Jagdish and Kamla Mittal, an art loving couple with exceptional taste have assembled one of the finest collections of paintings over a period of more than 60 years in Hyderabad. On Thursday, as part of the Dakhan International Seminar on Indian Sculpture underway at Hyderabad, a book titled Central Indian paintings in the Jagdish and Kamla Mittal Museum of Indian Art was released by art scholar Dr Saryu Doshi.
The story of how the Mittals’ art collection was built is intriguing. Way back in 1961, Jagdish happened to meet a temple priest at Karwan near Golkonda, and saw many beautiful paintings of what is known as the ‘Malwa style’ hanging on the wall. He managed to acquire ten paintings from this ragamala series. The collection grew as he acquired similar style paintings that belonged to the royal collection of Datia, Raghogarh, Orchha and Sitamau from the art market.
There were days when Kamla would contribute from her savings to ensure that Jagdish would not miss out on buying a world class painting. The priceless collection all started with the acquisition of a painting for as little as Rs 5. There were occasions when the couple had to choose from a large stock of paintings and their taste for aesthetic quality easily helped them to get the best for their world renowned museum.
Jagdish, who has co-authored the book with art scholar John Seyller, clears some misconceptions pertaining to the ‘Malwa style’ paintings. He explains, “During research done while working on the book, we realised that all the so called Malwa paintings actually belong to Bundelkhand region, including centres like Orchha, Datia and Sitamau. This Central Indian region of Madhya Pradesh had dense forests of teak, sal and palash trees inhabited by lions, tigers, leopards, deer and elephants. Many of the paintings therefore reflect hunting scenes where the rulers are in action with bows and arrows aimed at the animals.”
Jagdish continues, “Many paintings emerging from the Orchha and Datia regions have themes from the legend of Krishna. This was due to the deep devotion of Bir Singh who ruled Orchha from 1605, and constantly visited Mathura and Vrindavan. Orchha was also home to Hindi poet Kesavadas author of Rasikapriya and poets Matiram and Bihari who popularised romantic themes about Radha and Krishna which also got reflected in the paintings. Some of the best paintings had subjects such as ragamala, baramasa, bhagavata purana, Ramayana, Amaru Shataka and Devi Mahatmya. This clearly shows that the so called ‘Malwa paintings’ belonged to Central India,” he concludes.