Kala Mandira, Karnataka’s oldest art institution, turns 100

Kala Mandira's founder, A.N. Subba Rao, put the school together with vision and perseverance

A 15-year old boy, who completed his primary education under difficult circumstances, came to Nagamangala to continue his studies at Akkhihebbal in 1906. A Trikuta structured Soumyakeshava temple, and two spectacular pillars carved from a single stone, mesmerised him during his first visit. These two exquisite pieces Hoysala art kindled in him a resolution to be an artist. After studying in Nagamangala, he returned to his native and completed his studies while taking up odd jobs to meet ends. Later studying art in Chamarajendra Technical Institute and serving as an art teacher, he founded the first art institution,Kalamandira, which turned a 100 on August 12, 2019. He is Akkihebbal Narasimhaiah Subbarao (A.N. Subbarao - popularly known as Aa Na Su) in the art fraternity, who carved a niche for himself in the cultural history of Karnataka.

Kala Mandira, Karnataka’s oldest art institution, turns 100

The oldest art institution of Karnataka, which started functioning a century ago, has now evolved as an all-encompassing cultural centre, that facilitates young minds to understand the aesthetics of various forms of fine arts including art, culture, literature and theatre. In the process, the cherished dream of A.Na. Su to make the art students self-sustainable through training, has also been realised over the years.

What motivated educationist, social reformer A.Na. Su to start this centre of art and culture is in itself part of the art history of Karnataka.

“Journey of A.Na. Su. unveils the tireless efforts and dreams of all who wished to practice art, besides earning their livelihood,” says writer Dr Vijaya, one of the beneficiaries of this great institution. “Kalamandira welcomed and even sheltered young aspirants such as sculptor Venkatachalapathi, who had left their homes to pursue art. Over the years it evolved as a space that has allowed young minds to soak in their aesthetics of prose, poetry and theatre, besides handicraft and visual art practices,” observes art historian and critic Pramila Lochana, who is editing “Kalamandira-A N Subbarao-Paradigm and Beyond”-a volume that is planned to mark the occasion.

Kala Mandira, Karnataka’s oldest art institution, turns 100

A. Na. Su’s own understanding of perspectives of art began during his early years in Akkhihebbal, where he was born and Nagamangala, where he was exposed to the exquisite Hoysala art and architecture. By the time he completed his matriculation in Mysore, he was yearning with determination to be an artist. He enrolled to complete his Diploma in Fine art at Jayachamarajendra Technical Institute. His love for art and its aesthetics deepened during his studies, as he trained under the mentorship of Jagadish and Prof. M Hiriyanna in Mysore. On moving to Bengaluru in search of a job, he started work as an art teacher at Bishop Cotton’s School. For one who believed in teaching art in a systematic manner, the prevalent neglect towards arts in schools under British administration, left A Na Su quite annoyed. He shared his angst with Sir M. Visveswaraya, who advised him to start his own art school. To provide the right status for art education, A. Na. Su. quit his job and took up the challenge of providing proper guidance for those interested in art and opened Kalamandira by investing his own funds with the moral support of friends and well-wishers such as Sir MV.

Bicycle-an epitaph of art struggle

It is significant that A.Na. Su. commuted across the city on a bicycle to run the institution, he built it brick by brick. “A.Na. Su. and the bicycle were synonymous even when he was 90 and commuted from one end of the city to the other fulfilling the task of bestowing to society the wisdom of art, culture and literature, says, A. M. Prakash, grandson of A. Na. Su. and the present principal of Kalamandira, recounting the journey undertaken by the architect of this art institution.

Kalamandira, which started functioning from a rented space next to Sugreeva temple in Balepet, Bengaluru in the beginning, introduced the students to painting of signboards and furniture making along with the regular courses. Along with learning an art form they were also equipped to earn their livelihood. At that time the student strength was just four and by 1920, the number of students swelled to 18. Interestingly, within two years of commencing the school, A. Na. Su. succeeded in holding the All India Art Exhibition at Sultanpet, Shamanna’s bungalow. Diwan of Mysuru Sir Mirza Ismail, who inaugurated the exhibition assured of extending all the support to Kalamanidira and sanctioned a monthly grant of Rs.50 to the Institution.

