What comes to your mind when you think of the Indian freedom struggle – protests, marches, shouting, slogans, non-violent activism and jailed comrades perhaps? Loud and roaring action is an intrinsic feature of any movement. But it’s only one part of the story. Such action is always preceded by quieter, gentler and more restrained acts of rebellion. But these are no less powerful. It is the poets, writers, painters, musicians, oral storytellers and other custodians of culture who transmute what’s in their hearts through their art and in the process revitalize the collective soul of the people they are looking to inspire. Because the truth is that people are moved to action when they are moved. To answer the question of what moved our freedom fighters to fight without fear of consequences, ask yourself what moves you to care about the causes you care about.
Under the planned propaganda the British were trying to prove that India has no national identity of its own. Bang- Bhang movement brought the new awareness in Indian mind. Aim of the Bengal school was to regenerate the patriotism, to rediscover India’s past and to recollect Indian values in the field of arts by boycotting foreign trends and means. It was national emotion that made Bengal school nationalistic.
Dr. Anand Coomar Swami, the most noted writer of Indian art, a pioneer historian and scholar published a book ‘Art and Swadeshi’ in 1910 which was regarded as the manifesto of art of India. This book gave a plea to return to those Indian sources and ideas which were being demolished by British political fervor. He also recommended the commitment of the Bengal school and efforts of artists for giving a tremendous moral boosting to the Indian freedom movement.
Genius and creative Abanindra Nath did so and put Indian soul before the world. paintings and articles of Devi Prasad Roy Chowdhury printed in journal such as ‘Pravasi , ‘Bharatvarsha’ and shanibarer chitthi ‘ did the same job during freedom movement. In this series, Nandlal Bose copied the paintings of Ajanta and painted his famous line drawing ‘Dandi March of mahatma Gandhi’. he also painted about 60 paintings on handmade paper for Haripura congress on the request of Mahatma Gandhi. These paintings were feast of Indian arts and beautification. These paintings were also notable for their economy of means, boldness, vigour and decorative qualities. Through these paintings, Nandlal Bose combined art with nationalism and became the interpreter of Indian color and its souls. Abanindranath painted Mother India. Gaganendranath painted a caricature on the massacre of Jalianwalan Bagh which brought hatred among Indians against naked cruelty of British. the personal style developed by noted artists namely Abanindranath Tagore, Nandalal Bose, k. venkatapa, Gaganendranath Thakur, Shailendra Nath day, Asit Kumar Halder and Devi Prasad Roy Chowdhury etc. saved us from the slavery of expressions and ideas which finally put the foundation of modern trends in the field of art.
Abanindranath Tagore and his humanized depiction of India
In 1905 Lord Curzon partitioned Bengal into two halves. It was supposedly done for administrative purposes but the real reason was to further the Raj’s divide and rule policy. This move sent shockwaves across the state and greatly agitated the people of both East and West Bengal. It was this incident that led to the inception of the Swadeshi movement. As the people sought to cripple the British economy by choosing to patronize homegrown goods over foreign ones, the nationalistic sentiment seeped into India’s art and culture as well. ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ may seem like an everyday phrase today, but at the time it was quite unheard of. In 1873 Kiran Chandra Bandyopadhyay wrote a play with the title Bharat Mata and in 1882 Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay introduced the phrase, ‘Vande Mataram,’ in his novel Anandamath. But apart from these two references, the idea of India as a motherland was a highly unfamiliar one.
Abanindranath Tagore, the nephew of Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore, painted Bharat Mata in 1906 to portray a humanized depiction of the nation, one that citizens could easily connect with. He painted her as a secular sari-clad woman holding four objects which signified food, cloth, learning and spiritual knowledge – attributes of nationalist goals. Originally titled Banga Mata to protest the partition of Bengal, he retitled it to Bharat Mata so as to inspire people from all over the country to fight for their mother. Thanks to this painting, Bharat Mata entered the lexicon and became a rallying cry of the freedom movement.
Nandalal Bose and ‘Bapuji’, the symbol of resistance
On 12th March 1930 Mahatma Gandhi and 78 of his close aides began a march from Sabarmati Ashram to Dandi, walking 10 miles a day for 24 days. Along the way, they were joined by thousands of Indians. The march was to protest the prohibitively expensive salt tax imposed by the British and the unfair laws banning Indians from producing their own salt. The Dandi March is now celebrated in history books as an emblem of non-violent protest. But back then, before said history books had been written, it was a touching portrait by a master of the Bengal Renaissance that brought Gandhi’s act of quiet heroism to the people.
