Sobha Singh and other Famous Artists of Andretta
Andretta, a small village in the foothills of Dhauladhar ranges in the Kangra valley of Himachal Pradesh is a place of pilgrimage for the artists. Located on the way to Chandial, uphill along the valley and a few miles from Palampur, the beautiful place provides a fascinating view of the Dhauladhar Ranges and the adjoining valley. The drive to the place leads through the paddy fields, groves, and orchards.
It was Mrs. Nora Richards who discovered the place for the outside world in as early as 1934 AD. She invited B.C. Sanyal, the well-known painter and sculptor and Professor Jaidayal who had been her husband’s pupil from Lahore. Later Prof Jai Dayal, G. D. Sondhi, painter Sobha Singh and Farida Bedi too came to Andretta and built mud houses there.
Gurcharan Singh the renowned potter and some other artists too came over to the place to make it as their regular and seasonal home. But the small village has become synonymous with Sardar Sobha Singh and his studio than anybody else.
Andretta would not have been what it is but for Norah Richards. She believed in simple living and minimum needs and regarded the epic “Leaves of Grass” by Walt Whitman as her bible. She experimented in the art of simple living and solitude at Andretta.
Indeed the village provides solitude, not the doomed silence of desolation. The place is a living manifestation for meditation. The majestic surroundings succinctly captivate the mood of the visitor in such a steadfast way that the imprint left on his mind is of paramount tranquility. An artist or one who is sensitive to the things of beauty will take no time to come under the solemn spell of this quiet and dreamy land.
Norah Richards or Norah Mary Hutman (29 October 1876 – 3 March 1971) was an Irish lady popularly known as the Lady Gregory of the Punjab.
She received her education in Belgium, Oxford University, and Sydney and began as an amateur actress at a very young age at British theater before becoming professional.
She came to India in 1908 with her husband Mr. Philip Ernest Richards, He was appointed a Professor of English in the Dayal Singh College of Lahore. The founder of the college, Sardar Dyal Singh Majithia was an ardent follower of Brahmo Samaj, which resembled the Unitarian Christian movement of which Philip was the follower.
She devoted herself to the theatrical and cultural activities in the college at Lahore, the then cultural center of Punjab. She actively worked for the theosophical movement and home-rule agitation of Dr. Annie Besant.
She produced the first Punjabi play, Dulhan or "The Bride", written by her pupil I.C. Nanda in 1914. She translated and directed several plays and worked for the cultural regeneration if India. She encouraged the students to write and perform in their own one-act plays.
After becoming a widow in 1920, she returned to England and was punished for opposing the tarnish India policy there. Thus she shifted to Banuri in Kangra Hills in 1925 and came to Andretta, a decade later.
She purchased the 15 acres land of a British army officer who wanted it to be an abode of an ailing relation. She named it Woodlands Estate, built a mud house named Chameli Niwas with a thatched roof for her-self in local style and settled there for her aesthetic pursuits.
Theaterical Pursuits Of Nora Richards
She was the main guiding force behind the movement of Punjabi drama. She built an open air theatre and started a drama school of which produced the famous Punjabi dramatists like Balwant Gargi, I C Nanda, Dr. Harcharan Singh and Gurcharan Singh etc. In the month of March every year, she was used to organize a week long dramatic festival for the students and the villagers in an open-air theater in which the Indian film stars Prithvi Raj Kapoor and Balraj Sahni regularly participated.
She developed the idea of Rural Theater as a powerful didactic and artistic medium for rustic culture. She wrote about social reform dealing with the ways, life and traditions of common folk. Several people helped her with the production of her scripts.
Till her retirement at the age of 80, she conducted dramatic shows and held training courses in writing, acting and producing of the plays.
Awards and Works
She was called as the great-grandmother of Punjabi theater. She was bestowed the honorary degree of D. Lit., in 1970 by the Punjabi University for her contribution to Punjabi culture and drama.
In the same year, she published, “In Commemoration of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the passing of Philip Ernest Richard”. Another book, “The Country Life” earned her several admirers.
