Panchatantra tales get a picturesque interpretation

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Wandering around to quench its thirst, what does a crow do to reach the water inside a pitcher? Assiduously drops in some pebbles.

As they say, ‘Necessity is the mother of invention’. The moral lesson and the answer to this question are ingrained in our culture, as the 2,000- years-old stories from Visnusarma’s Panchatantra travel from one generation to another, becoming an inextricable part of our existence. Reviving these fables on canvas, curator Gulshan Nanda picked up copies of this renowned book and shared them with 15 artists across the country to collate ‘Painted Fables: Panchatantra Chitra’. This is an exhibition of paintings depicting stories from the Panchatantra in different styles – Madhubani, Patachitra of West Bengal and Odisha, Sanjhi, Sikki grass, Santhal, Phad, Contemporary, Gond and Kalamkari.

Watching the recital of ‘The foolish lion and the clever rabbit’, children and adults both seemed excited, almost as if they were listening to these stories for the first time, shares Gurupada, a Patachitra artist from West Bengal. Experiencing a Bengali recital amidst the infectious exuberance, Metrolife asked the artist how he combined his art of painting with poetic story-telling.

“Singing is my hobby, and I like to write songs besides painting,” the artist puts succinctly, adding, “The gallery was full of children in the morning. Though they sat with rapt attention throughout the recital, they did come up later to mention it could have been way more fun had I recited the story in Hindi.” The artist innocently explains, “I think of singing in Hindi at times, but I write in Bengali, how I can translate the same expression in Hindi?”

Perhaps, the intention behind this exhibition was to channelise these multiple expressions on the same platform. As the curator says, “I gave these 15 artists the same book. Putting no constraints, I asked them to interpret these stories in their own way.” The result is a vibrant collection of Panchantantra tales, with ‘The Monkey and the Crocodile’ topping the charts as a majority of artists chose to portray it. As one walks out of the gallery, a faint recollection of one’s halcyon days -- with grandmother reading a bedtime story or one’s favourite teacher narrating an interesting tale -- occupies the mind, lighting up the face with a smile.

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