Nandalal Bose had said of Gandhi, “Mahatma Gandhi may not be an artist in the same sense that we professional artists are, nevertheless I cannot but consider him to be a true artist. All his life he has spent in creating his own personality and in fashioning others after his high ideals. His mission is to make Gods out of men of clay. I am sure his ideal will inspire the artists of the world.” Bose created a black and white linocut portrait of Gandhi walking with a staff and inscribed it with, ‘Bapuji, 1930.’ It perfectly captured the spirit of the event and of the quiet but powerful persona of Gandhi as the leader of a burgeoning movement. It went on to become the most iconic image of Gandhi ever created and a symbol of resistance and inspiration for the two decades of intense struggle to come. According to the Museums of India repository, ‘Bose was among the first to recognize that the image of Gandhi alone had the potential to unify a movement beyond the realm of a select few to express the collective will of a new nation.’
The Bengal School Grew out of Swadeshi
In the early part of the 20th century, Indian nationalist leaders promoted the concept of swadeshi, a movement of self-reliance in the face of British colonization that was specifically effective in the province of Bengal. Swadeshi called for social, cultural, political – and most ardently economic – reforms that would break India from the clutches of British rule. Boycotts of British manufacturers were organized in favor of domestic and local products, which would invigorate Indian industry; cultural movements were to dispose of British or Western literature and visual arts, and to produce works of uniquely Indian qualities, turning to Hindu themes and ancient Indian painting styles.
The Bengal School was a form of resistance that gave rise to Indian Nationalism
During the British Raj, when the British crown ruled the Indian subcontinent from 1858 to 1947, traditional Indian painting conventions and styles had fallen out of popularity, largely because they did not appeal to the tastes of British collectors. In addition to the European painting techniques and subjects that were taught in artistic academies, Company Paintings were widely promoted, which catered to British sensibilities. Company Paintings presented Indian subjects of indigenous plant life or traditional garb and rituals, through both the European gaze and conventions of painting. Rather than celebrating Indian cultural traditions, it simplified them into exotica. The Bengal School arose to counteract such imagery, by turning to Mughal influences, and Rajasthani and Pahari styles that presented elegant scenes of distinctly Indian traditions and daily life.
There were contemporary British supporters of the Bengal School.
Although the Bengal School was a direct refusal of British artistic traditions, one of its major founders was Ernest Banfield Havell, an English art historian, teacher, arts administrator, and author. Havell urged his students to turn to Mughal miniatures as influence rather than British models of production. While principal of the Government School of Art in Calcutta, Havell helped founding artists of the Bengal School such as Abanindranath Tagore and his sister Sunayani Devi fully develop the tenets and style of the movement and promote its dissemination through educational systems.
Bengal School Artist Nandalal Bose shared a special relationship with Gandhi.
Nandalal Bose, pupil of the Bengal School’s leader Abanindranath Tagore, became one of the movement’s major artists. Exasperated by the British treatment of Indian painting traditions, history, and artists, Bose turned to swadeshi notions of developing a distinctively Indian modern art. He turned to the murals of Ajanta, and produced scenes from Indian mythology and contemporary daily village life. In the 1920s and 30s, he developed a friendship and professional relationship with Gandhi, who often invited him to produce works for political pavilions. Bose commemorated Gandhi’s 1930 twenty-six-day Dandi March with a series of sketches presenting him as a humble but strong hero using expressive line work. These images of Gandhi contributed to the development of twentieth century Indian modernism, identity, and nationalism.
Asit Kumar Haldar was a major artist of the Bengal Renaissance.
Asit Kumar Haldar was the nephew of Rabindranath Tagore, major Bengal poet, musician, and artist. He studied painting under Jadu Pal and Bakkeswar Pal, two leading Bengal artists, and joined Nandalal Bose to document the Ajanta cave paintings and frescoes from 1909 to 1911. Haldar’s works synthesize Buddhist art with Indian history through a sense of idealism. He was the first Indian artist to be appointed as the principal of a Government Art School, and was the first Indian to be elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, London, in 1934. In addition to his artistic production and poetry, Haldar, like his fellow artists of the Bengal Art School, committed his life to social reforms and educational programs that would build a sense of Indian nationalism for contemporary and future generations.