100 Years of Sree Narayana Iconography


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These slides briefly present the characteristics and transformation of Sree Narayana imagery - (i.e. photographs, fine art and sculpture) - representing the Guru through the last century to date.

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100 Years of Sree Narayana Iconography

  1. 1. 100 Years of Sree Narayana Iconography Compiled by Sujit Sivanand For Global Convention, Universal Brotherhood, Colombo 19 & 20 December 2010
  2. 2. Iconography Iconography refers to pictorial material or imagery that represents a religious or legendary subject. These slides briefly present the characteristics and transformation of Sree Narayana imagery - (i.e. photographs, fine art and sculpture) - representing the Guru through the last century to date.
  3. 3. Importance of iconography The careful study of Sree Narayana iconography is important to avoid misrepresentation of the Guru’s life and times through wrong portrayals of history. For example, Narayana Guru never wore yellow robes, but many sketches, statues and digitally edited photographs wrongly portray the Guru in yellow attire.
  4. 4. Background Traditionally, realistic paintings, charcoal sketches and sculpture were the popular methods to create iconography. Sree Narayana Guru’s birth in the mid-19th century AD coincided with inventions and development of photography as a popular new medium for picturisation.
  5. 5. Challenges While film/plate photography offered opportunities for capturing realistic images, it also posed new challenges to Sree Narayana iconography. Non-photographic forms of imagery such as paintings and sculpture are challenged with the need for perfection in facial features (‘likeness’) to Narayana Guru, necessitated by the existence of photographs.
  6. 6. Photographs of the Guru Earliest photographs of the Guru date back to the 1880s - 1890s, presumably taken in the Guru’s thirties and forties. While the Guru gained acceptance as a revered saint and Vedic scholar during the 1880s, his photographs too seem to have started appearing in the public domain.
  7. 7. Photographs of the Guru This photograph is perhaps the earliest existing image of Narayana Guru. Thought to be shot during the days he was a teacher in the village of Anchuthengu* (*Anjengo – British India).
  8. 8. Photographs of the Guru This photo is another one of the earlier pictures of Narayana Guru, thought to be from the days he was known as Nanu Asan.
  9. 9. Photographs of the Guru This picture is likely to be from the early 1900s, when the Guru’s pictures started appearing in the public domain.
  10. 10. Photographs of the Guru In 1916, in connection with the Guru’s 60th birthday celebrations, one of the now most popular pictures was available in the public domain. The studio photograph (as collaged with a background sketch) was published by the studio Klein & Peyrel in Madras.
  11. 11. Photographs of the Guru This studio photo by Klein & Peyrel was widely used in connection with the 60th birth anniversary celebrations of Sree Narayana Guru in 1916.
  12. 12. Photographs of the Guru This popular portrait of the Guru is a cropped frame originating from a group photograph shot with his contemporary sage Chattambi Swamikal.
  13. 13. Photographs of the Guru Photography was not affordable to all. Private visits to prominent families that partronised the Guru were sometimes documented by a photographing session with the family members. Historical social events, such as meetings and conventions, were documented in group photographs.
  14. 14. Photographs of the Guru Example of historical events documented.
  15. 15. Photographs of the Guru Examples of private visits documented
  16. 16. Photographs of the Guru Examples of private visits documented
  17. 17. Photographs of the Guru A well preserved print* of a photograph shot originally in the precincts of the Jaggannatha Temple in Thalasserry. *Copied recently from the print now at Alummoottil House, Mavelikara. Copy credit: Cover picture
  18. 18. Portrait sketches of Guru Since the 1905 industrial exhibition in Quilon, the lithographic prints of this photorealistic painting titled ‘Sree Narayana Paramahamsan’ was widely on display across homes in Travancore, Cochin and Malabar states.
  19. 19. Portrait sketches of Guru Several hundreds of sketches of the Guru have been created over the century. Some have prominence because of their formal recognition in Government and print media.
  20. 20. Portrait sketches of Guru A fairly recent painting by R. Sukumaran based on an old photograph shot during Guru’s ascetic life.
  21. 21. Sketches of Guru This 1953 sketch portrays Narayana Guru as the continuity in a lineage of prophetic sages from Gautama Buddha, Jesus Christ, Muhammad, Guru Nanak and Ramakrishna.
  22. 22. Sculptures of the Guru The first prominent sculpture of the Guru was crafted in bronze in 1927 by Italian sculptor Prof. Tavaroli, whilst the Guru was still alive. The statue placed in the precincts of Jagganatha Temple, Thalassery.
  23. 23. Sculptures of the Guru In 1968 this white marble statue of the Guru was crafted in Varanasi by sculptor Pasupathinath Mukherjee. It is installed at the Mahasamadhi Mandir of Sree Narayana Guru at Sivagiri.
  24. 24. Sculptures of the Guru Several hundred statues of the Guru adorn the chapel like ‘Guru Mandirs’ across India. Most of these are moulded cement statues, with no particular aesthetic or decorative content.
  25. 25. Sculptures of the Guru Recent trends include the creation of bronze statues.
  26. 26. Sculptures of the Guru The ‘Jnana Vigraham’, crafted in Trivandrum in 2006, was intended to improve the aesthetic and story telling elements around Sree Narayana iconography.
  27. 27. Sculptures of the Guru Realism or ‘likeness’ in facial features is an important attribute to the success of Sree Narayana iconography.
  28. 28. Importance of iconography Carefully planned new iconographic creations offer opportunities for depicting the Guru and his teachings through aesthetically attractive imagery, while maintaining factual attributes at the core of the imagery. Iconographic messages have the power of ‘first impression’ and ‘retention value’ in the mind of the viewers.
  29. 29. Opportunities in iconography New creative initiatives could be applied for spreading the noble messages from Sree Narayana Guru – the icon of universal brotherhood.
  30. 30. The End