Hidden histories Society

The unsung artist

Artist R. Haridas. Photo courtesy: Sharat Sunder Rajeev   | Photo Credit: Sharat Sunder Rajeev

In 1809, Velu Thampi, the Dalawa of erstwhile Travancore, addressed a crowd at Kundara, in Kollam. The strongly worded proclamation ignited the minds of the crowd and encouraged the Travancore regular troops to attack the British force stationed in Kollam. The proclamation, known as the ‘Kundara Proclamation’, became a turning point in the history of Travancore.

A life-sized bronze statue of the Dalawa is located in front of the Secretariat. An illustration of the Dewan, reproduced by Shungoonny Menon in his History of Travancore, as well as a popular lithograph based on the picture was widely circulated in Travancore.

Apart from these popular portrayals of Thampi, an artistic depiction of the Kundara Proclamation did not gain popularity amongst the masses. The only painting, which is on public display, is artist N.N. Nampiyar’s ‘Kundara Proclamation’ exhibited at Sri Chitra Art Gallery in the capital city.

Before Nampiyar’s painting was put on display, there was another painting in the gallery depicting the same theme. “The painting titled ‘Kundara Proclamation’ by artist R. Haridas was given the first prize by the State government and was selected for display in the gallery,” recalls R. Govindan (Manacaud), an artist and relative of Haridas. During the late 1950s, Govindan assisted Haridas when he worked on his famous painting.

R. Haridas (1930-1975), a talented artist and vocalist, was born into a family of artists. “I was closely associated with Haridas and his father, Manacaud K. Ramakrishnan Achari, a reputed artist,” recalls Sivan, reputed photographer and proprietor of Sivan’s Studio. “Haridas and his brothers were gifted artists who excelled in the art of portraiture, however, it was Haridas who excelled in other art genres as well,” adds Sivan.

For the iconic painting of the proclamation, Haridas was inspired by a similar commanding image of Lenin addressing an excited crowd. Before arriving at the final composition for the painting, Haridas read all that he could gather about the historic episode. The attire of the Dalawa was based on the old sketch that was reproduced in books. The artist’s next effort was to find apt models for his painting. “Ismayil, a good friend of Haridas, was the model for the velkkaran, the soldier with the spear,” recalls Govindan. A few preparatory drawings and sketch studies of his models remain with his family members. The composition presents the Dalawa as the focal character, his left hand outstretched as he addresses the crowd.

‘Kundara Proclamation’ by Haridas won wide appreciation, as it was a significant contribution to the genre of historic paintings. The painting, after it was displayed for long, was moved to the gallery store owing to some damage in the canvas. “It is unfortunate that such an important painting has not been restored and put back on display,” says Govindan.

The sketches and watercolour washes from the artist’s sketchbooks reveals his love for Thiruvananthapuram. Paintings of Uppidammoodu Bridge veiled in mist in the dawn hours, a melancholic portrait of a young girl by the seaside are some of the painting set in the city.

[The author is a conservation architect and history buff]

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Printable version | May 11, 2021 3:28:11 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/society/r-haridas-painting-of-the-kundara-proclamation/article7770308.ece

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