Raja Ravi Varma

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Raja Ravi Varma

Context: April 29 is the birth anniversary of the famed Indian painter Raja Ravi Varma (1848-1906).

Key contributions:

  • He is remembered for giving Indians their western, classical representations of Hindu gods and goddesses. 
  • Through his printing press, Varma’s humanised depiction of Hindu pantheon travelled beyond the surfaces of costly canvases, and into the prayer and living rooms of working-class homes.
  • He achieved this by making affordable lithographs, which were accessible even to the poor.
  • Ravi Varma first started a press in Mumbai and later shifted it to a place near Lonavala. 

Awards he won:

His 1873 painting, Nair Lady Adorning Her Hair, won Varma prestigious awards including Governor’s Gold Medal when it was presented in the Madras Presidency, and Certificate of Merit at an exhibition in Vienna.

In 1904, the British colonial government awarded Varma with the Kaiser-i-Hind Gold Medal. In 2013, a crater on the planet Mercury was named in his honour.

His prominent works include:

A Family of Beggars, A Lady Playing Swarbat, Arjuna and Subhadra, Damayanti Talking to a Swan, Jatayu (a bird devotee of Lord Rama), Lady Lost in Thought, Shakuntala.

Criticisms:

Varma is often criticized for being too showy in his paintings. His paintings are also condemned for overshadowing traditional Indian art forms, especially the ones depicting Hindu gods and goddesses. His approach is said to lack the dynamism of expression seen in the traditional paintings. Critics have also criticized him for modelling goddesses after prostitutes, saying that his representation of deities have reduced them to the level of mortals.

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