“I can’t wait to share my ‘Svara-Raga-Chitra, the singing portraits’,” said H.N. Suresh, artist and director, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Bengaluru, early this year, when he was giving finishing touches to his fifth set of paintings in the ‘Cosmology’ series.
His earlier series have covered nakshatras, navagrahas, rasi mandalas, and ashtadikpalakas (guardians of the eight directions). “I thought of Svara-Raga-Chitra to popularise Indian classical music among young people,” he says.
H.N. Suresh with one of his art works
These paintings are mainly based on the Sri Tattva Nidhi treatise written by Mysore Maharaja Krishnaraja Wadiyar III (1794-1868), who was an artist. “But I also had to go through different ancient texts to handle the project,” says Suresh.
Each work in the 16 Svara-Raga-Chitra series (acrylic on canvas and multimedia) measures 8ft x 6ft and conveys the nuances of classical music through colours and strokes. They are all displayed at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan in Bengaluru and are available for viewing on the digital platform as well. The audio guide to the paintings can be accessed online via smartphones by scanning the QR codes.
Connecting two music styles
Suresh has attempted to literally draw the similarities and differences between Carnatic and Hindustani music. The colours, motifs and symbols on the canvases symbolise certain aspects of music. For instance, in one of the paintings, Suresh shows eight ragas from the Carnatic stream along with their Hindustani equivalents on either side of a tree. In another, he shows the seven classical notes, from shadja to nishada, while another canvas equates the saptaswaras to the seven chakras of the body. He also finds a connect between the seven swaras and animal life: Sa (peacock), Re (cow), Ga (goat), Ma (heron), Pa (nightingale), Dha (horse), and Ni (elephant).
“Though my entire work is based on Wadiyar’s Sri Tattva Nidhi, it has been made contemporary by offering a scientific explanation to classical music concepts,” says Suresh.
“I have also explained the ragas with their scales, and the accompanying audio clip demonstrates the same,” he says. For example, the painting on the Carnatic raga Ramakali and Hindustani raag Ramkali depicts romance while the Carnatic Vasanta, and its counterpart Lalat of the Marva Thaat shows the beauty and joy of spring.
An Acrylic painting of Goddess Mathangi by Suresh
The commentary, script and music are by eminent vocalist and scholar T.S. Sathyavathi and the songs have been rendered by Maruti Prasad and Omkarnath Hawaldar, supported by Ashwini Satish, Bharati Pratap and Shilpa Shashidhar. Besides a documentary on the making of Svara-Raga-Chitra, there is also a coffee-table book edited by Jyothi Raghuram and a CD in which the concepts have been explained by experts.
Shree Chakra painting by Suresh
“The paintings are Suresh’s interpretations of the iconography of Maharaja Krishnaraja Wadiyar III,” says Sathyavathi. “It was a rewarding experience to have worked on the script and music of this pictorial digest.” Sathyavati remembers gazing intently at each painting for days together before coming up with suitable music, a mix of Hindustani and Carnatic, to explain the idea behind each.
The project took three years to complete. “I plan to have the paintings exhibited in Chennai, Delhi, Mumbai and Thiruvananthapuram as soon as we are COVID free. I feel the digital media too should be leveraged to popularise exploratory artworks so that they are not confined to museums,” says Suresh. The 69-year-old artist has 2,000 paintings to his credit. Over the past decade, his works have been influenced by science, mathematics, astronomy, astrology, and classical music.
The writer is a Bangalore-based