She also wrote newspaper articles and painted watercolors. The museum of the Punjabi University, Patiala houses some of her rare belongings.
Nora as a Person
Nora led a life full of simplicity, cleanliness, and beauty. She would dig the soil of her vegetable garden, tend and water the plants herself. She divided the work-time of her servants into hukka-or narghile break, tea-break, rest-break and meals break.
She had dreamt of an artist village here, but the dream has not come true even though some artists cooperated and made it a permanent or temporary abode.
Jai Dayal had been Norah's student in dramatics at Lahore. After retirement as an English teacher in the Government College of Dharmsala, Dayal Singh settled in Andretta as a near neighbor of Nora Richards.
Prithviraj Kapoor, the great actor of Indian cinema used to visit Andretta and stay with Professor Jai Dayal who had been his tutor at Edwards College, Peshawar, and his stage mentor.
The former secretary of Lalit Kala Academy, Bhabesh Chander Sanyal (22 April 1901 – 9 August 2003) was the great painter and sculptor. He was the grandmaster of Indian art. He learned the art of sculptor from his mother who was an expert doll maker. The bust of Lala Lajpat Rai made by him at Lahore in 1929 before the session of
The bust of Lala Lajpat Rai made by him at Lahore in 1929 before the session of Indian national Congress gave him wide recognition. Thereafter he became the vice-principal at Mayo School of Arts at Lahore, from where the students Krishan Khanna and Satish Gujral passed out to become the prominent modernist painters. On being considered as a political threat, the then British Govt in India forced him to resign in 1936. Then in 1937 he established his Studio-School cum Lahore College of Art and taught there till 1947.
On being considered as a political threat, the then British Govt in India forced him to resign in 1936. Then in 1937 he established his Studio-School cum Lahore College of Art and taught there till 1947.
He became interested in Andretta and built a hut in the woodlands. He frequently visited the place and was touched by the poverty in the region. He established the Artist Resort and Nora Centre for the Arts at Andretta. He was so impressed by Nora Richards that he painted a portrait of her. Other famous paintings of Sanyal are,
Other famous paintings of Sanyal are, The flying scarecrow, Cowherd, Despair and Way to peace. He was awarded the honorary citizenship of Baltimore in the USA in 1989. A special postage stamp on his birth centenary in 2000 was released by the Government of India.
Thus Andretta became the center of cultural and theatrical activities for the whole generation of modern Indian artists. Even Gurucharan Singh the famous poet also joined the rank of the art circle and started his summer workshops at Andretta. He remained in touch with the place and regularly visited Andretta.
Andretta PotteryClick thumbnail to view full-size
The Pottery of Andretta
The Andretta Pottery and Craft Society provided a platform to the potters in 1952 and is still perfecting the art of pottery by innovative designs of attractive earthenware with rangoli or painted styles. It offers a 3-month course for the students in pottery.
The Terracotta Museum established by the society preserves the art of pottery and the objects made of clay. The works of local village potters from the surrounding regions the pottery from around the world including that from Mexico, England and Holland are the main collections of the museum.
The people from India and abroad come here to have a glimpse of clay utensils, large pitchers, cups, and lamps. The museum is successfully popularizing the art of Andretta pottery to the outer world.
Sobha Singh- The Great Master
Sobha Singh was the pride of the Himalayas and a painter of love. He had descended from the vaulted galaxies as a nonchalant ascetic to live in the world of colors like his creator. The great artist and the glory of Andretta seemed to live at a place far away in space and greatly removed from the confluence of time and mortality.
Sobha Singh was born on 29th November 1901 at Sri Hargobindpur at Gurdaspur district of Punjab in India. At a very tender age in 1916, he joined one year course in art and craft in Industrial School at Amritsar. Thereafter in 1919, he joined the British Army as a draughtsman and worked in Iraq. Here he learned European paintings and mastered the art by self-practice. In 1923, he left the army and came to Amritsar. He went to Lahore in 1926 and came to Delhi in 1931. He visited Norah Richards in 1936 while looking for a peaceful home to carry on his aesthetic pursuits.
