Historian B.N Goswamy brings alive 18th century artist Manaku

Endowed with soaring imagination and great painting skills, Manakus vision knew no limits. This is quite evident from art historian B.N. Goswamy’s book on the 18th century painter, who hailed from an obscure village in what is now Himachal Pradesh, that was launched here on Wednesday.

“Manaku of Guler”, published by Niyogi Books, is an attempt to bring alive the long- lost glory of a painter whose work has mostly remained unnoticed. This is rather surprising considering that from giant rings of time upon timeless waters, to envisioning the world of gods and demons littered with cosmic battles and earthly triumphs Manaku has left behind a collection of significant paintings.

“Manaku has been an almost virtually unknown artist. The book gives a chance to go back to the life of the painter, know how his life was, what inspired him for his paintings,” Goswamy said at the launch.

Goswamy, who was honoured with Padma Shri in 1998 and the Padma Bhushan in 2008, is currently a professor emiritus at Punjab University. His other books include “Nainsukh of Guler”, based on the life of Manaku’s younger brother.

However the author said he has always been more interested in exploring the life of Manaku. “Unlike Nainsukh, who has been very bold and outspoken, Manaku had always been very conservative perhaps that’s what attracted me to talk about him,” he noted.

The author had always been keen on throwing a limelight on the lesser celebrated artists. His first interaction with the works of the artist happened in 1968.

“Ever since then, I have always thought of writing a book on him. Artists like Manaku have drowned in the vast sea of anonymity. Paintings are a source of information to know how art was perceived in a particular era and Manaku’s work reflects the art of 18th century,” the author explained.

Goswamy mentioned that Manaku’s art pieces are a clear indication of the fact that he shared an “absolute informal” relation with the gods and goddesses.

“He could enter into their world, look into their eyes, talk to them; he has been daring enough to turn his imagination into a visual retreat,” Goswamy pointed out.

It was not easy for Goswamy to write about an artist who belongs to the 18th century. He had to travel vast lengths in Himachal Pradesh and neighbouring states for his research.

“It took me around five years to complete the book. From public libraries to meeting individuals, I had to do extensive research for the book because there is no concrete source of information for the artist,” he said.

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