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Photo sensitive eyes

R.V. Subramanyam, a Bangalore-based retired accountant with a passion for photography and history, presented lecture demonstrations in Chennai recently.

MYTHICAL WINGED lions, sturdy elephants, perfectly proportioned figures of men, women, and the gods are bathed in a magical glow as the camera lingers lovingly over them. Shot at various times of the day - morning, noon, and twilight - the figures, with the lovely effect of light and shadow, seem to come alive. Pictures in stone, the sculptures, whether at Sanchi, Bodh Gaya, Belur, Halebid, or Khajuraho arouse a sense of awe and pride in the viewer about Indian art and the skill of the Indian craftsman.

R.V. Subramanyam, a Bangalore-based retired accountant with a passion for photography and history, gave illustrated talks at the C.P. Arts Centre and the fourth at Brhad-Kala, the Art Centre of Brhaddvani, at Chennai.

The camera wizardry of the speaker, his deep love for the subject and his perceptive comments took the audience on a trip to the architectural treasures of the country. The Stupa at Sanchi, the temples of Bodh Gaya and Khajuraho, and the depiction of musical instruments in sculptures were focussed upon. For those who had been to these historic spots, it was a re-acquaintance with familiar, well-loved sites. For the first time viewer, it was an opportunity to visit these splendidly built and carved places of worship.

"Centuries ago, while many countries of the world slept, India was gloriously alive in art," said Mr. Subramanyam. Historical facts, descriptions of the sculptures and details of the way the monuments had been built made up the fabric of the talks, while the slides did the rest, picking out each intricate feature.

Two thousand years ago, he said, some of the merchants in India were as rich as the kings. Asoka married the daughter of a wealthy merchant when he was posted as Governor of Sanchi during his father's reign. Their son, Mahendra, later became a Buddhist monk. Asoka raised the stupa on the relics of the Buddha between 273 and 236 B.C. It was enlarged and enhanced by the Sungas and others. The beautiful gateways decorated with carvings were admired by the Chinese and Japanese, who adopted them in their buildings and temples. The panels at Sanchi portray episodes from the life of the Buddha and stories from the Jataka tales. The audience got to see them at close quarters in the golden hues of sunlight filtered by the lens of the camera.

The enormous "gopura" of the Khajuraho temple and the techniques used in the construction to maintain the equilibrium and balance, were explained. The Chandella rulers, who claimed lunar descent, built these temples in the 10th and 11th Century. The speaker confined himself to the non-erotic sculptures and pointed out how superbly the figures had been conceptualised and created in this cluster of red sandstone temples, the images so deeply carved within the niches that when the sun reaches the meridian they seem to step out, assuming human form.

At Brhaddvani, the symphony in stone was conveyed though the gloriously adorned figures of Hoysala art-mortals as well as apsaras, gandharvas, and devas playing the veena, venu (flute), drum, and nagaswaram keeping time with their foot while engrossed in their music for eternity.

The 81-year-old speaker's romance with the camera began more than 50 years ago. A graduate in politics, economics and history from the Madras Christian College, he joined the Karnataka State Accounts Department. His passion for photography led him to take video films of the family.

"While on a visit to Kodaikanal in the early 50s, I met an American who suggested I should switch to colour photography," he says. That, in turn, led to the slides, on various places of interest, which he exhibited to his mother and other family members.

The Sanchi stupa.

Impressed, his sister said he should give illustrated lectures. The shy Subramanyam honed his talking skills and gave his first presentation in Jayanagar in 1954. Ten years later, when he screened his slides on the monuments of Delhi, the response was so good that he decided to pursue the sculptural route. "I gradually slipped into the theme of temple architecture," says Subramanyam who now has a repertoire of 27 topics, a stock of a thousand slides and has given hundreds of such presentations.

These cover the Chalukyan architecture (7th to 8th Century A.D), Kalyani Chalukyas, (later period — 10th and 11th Century), Pallavas, Cholas, Pandyas and the Nayaks. The Buddhist temples at Sarnath and Gaya, the Jain temples of Gujarat and Rajasthan, the Gomateshwara of Chennarayapatna and Gomatagiri, the Hindu temples of Orissa and Gujarat, are among the other subjects. Indo-Saracenic architecture and Islamic architecture find place.

So do themes such as the representation of Lord Siva, as well as elephants, horses, crocodiles and Madanikas, in Indian sculpture. Not content with this, Subramanyam also goes West in his quest and can bring the beauty of the four seasons of America to Indian lecture halls and show you the birth and the evolution of high-rise buildings of Manhattan!The art aficionado, who has studied Sanskrit for 12 years, laces his presentations with quotations from the Upanishads and Sanskrit poetry.

He has given talks at the National Museum, New Delhi (which he tells you with a tinge of pride has been appreciated by Prof. Sivaramamurthy) and also at various universities, including the Banaras Hindu University and the universities of Jaipur, Jodhpur and Karnataka. "Each temple takes at least three days to photograph in order to obtain the right effects," says Subramanyam who has also trained in clay modelling and painting and is a collector of art as well. "My wife, Neela, has been a great source of encouragement," he says. "While Indians are interested in Western culture, Americans evince interest in our traditions," he says. "Before the advent of TV, more people would attend the lectures. Even among the older people, very few are interested in sculpture. I wish to create an appreciation of our wonderful heritage and of the grandeur of conception and execution by the unnamed Indian artist." Indian artists, enormously talented but anonymous, are our unsung heroes, says the octogenarian. Thanks to him, one could salute them anew.


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