Again in 1946, he went back to Lahore and opened a studio but left the place in 1947 after the partition of India and reached Andretta in 1949. Here he took a house on rent and then persuaded the village head to sell him a piece of land in the jungle. He built a hut which later on became his house. He stayed at Andretta for the rest of his life and painted several paintings till he died on 22 August 1986 at Chandigarh.
Love paintings of Sobha Singh
The famous love paintings of Sobha Singh are that of a great legend of Sohini- Mahiwal, Sassi- Punnu, Heer Ranjha, the last desire of Mumtaz Mahal or the origin of Tajmahal etc.
As early as in 1929, the painter was drawn to romantic folk tales of Punjab, especially the love story of Sassi-Punnu. He painted Sassi being lost in the sand dunes of Sind while running in search of her lover Punnu, who had been forcibly carried away from her. Clad in salwar kameez, she was painted as a charming young girl symbolizing the ideal Indian womanhood. She was devoted and loyal to her lover for whom she died after suffering great hardships at the hands of the tyrants. This selfless love story had inspired the poets and the masses at that time.
The most admired and sought after painting of Sohni- Mahiwal was a favorite theme of several Mughal and Rajput paintings in India. Sobha Singh painted it five times and the first one was in 1937. The second one of 1944 is in Pakistan, while that of 1948 was sold. The fourth was bought by Maharaja Karan Singh of Jammu and Kashmir and the last one of 1978 adorns the Andretta art gallery. The merging of the lovers into a single whole is an aesthetic representation in with the delicate figure of Sohni peeps out of the wet head cover clinging to the torso reveals her physical charm and feminine beauty.
The Love Painting of Sobha Singh
The Portraits of Sobha Singh
The portrait painting still remains an art of the highest order, despite all the developments in photography. Unlike portrait, no photograph could provide an idea of the character of the persona or the color tones.
The portrait painting was the forte of Sobha Singh and he did several portraits of Indian kings and princes. He painted the portraits Mahatma Gandhi, Maharajah Ranjit Singh, Sardar Bhagat Singh, Jawaharlal Lal Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Kartar Singh Sarabha, Norah Richard and an unfinished one of Bhagat Ravi Das.
He was a great artist with few equals in portraiture. His portraits are lifelike, fresh, detailed and exquisite with a divine blend of human characters. His portraits of the Gurus came to limelight in India and abroad when they were published in almost all the leading papers of the country on quincentenary celebrations.
Sobha Singh painted on canvas a large number of outstanding portraits in oil paints. He achieved the delicacy of treatment and minuteness of decorative details even with this medium like Kangra miniatures.
“This art (Modern Art ) is a meaningless job, a wicked and unholy practice to entrap the illiterate people".— Sobha Singh
Religious Paintings of Sobha SinghClick thumbnail to view full-size
The Religious Paintings of Sobha Singh
The panorama of his religious paintings includes that of the Hindu Gods, Rama, Krishna, the Jesus Christ, the ten Sikh Gurus, the Sheikh Farid, and the goddess of dawn.
The Kalki Avtar or the incarnation of Lord Vishnu that would occur in the present age of darkness in Kaliyuga like “The Second Coming” is one of the greatest works of Sobha Singh. It has been predicted that Kalki would take birth in the house of a Brahman, named Vishnu Yash. He would ride a white horse, his sword would emanate flames of fire and he will kill the evil doers to establish truth, religion, and justice.
The Museum at Chandigarh houses the best paintings of Guru Nanak Dev as painted by Sobha Singh. The earliest painting of Guru Nanak Dev as a child was painted in 1934, which shows the influence of medieval Christian art. The painting shows the Guru in the lap of his mother Tripta midst the women of the household, and lord Shiva and Rama showering the flowers on the holy child in the background with goddesses Sita and Saraswati.
Another portrait of Guru Nanak painted in 1937 shows the reverend in a mystic trance with half-closed eyes. Most of the Sikh families have put this painting in their homes to be worshiped as an icon.
