Varanasi I

_Are there not many places on this Earth?

Yet which one of them would equal in the balance one speck of Kashi's dust?

Are there not many rivers running to the sea?

Yet which of them is like the river of heaven in Kashi?

Are there not many fields of liberation on earth?

Yet not one equals the smallest part of the city never forsaken by Shiva.

The Ganges, Shiva and Kashi: Where this Trinity is watchful, no wonder here is found the grace that leads one to perfect bliss._ (K Kh 35. 7-10; as published in, D. Eck, Banares: City of Light, New York, 1998, frontispiece)

The vast Indian landscape is deeply linked to the stories of the gods and heroes of Indian culture. Every place has a story, and every Hindu myth and legend is associated with a place. There is no place in India more inextricably tied to the very basis of Hindu mythology - the understanding of life, death and the cycle of regeneration than Varanasi. Tied to the past, but very much in the present, the constant and continuum that is Varanasi has enthralled travelers and pilgrims for centuries. In 1960, MF Husain and Ram Kumar visited Varanasi. They too were enthralled with the city. The rich landscape filled their psyches and they were inspired to create a series of paintings and prints.

Husain's choice of iconography in Varanasi I; the sun rising above the river Ganges, the priest and the boats, are immediately recognizable. Through this very simple composition, Husain conveys the very complex nature of the Hindu mythology. Both the giver of life and the carrier of the dead, Ganga represents the contradictory forces of life and death. The headless priest, black sun and the earthy colors, brown and green, represent this duality and the bleakness and austerity, which underlines the grave complexity of the cycle of human life. Powerful and deeply esoteric, Husain captures the essence of Varanasi.

Signature: signed, dated and titled 'Husain '73 / "VARANASI I" (on the reverse)


Pundole Art Gallery, Bombay

Acquired from the above in 1976 by the current owner, an extended family member of Tyeb Mehta family

About Maqbool Fida Husain

A controversial artist known for narrative paintings done in a flat, Cubist style, Maqbool Fida Husain is regarded by some as the Picasso of India. A member of the Bombay Progressive Arts Group, Husain sought to create a modern Indian art form for the newly freed nation of India. Threatened and criticized by Hindu nationalist groups for his treatment of such sensitive subject matter as nude Hindu goddesses, the artist entered into a self-imposed exile. Self-taught, he painted Indian themes in the style of contemporary European artists, most notably Paul Klee. Husain’s depictions of historic figures, rural and urban Indian life, and religious iconography grew increasingly experimental over his lifetime, culminating with an unfinished series of triptychs, “Indian Civilization,” which pays tribute to Indian history and reveals Husain’s own personal mythology.

Indian, 1915-2011, Pandharpur, India, based in London, United Kingdom

Exhibition Highlights On Artsy

Masterpieces of Indian Modern Art, Dag Modern, New York
Mysteries of the Organism, AkaraArt, Mumbai
M.F. Husain: Master of Modern Indian Painting, Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A)