Vrindavan Today brings you the news of Vraja – Vrindavan’s culture, heritage, issues, devotion, events etc. But our mission remains incomplete without writing about the Brajwasi personalities who are masters in their own field. Vrindavan is glorified for being the land the pastimes of Shri Krishna and its temples, and the contribution of artists has added to the glory of Vrindavan. Art and culture illuminate our inner lives and enrich our emotional world and the role of painters is very significant in propagating culture.
Art is the immediate presentation of man’s creative search, and when used properly, becomes an aesthetic expression our search for connection with the Supreme.
Vrindavan Today correspondent interviewed Shri Nritya Gopal Sharma, who is an asset for not only for Vrindavan, but for the entire land of Vraja and the extensions of Vraja in the spiritual communities worldwide.
An ardent admirer of the miniature form of paintings that emerged during the 16th century in North India, Nritya Gopal Sharma draws his inspiration from the country’s tradition of religious art.
Since Vaishnavism is primarily based on Lord Krishna’s life and His homeland Brajbhoomi, it was natural that this theme became the principal source for NG Sharma’s works. When we asked him for the inspiration behind his creativity, he said, “I feel that Shri Krishna wants me to paint Him, He is my only inspiration. Moreover, the compositions depicting and glorifying the Radha Krishna’s Divine Couple pastimes, have always occupied the centre of my imagination.”
Born in 1958 in Vrindavan, Shri Nritya Gopal Sharma is an artist by nature with no formal professional training. Sketching was his childhood love and, this hobby later graduated into a job. Sharma ji recalled, “During my youth, one of my old family friends was engaged in the export of art and craft. He was the first person to recognize my talent and asked me to dedicate an hour everyday to painting for the export market.”
NG Sharma began his carrier painting in the tradition of Mughal art. The determination to do something challenging shifted his focus from Mughal paintings to miniature works. Having learnt the basics of miniature paintings from family friend Shri Gopal Prasad Bhatt, his earlier works were in the Rajasthani and Mughal styles.
Even though Nritya Gopal Sharma has been honored for his Mughal style painting, he enjoys doing religious and traditional paintings. He finds much satisfaction and peace making the paintings of Radha and Krishna. As he himself puts it, “there is always something challenging and extremely beautiful to be found while painting the most popular subjects in Braj.”
The Kishangarh and Kangra styles are also reflected in my works.” “Over the past 40 years, Indian miniature paintings have become increasingly popular in both India and the West. The paintings have attracted the interest of art scholars, collectors, artists and art-lovers on account of their meticulous workmanship, the passionately warm and vibrant scheme of colors and the enormous variety of styles and themes.
The bright future of this artform convinced me to continue working in this style” added Nritya Gopal ji. He elucidates the mythical moments of life – the life of a Mughal or a pastime of Lord Krishna’s with equal ease and has a sharp knowledge of both areas.
The medium of miniature paintings allows for a rich storytelling through the medium of vibrant colors and sharp yet delicate brush strokes. His works uniformly express a decided formalism and a feel for the glory and grandeur of the ancient times.
Gossamer-veiled women with pinched noses, doe-eyes and graceful stances are the major subjects of his works. One poignant scene depicts the workers who were made to sever their fingers after finishing work on the Taj Mahal. Amidst all the lamenting and crying, the emperor is shown sitting peacefully, enjoying the glory and magnificence of the monument erected in memory of his beloved wife.
In spite of being honored with a number of state and national awards, Sharma ji still believes in living a life of simplicity dedicated to God. His first official recognition was a state level award in 1985 for a portrait of Bahadur Shah Zafar on a 4 inch square ivory sheet. In 1987 he was again bestowed with a state honor for his 12 by 6 inch ivory painting depicting a musical event in the Rangmahal of Jahangir.
At the national level, the president’s award came to him in 1992 for a painting on marble plate depicting a scene in the court of Jahangir. He was also sent to Chilie (Santiago) by the Indian government where he won considerable appreciation for his work.
In one of his earlier works entitled ‘Love’, he has portrayed how, after the death of Emperor Shahjahan, when his body was taken to be buried at Taj Mahal, his soul went to meet his wife’s soul, thereby strengthening the bond of love.
One of his paintings depicting Shri Krishna won special accolades from HRH prince Philip at Berlin in 1996. About this work, entitled ‘Sustaining Creation’, Sharma said, “in this painting, I tried to visualize the different places in Krishna’s life. I portrayed this through the medium of flower with each of its petals showing a different aspect of his life.”
The almighty lifting the Govardhan hill, which shows Shri Krishna’s role as the savior of mankind forms the centre of the work. The petals depict other events like baby Krishna resting in Yashoda’s lap, playing the flute and comforting animals and friends and, again, His role as a savior who fights off demons.”
The flower theme also highlights the connection between worshipping Shri Krishna and Braj Dham and understanding the beauty of nature and the need for conservation. The painting was gifted to Prince Philip by S. P. Godrej, the then WWF India President.
Nritya gopal Sharma’s tireless efforts and dedication to the traditional Braj style of minature painting has helped in reviving this art in the country. His favorite work seems to be one in which he depicts the maharaas of Krishna with several gopis and Radha in the centre (see below). Sharma said “I have a belief that the Lord orders me to paint and so, the moment any thought strikes my mind. I put it on paper and fill it with colors.”
Apart from painting scenes, he is also passionate about painting portraits. His first portrait was that of Indira Gandhi. He subsequently made portraits of Rajiv Gandhi, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and other prominent public figures. He has also earned special accolades for making a portrait of the British queen on a coin.
In response to our question about what really satisfies him as an artist, he quickly responds, “ I like to teach and develop the traditional Indian arts”.
He has trained a lot of young talent in various art forms especially miniature painting. Some of his students have already received awards for their works. Beyond creative pursuits, this great artist devotes himself to worshiping and serving Lord Krishna.
His artistic and scholarly pursuits are ultimately dedicated to the Lord, and as well as helping him to focus on the Lord’s pastimes, his paintings help draw the public’s attention to the mysteries of history and the Lord’s pastimes.
As long as discerning painters such as Nritya Gopal Sharma continue to paint with commitment and dedication, the miniature style of painting is sure to flourish throughout the world. Through his art, we get a glimpse of the intrinsic affinity of all towards the all-pervading energy of bliss whose subtle rays illuminate every corner of the universe.