Vijay Hagargundgi, is known for reviving the tradition of the Surpura miniatures as well as his collection of artefacts from North Karnataka

It was on an educational trip to Surpura (near Gulbarga) that Vijay Hagargundgi first encountered the murals on the walls of mansions and mutts.

Since then, Vijay, who studied art at the Ideal Fine Art Society's MMK College of Visual Art for six years, decided to adapt this style of painting, which has links to the Vijayanagara school of art. (“Surpur paintings have a very particular and very beautiful form. When I went there I was able to collect old paintings and since then I have been working on the tradition,” says Vijay. His intricate drawings and paintings, sometimes with gold inlay, are part of public and private collections in India and abroad. His work has been exhibited all over the country as well as in London and New York.

“I went to Rajasthan to learn the traditional techniques of miniature painting, under Dwarka Prasad Sharma in Rajasthan,” says Vijay who recently completed a residency programme at the 1, Shanthi Road Studio/Gallery.

Here Vijay has been encouraged by Shanthi Road founder Suresh Jayaram and Raghu Tenkayala. “One of the themes I was telling him to work on were the panchaboothas or the five elements, and how he visualizes them,” says Suresh.

Another important theme was the Veerashaiva Tradition. “The Veerashaivas were a community from which many 12 century saints such as Akka Mahadevi and Basavanna hailed from. They were all revolutionaries who wrote about social equality. Akka Mahadevi could probably be seen as the first feminist,” explains Suresh.

Unique collection

Yet it’s not just for his extensive work with Surpura miniatures that makes Vijay an interesting artist for Suresh, it’s the fact that Vijay, over 30 years, has also amassed a vast collection of bronze idols and utensils, Surpura miniatures, glass paintings, Uddharani paintings, Edramay paintings, Bhuta figurines in wood and metal, equestrian bronzes of the folk hero Mailaralinga and the like amounting to thousands of objects.

His dream is to set up a museum showcasing these objects that represent the lost traditions of the region of North Karnataka.

“In 1972 there was a drought and in the region and people started selling these invaluable artefacts out of poverty and I felt bad because I could see it was a loss of heritage. That’s when I thought it would be nice if could collect these objects,” says Vijay. “I didn’t have the money at that time, I was a student. But after I got my diploma, I started working in a school. With my salary I used to buy these old objects. And many times it is these objects that inspired me in my paintings.”

Vijay had to make new paintings and sell them to buy the old ones. He even learnt the art of bronze metal casting so he could make new idols or sculptures to replace the old ones he was buying from the local families.

But his entire life’s work now hangs in balance, because he does not have any support to build his dream museum. As of now, the objects have finally been catalogued and Vijay owns a piece of land for the museum to be built.

“The government gave me official quarters a few years ago, but I was thrown out after five years. Some of the artefacts were stolen or damaged,” says Vijay. His objects now lie packed in boxes in various home, of friends, relatives and acquaintances.

“It’s a very fragile and difficult situation. But it’s an opportunity for Gulbarga, the government, and corporates to come together,” says Suresh. “It will be a great loss if the government doesn’t provide him assistance to secure his collection because that particular cultural landscape is fragile and it needs a conscious effort to curate and put together.”