The Kanhai Gharana has revived the lost art of golden Krishna paintings in the past few decades, says Anita Iyer.
In Indian mythology, Lord Krishna is the only deity who absorbs various shades of identity and Kanhai Gharana has brought about a revolution in Kanhai paintings, which were on the verge of extinction. Enhanced with gold foil and embossed with precious stones, the Kanhai Gharana created Krishna paintings, which recited visually mesmerizing stories of Lord Krishna. One look at the sparkling Kanhai paintings gives us an illusion of reincarnation of Lord Krishna.In North India, Kanhai paintings had almost became extinct but Kanhai Chitrakar, one of the pioneers of this art form took up the challenge to revive the art form about fifty years ago. He made use of oil paint to draw on the canvas and decorate with silver, gold jewellery and Jaipur glass stones to enhance that beauty a little more.
To carry the golden legacy further, his sons- Padmashri Krishn Kanhai and U.P Ratna award winner Govind Kanhai joined him and infused innovative techniques to give it a contemporary look. “We gave a new meaning to Kanhai paintings by entering the area of Contemporary paintings, Portraits, Realistic Folk, fusion and 3D paintings. Also the use of Swarovski stones to emboss the paintings made them cost crores, which once were priced Rs. 400-500 only”, says Krishn Kanhai.It is a mere coincidence that their name is Kanhai, the Gharana is involved in making Kanhai paintings and they stay in Vrindavan, a place intimately connected with Lord Krishna. Krishn Kanhai opines, “We capture the beauty and grace of the Almighty. The emotion portrayed in our works is due to the grace of God. It is beyond our control, it comes naturally on the canvas through the brush as a part of devotion”.
To which Krishn Kanhai adds, "Further we just portray that parts of his life, which can be easily interpreted by the common people. If we get into the depth of the art, it would be beyond their understanding and won't convey any message to the viewers".
The specialty of Kanhai paintings is that it arouses a sense of spirituality and bestows the home with a sense of peace and harmony. “In today’s fast paced world, people do not have time for spiritualism and this painting hung on the walls attracts towards spiritualism. It is more than a painting; people do not resale it soon. They develop a kind of intimacy and attachment towards Lord Krishna. Placing Kanhai paintings in the house changes the vibrations, it changes the mindset of the family members residing in the house”, says Krishn Kanhai.
Quizzed why they are involved only in sketching Krishna and not any other God, Govind Kanhai promptly replies, “Krishna is the only persona who can be well expressed on the canvas because his character itself is very colourful, lively, filled with happiness, and boosts of aesthetic beauty, lavanya and shringar. Also, other gods have fixed postures but there are many poses and deviations when it comes to Lord Krishna”.
Episodes from Bhagvad Gita, Geet Gobind and poems by Meerabai, Surdas, Jaydeva etc. inspires the Kanhai Gharana to sketch breathtaking images of Lord Krishna on canvas. One look at the Kanhai paintings gives an illusion of reincarnation of Lord Krishna.
Govind Kanhai expresses, “We get immersed in the history and imagine how Lord Krishna might be looking in a particular situation be it - Bal Krishna, Yuva Krishna performing Raslila with gopis (females). We go into intricate detailing like the Turban, dhoti, kundal, basuri, mukut etc.; he might be sporting in the scene. We draw Krishna characters as it is mentioned in the scriptures”.
In Kanhai paintings, a good deal of importance is given to the expressions of the elements. “Different expressions gives different effects to the paintings. While making the paintings, attention must be given to expressions, the smile must signify what Lord Krishna might be thinking at that time, eyes should be expressive and communicate with the viewers. Even slight variation in the smile reduces the attraction of the painting”.
The use of gold in paintings dates back to the eighteenth century when it was limited only for the palaces of kings and rulers because it was very expensive. Gradually, Tanjore painters in South India and Nathdwara region in Rajasthan adopted the art forms. Kanhai Chitrahar observed that the Krishna paintings made in Tanjore had typical posture and the body was not proportionate. Also the body language was not impressive with fewer expressions on the faces of Lord Krishna. The Rajasthanis drew only miniature sized with limited scope for creativity, so the Kanhai Patriarch started the Kanhai Gharana legacy to renew the tradition.Apart from Golden Krishna paintings, the Gharana also boosts of high profile clientele like Mr. Bill Clinton, Hema Malini, Mr. Lal Krishna Advani, Mr. Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and Mr. Amar Singh. Asked what excites them more, drawing Krishna painting or human portraits, Krishna Kanhai replies, “Beauty in any form is worth capturing. We artists like to capture beauty and portray it on our canvas now be it human or God. However, nothing can give the pleasure derived from illustrating Krishna on the canvas”.
Today, the Kanhai Gharana boosts of 15,000 paintings in totality with Kanhai Chitrahar in it from the past 55 years, Krishn Kanhai from past 30 years and Govind Kanhai from past 25 years. The golden legacy continues with Siddhartha Kanhai, the third generation of the Kanhai Gharana entering in.