Manaku: The one who en­tered God’s world

Millennium Post - - TOWN -

The lives of ex­po­nents of Pa­hari paint­ings are shrouded in mys­tery. Those who are in­ter­ested in paint­ings of Hindu re­li­gious epics are well aware of Nain­sukh, the younger son of the painter Pan­dit Seu but only a hand­ful are aware of the con­ser­va­tive painter and the older brother of Nain­sukh.

Af­ter doc­u­ment­ing ‘Nain­sukh of Guler,’ Dr. B N Goswamy – a dis­tin­guished art his­to­rian and Pro­fes­sor Emer­i­tus of Art His­tory at the Pun­jab Univer­sity, Chandi­garh – in­trigued by Manaku, re­con­structed what­ever lit­tle is known of his life in ‘Manaku of Guler.’

“Most of the pain­ters have re­mained un­cel­e­brated and it has been an ob­ses­sion of mine to try and do some­thing in terms of go­ing back to the pain­ters them­selves; see what we can learn about them or just try and re­con­struct the way they thought about things,” sighed the au­thor with de­spair on the anonymity of many such great In­dian pain­ters.

Manaku came from an obscure lit­tle town in the hills of north­ern In­dia – home to his sin­gu­larly tal­ented fam­ily – and yet his vi­sion knew al­most no lim­its. En­dowed with soar­ing imag­i­na­tion and great painterly skills, this man – with a name that lit­er­ally means a ruby, was ca­pa­ble of paint­ing gi­ant rings of time upon time­less wa­ters, en­vi­sion­ing the world of gods and demons, lit­tered with cos­mic bat­tles and earthly tri­umphs, but also gaz­ing, with ten­der eyes, upon the world of two lovers in which there is tor­tured lone­li­ness at one mo­ment but, in the next, ‘her gar­lands fall on his chest and glis­ten like white cranes on a dark cloud’.

At least three great se­ries were painted by Manaku – ‘the Siege of Lanka’ which took for­ward the nar­ra­tive of the Ra­mayana from the point where his fa­ther, the gifted

Pan­dit Seu, had left it; ‘The Gita Govinda’ – Jayadeva’s im­mor­tal 12th cen­tury San­skrit lyric – which he com­pleted in 1730; and ‘The Bha­ga­vata Pu­rana’, that re­mark­ably ex­ten­sive text, revered and re­cited by mil­lions to this day, which he set about to ne­go­ti­ate with his brush in ca. 1740–45.

Af­ter care­ful ob­ser­va­tion of Manaku’s paint­ings, Dr B N Gos- wamy be­lieves that through his paint­ings of Hindu re­li­gious relics, “he en­tered the world of the gods.” He fur­ther says, “Manaku had the abil­ity to look gods into the eye and con­verse with them as if they were col­leagues. He never used any hon­orifics to de­scribe a god. It was as if he had the ab­so­lute abil­ity to talk to the gods with­out any for­mal­ity and turn what they were do­ing into paint­ings. This abil­ity of him; to just close his eyes and see that this is what must have hap­pened be­tween Ram and Raa­van or Kr­ishna and

Radha, and de­pict­ing it so beau­ti­fully is what in­trigued me to write this book”.

B.N. Goswamy, Au­thor

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