How ‘The Primacy of Five’ depicts every woman in our world

There is more to the ‘panchkanyas’ portrayed by Bengaluru-based Jay Verma in his solo debut than meets the eye

April 23, 2022 05:51 pm | Updated 05:51 pm IST

 ‘Tara’  from the series ‘The Primacy of Five’ by artist Jaygopal Varma

‘Tara’ from the series ‘The Primacy of Five’ by artist Jaygopal Varma | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Exiled princesses, desolate damsels, long-suffering wives — the epics describe them, their plight and how they eventually rose above their fate, making them excellent role models for facing adversity. Bengaluru-based artist Jay Varma has modelled his solo debut titled, ‘The Primacy of Five’ on the panchkanyas.

According to traditional wisdom, reciting the names of the ‘panchkanyas’ dispels sin. For Jay, the ‘panchkanyas’ are manifest in every home and circumstance, “There are shades of these five women in every women today and hence, this exhibition is a tribute to all women, it is a celebration of womanhood,” says the artist.

Artist Jaygopal Varma

Artist Jaygopal Varma | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

“The idea to paint the panchkanyas was part of a larger, overarching theme in which I was planning to capture significant women of Indian mythology. I had an opportunity to execute one piece — Damayanti in the Forest — which got me started on this series of five paintings,” says the artist, who believes there is scope for more canvases as, “there are many women in our epics who deserve to be brought to the fore.”

A fifth generation descendent of the legendary artist, Raja Ravi Varma, Jay says his work is not only homage to his illustrious forefather, but also to his great-grandmother who was the last queen of Travancore, and his mother Rukmini Varma, an established artist herself.

“My introduction to the epics and my appreciation for them was because of my great grandmother. Everyday, she would sit me down and tell me these stories in great detail to the extent I almost thought I was one of the characters from those tales myself,” Jay reminisces.

He fondly remembers the strong women in his family who made an impact on his life. “My grandmother was always smiling, always in a good mood. She was a strong-willed lady too, who would not baulk under pressure. Similarly, my mother was also a big influence in my formative years. These strong women influenced me and still continue to do so.”

Executed over the past one-and-half years, the 24 inches X 30 inches canvases in this series have the main subject taking up most of the focus. “The background for Ahalya came from my own imagination, but for Draupadi who has been depicted in a palace balcony, I relied on references for the marble texture on the pillars and cornice work even though the design of those architectural elements were my own,” says the artist, whose niece posed as Sita, Tara and Mandodari for him.

‘Swarnathamana’ by artist Jaygopal Varma

‘Swarnathamana’ by artist Jaygopal Varma | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

While Jay believes figures are the pinnacle or epitome of oil painting, he does love to paint landscapes, still lifes and portraits. The exhibition features 13 canvases that include portraits, as well as three other paintings in a half-finished stage done from life, and were created using oils, graphite and coloured pencils.

Jay recounts the story behind an old Kerala Brahmin household he visited. “Legend has it that Shankaracharya was visiting a poor household and the lady of the house did not want to send him away empty-handed, so she went to the backyard and picked a handful of gooseberries for him. Appreciative of her gesture, Shankaracharya chanted a mantra and it began raining golden gooseberries. Since then, that family has never been in want.”

Called Swarnathamana (swarna = gold, mana = home in Malyalam) to this day, Jay has captured a portion of that home’s open courtyard in a canvas of the same name. “I have actually tried to infuse the coloured pencil drawing with a golden hue,” he says, hoping his works will give viewers an idea of his oeuvre.

Currently on display at GalleryG in Bengaluru, the exhibition can be viewed on or Google’s Arts and Culture page under Jaygopal Varma.

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