With this post I digress to another side of Kutch—the ornamental wall paintings which decorate the walls of homes, temples and work places in the vast salt pans’ midst. An art form sadly extinct, and least known of Kutch art and crafts.
Dating back to the 18th Century, the Kamangari School of Painting, painted on scrolls and walls, and unique to Kutch, is now a vanished tradition—its remnants found in a couple of Bhuj’s museums, a few random surviving homes, and a portico in the decaying monastery of the Kanphata yogis that I visited in Than.
The wall paintings are neither sophisticated in style nor technique. Painted on wet plastered surfaces with brushes made from the bark of palm trees and colours extracted from pebbles, leaves and clay held together with gypsum, their charm lies in their vibrancy and spontaneity. I find the consistently grouchy expressions, of mortals and deities alike, with downturned lips smeared on the caricatured faces the most amusing. Almost endearing. 🙂 Why so cynical, dear Kutchi?
The little portico in the Than Monastery is a veritable treasure trove of Kamangari wall art. There are cherubic angels riding chariots driven by peacocks. Scenes from the Mahabharata with benevolent sages and divine deities flank secular everyday compositions of lovers in earnest flight being chased by arrows from a slighted admirer. The self-important official, dancing maidens, and platters of exotic fruit and flowers, together create a heady chronicle of the people of Kutch 300 years ago, not necessarily of life in Kutch, but rather of life as experienced or imagined by the Kutchi.
Patronized by the ruling and wealthy classes of society, the Kamangari artists were predominantly Muslim. Many Kutch residents during the period migrated to other regions in search for livelihoods, to come back with ideas and belongings they commissioned the Kamangari artists to paint for them. The arrival of the British into the Kutch district brought with it a further plethora of subject themes for the artists to explore and express.
I had the opportunity of seeing these paintings in their natural setting. I wonder if 50 years from now on, another traveller would… It’s a sobering thought.
The 18th Century Kamangari wall paintings of Than monastery. All in one little portico:
The burra sahebs—the ruling and wealthy class who commissioned the paintings
Eclectic concoctions of east and west
Paintings narrating stories
… Paintings symbolic, and at times purely ornamental
Odes to Hindu deities
Odes to Hindu mythology
Like wreaths of flowers, the Kamangari paintings add a breath of fresh air and vibrant colour to the walls they embellish. And like the flowers, they seem destined to wither away
Note: My road trip to Kutch was done with Breakfree Journeys.