the space thus created.

This three strata sketch is framed in lines which again move to capture feminine beauty, almost unrecognizable but for their features in profile. The conceptualization of the theme and implementing it in strong, bold lines temporarily mystifies the beholder. Their are no curves which are not balanced, no lines which are not in harmony, no female form which is exotic in its own different way. The artist, perhaps imagined Saraswati (Goddess of music and fine arts) in seven various forms, and formalized his conception in simple, yet graceful lines. The rhythm of the contours continue and the composition echoes with fine variations.

The balance and symmetry could in no way be broken, not even by the artist’s signature on the right. On the left, there is a mirror image of his signature in Hindi. So perfect is his sense of perfection. It is truly a scherzo par excellence.

This description by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr Daljeet. Prof. Jain specialises on the aesthetics of ancient Indian literature. Dr Daljeet is the chief curator of the Visual Arts Gallery at the National Museum of India, New Delhi. They have both collaborated on numerous books on Indian art and culture.