Saturday, June 25, 2016

Wadiyar Portraits – A Tradition of Capturing of Memories

Peacock pavilion of the Mysuru Palace is where the coronation of the new King is scheduled to be held on this 28th. In the hall adjacent to this pavilion is the portrait gallery that has on its walls the official coronation paintings of the several Wadiyar rulers along with their family members. The portrait gallery is unique in the sense that it is here that the past is remembered. It is also here that one would, on looking at so many representations of kings, begin to realize the importance that a royal portrait played in private and public life of the nobility.
But it was not only the coronation but also special events that called for it to be immortalized on canvas or photographed or painted. The Daly Memorial Hall which is home to the staid and learned Mythic Society in Bengaluru greets the visitor with a portrait officially commissioned of Nalwadi Krishnaraja Wadiyar IV on the king being conferred with the GCS (the honor of Knight Grand Commander) on January 1st 1907.

The oil on canvas portrait shows the king partly in profile. The GCS Honor is pinned to a sash. The bejeweled necklace covering the neck of sherwani only add to the richness of the attire. The fluted and feathered plume with a jeweled brooch holding it place to the turban also add to the grandeur of this portrait.
But this was a royal portrait; it was meant to capture that moth’s wing flutter of a memory. The portrait painted was at once a recollection of an event while being at the same time a memory-keeper’s almanac. The hidden sutras embedded in these royal portraits take one backwards like a latter-day Wells-ian traveler hurtling to a distant past, let us say to the Official Coronation portrait of a 11-year old Krishnaraja Wadiyar IV who would soon be better known as Nalwadi.
This is a stylized photographic portrait that several artfully placed emblems in the manner of Reynolds for example, the jacquard seat of the chair. The three-legged table with a curved triangular holder while the top seems to be some polished surface. A clock, some leather covered  folders lie and the young prince is resting one hand on them while the other is at his hip. A Beagle is seemed to have been startled by the flash light, stands motionless standing under the table.
The photographer, Buranuddin of Mysuru, has used all possible elements that signify royalty in composing this photograph.
The autographed official photograph of Nalwadi Krishnaraja Wadiyar to mark the Silver Jubilee of his coronation in 1927 shows the King dressed somberly resting one hand on the back of the chair while the other is grasping what could be a sword-stick. The single-row bejeweled necklace and the chain and fob in the upper coat pocket add a touch of elegance. Even the Mysore peta is unembellished. The photograph was printed in Germany on water-marked archival paper.
Thus it is clear that commemorative coronation photographs and paintings occupied a singular place in the pictography of the nobility. The old Colonial daguerreotype had just to begun to make significant inroads with several improvements. At the same time master Court painters continued to hold their own as master craftsmen in their attempt to painstakingly transfigure the subject.
Portraits were usually commissioned to commemorate special events. One such important event was the Coronation. In fact one example of the classic Coronation painting which is part of an illustrated manuscript is that of Mummadi Krishnaraja Wadiyar’s coronation. This painting in a private collection was photographed and reproduced in the Star of Mysore. The coronation took place in the Lakshmiramana Swamy temple that lies within the Palace complex. The painting was done in the royal atelier and there is no indication as to the identity of the artist.
One other painting that needs to be mentioned is the one at the Jaganmohan Palace which is that of the coronation scene of Maharaja Chamaraja Wadiyar. The painting vividly captures the historic moment and was painted by the artist Venkata Subbu in 1868.
There is one more official portrait of Chamaraja Wadiyar on being conferred with the Knight Grand Commander of the Order of the Star of India in 1892. This photograph reproduced here and which is in a private collection was ‘clicked’ by the famous photographer of the royalty, Raja Deen Dayal of Hyderabad. The photograph is self-revealing and attests to the royalty of the subject.
The portrait apart from its status as keeper of memories, was also, for the Wadiyar kings as it was rulers elsewhere across the country, an essential part of the accoutrements of the Blue-blooded nobility and the wealthier merchant classes.
Raghu Dharmendra, curator of Ramsons Kala Pratishtana (RKP) mentions in his dissertation, ‘Portraiture – In Surapura and Mysore Paintings - a Comparative Study,’ that at least a 1000 portraits of Mummadi Krishnaraja Wadiyar existed many painted in oils, inlaid work that used ivory, silver relief portraits apart from early daguerreotype photographs as well as lithographic prints. There are portraits of the king seated on an elaborately ornate chair, standing next to a pillar with a heavy drapery falling in folds, he is also shown performing puja either by himself or with his consort along with attendants. There are other portraits of the king with various pontiffs depicted as though they are deep in a spiritual discussion.
