Asit Kumar Haldar was a member of Calcutta's Tagore family and was trained by Abanindranath Tagore at the Government School of Art (1906-1912). Haldar learned the arts of painting, clay modelling and sculpture and became one of the pioneers of the Neo-Bengal School. The Neo-Bengal method rejected Raja Ravi Varma's European Academic style in favor of evoking the ideology and essence of ancient and classical Indian painting.
In Haldar's case, this was based on the Ajanta cave paintings, whose frescoes date to the 2nd century B.C.E. to the 7th century C.E. In 1909-1910 Haldar copied the Ajanta wall paintings and was soon after commissioned by the Archaeological Survey of India to copy the cave paintings of Jogimara. From these experiences, Haldar became intimately acquainted with the Ajanta style and Buddhist imagery. Narration was an integral part of the cave paintings and certainly influenced Haldar's work. In the words of Manohar Kaul, 'The art of Ajanta is a great creative art which has brought heaven and earth close to each other and has added to nature new embellishments and vistas from the region of intellect and imagination that have enhanced the aesthetic ideal and outlook.' (Manohar Kaul, Trends in Indian Painting, 1961, p.19-20).
With Ajanta as artistic inspiration, Haldar created a series of narrative paintings on the History of India and the Life of the Buddha. He also painted narrative scenes from the Hindu epics, such as this painting which possibly depicts a scene from the Hindu Epic the Ramayana. Dasaratha, the King of Ayodhya, is forced to send his beloved son Rama into exile for thirteen years to fulfill a promise he had made to his queen and Rama’s step-mother Kaikeyi. Kaikeyi’s desire was to see her own son Bharata crowned as king. However, when Bharata learns the truth he vows never to ascend the throne and rushes to the forest where Rama is in exile. He brings Rama’s sandals back to Ayodhya where he places them on the throne and administers the kingdom as Rama's representative until he returns from exile. Bharata’s love and loyalty towards his elder brother are upheld as a fraternal ideal in Hindu society.
The present work shows Bharata returning from the forest with his attendants, carrying his brother’s sandals on his head with utmost care and respect. For a comparable work by the artist, titled Kunal and Asoka, dated to circa 1919, see Delhi Art Gallery, Manifestations II, 2004, p.109-110.
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