History Life & Style

Ringside view of a country and its people

Historian-writer Jutta Jain-Neubauer discusses Prince Waldemar’s paintings of India in 19th century, and shares insights into her research on stepwells and water architecture

Goethe Zentrum has on display lithographs of sketches and paintings from the 19th century, which present history from the point of view of an eager traveller who was also of royal origin. Prince Waldemar of Prussia (1817-1849), according to historical accounts presented at the exhibition, travelled extensively in India from 1844 to 1846, and took part in the Anglo-British-Sikh battles. He documented his observations through sketches and watercolour paintings — of landscapes, rural life, monuments and war.

Prince Waldemar, the nephew of King Friedrich Wilhelm III, travelled to countries beyond Europe, piqued by curiosity of different cultures as well as seeking opportunities for military bravery. He reached Calcutta in January 1845 and travelled to Patna, Kathmandu, Benaras, Delhi, Nainital, several regions of the Himalayas up to Tibet, Lahore, Jaipur, Gwalior, Indore and Bombay.

Many of his paintings were later turned into lithographs in Berlin. The visuals and texts by the Prince were published posthumously in 1853 in the book In Memory of the Travels of Prince Waldemar of Prussia to India 1844-1846. Prince Waldemar passed away in 1849, three years after his return from India.

Ringside view of a country and its people

Like painters of that era, Waldemar used natural colours and his visual imagery made room for vivid details, be it while depicting rural life or landscapes. The delicate play of light show the tranquillity of Punjab’s landscapes, for instance, in sketches where shafts of sunlight pass through the tall trees at dawn.

What makes his work compelling, says Jutta Jain-Neubauer, a historian who has researched extensively on Indian art history and delivered the key-note address at the session, is Prince Waldemar’s eye for detail and objectivity. Speaking to us ahead of the session, she notes, “His writings are filled with personal anecdotes that discuss lesser-known facts of the Anglo-British-Sikh battle. His perception of the war is different since he’s neither British nor Indian. He also describes how the troupes travelled with hundreds of soldiers and where their food came from. He discusses the role of river Sutlej, which acted as a frontier in the north-western part of British domain,” she says.

Prince Waldermar took part in the Anglo-British Sikh War of 1844-45, in Moodkee, Ferozeshah and Sabraon, and fought on the British side.

German historians highlight Prince Waldemar’s accounts in the aftermath of the battle as he watched people and horses being killed. “He was sensitive to what he saw and recorded those moments as sketches. Once, when he was fleeing through enemy territory, he noticed the cool rays of the moon through the foliage and later, sketched those images. He was always observant of nature,” says Jain-Neubauer.

(The lithographs will be on view at Goethe-Zentrum Hyderabad till February 24.)

Inside India’s water monuments

Jutta Jain-Neubauer on stepwells and water architecture in India

Ringside view of a country and its people

Indian art history is only one part of Jutta Jain-Neubauer’s research. She is known for her pioneering study of Indian water management systems. She studied Indian art history at the University of Heidelberg and pursued her PhD at the Bonn University. Her books include ‘Water Design. Environment and Histories’, ‘Feet and Footwear in Indian Culture’ and ‘Stepwells of Gujarat: An art-historical Perspective’ (all available on Amazon).

Now working on a book that will explore the close-knit relation between Indian temples and water bodies, she tells us, “At the time of looking for a subject for my doctoral studies, I found that several researchers had written about Indian temple traditions and architecture, but there was very little about stepwells and water systems.”

She first visited India in 1972. She narrowed down her focus to stepwells in the western region. “I was keen to learn about the design devices that people employed to make water useful for their community,” she says.

In the 70s, Jutta Jain-Neubauer discovered that very few within the state and central archaeological departments knew about Rani ki Vav in Patan and other stepwells. It was much later, with the collective efforts of INTACH and other archaeological bodies that stepwells were listed as heritage monuments and Rani ki Vav also bagged the UNESCO heritage tag.

Jutta Jain-Neubauer states that Rani ki Vav is a unique stepwell, unlike anything she has come across anywhere in the world. Stepwells, she says, were often commissioned by women in memory of their husband or son, and were sometimes born out of philanthropic activity. “Historical accounts state that if you donate something to a Brahmin, as was the norm, you help one person or a family. But if you commission a water monument, you help the entire village.” She calls these stepwells ‘feminine spaces’ where women interacted with other women and travellers.

As she researched, her fascination for water management systems in India grew. “There were kunds, temple ponds, and underground tanks. The underground tanks in the Amber Fort (Rajasthan) could store enough water to serve 20,000 people for a year if there was war.”

Ask her if reviving stepwells can help solve water paucity in some pockets of the country and she says, “I believe that both modern and traditional systems can work in tandem. Reviving these water bodies can benefit the villages or town near the structures.”

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Printable version | Mar 31, 2020 3:25:44 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/historian-writer-jutta-jain-neubauer-on-prince-waldemars-paintings-of-india-in-19th-century-and-her-research-on-stepwells-and-water-architecture/article22761819.ece

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