Unveiling Some Interesting Facts about India’s Father of Modern Art


Recently, when the Indian masterpiece painting, “ Tilottoma” was sold for $795,000(around Rs 5.17 crores) at the Sotheby’s New York Auction, it created quite a stir in the art world. Now, how much do you know about the world famous Indian artist, Raja Ravi Varma? Today , new generation contemporary artist Shantala Palat shares some interesting facts and snippets about Raja Ravi Varma’s life.

Beautiful union of Indian tradition & European academic art

Born in Kilimanoor (Kerela) in year 1848, Raja Ravi Varma is considered as one of India’s greatest painters. He was one of the few painters who managed to accomplish a beautiful union of Indian tradition with the techniques of European academic art. This is one of the reasons why he is considered as one of the most, if not the most prominent Indian painters. Varma was also responsible in taking the Indian art all over the world with his impeccable technique. While the Europeans and other art lovers admired his technique, the laymen of India enjoyed his work for its simplicity.

Held great importance in the early Indian society

Varma’s paintings highlighted the beauty of South Indian women which were admired by all. His portrayal of Hindu gods and goddesses went on to become worship material for many people belonging to the lower castes. Back then, these people were often forbidden from entering temples and thus they celebrated Varma's works, for they gave them an idea of how the deities looked inside the temple.

Helped to spread knowledge of art in mass art productions

Ravi Varma has helped to improve the artistic knowledge and spread the importance of art among Indian people. He achieved this by making affordable lithographs, which were accessible even to the poor.

Participated in global art exhibitions in early 19th Century

In 1873, Ravi Varma’s paintings were not only exhibited at a prominent exhibition in Vienna, but he also won an award for one of his displays. He then bagged three gold medals for his work, when they were sent to Chicago to be displayed at the prestigious World's Columbian Exposition held in the year 1893.

Three categories of paintings

Varma’s paintings can be classified into three categories – portraits, portrait-based compositions and theatrical compositions based on myths and legends. It is the third category of paintings for which Raja Ravi Varma is most renowned. Through his paintings, he gave an insight of the famous mythological stories to those who were not fortunate enough to hear or read them. The most popular as well as the most impressive painting.

Hindu Epics

The most popular as well as the most impressive paintings of Raja Ravi Varma that falls under this category include the ones depicting episodes from the story of Dushyanta and Shakuntala and that of Nala and Damayanti. The ones from the Hindu epic Ramayana include Lord Rama’s triumph over Varuna and Ravana’s expression of arrogance while clipping one of the wings of Jatayu.

Recognition & Legacy

In recognition of the immense contribution of Raja Ravi Varma towards Indian art, the Government of Kerala has instituted an award in his name. Known as the 'Raja Ravi Varma Puraskaram', the award is given to individuals who show considerable promise in the field of art and culture. There is a college in Mavelikkara district of Kerala, established in the honor of Raja Ravi Varma.

Also, over the years, many Indian movies have been made and novels written on the ostentatious life of Raja Ravi Varma. Out of those, Bollywood film ‘Rang Rasiya’ and Malayalam movie ‘Makaramanju’ are the most popular ones.

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© Shantala Palat 2015