Posted by Art Of Legend India [dot] Com On 11:40 PM
In art-minded India, it is difficult to find even the smallest utensil without some decorative element in it, or a piece of cloth without some beautiful design at least on the border, or a wall in a house without some decorative figures, or the floor without some patterns thereon. Even pots and vessels have some decoration in colour or pattern worked on them in low relief. Art in some form or other cannot be missed in everyday life even in the remotest corners of villages. While even animals like cows and calves, horses and elephants are decorated to fit into a scheme of colourful life radiating joy and beauty, art as a separate entity cannot be expected to be crystallised in isolation. Still, like the immanent spirit of God concentrated in temples, art galleries have been conceived and fostered in India from the earliest times to bring together art objects. These are known as the chitrasalas.
Early references to chitrasalas occur in the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Three types of chitrasalas are known, those in the palace, the public art galleries and in private houses. To the first category belong the chitrasalas of the harem. Some princesses had their own bedrooms converted into chitrasalas or had chitrasalas as an annexe to their sleeping apartments. These are the sayanachitrasalas. This is accounted for by the fact that looking at an auspicious object on waking up was considered a good omen. Bathing apartments also had picture galleries, abhishekachitrasalikas, adjoining them.
Private chitrasalas, particularly those in the houses of courtesans, were very gorgeous. This was the place of the activities of vitas, dandy, dhurtas, rake and chetas, sycophant, vesyas, courtesan, and vesyakantukas, erotomaniac, a veritable treasure-house of all fine arts. Pictures representing sringara, hasya and santa alone were allowed in private houses, including the king's residence, while in temples and other public and dance halls and the public apartments of the royal palace, all types of pictures could be shown. It is thus clear that these galleries displayed the greatest variety. The preference, however, in all painting was for auspicious themes, mangalyalekhya.
The galleries, well arranged, were known as vithis, a word for conveying aptly the connotation of 'gallery'. The word vithis used by Bhavabhuti to suggest the long and spacious halls composing the galleries, and the word vimanapankti used by Bana for describing the mansions, composing the picture galleries, suggest the type of buildings that housed the pictures. The text of the Naradasilpa gives a description of the building composing the chitrasalas. It is to be shaped as a vimana, with a small gopura in front, provided with sikizara-kalasas, etc., with windows at intervals for the long galleries. Ornamental doorways, deco-rated balconies, verandahs, massive pillars supporting the main structure, are all architectural details of the chitrasala gathered from references to it in general literature.
The Naradasilpa prefers the chitrasala to be located at a junction of four roads, opposite a temple or royal palace, or in the centre of the king's highway; it could be drum-shaped or circular in plan, and have a verandah, a small hall, a main central hall and side halls with stairs leading to the upper storey. It would be supported by 16, 20 or 32 pillars, have several windows, an ornamental canopy, several square terraces near entrances, and stairs sideways leading to several halls, provided with seats for visitors to rest. The roof should have a Sikhara and a kalasa to make the structure look like a vimana. Chandeliers and mirrors are suggested for illuminating the halls. The main building is provided with a small gopura.
Different varieties of paintings of devas, Gandharvas, kinnaras and so forth are to be exhibited in the galleries. These should show mighty heroes and various other noble themes, all well drawn, in proper proportions, coloured attractively, and decorated with jewels, all in gold.
There is frequent mention in literature of the themes of the pictorial material in the galleries. Scenes from the Ramayana are mentioned by Bhavabhuti, Kalidasa and others. Damayanti's life, similarly portrayed, is described by Sriharsha. Contemporary life is also portrayed as in the pictures in the Malavikagnimitra and the Vidhasalabhanjika. The Naishadha-charita specially describes at some length sringara pictures in art galleries. The love of sages and their amours with celestial damsels, as also similar loving dalliance of Indra, are themes for exquisite pictures in the imperial palace of Nala. Pictures of Kamadeva had a special place in the bedroom though they were painted in other places too. It should have been a principal theme in the chit rasalas of the harem as well as the sayanachitrasalas. Bana mentions nagas, devas, asuras, yakshas, kinnaras and garudas as prominently represented in the murals. He also refers to lovely designs of creepers and decorative foliage. In the Navasahasankacharita, hunting scenes are mentioned in the picture-gallery and these can be understood in the context of general gay scenes like jalakrida, panagoshthi, rasalila, etc. The motifs of animals and birds occur freely as favorites subjects with Indian painters.
When we consider the themes that have survived in painting like miniatures representing the Ramayana, Nalacharita, Bhagavata, contemporary court scenes and paintings portraying lovers, sringara cheshtas and the seasons, iconographic pictures and designs of decorative motifs, and animal and bird studies, all of the Mughal, Pahari and Rajasthani schools, which are comparatively recent, this continuous tradition of a hoary past becomes very clear. From general literature we know several interesting facts about chit rasalas. There were stationary ones located at a fixed spot, and those on wheels, which could be moved from one place to another, as mobile museums or travelling art galleries. The chit rasalas were perfumed to spread a fine aroma in the interior. The galleries were open in the evenings for enabling visitors to spend their time pleasantly there. This was also a place of diversion for lovers. In the sarad season the chitrasalas had a rush of visitors, and as it is well known that it is this part of the year in India which is the most pleasant, it is quite justified. Though the chit rasalas were repositories of art treasures, the other apartments of buildings were not bereft of decoration. Schools and libraries had paintings of Sarasvati. Vidyamandiras had paintings of Yamaloka. Even the sutika griha or the apartments for child-birth had pleasant pictures. The natyasala was another beautiful hall profusely decorated with pictures. But it is the chitrasala that was a perennial source of all the beauty that art could provide. The importance of the chitragriha as a vinodasthana and a kalasthana was fully realised. Naturally, with its own educative values, it had an important place in the life of a nagaraka.
Writer - C.Sivaramamurti