Swadeshi movement and Kalamandir

During the days of freedom struggle of the country, Kalamandira introduced the concept of Swadeshi, as part of the curriculum. “Kalamandira was the centre of freedom struggle for many leaders at that time. It provided shelter for those who fought the freedom struggle by engaging in underground activities. Discussions were being held on political negotiations, distribution of handouts and strategic planning of struggle were carried out,” recalls Dr Vijaya.

Kala Mandira, Karnataka’s oldest art institution, turns 100

To showcase works of students of Kalamandira, A.Na. Su. had organised the very first All India Exhibition of Art, Photography and Handicrafts in 1921. “A.Na.Su. invited the Dewan of Mysore, Sir Mirza Ismail to inaugurate the exhibition by writing just a postcard. Dewan obliged,” narrates Prakash.

The second All India Art Exhibition was held in 1927, with the support of the Mysore Government and Prince of Nepal Raja Jai Bahadur Singh inaugurated that. The third exhibition was inaugurated by Princess Durrusehvar Sultan of Hyderabad. “Works of noted artists including Abdur Rahman Chugtai, Deviprasad Roy Choudhury, Nandalal Bose, Y. Subhrahamanyaraju amongst others from Bombay, Madras, Lucknow. “Mahatma Gandhiji and Annie Besant visited the Khadi Exhibition organised jointly by A.Na. Su. and Goruru Ramaswamy Iyengar,” explains Prakash .

Kalamandir brought out Kala, an art journal, edited by A.Na. Su. from 1930 and published insightful articles on modern art and aesthetics by experts besides sculpture, literature, architecture, theatre and art criticism to reach to artists and art connoisseurs. “Renowned writers including; Devudu Narasimha Shastry, V. Seetharamaiah, Masti Venkatesha Iyngar, Aa. Na. Krishnaraya, D.V. Gundappa, Goruru Ramaswamy Iyngar have written in-depth articles on the art related issues. Besides this, his publication Drugdarshana (Perspective) brought out by Kalamandira, is a valuable compendium on the perspective of drawings,” observes Prakash, showing the decade old issues of Kala.

Kalamandir was later shifted to Sharada Talkies in 1938 and then in 1944 to DVG Road in Gandhi Bazar. All these years, this art institution responded to all cultural issues from time to time. For the first time Kalamandira conducted a national conference on theatre and discussed about the state of mythological historical and social plays. Stalwarts of professional theatre including Gubbi Veeranna, Mohammad Peer, Bellary Raghava, Ti. Ta. Sharma and Garuda Sadashivaraya participated in this historical theatre meet.

Kala Mandira, Karnataka’s oldest art institution, turns 100

Noted writers such as V. K. Gokak, Gopalakrishna Adiga, Chandrashekara Kambara, B. V. Karanth, Girish Karnad, Parvathavani, P. Lankesh and others participated in the theatre and literary activities organised by Kalamandira in 60s. “Girish Karnad’s one act play, Maa Nishada took the form of puppet show here. He read his play Hittina Hunja (Bali in English) in Kalamandira,” recalls Prakash.

Presently nestled right behind Ramanjaneya hillock in Hanumanthanagar-Kalamandira school of art is resonating the cherished dreams and visions of A Na Su. “His dream to bestow to the society the wisdom of art, culture and literature is now realised in its full form. Today Kalamandira is recognised for its courses in Bachelor of Visual Arts and is continues to uphold his vision. Some of the disciples of Kalamandira are Rumale Channabasavaiah, S.S. Kukke, S.R. Swamy, B.K.S. Varma, Venkatachalapathi, Kanaka Murthy and M.S. Murthy among many others,” recalls Prakash.

Over the years, Kalamandira has reinvented iteself to suit to the needs of the changing world. Young teachers of the institution adapted new techniques and provided new direction to Kalamandira with creative expression by students.

Chitra Kalavidaru, Abhinaya Taranga, Bimba school for training children in art and theatre, the subsidiary institutions of Kalamandira are meeting the different needs of the society in the changed circumstances. “Now Kalamandira is conducting four-year Bachelor of Visual Arts course and is affiliated to Kannada University Hampi,” says Prakash, with pride.

Faculty of Kalamandira and students of A. Na. Su. are now all set to celebrate the centenary year of the premier art institution.

The yearlong celebration, which commenced in October last, will conclude on August 25. Centenary celebration committee has conferred the centenary award of Kalamandira to alumnus of the institution and internationally acclaimed sarod maestro, Pandit Rajeev Taranath.

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Printable version | Feb 26, 2020 7:35:11 AM |

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