Ganga Lahari
- Padma Jayaraj
Images courtesy: Ganesh Hire

September 5, 2015

Ganga Lahari, a series of water colors by Ganesh Hire (11th Aug to 17th Aug 2015) in Jahangir Art Gallery, Mumbai, was a stunning display of the sacred river that runs through the cultural landscape of India from times immemorial. The paintings are gateways to the eternal dimensions of scenic beauty. They invoke contemplation that creates profound pleasure and awareness of the higher aspects of Nature. The salient feature of the exhibition that attracts the viewer is its evocative eminence.

To the human mind, riverscapes stir up nostalgia that rise from the collective unconscious. It takes you down memory lane to the beginnings of evolution.  The first spec of life rose in water.  For millions of years, these water bodies were home for us.  The Dasavatara testifies to it. Water is life, mobility, purity, and sanctity. Ancient civilizations rose on the river banks. In India, river Ganga nurtured a great civilization, the Vedic culture, and its unique philosophy.

The artist reared on the banks of Godavari, whose artistic journey began from its banks, pays his tribute to the ultimate river to the Indian consciousness. Intoxicated by its pristine beauty, he paints the Ganga bathed in celestial light, flowing in graceful choreographic symphony. The exquisite patterns, its synchronous rhythms, the lucid orchestration of colors, the lyrical charms, and the aesthetic lure that govern the series, are rooted in the artistic perceptions of a river that give it divine dimensions. True, the paintings appear like cinematic visuals where realism dominates. But, on closer view, it is the magical realism that takes the paintings to nobler heights.

The exhibition is curated to cater to the sensibilities of an Indian mind. The series starts with the offering of lamps, the Ganga arati, and a common sight in many temples on its banks. It is not just the tribute of the artist, but the homage of the people of its plains, nurtured by its waters: a culture honoring its divine mother.  The marvelous dimension in the foreground is a contrast to the background. Colors are orchestrated in such a way that an azure tone dominates to give the river its innate serenity and the flowing waters a rhythmic chant. The luminosity of the white has the centrality which suggests both purity and spirituality. Blue mountains stretch far beyond. The horizon above dissolves into a soft blur. The suggestion of ancient structures in silhouettes on either side completes the composition with the humanscape in the margin pointing to the role of   the river in the larger scheme of Nature. The huge painting is an introduction to all the aspects of the Ganga.

The sunlit river as the day dawns lights up the features of a visible, work-a- day world. Glowing sky lights up the waters. Birds dot the sky and humans dot the banks. Structures cast under shadows, has the quality of the mystique. Warm light spreads, pale golden hue emanates from the waters, another face of the Ganga.

The offering lamps carry flowers with a flaming diya, light: hopes and prayers from throbbing hearts. They are afloat in the foreground as empty boats are moored on the backdrop suggestive of human activity and mobility with no humans around .The poetics of the Ganga carries the story of civilization built on its banks: from fishing to trade, from travel to voyages beyond.

Here is another painting. Masterly treatment of the elements, water and light, under starlit deep blue sky has a magical quality. The landscape jutting into the waters glows in golden sunlight. The blue waters in the foreground, the gleaming white beyond the tapering stretch of land, a star spangled night sky with a moon suggestive of infinity:  improbabilities, articulate a natural scene by sheer stretch of imagination. Fantasy or magical realism, call it what you like….you feel your spirit uplifted! Enchantment lies here and that precisely is the function of art.

From this cornucopia the motifs of the artist rise, fall into kaleidoscopic designs from different perspectives, in different combinations, in varied scales, in limitless permutations and combinations intoxicating ancient impulses. You partake in Ganga lahari... in an epiphany the vision is born giving you the sense of direction, the mission in your life. The Ganga in her purity is your soul…Sullied by murky materialism, we have darkened our soul. The yearning to be pure again, to be home again, is the ache of the soul. Oh, what have we done to her!! In the name of rituals, in the name of industrialization, in greed for more and more, we have destroyed her. It is time to stop. Time to take stock. Time to think.  It is time to clean up. Channelize all the energies. Divine Mother beacons.
For the humans, the vision bequeaths a mission, that we are at the cross-roads. That the river, whether the Ganga, the Nile, or the Amazon has the potential of fury within. It is your choice. Choose in wisdom says Beauty. Says Art. May Ganga Matha open your eyes. You wake up to reality.
Ganesh Hire is a practicing artist in different mediums, a winner of many awards and is currently working as a lecturer at L.S. Raheja School of Arts, Mumbai.

Padma Jayaraj is a freelance writer on the arts. She is a regular contributor to