'(The Blog) With No Name', perhaps best described as a stream of notes and thoughts - 'remembered, recovered and (sometimes) invented'.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Visapur And Ravi Varma

We leave Pune early and reach Malavli station (near Lonavla) by train around 8 am. Just over an hour's walk from here (past Bhaja caves) is where the trail to hill fort of Visapur branches off from the main pathway to Lohgad. The latter is a well-beaten and easy track but Visapur sees very few trekkers - part of the reason is that to reach the only entrance at the top, one has to do something approaching rock-climbing (albeit without special equipment) for nearly half an hour; and this climb is up a slender seasonal stream flowing down the hill-side. Mercifully, due to the rocks and boulders having got mysteriously arranged in a climber-friendly manner, the act is more of a strenous workout than a risky adventure.

The top of Visapur is an open laterite plateau with a thickly wooded knoll in the middle. There dont appear to be any shelter anywhere although part of the walls and bastions still stand. We see an annular disk of stone which, we are told, was used to mix the concrete for building the walls (the how of it is not clear to self); an image of Hanuman has been carved onto a stone wall - it is somewhat more than 'life-size' and painted a scarlet red that really jumps out of the black and dripping basalt around it. Much of the plateau is carpeted in seasonal greenery - with a generous sprinkling of tiny blue utricularia flowers (utricularia is a very short-lived insectivorous plant, wonder where its food supply comes from!).

Back in Malavli, we ask around for the litho-press, which Ravi Varma, the famous 19th century painter from Kerala had set up in this village(*). We are directed to a walled compound not far from the railway station - we are also told that the place has shut down 'long ago' and that nobody goes there. The place does not really look deserted; there seem to be some caretaker(s) who still stay(s) in the premises (none is readily visible though) and at the gates there is a board "No Entry. Beware of Fierce Dogs". The compound - it seems several acres in area - is thickly wooded so one can't make out much of the buildings in there. We are tempted to try and find the watchman and to buy our way in. But, we are also running out of time (it is well past midday and we are famished and need to get back to Pune) - so, we decide more details will have to wait for a future trip (and post).

* - Sometime in the 1890's, Ravi Varma and a European partner had set up a Lithographic press in Bombay to churn out affordable prints of his famous paintings; the venture closed down - the Firangi partner is often blamed for this failure. Then the artist moved the setup to Malavli ( the choice of the place seems very strange since it is remote and under-developed, even today), only to abandon it again sometime later - although not before "flooding the country with Calendar art", "making goddesses look very Maharashtrian" and "making the Sari fashionable" (although not the Marathi way of tying the Sari). I am told an art-house movie is being produced by noted director Shaji Karun on Ravi Varma's days in Bombay, the failure of his business and his relationship with a Marathi model - his muse in those troubled days.

Let me wind up with a quote from distant memories of a Hindi lesson we studied at school. It was an article by one Ramesh Sanzgiri (a very Marathi sounding name, that) on Ravi Varma: "When I was a little boy, there used to be a picture of Laxmi and another of Saraswati in our house, both by Ravi Varma. I used to think Laxmi resembled by aunt and Saraswati, my cousin sister. In those days Ravi Varma was very famous - he was as well-known then all over the country as, say, Lata Mangeshkar is today."


  • At 10:47 AM, Blogger Anand said…

    ...makes me want to come down and hike in the ghats...ravi verma trivia is really nice...

  • At 11:04 PM, Blogger R.Nandakumar said…

    thanks anand for visiting.

    the ghats are always there to be hiked but the greenery is all too seasonal; another 4-6 weeks and it will have gone :(

    aside: and i wonder how the northern indian spelling 'vErma' came about. in kerala and andhra, it is always 'vArma', which is in some sense 'correcter'. ravi varma himself never used the northern spelling - although in strictly keralan style he should have written his name as one word: 'ravivarma'

  • At 6:43 AM, Blogger kolhatkar said…

    I know about this printing press and have seen its ruins. Till as late as the 1970's there was someone with a German connection who had some kind of ownership rights there and I recall a German female's name, Lotte Surinder Singh, in that connection. I am not quite certain about the 'Surinder Singh' part but 'Lotte' was surely there. This is all from hazy memory and gossip.

    Arvind Kolhatkar, Toronto, September 17, 2008

  • At 2:02 AM, Blogger R. said…

    thanks kolhatkar for visiting and for the info. particularly intriguing is the persistent western connection - the commonly heard story is that ravi varma moved his setup to malavli to fully desify it.

    i myself have moved out of pune, although hopefully temporarily; so further investigations on the press have been postponed. let us see if the forthcoming film(s) on the artist say(s) something on these matters.

  • At 1:58 PM, Blogger alokgraphic said…

    Hi, I want to contact you..
    I am a research scholar from faculty of visual arts b.h.u. and i working research on lithography in india and raja ravi varma litho press in my synopsis.
    Please send me your email id.
    Your precious information on raja ravi verma is very important for my research


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