I have always been fascinated on the subject of British interventions in India’s rediscovery in the 19th century. Well, coming from Odisha, her re-discovery in the 19th century occupies a larger space in my heart.
In the beginning of the 19th century, a great number of artists had moved from England to carve out new lives for themselves in British India. As they travelled through India, they were fascinated towards her unusual tropical sceneries, stunning ancient monuments and people of varied castes, religions and occupations.
Well, there were no cameras to capture their joyous moments. In the absence of photography technology they hired Indian artists to capture their subjects of interest. These painters who were collectively known as artists of ‘company painting style’ used water colours and employed techniques that would appear of linear perspective and shading. These techniques had evolved in Renaissance Europe.
Some of these painters had become enterprising and had begun to create sets of standard popular subjects that could be sold to tourists visiting the major attractions.
Odisha, especially, Bhubaneswar, Puri and Konark like today had become a centre of attraction for tourists. Some enterprising artists had exploited the opportunity, though still we don’t know who were they and from where they had come. But the images they had produced were nothing less than photographs. They not only showed monuments but also depicted people, their conditions, events like Rath Yatra at Puri and surrounding sceneries.
The paintings of Puri show the Chariot Festival along with the great Jagannath Temple in the background. The Gajapati Maharaj is shown sitting on an elephant and accompanied by other elephants. The procession is quite different from now as the Gajapati comes in a palkhi.
Another water colour image shows a rare painting of Konark, though it is a little later in date. It was drawn by Fergusson in 1847. Though Konark is shown in ruins, but an interesting aspect of this painting is – a portion of the main temple (which is completely lost now) was standing.
Indeed the water colour images of early 19th century Odisha are rare treasures, thanks to the initiative of the British Library, which are now accessed to all having curiosity on Odisha’s 19th century past.