His Greatest religious masterpiece of late 50's is "Guru Nanak" in the blessing pose. The lines on the palm and the entire hand of Guru Nanak were drawn after studying the horoscope of the Guru. For this purpose, the renowned palmist Pundit Agnihotri of Hamirpur district in Himachal Pradesh was consulted.
Most of the people believe that the painting made in honor of the 500th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak in 1969 is the actual portrait of the Guru.
The Sobha Singh Art Gallery
Sobha Singh was greatly impressed by Subhash Chander Bose and used the pseudonym Subhash after his name and even named his studio as Subhash studio.
The people come to Andretta to see the art gallery of Sardar Sobha Singh especially the memorable masterpiece of Sohini Mahiwal. The gallery in the large room of the house has a selected collection of about 40 original paintings Sobha Singh.
In 2011, the Sobha Singh museum has been added to the gallery which contains more than 100 rare photographs and the personal belongings of the painter. Even after his death, the rom where he lived has been properly maintained as it was during his lifetime.
The paper or canvas reprints of his paintings are available in the sale counter of the gallery.
Women in the Paintings of Sobha SinghClick thumbnail to view full-size
Sobha Singh was awarded Padam Shree by the President of India in 1983. The Information and broadcasting Ministry released a film named Painter of people on his 75th birthday. He was awarded D.Lit. by Punjabi University Patiala.
In 1974, he was declared the State Artist by the Punjab Govt. The states of Punjab and Himachal have instituted art awards in his name. In 1984, a documentary on his achievements was made by BBC. The High School of Andretta and the Palampur-Andretta road have been named after him.
His birth centenary in 2001 was celebrated in US, UK, Canada, India, Australia and several other countries and a postage stamp too was issued in his name in India.
Sculpture of Prithvi Raj Kapoor
Women in the Paintings of Sobha Singh
Sobha Singh depicted the dignity of womanhood and the glimpses of the brides of Punjab and Himachal. The painting of a young bride sitting in a palanquin with a cuckoo in front reflects the charm of the folk song of Kangra, which goes as, "bhabi cuckoo Keehan bolda" or sister-in-law how the cuckoo sings.
Another painting of innocent and shy Kangra bride sitting on the floor with two wicker baskets on her right is aesthetic in charm.
Other famous paintings of Sobha Singh are the "The Sisters spinning the wheel” and “Her grace the Gaddan" or " the grace of the Shepherdess”.
Sculpture by Sobha Singh
Sobha Singh also tried a hand at sculpture and made some of the statues including the busts of M.S. Randhawa, Prithvi Raj Kapoor, Nirmal Chandra and an incomplete one of Amrita Pritam.
Aesthetic Paintings of Sobha SinghClick thumbnail to view full-size
In the thirties of the 20th century, the Persian poetry of Omar Khayyam on wine and music was the favorite among the English-educated middle-class Punjabi.
Depicting this favorite theme, Sobha Singh painted Khayyam playing mandolin while reclining against a bolster with a beautiful young woman offering him a cup of wine.
Other secular themes of the Palace of Bhutan, Landscapes, a Gaddan or Shepherdess, a snake charmer etc are marvelous in detail and delineation.
Some interesting facts about Shobha Singh
He created more than 2000 paintings
The British Govt. in India banned his painting titled Gadar.
A postal stamp released on his painting of Mahatma Gandhi.
His paintings auctioned in London for 17000 pounds.
His painting of Guru Nanak adorns the Parliament.
He painted the logo of Indian Railways
Both Norah Richard and Sobha Singh have died and the mute flowers in their gardens are also desolate, lonesome and sad. The masters and their masterpieces will dissolve into eternity and the caravan moves on as usual. The colors and canvas are there and the brush pines for the hands of the master but the painter artist is no more. It is believed that the painters become flowers or stars after death.
Norah’s dream to develop Andretta as an abode of artists has been only partially fulfilled as some artists made it their permanent or temporary home. But then who knows that the dream may still come true.
© 2014 Sanjay Sharma