Designing the Gods

It's an idyllic backdrop, with the valley and the greens. But a despondent Sita seated under a tree is lost in thought. She seems oblivious to her surroundings. Raja Ravi Varma paints her in the way words describe her in epics dressed in saffron, plain, with sparse jewels. Years later, the vintage zardozi on her saree might have lost its sheen but the print is precious, says Anubhav Nath, director of Ojas Art. "It's a rare print. Raja Ravi Varma prints of Lakshmi and Saraswati are relatively easier to find because many of them were produced due to high demand," says Nath. The gallerist who has been collecting Varma's prints for over a decade, has now curated an exhibition from his collection. Comprising over 70 frames, each of the oleographs is embellished with zardozi done in Burma and south India.

The walls are resplendent with Varma's depiction of episodes from mythology and the deities who once graced calenders. There is Lakshmi standing on a lotus flower, with the river flowing under her feet. Krishna is Sri Venu Gopal with a flute, mesmerising the gopis. Vishnu appears on the mythical bird Garuda, flanked by his two wives Rudra and Sukeerthi. Shiv is on the Kailash mountains with Parvati and Ganesha on his lap, and the bull Nandi completes the picture. "The works are of historical significance. He is one of the first Indian contemporary artists who was responsible for taking art to homes through his oleographs. Aesthetically too, Varma defined how Indian gods and goddesses were pictured," says Nath.

Procured from collections world over, Nath is particular about the prints he acquires. "The print strip at the bottom is a must, it has its own charm," he says. None of the prints have been under a restorer's brush. "One tends to lose the patina during restoration," he reasons. The collection is not complete yet though, Nath notes that there are several other rare Ravi Varma works he hopes to get hold of.

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