Monday 22 April 2013

Lady with a lamp

If the main palace at Mysore is an architectural delight, the Glow of Hope is a treat for the eyes-a beautiful watercolour par excellence. If the former is a masterpiece of Indi-Saracenic style, the later is purely an Indian delight and shows off the best that is India.
The work on the Glow of Hope is so superb and the details so minute that for decades it has been wrongly associated or attributed to one of the legends of Indian painting.
Though it is only a water colour, the Glow of Hope which is also known as Woman With the Lamp, has shone bright for close to seven decades now and along with the musical clock, it is one of the prime attractions of the Jaganmohan Palace in Mysore.
Though the painting is by S.L. Haldankar,  it has been wrongly attributed to Ravi Verma of Kerala. The Glow of Hope was painted 1945-46 and it is currently exhibited in the Sri Jayachamarajendra Art Gallery at the Jaganmohan palace.
The painting is on the second floor of the museum, in a special enclave with a curtained window. The enclave is normally darkened (the lights are generally put off or switched off), so that it can highlight the subtlety of the glowing candle of the painting. When the light is turned on, the painting reveals subtle shades of pink and lavender in the woman's sari. Opening the enclave's curtain leads to yet another distinct view of the painting, the natural light exposing even more subtle gradations and details in this work.
The painting is of an Indian woman holding a lighted lamp in one hand, the other hand covering the light of the lamp from the front. Her hand seems to be glowing due to the candle light. The woman is dressed in a simple and traditional Indian saree. The effect of the painting is heightened by the shadow of the woman in the back.
Though the painting invariably draws “ohs and ahs” from everybody, very few know that the women who is holding the covered candle is Gita Haldankar, now Gita Krishnakant Uplekar, the third daughter of  Haldankar.
Gita currently lives in Kolhapur. She turned 90 four years ago and she has four daughters and one son (Meena Shertukade, Lali Akojwar, Jyoti Shah, (Sandhya) Sonali Punatar, and Rajprakash Uplekar).
When the painting was on, Gita had to stay in the perpetual position for three hours continuously. What is astonishing is that Haldankar made this portrait with watercolours. He used watercolours as his medium because he wanted to show the world that he could make a painting without a single mistake, unlike the oil paint which can be corrected using white paint.
The hand here (in the portrait) is the central focus and the manner in which the hand is shielding or holding the candle shows a mastery over balance and depth. The colours used are very specific and the brush is used with extreme care and deliberation.
Each of the water colour used signifies symbolize different things-the lavender stands for all of grace and gold showcases the royal touch.  
The woman, by her very style, stands for grace, feminity and natural beauty. She has to be draped in a saree as she symbolises an Indian woman.
There is an interesting story about how the painting came to be made. During Deepavali, Haldanker saw his daughter bringing out a candle from within the house. She had held her hand naturally and it was “woven” around the candle to prevent the wind from blowing it out. The rays of the candle radiated from the gap within her fingers and it also illuminated her face. A captivated Haldanker decided to model a painting on the same lines.
Unfortunately, for several decades, this painting was attributed to Raja Ravi Verma. This misattribution continued for several decades and it is only now that Haldankar has been given his due.
Born in Savantawadi in Maharashtra in 1882, Sawlaram Lakshman Haldankar showed early promise and enrolled in the Sri JJ school of Arts, Mumbai. He soon became a student of  Dhurandhar and Cecil Burns. In 1908, he started the Haldankar Art Institute in Mumbai. Later, with other friends, he founded the Art Scholl of India in 1918 and became its president.
He was accomplished in both watercolours and oils. His collections can be found at varied places like Prince of Wales Museum, Mumbai, National Gallery of Modern Art, Delhi and museums in Nagpur and Moscow.
During the time of his death he was ranked among the top three watercolourists of the world.


  1. You are correct. Even daily "Hindu" attributed the wrong facts. This article tells about this. The Truth About Lady with Lamp

  2. Yes, Mr. Joseph Stephen. Even the venerable Hindu had at one point of time made the mistake. It was subsequently corrected. However even now, many people are still under the mistaken notion that the painting is by Ravi Verma.