History & Culture

This exhibition in Delhi turns the spotlight on folk art masterpieces from Himachal Pradesh


Rare craft pieces from the museum of K.C. Aryan are on display at an exhibition, curated by his son, in Delhi

World over folk art is revered and treasured, unfortunately in India it is meted a step-motherly treatment. Bringing it into the mainstream is the exhibition of ‘Unknown masterpieces of Himachal Folk Art’ jointly organised by The National Museum and K. C. Aryan Home of Folk Art (Museum of Tribal, Folk and neglected Art), New Delhi.

The word ‘neglected’ seems apt as folk art and tribal traditions have rarely been documented nor considered art in the truest sense. Thus this exhibition turns the spotlight on some of the finest folk art masterpieces from Himachal Pradesh.

This exhibition in Delhi turns the spotlight on folk art masterpieces from Himachal Pradesh

The collection has been painstakingly put together, over seven decades, by the late K.C. Aryan. He drew the world’s attention towards the rich textile traditions, bronzes and wood carvings. A well-known painter, he dedicated his life to documenting and researching the folk art, especially of Himachal Pradesh. He also authored 23 books on folk art traditions.

This exhibition has been curated by his son B.N. Aryan, director of Home of Folk Art. “This is the first time that these masterpieces are on display. Even in our museum they are confined to storage due to lack of space and adequate security. So I really want people to come and see these beautiful creations,” he says.

On display are 240 pieces, of which 230 are from the Home of Folk Art. These are not even a fraction of the exhaustive collection of over 30,000 pieces with the Home of Folk Art.

This exhibition in Delhi turns the spotlight on folk art masterpieces from Himachal Pradesh

Explaining the genesis of this collection, Arayan says, “Once my father came across a man trying to melt some creations in bronze. He assumed it was meant to be recast. When he realised that it was being sold as scrap for Rs. 5 per ser, my father bought the whole lot for Rs. 10.” From then on, the collection grew. On display are votives. These are offerings made by devotees if their wishes are fulfilled. “These are placed outside the temples and after a few years they are piled together and burnt. Many of them with beautiful carvings were retrieved.”

Pointing to a wooden panel, Aryan says, “This was made by the grandfather of a man who sold tea. He also knew to carve. My father brought him to Delhi, he stayed with us for six months and made a few amazing pieces.”

There are wooden masks with finely inlaid metal work. An ektara is carved out of aluminium and mohras with the face of goddess. The 30-odd pieces displayed span a few centuries. What is noteworthy about the mohras is the way the face of the deity changes with passing centuries. A 15th century piece is in the classical Indian style while a 17th century one looks more Oriental with pronounced features.

This exhibition in Delhi turns the spotlight on folk art masterpieces from Himachal Pradesh

The highlight of the textile collection are the rumals that were made all over the undivided Punjab, including Swat valley. “So it will be wrong to refer to them as Chamba rumals. My father discovered a rumal made by Bibi Nanaki ji, the sister of Guru Nanak. This piece was later acquired by the Crafts Museum, Delhi. My father did not have the means to keep this priceless rumal safe, since he established his museum only in 1984.”

There are two rumals displaying the namavalli (alphabets or scripts on fabric) tradition. One has the image of Ganesha alongwith verses on the Lord, while another depicts Hanuman. These rumals are rare pieces because the namavalli has been embroided on them. They may have been offerings made or used in worship.

“When my father started collecting rumals, some he bought for fifty paise and some for eight rupees. Word spread that a man who had a studio at Daryaganj was buying rumals and several people approached him. One such was a representative of the Maharaja of Hoshiarpur in 1963. The extraordinary piece was bought for a princely sum of Rs. 350. It shows Krishna with Ashtanayikas in Guler style.”

There are also rumals with embroidered base made by Gujjar women from Bhadrawah / Kishtawar region of Kashmir. Besides rumals from Himachal Pradesh, on display are the little-known one-sided embroidered ones from Mandi.

Each piece at the exhibition has a story to tell and showcases the deep passion of the collector K.C. Aryan. Now his son B. N. Aryan and historian-daughter Shubhasini Aryan are taking that passion forward.

Unknown masterpieces of Himachal Folk Art are on show at the National Museum in New Delhi till July 31.

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Printable version | Dec 12, 2019 5:48:13 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/history-and-culture/this-exhibition-in-delhi-turns-the-spotlight-on-folk-art-masterpieces-from-himachal-pradesh/article28721562.ece

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