The Gauda Festival: A Revival of Bengal's ancient Art & Culture
A REPORT BY SOUTIK CHAKRABORTY *
On the 12th and 13th of March, 2022, Kolkata witnessed a two-day art and sculpture exhibition at Alka Jalan Foundation, Daga Nikunj, Ballygunge Circular Road. The purpose of the exhibition was to recreate and represent the rich cultural heritage of ancient Bengal in the field of art and sculpture. It was hosted by Karu, a company dedicated to producing exquisite Indian art and craft items.
The event was titled as "Gauda: Invoking Classical Bengal'' where the art works and sculptures of the eminent artist Halley Goswami were exhibited along with Karu's thematic sculptures and souvenirs. Halley Goswami is a lawyer and painter who has been recreating the art of ancient Bengal for quite some time. The exhibition also accompanied select apparels by the designer Abhishek Ray that had a touch of Indian authenticity.
Artworks, sculptures, apparels and several decorative items were put on sale by Karu. The name of the event, Gauda was inspired by the “Gaur Rajya” or the classical age of Bengal. Halley Goswami’s paintings in the exhibition are replete with thematic borrowings from the Pala period both in style and elements. The event also hosted talks by eminent scholars and song recitals by artistes. All of these programmes were thematically focussed on the glorious past of Bengal which has been obliterated from our cultural memory due to negligence and due to the adverse effects of colonialism.
Pala period of Bengal (8th to the 12th century) is regarded as the glorious era of Bengal where literature, dance, art, sculpture and spirituality had flourished. The Pala kings were patrons of Buddhism and had built monasteries, temples as well as universities like Nalanda. The seminal Bengali literary work Charyapada, a collection of songs on Vajrayana tradition of Buddhism, was written in this era. In the field of art and architecture too, the Pala period had shown its superiority which is evident from museum collections all-round the globe. But the misfortune lies in the fact that the Bengalis did not preserve any of their cultural heritage either tangibly through artefacts or through the preservation of culture of those times.
It is also unfortunate that the common folk of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa hardly know about their glorious past. Beset with this painful ingratitude of previous generations, a couple of passionate researchers and enthusiasts assembled together and made such an event possible. The exhibition aimed at cultural reconstruction, and such endeavour is the first of its kind in Kolkata.
Archaeologists, historians, performing artistes and researchers who gathered for the event talked about the cultural heritage of greater Bengal in the olden and golden times and shared snippets of their research stories.
Parvathy Baul, a reputed Baul singer, talked about the links she had found between Charyapad and the Baul tradition. She also sang lines from Baul songs and Charya Geeti to show the similarities between the two. Mahua Mukherjee, a researcher and teacher, who had established Gaudiya Nritya dance form, which has its mention in Natya Shastra not so well-known till the late 90s shared her research experience with the audience. Through numerous literary examples she established that dance is an integral part of life and literature in Indian cultural ethos. Sharmila Biswas, the well-known Indian classical dancer and choreographer talked about the history of Odissi dance form and the Gotipua and Mahari dance forms of Orissa. She also spoke about the temple dancers or devadasis. Rajeshwari Ganguly, eminent singer and researcher offered valuable insights on Sri Krishna Kirtan and Vaishnav Padabali. She also sang select lines to illustrate her talk. The talk was moderated by Halley Goswami himself.
The talk on 12th March was matched by a musical show entirely in the classical tradition by the eminent classical vocal artiste Srijan Chatterjee. The show was titled as “Sura tarangini” where the artiste ventured through the historic (and still prevailing) singing style and tradition of Bengal. This was followed by a talk on cultural exchanges between Prateek Pattanaik and the moderator Halley Goswami. Prateek is an Odissi vocal artiste and an independent researcher on Oriya culture and history.
On the 13th of March the exhibition continued with enamoured visitors and bulky sales. Scholarly discussions with recitals and performances continued throughout while the artist Halley Goswami explained the nuances of his creations to his viewers. Satyakam Sen, an archaeologist affiliated with Indian Museum, Kolkata offered various interesting unknown facts for the audience to take back home with them. He explained the etymology of the word gauda and traced its origin to jaggery! The researcher Anita Bose, who has travelled throughout Asia to discover cultural connections and Indian cultural repositories, talked of various cultural borrowings between India and other countries of Asia where there had been a sea route for trade. She had left the audience in awe and amazement when she mentioned that a colony in Phuket, Thailand is named Banglee. Probal R. Chowdhury, Professor of SNU talked about Bengal’s intellectual prominence and in this regard mentioned the forgotten Indian scholar named Madhusudan Saraswati. Renowned Manipuri artiste Priti Patel talked about the origin and history of Manipuri dance and Bengal’s connection with Manipuri culture. In the second session, there was an engaging conversation on Bengal’s art and architecture by eminent scholars like Mina Ghosh, a professor from Govt. Art College, Manish Chakraborti, a professor of Architecture, SNU, and Sharmistha Chatterjee, an independent researcher. The talks were coordinated by Halley Goswami. There was also a brief presentation by the Tagore scholar Pritam Sengupta. This was followed by a recital by the eminent vocal artiste Dipannita Acharya.
The audience loved the sculptures and gift items exclusively designed in the style of classical Bengal art forms that Karu had offered for sale. The event was possible because of the founder member of Karu, Ishan Pattanaik and Halley Goswami and their common love for Classical art and culture. The sculptures on stone recreated by Halley Goswami, took the audience back to the Pala period of the ancient times. The paintings by him clearly marked the revival of the traditional art forms of Bengal. The event definitely stirred the Bengali mind deeply. One looks forward to more such events across Bengal for the spread of the cultural revival initiated by Halley Goswami and Karu.
Note: One may visit the Karu website for sculptures and the "Pouraniki" section there (https://karu.co.in/product-category/pouraniki/) for Halley Goswami's paintings. To listen to the musical logo specially designed by Srijan Chatterjee and Halley Goswami for the event and for videos one may visit their FB Page :(https://www.facebook.com/karu.india)
* Soutik Chakraborty is a Research Scholar and Assistant Professor of English in a college in north Bengal. He is presently working on Art Revival Movement in Bengal for a project with MoE, and on Kalighat Patachitras for his doctoral dissertation.