PRE­SERV­ING A HER­ITAGE

Marwar - - Contents - Text Bev­erly Pereira

With rapid ur­ban­i­sa­tion, there seems to be lit­tle space for tra­di­tional art forms to sur­vive. Luck­ily, around 25 years ago, artist Lakhi Chand Jain took it upon him­self to re­vive the dy­ing Ra­jasthani art of Man­dana paint­ing by rein­vent­ing it with his unique brand of Man­danag­ra­phy.

In a world for­ever chang­ing due to rapid ur­ban­i­sa­tion, there seems to be lit­tle or no space for tra­di­tional art forms to sur­vive. Luck­ily, around 25 years ago, artist Lakhi Chand Jain took it upon him­self to breathe new life into the dy­ing Ra­jasthani art of Man­dana paint­ing by rein­vent­ing it with his unique brand of Man­danag­ra­phy.

IT’S HARD TO MISS THE STARK WHITE IN­TRI­CATE PATTERNS of Man­dana folk paint­ings against the earthy red floors and walls of vil­lage homes across Ra­jasthan. Once drawn by the skilled hands of the women of the house in a bid to pro­tect the home and mark the start of fes­ti­vals, these paint­ings are deeply rooted in the ru­ral land­scape of the past. Seek­ing to re­vive this van­ish­ing art form, Mumbai-based artist Lakhi Chand Jain be­gan to use an as­sort­ment of tex­tures, can­vasses and new me­dia for his Man­dana paint­ings, a lit­tle over two decades ago. Thanks to his ef­forts, the art form has made its way from the floors and walls of Ra­jasthan into the liv­ing rooms of city dwellers in In­dia and, quite pos­si­bly, other parts of the world.

Lakhi Chand has cre­ated over 300 Man­dana paint­ings in var­i­ous sizes, on both floor and can­vas since he started work­ing with the art form. Man­danag­ra­phy, his adap­tion of the tra­di­tional art, is a port­man­teau of the words ‘Man­dana’ and ‘gra­phy’. Com­par­ing it to pho­tog­ra­phy, the art of cap­tur­ing ob­jects or scenes through a cam­era lens and pre­sent­ing the im­age on dif­fer­ent sur­faces, he says that Man­danag­ra­phy cap­tures the ob­ject or sub­ject through the lens of his imag­i­na­tion.

Rooted in vil­lage folk life

Lakhi Chand comes from a fam­ily that once dwelled in Ra­jasthan. Over 125 years ago, a great famine in the state forced thou­sands of Ra­jasthani-Mar­wari fam­i­lies to aban­don their homes, leav­ing many vil­lages empty and de­serted. His an­ces­tors too left and trav­elled to Ma­ha­rash­tra in search of a liveli­hood. “They set­tled in Pahur, a tiny vil­lage on the bank of the Waghur River in the Jal­gaon district of Ma­ha­rash­tra. I was born in this vil­lage and my early childhood was spent in an earthen house,” says Lakhi Chand, who learnt the art of Man­dana from his mother and grand­mother.

The word Man­dana is de­rived from the San­skrit word ‘Man­dan’, mean­ing ‘to ex­press’ or ‘to ex­plore’. For prac­ti­tion­ers, Man­dana is not just an art form; it is deeply seated in vil­lage folk life. It helps the flow of pos­i­tive en­ergy in homes, keep­ing in­ner emo­tional feel­ings and artis­tic be­liefs alive, main­tains Lakhi Chand, adding that folk tales trans­mit­ted orally from one gen­er­a­tion to the next have helped keep this nar­ra­tive alive. “These folk sto­ries give us some­thing to learn, with­out pro­mot­ing any kind of blind faith. They in­spire us to per­form good deeds and make us cul­tur­ally lit­er­ate,” he says. His­tor­i­cally, Man­danas also found an im­por­tant place in the com­po­si­tions of Ra­jasthan’s poets and folk mu­si­cians, which, the artist says is a tes­ti­mony of how deep the roots of Man­dana run in vil­lage folk life.

The artist as re­searcher

Lakhi Chand’s pas­sion, Man­dana, has also found an out­let in his ex­ten­sive re­search on the his­tory of the art form. Con­se­quently, he is a trea­sure trove of knowl­edge now and is of­ten in­vited to im­part his knowl­edge and skills at work­shops for art en­thu­si­asts in In­dia. “Man­danas are char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally dif­fer­ent from folk art like Ko­hbar (Bi­har), Jhoti or Chita (Odisha), Pithoora (Mad­hya Pradesh), Warli (Ma­ha­rash­tra) and other styles that are an in­trin­sic part of mud­house ar­chi­tec­ture in In­dia,” he ex­plains. Tra­di­tion­ally, the process of cre­at­ing a Man­dana paint­ing be­gins by first coat­ing the floor or wall with cow dung, be­fore cre­at­ing the ba­sic can­vas us­ing earthen ter­ra­cotta. Then, with the help of the ring fin­ger, the Man­dana is painted us­ing white khadiya, or a paste of lime stone. They are also cre­ated us­ing unique brushes fash­ioned out of twigs of date palm trees, fas­tened with a cot­ton swab on one end.

