A Sacred Journey — The Kedara Kalpa Series of Pahari Paintings, and the Painter Purkhu of Kangra is the latest offering of the renowned Prof. B.N. Goswamy, co-authored by his late wife, Karuna. The book covers two series of 33 Pahari miniature paintings, inspired by a little known Shaiva text entitled Kedara Kalpa, and makes for a fascinating read; the story of the discovery of the text, the text itself as exciting as the paintings themselves.
As Goswamy states in the foreword, it is still not certain how big these series of paintings are, who commissioned them, and when they were painted. So far, the 33 paintings discovered are scattered in museums and private art collections all over the US — in Philadelphia, Boston, Richmond Baltimore, Los Angeles, and San Deigo, also in Berlin, Germany. Sadly, in India, the country of their creation, there are only 13 paintings; 11 in the National Museum, New Delhi, one in Birla Academy, Kolkata, and one in Salarjung Museum, Hyderabad. Of course, as the authors write, there may be more paintings in the series, as yet undiscovered.
The book is not merely about the paintings, (painted between 1800-1825 in Guler, or Kangra) but equally about the text that inspired them. The story of how the link between the text Kedara Kalpa and the paintings was discovered is thrilling — in 1996, Karuna and B.N. Goswamy were in Zurich, and asked to help in translating an illustrated manuscript in Sanskrit, written in the Devanagari script, in Geneva, at the Biblioteca Bodmeriana, Cologne, Geneva. The illustrations intrigued both the scholars, and Karuna went to Geneva to try and see the manuscript in person. There she discovered the manuscript Kedara Kalpa in excellent condition, easily decipherable, and clearly linked to the unknown paintings with the same theme — five Shaiva ascetics on a journey in varied terrain. The decision to investigate the issue in full and write a book was made then, but this has taken a long, over 20 years, in the making.
The Kedara Kalpa has eight versions, but no two versions are exactly the same. A small text, with 82 folios, and in one edition, 44 chapters, it has been variously ascribed to being a part of the Skanda Purana, Shiva Purana, ‘Vikhyaata’ Purana and the Rudra Yamala, a Tantrik text. The text deals with queries to Shiva and his answers — how to reach Him is by following the “Maha Panth” (great road), and the story of the five ascetics who set off on this great “tirtha” (pilgrimage). As the authors enquire, is the text only about the physical journey or is it also the journey of the mind, which is constantly drawn back to the present?
The story of the painters whose paintings depict this journey is no less fascinating. Prof. Goswamy pierces together the history of Purkhu, (apparently the main painter of the series) who remains an elusive figure, through the textual records in the “bahis” (family records maintained over centuries by priests in North India) at the religious pilgrimages of Pehowa, Haridwar and Kurukshetra. Imagining the various terrains and scenes depicted in the paintings “seem to have touched off something in the painters for them to have come up with completely unusual renderings leaf after leaf”, writes Goswamy.
The book includes analysis of the paintings by eminent scholars, the paintings themselves as well as a synopsis of the Kedara Kalpa. Available in India through Niyogi books, the book is priced at a modest Rs.3,000, and has 151 pages.
A Sacred Journey: The Kedara Kalpa Series of Pahari paintings & the Painter Purkhu of Kangra
By B.N. Goswamy and Karuna Goswamy
Niyogi, pp. 151, Rs.3,000