Creative Corner|Oct 21, 2005 12:15 PM| by:

The Pair of Hands

It happened almost twenty five years ago.  I was then quite preoccupied with painting.  They were mostly images of gods and goddesses.  As I had never learnt this art in a systematic way, my paintings showed no particular technique.  Still my daubing had a great value for me because it brought to me a clearer understanding of our ancient methods of art. My set principle was that I would take up a particular deity on the canvas only after repeated meditations upon it.  And, not until I had a clear picture of the subject in my mind’s eye did I start on it.  It was not as bad as making a monkey out of a god—as the saying goes here—still, I could not transfer fully on to paper what I had in my imagination.  However, I tried my utmost to do so and many have witnessed my honest efforts.  Amongst them was the one who has now become a very famous yogi.  He used to watch most of my efforts—failure and successes—and often encourage me.  Once he told me, “By the time you finish this painting your Kundalini will wake up”.  Do not worry, nothing of that sort has happened.  Till date my Kundalini is in deep slumber!

Different colours—violet, red, grey of the storm-clouds, green of the fresh grass-blades, bright gold—used to haunt my mind day and night.  I tried to get them into my paints but, not succeeding, I pestered every artist known to me.  Now I feel quite embarrassed even to think of it all.

Ultimately, I succeeded in getting some colours; I could even catch the mood and the form of a divinity.  But, what I still failed to capture was the exact shade and colour of a divinity’s palms and soles.  I could not even imagine as to how it could be.  None of the pictures I had seen till then could throw any light on my problem.  I’m emphasising on these details because the incident I want to narrate to you is concerned with colours only.

In 1909, when I was at Cooch Bihar, I had gained acquaintance of a Vaishnav.  More than acquaintances, we had become pretty intimate.  I used to often sit through the night and listen to his kirtans.  He was from a low caste and never bothered about acquiring any kind of education.  But, his devotion was boundless.  I used to enjoy speaking for long hours with him.

One day he requested me to paint for him a picture of his Gopala.  He repeated it several times, but, he did not know my difficulty.  At last, I told him: “Dear brother, I cannot paint your Gopala, the beautiful one playing on the flute, because I do not know truly the colour of his palms.  Can you show it to me?”  I showed him one of my old paintings of Sri Krishna and asked him, “Is this the colour of your Gopala’s palms?”  He did not reply.

One evening, after dinner, I was to have gone to a friend’s house to attend a kirtan session.  The Vaishnav was to call on me on his way to the kirtan.  It was eight o’clock and I was reading something when he came in.  That day’s journal, Bharati, had carried a picture of Sri Chaitanya done by Shri Nandalal Bose.  I liked it so much that I cut it out and clipped it on the wall.  When the Vaishnav came into my room, I showed it to him and asked, “Can you recognise it?”  He rushed at it and snatched it off the wall and hugging it close to his bosom, said, “It is my Gauranga’s, I’ll take it as you have not yet given me the picture of my Gopala.”

“All right.  Take it.  I’ve another one,” I said.  “But, you too haven’t yet shown me the colour of your Gopala’s palms, have you?  What use are all your ceremonies if you can’t even see the palms of your Gopala?”  I provoked him.

On reaching the place of the kirtan, my friend stuck the picture of Sri Chaitanya on a pillar and looking into it began his kirtan on Gauranga.  What a marvellous song it was!  He had always a sweet voice but never was it sweeter and more, melodious than on that evening.  The miracle was surely due to the power of that painting—I felt.

Dance and song followed as usual.  But the acme of the programme was reached only after midnight when the Vaishnav sang lyrics on Radha and Krishna and followed each one of them with a dance.

“O Radha, you’re
Like the lightning arrested in the dark rain clouds—That is Krishna

“O Radha you’re
Like a graceful creeper embracing the majestic banyan tree—That is Krishna.”

Such were the poetic strains of his song.  We sat entranced.  The song, the dance, the rhyme and the rhythm—everything just sent me to raptures.

In that state, I saw suddenly in front of me, two blue hands playing on a flute!  The right hand palm was facing me.  It is impossible for me to describe the hue of the palm.  It was cornelian-but such redness I had not come across in my life.  How could I ever bring out that rufescent hue in my palette?  Hence, I never even tried to paint them—the palms.  However, my long quest had come to an end—I did not have to ask anyone any longer.

It may not be difficult to comprehend or to accept this incident.  After all that longing of mine, it may not seem surprising that I had such an experience.  I had even envied a bit Shri Nandalal Bose for having drawn such a remarkable picture of Sri Chaitanya—why can’t I ever paint one like that?  Maybe, without being conscious of it, I was brooding over it.  Who knows?  And added to these was the charm of the music and the lyric.  With all this put together, it might not have been improbable for me to have such a vision.

What is really astounding and incomprehensible is that just at the very moment when I was witnessing the vision, the Vaishnav bent down and whispered to me, “Babu, did you see?” and immediately resumed his dancing.  A friend who sat beside me asked, “What did the Vaishnav tell you?” “Nothing,” I replied.

The next day, I confessed to the Vaishnav: “I cannot draw your Gopala.  Where can I get that hue which you showed me last night?”

He stared at me, wide-eyed “Babu, what did I show you?” he asked.

“Why, last night did you not say while dancing, ‘Babu, did you see?’” I clarified.

“I had said nothing, Babu,” asserted the surprised Vaishnav.  “I don’t remember having said anything!”

When I described to him what I had seen, he bowed down to his God in all gratitude and humility.

Dear Reader, how did the Vaishnav know at night that I had seen those hands and the flute?  It is something to ponder over–is it not?

—Translation from:
Purono Katha by Sri Charu Chandra Datta, a prominent member of the Indian Civil Service who secretly helped the revolutionary freedom fighters.

(Courtesy – The Heritage)