Popular Indian Religious Art

Birgit Kellner kellner at IPC.HIROSHIMA-U.AC.JP
Thu Sep 18 14:46:22 UTC 1997

> Kristen Anne Hardy wrote:
> >         I am trying to locate (thus far with little success) scholarly
> > materials on the topic of contemporary popular Indian religious art (e.g.,
> > books/articles dealing with calender art, 'God posters', etc.). I am interested
> > not only in this form of art as used in strictly religious/devotional contexts,
> > but also its use in Indian commercial/graphic art (e.g., advertisments, product
> > packaging, etc.). Can anyone out there alert me to some relevent materials?
> >
> >         Thanks,
> >
> >         Kristen Hardy,
> >         student of Religious Studies and Sanskrit
> >         (University of Manitoba)
> >         e-mail: umhardy at cc.umanitoba.ca
The film critic Chidananda Dasgupta includes a few remarks on what he
calls the "Verma model" (named after the painter Ravi Verma) of painting
deities in his book "The Painted Face: Studies in India's Popular
Cinema", New Delhi 1991: Roli Books. Dasgupta deals with the popular
devotional imagery predominantly in terms of its impact on the depiction
of gods and goddesses in film and on TV. The most relevant passages are
probably the following:

"Ravi Verma's anglicized Indian gods and heroes had already established
themselves in popular visual culture and set the images of Rama, Sita,
the sages and of course the gods themselves through the inexpensive
oleographs Verma painted, printed and distributed across the country."
(p.21) (this is with reference to the early 20th century)

"... the Verma model overflowed the divine molds and spilled over into
other popular visual manifestations such as star pinups, beedi and other
indigenous smallscale industry product labels, shop signboards, graffiti
on the backs of trucks and two wheelers, bazaar photo studio backgrounds
for portraiture and, above all, film posters and hoardings and the films
themselves, in an extraordinary blend of the realistic and the
unrealistic, to create an Indian pop. The main device derived from Ravi
Verma is an obfuscation of perspective in an otherwise realistic
rendering celebrated in the dialect of a free, primitive draftsmanship.
Add to Ravi Verma elements from the quasi-Persian decadent Mughal
sentimentality of Abdur Ralman Chughtai seen on Hyderabad's Nirmal ware,
on engravings of recumbent females on glass panels in cinemas or on
bazaar calendars; the paintings of bathing beauties in skin-clinging
saris executed by Hemen Majumdar and 'Mr. Thomas' in Bengal which formed
a further bazaar extension of the British academic style and the most
sentimental examples of the Bengal school of painting, and you have
today's pop visual." (p.21)


Birgit Kellner
Department for Indian Philosophy
Hiroshima University

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