Mahabharat gets an artistic look

Kathmandu: After a novel based on the story of Karna, the tragic prince in the Mahabharata abandoned at birth, and a play from the perspective of Gandhari, the queen mother who lived life blindfolded after her marriage to a sightless prince, Nepal is now set to woo London with yet another interpretation of the timeless epic of love, treachery and war.

Indian translator and author Kurchi Dasgupta, who shifted to Kathmandu from Kolkata in 2005 - the tumultuous year that led to a series of sweeping changes in the former Hindu kingdom - will present "Bishoy Mahabharat", her second series of paintings interpreting the epic that dates back to the 9th-8th century BC , at the Nehru Centre in London from Sep 7 to 10.

The 18 paintings - in oil, gouache and mixed media on canvas - comes at a time the Nehru Centre, under the Indian Council for Cultural relations, is celebrating the 60th anniversary of India as a Republic.

The 36-year-old former CEO of the Society for the Preservation of Satyajit Ray Films in Kolkata says she began reading the Mahabharata in earnest from 2008 after she held a solo exhibition - "World Cinema: A dialogue" - at the MP Birla Millennium Art Gallery, London.

"I had watched films for one year in preparation for the exhibition," says Kurchi, supervising the packing of her paintings at the Imago Dei gallery in Kathmandu where she held a preview of the new Mahabharat series.

"It made me realise I did not have enough knowledge about my roots, the right perception of my location."

She thought as a South Asian, if she were to "discover" herself and find her "true position in world history" she needed to focus on something that was essentially Asian and yet universal - the Mahabharata.

The 19th century translation by Kishori Mohan Ganguli of the original Sanskrit text by sage Vyasa provided her the foundation for her first series, "The Mahabharat: An impression" that was exhibited at the Siddhartha Art Gallery in Kathmandu earlier this year.

While she started her Mahabharat series with some of its inimitable characters - its heroine Draupadi, who is forced to marry five brothers, the warrior-hero Arjun and his inimical rival, foe and stepbrother Karna - now she is focusing on incidents, regarding them as "symbols of the crises we go through life".

The painting titled Draupadi, for example, shows an introspecting woman, her face covered by a gauze-like strip.

"She remembers the scene where the Kaurava brothers tried to disrobe her in public," the painter explains. "The cloth is also a reference to how women are not allowed to speak."

Another painting, "Sabha Parba", is inspired by that impetuous game of dice that made Yudhisthir gamble away his kingdom, his own self and four brothers and even his wife. But there are no figures in the painting, only the dice and the great hall of Yudhisthir`s newly built palace Indraprastha.

"It was the palace that triggered the jealousy of Duryodhan and led to the game of dice," Kurchi says. "Such acts of greed and jealousy have continued down the ages. I have tried to show that the characters change but the props remain the same."

Kurchi`s Mahabharat paintings are not an attempt to tell the story visually. They are impressions dominated by an awed realisation about the cycle of time.

"The Mahabharata is not just a tale of how a race, if not humanity, is wiped off the face of the earth - to be reborn and destroyed again and again, in rhythm with the cycle of yugas," she says.

"It is also the tale of ... the rise and fall of time - through wars, destructions and rebirths of civilisations... keeping itself relevant for more than three millennia."

Kurchi, who began to focus on painting more than writing after she relocated to Kathmandu, says she is grateful to the city for giving her space and warmth.

"If you respond to Nepal, you can appreciate the strong creative impulse here," she says. "Kathmandu, though a city, is laidback and your feeling of stress recedes. You begin to bask in its warmth and craziness, which is just like in Kolkata."


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