Going by the profusion of such paintings it would appear to the layman that the king was making a conscious effort to document history. The fact that he also encouraged court painters to create self-portraits and also portraits of other courtiers, officers, artists, employees and noblemen of Mysore, are an indication of the eclectic vision of this extraordinary king. Such portraits can still be seen on the walls of the hallowed Ranga Mahal, the top most floor of the Jaganmohan Palace.
Mummadi Krishnaraja Wadiyar’s passion and his patronage for the visual arts had a dual effect. One, these paintings became a historical record and second, it led to the enthusiastic emulation of the King's passion by the Ursu Nobility as well as the leading citizenry of the kingdom. This led to a plethora of stylized portraitures that captured in all vividness and detail the lives of the people of the kingdom.
All this goes on to prove that portraits were as malleable as that of Dorian Gray’s though in a spiritual manner! Each of the paintings done were a part of a movable feast of images that shifted through time and space remaining to this day re-creators of the past.
Entering the private apartments of the Royal family one goes up the iron balustrade winding staircase. All along the steps just a little above one’s head at regular intervals are portrait paintings of various members of the Mysore Royals. Many of these are busts while others are equestrain portraits and so on.
While the English royalty painters used pastoral themes their Indian counterparts used the very Indian-ness of such public events of those days to display their virtuosity. For instance the 1927 Silver Jubilee of Nalwadi's coronation has been commemorated with a beautiful portrait done by artist Keshavaiah; this masterpiece is on display at the Banquet Hall of the Vidhana Soudha in Bengaluru while two equally stunning portrait paintings by Y. Nagaraju and S.N. Swamy are in the collection of Ramsons Kala Pratishtana in Mysuru.
The advent of photography did not as expected deal a death knell to the art of portrait paintings as much. The earlier sepia toned photographs of Nalwadi Krishnaraja Wadiyar or Chamaraja Wadiyar shows them against a backdrop of classic settings. There is the heavy drapery hanging in folds on one side, a tall stool and heavy carpeting while the king dressed in his royal couture stands with an elbow resting on the stool while he assumes a dignified mien. The old black and white photographs led to another innovation, the painted photograph.
By the time Jayachamaraja Wadiyar ascended the throne, both photography and painted photographs were very much in vogue. But such was the ingenuity of the Indian photographers that their photographs of the Royalty was a marriage of these several stylizations. Thus you have photographs of Jayachamaraja Wadiyar shown in what was supposed to be a candid form. At various times you had special photographs of H.H. Jayachamaraja Wadiyar ‘clicked’ by the then well-known City Studios like Star Studio, Palace Studio and Raj Studio. The variation was of course the painted photograph of H.H. Jayachamaraja Wadiyar by M.N. Murthy.
The photograph taken by the unknown photographer of Palace Studios of H.H. Jayachamaraja Wadiyar in 1940 to commemorate the king’s coronation has been replicated as a painted photograph by artist M.N. Murthy and is now in the RKP collection.
But at no stage did photographs or painted photographs replace the portrait painter. There are paintings of H.H. Jayachamaraja Wadiyar by Y. Nagaraju and Subramanya Raju are on display at the Jaganmohan Palace gallery while the one done by Madhugiri Ramoo is in a private collection.
The tradition of painting historical events continues to this day. The last scion of the Royal House of Mysuru, the Late Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wadiyar along with his sisters and their husbands has been painted as several individual portraits by M. Ramanarsayya, the former Superintendent of Jaganmohan Palace.
It is with the intention of keeping this tradition alive, that Ramsons Kala Pratishtana (RKP) first commissioned artist K.S. Shreehari in 2014 to paint a classical portrait in the Mysore style of Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wadiyar based on the photographs of 2013 Navaratri Khas Darbar.
This was followed by commissioning artist Manish Verma to recreate a Mysore style painting using a photograph of the Maharaja designate, Sri Yaduveer Krishnadatta Chamaraja Wadiyar. 
This classic Mysore style portraiture shows the king accoutered in his royal vestments and Mysore peta adorning his head while his posture follows the classic from that can be seen in many of the portraits of the present king’s ancestors. He is seated on the silver Bhadrasana which suggests that he has just been invested with the (symbolic) royal authority of Mysore Kingdom, the Maharaja of Mysore. 
-An edited version of this article had appeared in the evening newspaper 'Star of Mysore' on 27 May 2015


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