Republic of Art: The Constitution as an Illustrated History of India

The Constitution of India is a fascinating piece of art. What other book can guide your present and ensure your future while constantly acknowledging the past? Let us decode that a bit : we all know the Constitution to be a document that protects our rights as citizens; but what we don’t know is that each part of the Constitution begins with art that traces our 5000-year old history. 

The intricate gold pattern on the front and back cover itself borrow from the famous Ajanta murals.

cover of the Constitution of India
Cover of the Constitution of India inspired by the Ajanta Murals

It took 5 years to create this elaborate piece of art. The calligraphy of this handwritten-handmade book is credited to Prem Behari Narain Raizada, illuminated in miniature style by Nandalal Bose and his students from Shantiniketan.

Can you spot the signature of Prem Behari Narain Raizada and another by one of the women artists who assisted Bose ? Numerous other pages were also beautified by Beohar Rammanohar Sinha who signed either as “Ram” or “Rammanohar”. He significantly contributed to the execution of line-drawings and gold-works that bear Nandalal Bose’s signature “Nand”.

Images from the Constitution of India

The first part starts with a popular Indus Valley seal-mark, the bull.  The rarity of this zebu motif seal has continued to puzzle historians because the humped bull is a recurring theme in many of the ritual and decorative arts of the Indus region, appearing on painted pottery and as figurines long before the rise of cities and continuing on into later historical times. The zebu-bull may symbolize the leader of the herd, whose strength and virility protects the herd and ensures the procreation of the species or it stands for a sacrificial animal. When carved in stone, the zebu bull represents the most powerful clan or top officials of Mohenjo-daro and Harappa.

A majestic zebu bull, with its heavy dewlap and wide curving horns - illustration of a seal from the Indus Valley Civilization
The majestic zebu bull, with its heavy dewlap and wide curving horns is perhaps the most impressive motif found on the Indus seals. Generally carved on large seals with relatively short inscriptions, the zebu motif is found almost exclusively at the largest cities of Mohenjo-daro and Harappa.

The part on citizenship is represented by India’s Vedic Age. This was a time when the worship of personified powers (Agni, Indra, Surya, etc.) was common practice and there was hardly any artistic rendition of these. Most sacred rituals and practices were only known to Brahmans and handed down orally to pupils.

The Gurukul / Hermitage School

This was also the time known for the popular epics Ramayana and Mahabharata.

Interestingly, this image of Ram was used for a verdict (Ram Janmbhoomi dispute) and the court thus declared Ram to be a constitutional entity.

You can’t miss the depictions alongside their titles. The part on Fundamental Rights has been depicted by an illustration of Rama, Lakshman, Sita and State Policy begins with the iconic scene of Arjun and Krishna’s conversation before the war in the Mahabharata.

Before the battle : Arjun and Krishna

The image of Buddha’s Enlightenment is lent to the part on rules related to the President and Vice President . This was a time where the term ‘enlightenment’ could also be understood as the awakening of the human race from innocence to consciousness.

The Awakening / Enlightenment

By the 8th century, spiritual and philosophical speculation had advanced and were more Kshatriya in their origin than Brahman. So this was a period of huge change in society. Mahavira consequently dominates the page after.

Mahavira

The Gupta period was the Golden Age of India – the combination of brilliant intellectual and spiritual development was also characterised by great art and literature. The paintings of Ajanta, the texts of Kalidasa, the mathematical genius of Aryabhatta – it was all part of the Gupta period. At that time, India was contributing to 25% of the World GDP, and held on to the No.1 position for 1000 years. The Gupta Rule manifests itself in this artwork representing the Nalanda University (established at that time) where the intermingling of cultures was common.

At Nalanda, students came from far and wide though only upper-class boys could be educated as well as daughters of teachers

The transition phase from Ancient to Early Medieval times was marked by some great art again, especially in the South. This is depicted through a render of Arjuna’s Penance (from Mahabalipuram) and a Nataraja Chola Bronze on different pages. We love these two depictions for their symbology and the unparalleled process of creation.

The Chola Bronze Nataraja was created as per the instructions of the Shilp Shastras (Craft Manual)
Arjuna’s Penance at Mahabalipuram

The next few pages illustrate all that we seemingly remember of our history  : A scene from Akbar’s court depicting Mughal rule (known for pioneering art and architecture) which eventually leads to the the Maratha and Sikh renders of Shivaji and Guru Gobind Singh.

Akbar’s Court.

Shivaji and the Sikh regime eventually weakened Mughal rule and European trade gave way to what we know as Imperial rule.

Shivaji and Guru Gobind Singh

The Freedom Struggle is depicted by a series of heroes starting with Rani Lakshmibai and Tipu Sultan to Gandhi’s Dandi March and also takes into account his tour of Noakhali as the great peacemaker.

The Salt March
The tour of Noakhali

Subhash Chandra Bose also has an artwork dedicated to him (image at the beginning of the post).

Fun Facts about the Constitution of India:

  • Our Constitution is the world’s longest at 90,000 words, is written in both Hindi and English and is also the ONLY one to have images.
  • It is signed by the framers of the constitution, most of whom are regarded as the founders of the Republic of India.

The original copy of the book is kept in a special helium-filled case in the Parliament Museum. You can access a copy of the Constitution here.

Browse through / Share  our Republic Day Series: 

The First Republic Day of India + Bonus Download 

Nandalal Bose : The Man who Illustrated the Constitution (Activity Sheet included)

Republic Day Tableaus: A Quick Guide to India’s Heritage

5 Women Artists who illustrated the Constitution of India


A detailed version of this post also appears on the Quest for Equity website, which is an initiative of the Indian National Congress.

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