Holi is one of the most widely celebrated festivals of India. A celebration of spring and colours, it is also associated with the ‘triumph of good over evil’ message that most festivals convey. According to ancient Indian beliefs, Holi might have been associated with the festival of Kama; another story associates Lord Krishna with Holi recounting his prank on Radha and the gopis – the one in which is tries to colour her so he wouldn’t feel awkward about being dark-complexioned. For years, royals have tried to match up to Krishna’s level of fun – many of these reflected in Whichever Holi story you might prefer, the underlying hallmark of the festival is love.
Moving beyond the history of Holi, we take a look at how the festival has been interpreted by India’s most well-known modern painters:
Holi by Jamini Roy
Honoured by the Indian Government as a National Treasure Artist, Jamini Roy hailed from Bishnupur (Bengal). His distinctive art is inspired by the Patua artists and is deeply rooted in the traditions of Bengal. In this painting, you see a recurring theme in his paintings – Krishna with the Gopis; as well as the alpana-pattern-inspired motifs that fill the space and lend a vibrancy to the artwork. Take a look at Jamini Roy’s art (+ a free downloadable art sheet)
Holi by Chughtai
This absolutely gorgeous and sensuous rendition of Krishna and Radha playing Holi is part of the NGMA (National Gallery of Modern Art) collection.
Abdur Rahman Chughtai was a painter known for merging the Mughal art traditions with art nouveau and the Japanese wash technique to create his own unique style. In this painting too – you can see his mix of mughal-oriental styles in his graceful elongated human figures. Chughtai’s art is known to bring Hindu mythological subjects together with Islamic art traditions. One of the most important 20th century painters from South Asia, he was widely important to both India and Pakistan. Take a look at the Muraqqa where he illustrated Ghalib’s poems. It was considered to be a breakthrough in publishing during it’s time.
‘The Progressives’ too have their versions of Holi:
The Progressive group founded in the year 1947 completely transformed the modern art scene in India. Some of it’s key members were Husain, Raza, K.H Ara, F.N Souza, with artists such as Tyeb Mehta, Ram Kumar V.S Gaitonde joining in as well.
Holi by M.F Husain
Born in Maharashtra’s Pandharpur district, Husain journeyed from painting billboards to becoming one of the country’s most famous artists (controversial too). He painted a range of subjects – mythological, political, festivals and was most well-known for his depiction of Horses! He was inspired by the sculptures of Khajuraho and bronzes of the Chola period; loved the bright colours of Pahari miniatures (especially the Basohli ones) – his art was a reflection of his love for India.
Holi by S.H Raza
Raza is one of India’s most celebrated artists – known for his geometric abstract art. He delved deep into Indian vedic philosophy – and his art is considered to be rooted in spiritual ideas. Through his inspiring, colourful geometric art, he integrates elements of his childhood and Indian cultural heritage forming a unique style. Raza once said that he has never “worked” but meditated – his art is a true reflection of the same. Perhaps in this painting of Holi, he evokes the Bindu (source of life) – Black being the mother colour from which all other colours are derived.
Holi by K.H Ara
A self taught artist, Ara is most known for his depiction of the female-body. This painting depicting Holi is part of the Air India collection.