The Genesis and Development of Sikh Calendar Art by Dr. Kavita Singh

Oct 2016

This research paper traces the genesis and development of Sikh Calendar art/Sikh Popular art which has systematically evolved into a full-fledged genre of Sikh art over the last three centuries as it draws inspiration from the Sikh religion, ethos, philosophical perspectives and glorious history of the Sikhs. The fountainhead of Sikh Calendar art is the pictorial narratives based on Janam Sakhis drawn by the artists engaged by the earlier preachers of Sikhism and it culminated into the formation of hand-painted pothis/manuscripts which had text as well as illustrations. This tradition further blossomed as more and more artists were engaged by devout followers of Sikhism to paint walls of shrines, thakurdwaras, deras, sarais, dharamshalas, akharas and havelis in the form of frescoes and murals to spread the message of Sikhism. With the arrival of art of miniature painting by the Rajasthani artists in Kangra, Guler, Chamba, Basohli, Nurpur and Kotla, the Sikh art got further impetus as these artists started adopting Sikh themes to seek greater patronage from the Sikh rulers as Maharaja Ranjit Singh, his courtiers and Sikh aristocrats showed keen interest and appreciation for this classical form of painting which had great aesthetic and artistic merit. The court of Maharaja Ranjit Singh had great splendour and grandeur which attracted hordes of European travelers, artists, generals and historians. The famous European artists brought with them new techniques of painting like oil on canvas, water-colour, pastels, chalk, crayon, woodcut, lithography and zinc etching. These painters profusely painted the Lahore Durbar and portraits of the royalties, generals and aristocrats with photo-realistic technique giving emphasis on proper perspective, three-dimensional aspects, flora and fauna, architecture, weaponry and costumes. As they had brought with them the printing presses, prints of the fabulous paintings started flooding the markets in Lahore and Amritsar. Brilliant Sikh artists who were acting as their helpers whole-heartedly picked up their painting techniques. After attaining proficiency in western painting techniques, they started painting Sikh themes and thus Sikh art developed rapidly with newer and enchanting explorations and innovations. To make their art available to the masses, prints based on paintings of Sikh themes and philosophy were produced in great numbers and sold in bazaars, fairs, festivals in front of the Gurdwaras, temples and shrines. Walls of nearly every Punjabi home and establishment were adorned with these magnificent and colourful Sikh calendars as people adored their thematic content which preached divine and spiritual messages of Sikh Gurus. Generation after generation of artists pursued this genre of art with diligence and deep dedication and today we have a full-fledged flourishing and ever-evolving genre of Sikh Calendar art which has typical characteristics and style and it has even reached the shores of many foreign lands where the Sikh and Punjabi Diaspora is settled.

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Dr. KAVITA SINGH Born in 1980 at Shimla. Dr. Kavita Singh graduated from Panjab University, Chandigarh. Received her Masters degree in Fine Arts (Gold Medallist) Punjabi University, Patiala. Awarded Ph.D degree for her research topic ‘An Analytical Study of Sikh Calendar Art’ by Punjabi University, Patiala. Painter, poet, Author, print maker, designer, mask maker and art researcher, Dr. Kavita Singh is presently working as Assistant Professor (Stage-III) in S. Sobha Singh Department of Fine Arts, Punjabi University, Patiala. She feels proud to be born into a family of artists, musicians and lovers of literature. Right from her early childhood days, she showed a keen interest in art which was further nurtured by the artistic atmosphere in her family as her father being a renowned artist. Recognizing her rare artistic talent, Chandigarh Lalit Kala Akademi bestowed upon her prestigious ‘Le Corbusier Scholarship’ in Drawing and Painting. She has to her credit more than a dozen solo shows of paintings, drawings, graphic prints and masks and has received a number of awards and prizes in painting, drawing and print making at regional and national level. She has been part of major art exhibitions, art camps and workshops organised by academies such as National Lalit Kala Akademi, Garhi Studios, Himachal State Museum Shimla, Indian Institute of Advanced Studies, Shimla, Jawahar Kala Kendra Jaipur, All India Fine Arts and Crafts Society, New Delhi, Punjab Lalit Kala Akademi and Chandigarh Lalit Kala Akademi. She has represented India in 15th Asian Art Biennale, Dhaka organised by Lalit Kala Akademi, New Delhi and Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy, National Academy of Fine and Performing Arts, Sogunbagicha, Ramna, Dhaka, Bangladesh. She has also been invited to participate in IInd International Jaipur Art Festival-2014 organised by Ministry of Cultural Affairs, Rajasthan and Diggi Palace, Jaipur. She has contributed articles and research papers on art and art criticism to various newspapers, magazines and refereed journals and has attended art seminars, symposiums and conferences at national and international level. Her works are in collection with government and university museums, art galleries, academies, zonal art centres at Patiala, Nagpur, Udaipur and Allahabad. Her works have also been acquired by embassies, prestigious colleges, art institutions and private collectors in India and abroad. in her first Book, through her paintings and poems, she has endeavoured to touch the innermost mystic and mysterious cords of a woman’s heart and soul. Her work mirrors the psychological and philosophical terrains inhabited by desires, hopes, aspirations and triumphs of a woman’s perennial struggle in self-realisation. ‘An Ode to a Paper Boat’- a collection of paintings, drawings and poems is a lyrical and aesthetically charged visual and literary jugalbandi yearning to unravel the delicate and soulful unfathomed depths of a woman’s psyche. In her second book she has paid her humble artistic tribute to the immortal poem ‘Ajj Akhaan Waris Shah Nu’ written by Amrita Pritam through her sensitive and touching drawings and paintings done in pen and ink and charcoal. It is for the first time that an artist has attempted to turn the verses of this poem into mesmerising and deeply impressive visuals. The translation of this original poem has been done by internationally renowned writer and author Sardar Khushwant Singh. It will be of great help to those who do not know Punjabi language. As this immortal poem is the true depiction of the sentiments of the disasters and horrors of Partition of Punjab in 1947, no other poem I believe has been successful in capturing the scars of sorrow and brutalised collective psyche of Punjabis.

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