A vis­ual lan­guage

“Man­dana paint­ings don’t have a sto­ry­line,” ex­plains Lakhi Chand. Wall Man­danas com­monly con­sists of spon­ta­neous free­hand draw­ings of an­i­mals, birds, flow­ers and plants, while the floor paint­ings—a play of very sim­ple,

un­even bold lines—de­picted geo­met­ric and inan­i­mate forms that at­tempt to ex­plore med­i­ta­tion, spir­i­tu­al­ity and sex­u­al­ity. While he has cre­ated a unique se­ries of Man­dana paint­ings that fea­ture pea­cocks, deer, roost­ers and hens on both craft pa­per and can­vas, he has also ex­plored many new forms based on house­hold ob­jects and sports that were a part of his childhood. He is cur­rently en­gaged in a unique project called ‘Art of Rel­e­vance’, which is his at­tempt to use Man­danas to make the pub­lic think about in­ner peace, joy and the im­por­tance of folk art in day-to-day life.

Lakhi Chand’s adap­ta­tions might have found a dras­ti­cally new can­vas, as his paint­ings adorn ev­ery­day util­i­ties like um­brel­las too. Yet, his Man­danas don’t de­vi­ate from the tra­di­tional as­pects of the art, even though his work is tinged with in­no­va­tions. Years of ex­per­i­men­ta­tion led him to repli­cate the tex­ture of mud walls by cre­at­ing his own pulp of wa­ter­soaked news­pa­pers mixed with nat­u­ral gum, yel­low ochre soil, cow dung and other nat­u­ral el­e­ments.

The artist’s life

Over the years, Lakhi Chand has been lauded for his ef­forts in pre­serv­ing this near-ex­tinct art form. He is the re­cip­i­ent of three na­tional awards, in­clud­ing the Na­tional Youth Award (1990-91), In­dia’s high­est youth hon­our. More re­cently, Lakhi Chand Jain has been con­ferred with the ‘Marud­hara Sam­man, 2016-17’ for his cre­ative ef­forts and out­stand­ing con­tri­bu­tions to the re­vival of Man­dana art.

As much as awards serve as a mo­men­tous re­minder of a life­time of hard work and ded­i­ca­tion, life as an artist is never easy. This is more so the case when phys­i­cal chal­lenges be­come an ob­sta­cle in one’s quest to re­vive an art form. “In the past, it was pos­si­ble for me to raise funds. But for the last eight years, es­pe­cially af­ter I started to suf­fer from a per­ma­nent or­thopaedic dis­abil­ity, the search for funds has been my big­gest chal­lenge,” says Lakhi Chand. “Be­sides, due to the lack of space, ev­ery Man­dana has to be done keep­ing in mind many of the lim­i­ta­tions. It’s also a chal­lenge for me to keep the pu­rity and folk am­bi­ence of the art alive while shap­ing this art in mod­ern medi­ums.”

He be­lieves that it will take more than just gov­ern­ment aid to pro­mote the art of Man­dana, when he says that ev­ery in­di­vid­ual who is linked to the soil of Ra­jasthan must do their bit. He even hopes to cre­ate an in­ter­ac­tive Man­dana mu­seum, per­haps, in Jaipur, Jodh­pur, Udaipur or Sawai Mad­hopur—not only to con­serve the art form, but also to pro­mote tourism. He has also just wrapped up the first draft of a book on Man­dana that he hopes will find form as a cof­fee ta­ble book in Hindi and English.

While Lakhi Chand is op­ti­mistic about the sus­tain­abil­ity of Man­dana, he adds that like most an­cient arts, it is im­pos­si­ble to pre­dict the na­ture of this art in the future. “At present, due to mod­erni­sa­tion, this art form is fac­ing the same cir­cum­stances as a dried-up river. Af­ter cross­ing this phase, there will be a new change; the can­vas will be dif­fer­ent. All folk art de­cides when it needs a makeover. Some­times, even rivers have to change their course," he says. For­tu­nately, we have an artist in our midst who be­lieves in keep­ing up with a world that’s swiftly chang­ing be­fore our very eyes.

Fac­ing page (from top): Ashwa-Horse; Lakhi Chand Jain Top (clock­wise from left) ‘Saatya Ka Jod’, Swastika yantra by Lakhi Chand Jain©; ‘Bi­nayak Ji Ka Man­dana’, Lord Gane­sha on can­vas; Lakhi Chand Jain has been hon­ored with the Na­tional Youth Award, 1990-91 (Goven­r­ment of In­dia); Lakhi Chand Jain has been hon­ored with the Shiv Ch­ha­tra­p­ati State Youth Award, 1988-89 (Gov­ern­ment of Ma­ha­rash­tra) Be­low: A floor Man­dana de­pict­ing the five el­e­ments of 'panchma­hab­huta'

Top left: Lakhi Chand Jain re­ceiv­ing na­tional award from the then Hon’ble Pres­i­dent of In­dia, Dr Shankar Dayal Sharma, 1996 ; Top right: Lakhi Chand Jain cre­at­ing a Man­dana on the floor

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