Raja Ravi Verma (1848-1906) is regarded as one of the greatest painters in the history of Indian art. His work is exhibited in the Government Museum of Chennai. Few of the works include Shakuntla, A lady cutting fruits, another holding a mirror, A parsi lady with her umbrella etc. I really like to visit dedicated art galleries as one gets a chance to compare, adore and understand artist’s style. All the works had elegant ladies in graceful postures and the use of vibrant colours, making the paintings real and divine. I noted down his name to see more of his work online and came to know the great story of “Raja Ravi Verma”. I couldn’t resist myself to share it.
Born in the princely state of Travancore, Verma was trained in water painting by Rama Swami and oil painting by a Dutch portraitist. Therefore, we can see a touch of European realism in his art. Many of us must have seen the famous paintings of goddess Sarswati and Laxmi at school or home. Raja Verma was the one who imagined god and goddess in human form and painted with earthly landscapes. The fragrance of rich heritage and divinity charmed the imagination of many other artists, writers, and filmmakers.
Madhava Rao (Dewan of Travancore) wrote to Verma in 1880 that many friends of his are desirous of his work and suggested to send a few of the works in Europe and have them printed. He wrote back, promising that he would give due consideration to Rao’s suggestion. It took a decade of time, but eventually he himself started an oleography press in Bombay. A location most suitable for importing machineries from German and distributing the print. This move of Verma was revolutionary in many ways. The Hindu gods who once were the privilege of brahmins and elite class, were now part of many households. It was a unique marriage of art, religion and technology.
Raja Verma used Sugandha Bai as his inspiration while painting mythological characters. He also painted many half naked pictures of her, which received sharp criticism by conservative Indians. The character of Sugandha Bai, adds an interesting perspective in his story. That’s how an artist saw a great divine beauty in a woman and got inspired to portray her as an Apsara.
(A passionate still from movie Rang Rasiya, featuring the Verma, Sugandha and painting of Urvashi)
Dada Saheb Falke, the father of Indian cinema, expert in lithography and oleograph worked in Ravi Verma’s printing press in his early career. Who later made India’s first full-length feature film, Raja Harishchandra and mythological movies like Satyavani Savitri, Lanka Dahan, Kaliya Mardan. We can say Raja Verma was the one who connected the dots from the epics, fine arts, photos and then up to the Indian cinema. Raja believed that people die, but their arts, their imagination live forever