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Art historian couple, the Goswamys, explore 19th-century Pahari paintings in new book


Art historian couple B N Goswamy and Karuna Goswamy have authored a new illustrated book titled 'A Sacred Journey: The Kedara Kalpa series of Pahari paintings and the painter Purkhu of Kangra', which was published by Niyogi books recently.

As the title suggests, the book explores 19th-century Pahari paintings that depict the journey of five pilgrims to the land of Lord Shiva. It features detailed descriptions of the paintings, their subtle nuances and spiritual significance and includes over 170 images of the Kedara Kalpa series of paintings from leading museums and collections around the world.

The present volume of paintings is based on Karuna Goswamy's research and her identification, for the first time, of the little-known ancient Shaivite text Kedara Kalpa.

The authors state that there are long and smaller versions of the Kedara Kalpa text. The long version asserts that Kedara is the foremost among tirthas; visiting Kedara and performing puja there are beneficial for devotees.

In the long version, Shiva narrates past events to Parvati. However, there is a slight gap in the narrative here and one comes upon a small group of five Brahmins who decide to venture on the 'great path'. It is from this point that the shorter version of Kedara Kalpa, as in other copies of the text begins.

Co-author B N Goswamy calls the venture a "sthala purana to Kedarnath. A sthala purana is about a place - a pilgrimage; what it entails and what it leads to".

The authors have ascribed it to Pahari painter Purkhu and they appear to be made between 1815 and 1820. The paintings are in two series.

In this new book, the authors have also given details of the cities the sadhaks travelled to, their way of living, the ambieence in which the sadhaks ad the kings pay respect and homage to each other, and more through these paintings. And the book not only gives details about these paintings but also the information about how these works were acquired and curated from across the world.

Karuna Goswamy had to travel to several countries across the world to collate data about the series. She died in 2020 before seeing the completed work. But her husband continued to work on the book and later launch it. "Karuna was way more adventurous than me in research. She put the work together but before she could finish the work, she was gone, so I decided to complete it," he says.

The mystical journey, the illustrations of detailed paintings, the aesthetically composed text all combine to make the book a valuable work on Indian art.

"Each of these works intrigues and informs, and in some ways expands our awareness, for nothing quite like these do we see elsewhere in the range of Indian paintings. There is something here for everyone to savour for sure," says B N Goswamy about his new book, co-authored with his late wife.

(With inputs from PTI)

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