Paintings of the Floating Desert
FROM my earliest days I was interested in the stories of my home, my family, my people of Jhalavad, its villages, towns and its wonderful floating desert the RANN. For eight months the Rann is a flat land of simmering white salt, of mirages upon which dust devils glide. For the remaining four months it is a shallow sea, home to the pink flamingo and to creatures of the sea, where lean fisher folk ply their flat bottom boats. Its unique denizens—wild onagers, antelopes, reptiles, and birds—bring an uncommon vigor to the earth and sky.
These paintings illustrate local stories of this land and are of many kinds. I received them first as bedtime stories from childhood nurses. Later the Charan poets and other storytellers enriched me as did stories that come from our royal Vahivancha genealogists, keepers of clan and lineage history. Later still scholarly historical writings in many languages over nine hundre years matured my understanding, as did seeing warrior stone inscriptions scattered over the arid lands.
The folktales of the travelling singing bards, the Raval and Turis, and the songs of the Muslim Mir and Langhas singers of the royal courts, along with Brahman priestly sermons and stories of our epics added to this womb of narrative. Finally it was from sitting with the peasant farmers and cattle keepers in the village squares, late into the night with a majesty of stars overhead, that I enjoyed the energetic rural theater of the Bhavai, that gave humor, joy and wisdom to those gathered.
These paintings are of the corpus of Jhalavadi stories and are about the lives of my ancestors, the royal kings and queens of the Jhallesvar, Maharajas of the kingdom of Halvad- Dhrangadhra. The kingdom existed from 1093 A.D. to 1947 when all the Jhala kings voluntarily merged their kingdoms with the new independent sovereign Republic of India and ceased to exist as political entities, but there remains to this day in the vibrant region of Jhalavad a lively tradition that values these stories.
The royal tales and other folktales are sung in homes, in village and palace, and plays are performed in village squares. Written in texts, stories are housed in archives and find place in newspaper articles and are painted on paper and on walls to serve as cultural markers and to supply an especial historical identity to the present residents of Jhalavad.
After the earthquake of 2001 I started making line and ink sketches to capture events from stories I had heard or read. These sketches were developed further by my daughter Maharajkumari Liluye Jhala and others by taking elements from the miniature painting traditions of northern India and digitally creating new compositions.
These digital pictures, as well as my raw crude sketches, served as a guide and prompt for the painter Vijay Chauhan to create the present collection of works. They resemble and draw from the miniature painting styles and other visual traditions of Western India of the past six centuries.
Maya, that magical illusion, and Lila, that remarkable play, inform the vitality of Rajput life and the philosophy of Rajputai and influence identity and behavior, making coherent these inspired paintings. They speak of love, sacrifice, devotion, honor, valor, duty, renunciation, and joy and give me both meaning and pleasure in remembrance
I offer these paintings made with love and joy, for the pleasure of all Jhalavadis who now live in many parts of India and in the many countries of the world.