Bazaar Avatars: A collection of original twentieth-century calendar art from India

I would like to begin our blog with an introduction to a remarkable collection of 58 gouaches commissioned by a printer in the Tamil Nadu town of Sivakas, a major world print-production and publishing centre once called by Nehru ‘mini Japan’.
A selection is described below; more will follow.
The full catalogue by Carl Williams can be seen here.

[1] [ANONYMOUS]. [Ganesha as a child with his rat mount in the Himalayas making Puja to a Lingam with parents Parvati and Siva, manifesting through the smoke of joss sticks].  
67.2 x 62 cm., polychrome gouache within a thin white border and a black margin, on card. N.p. [Sivakasi], unsigned, n.d. Crisp, bright condition, edges of card worn.

A forceful and romantic image that illustrates the Saivite theological belief that the aniconic lingam, an abstract, round topped black cylindrical object, is Siva’s most transcendent aspect because it is undifferentiated or ‘niskala’ (p-30 Richard H. Davis – Lives of Indian Images, 1999).

[2] [Jay Shri Ram (Hail Lord Ram)].
76 x 61.7 cm., polychrome partially airbrushed gouache portrait with Devanagari titles in a stylized lotus [?] flower font below, on paper covered card. N.p. [Sivakasi], [Sree Lakshmi Calendars?], signed by the artist in Hindi, n.d. Corners rubbed and creased with a few tears on the edges, not affecting image, verso with airbrush tries and remains of card mount.

Hanuman’s head is depicted in five aspects, the central one is linked to a double armed bust. He carries a Himalayan mountain of herbs, a mace, prayer beads and another golden object. Rama, carrying his bow, is portrayed emanating from his torso.

[3] [Krishna addressing Arjuna on the field of battle in Kurukshetra].
64.2 x 49 cm., polychrome gouache on thick, flexible, textured watercolour paper. N.p., n.p., n.d. Edges slightly worn and chipped. Bright, crisp colours.  

A beautifully rendered composition, in an ‘antique’ style, of a famous scene from the Mahabharata. Krisnha is depicted standing above a kneeling Arjuna with his hands in the Anjali Mudra of prayer. A bow and a quiver with arrows and also a shield are scattered around their feet. Krishna makes a mudra with his left hand and points to Arjuna, whose golden chariot with four white horses features in the background alongside an army with armoured elephants in a valley with a hilly landscape.

[4] [Lakshmi, Ganesha and Saraswati].  
60.7 x 64.5 cm., polychrome gouache on card. N.p. [Sivakasi]., unsigned, n.d. Closed tear on right edge, edgeworn, overpainting/scratching out on top section of portrait, corners rubbed, verso with card mount on head with a number in pencil.

A sumptuous portrait posed in front of the ocean of milk with a lotus and flame in the foreground. Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, is depicted holding a lotus in each of two of her four arms, one open palm in the mudra of protection offers gold coins. Elephant headed Ganesha, hugely popular god of auspicious beginnings, sits to her right and Saraswati, goddess of wisdom, rides her swan to her left.

[5] [Scene from the Ramayana?].
46 x 58.5 cm., silhouette genre scene with four anthropomorphic figures in a sylvan setting, in polychrome gouache within a thin white border on a grey painted background, on card, verso with catalogue numbers in felt pen. N.p. [Sivakasi?], n.p., n.d A few moisture spots on the image, corners bumped. Crisp and clean.

A distinctive and potentially rare silhouette style painting, Rama, his brother Lakshmana and another male figure approach a kneeling woman, possibly Sita, who seems to be offering a prayer of thanks. This scene is likely to have been culled from Rama’s fourteen years of exile in the forest.

[6] [Venkateswara (Balaji)].  
67.9 x 54 cm., central figure in polychrome gouache on black background with a white border on the top edge; overpainting/masking in background, rough holograph annotations in pencil on verso. N.p., n.p., n.d. Patinated, crudely repaired from verso and recto with tape on top right corner and in white border which has pinholes, edges worn, areas on right edge of background revealing previous illustration [s], one area of loss from a tear in the background area of the top right corner.

A sublime and interesting palimpsest that wears the marks of changing fashions and the hands of the hacks, the so-called ‘copy-masters’. Venkateswara is an aspect of Vishnu, the dark faced idol is depicted standing in a golden arch, armoured in gold, garlanded on a golden pedestal. This seems to be a depiction of the deity in the most holy sanctum of the Sri Venkateswara Swamy Temple, Tirumala.

[7] BALAKRISHNA. [Lord Rama, Sita, Lakshmana and Hanuman].  
61 x 63.5 cm. (including backgrounds on three edges), central group portrait; Rama and Sita share a throne, Hanuman, wearing sacred thread, and Lakshmana kneel and offer puja, inside a decorative arch, in polychrome gouache laid on to card with a black background, segmented with a horizontal strip on head joined with tape on verso, signed by the artist in the image. N.p.[Calcutta], [Balakrishna], n.d.

Four small horizontal chips missing along lower edge not substantially affecting image, chipped and creased along the hinge of the strip. The card rubbed and worn on the edges and corners.  A regal portrait, lotus flowers are elegantly strewn around the knee and foot of the monkey god Hanuman, Rama’s most loyal devotee, and Lakshmana.  Balakrishna and his siblings Nirmala and Ramakrishna are third generation artists who live and work in Calcutta. Their grandfather “...migrated east from Nathdwara in the first half of the twentieth century..” (p-87 Jain) and his son, the Varanasi born artist named Ramu Singh moved to Calcutta circa 1960 (op cit).

[8] C.S. ANANTH & J. RAJ. [Shravan carrying his hermit parents on pilgrimage – I].  
62.8 x 70 cm., polychrome gouache on card within a silver grey border, verso with holograph annotations and a company rubber stamp, signed by the artists in the image. N.p. [Sivakasi], C.S. Ananth [Studio], J. Raj, [Maharaj Offset Printers], n.d., circa 1978.  Central image crisp and clear, light patina and with stray grey paint marks, edges of border very chipped, rubbed corners and edges.

The earlier of two Shravan paintings from the collection worked on by C.S. Ananth. Depicts the legend of Shravan carrying his impoverished pilgrim hermit parents in baskets, on a pole acrosshis shoulder, and his subsequent accidental murder. A popular parable of religious and familial devotion taken from the Ramayama. This one has more white space and a less defined pattern, than the other but both reflect what Jain describes as the defining style of 1970s bazaar art, thus: “...swirly psychedelic paisley patterns and bubbles refracted through transatlanticculture..” (p-166).