Around the year 1740, a painter from the hills of Guler (Himachal Pradesh) created a painting featuring an “egg”. Today, this hologram-like artwork is heralded as one of the masterpieces of Indian art. And best part ? You don’t even have to venture somewhere far away abroad to see this iconic work! The painting is part of the collection at Bharat Kala Bhavan in Varanasi (a folio of the Bhagavata Purana series).
In January 2019, an egg broke the internet to become the “most-liked” picture on Instagram, with an aim to raise awareness about mental health. The painting by Manaku too, depicts a complex theme.
The Hiranyagarbha (Golden Egg) by Manaku is an interpretation of an ancient story. Let’s dive in :
The story of creation has fascinated generations around the world. According to the Matsya-purana (a Hindu scripture), after the great dissolution of the universe, the SWAYAMBHU (the self manifested being), arose. It created the primordial waters first and placed the seed of creation into it, which turned into a golden womb, the Hiranyagarbha. The Golden Egg or Hiranyagarbha floated around in the ocean of non-existence till it broke into two and that is how Life began.
Can you imagine visually communicating a story such as this ?
But what makes this Egg by Manaku a masterpiece?
The answer lies in the way Manaku executed this artwork. In April 2018, The Heritage Lab worked with the acclaimed scholar, Prof. B.N Goswamy on his book ‘Readings in Indian Art’ (published by the Oxford University Press). During the event, he revealed a unique feature of this painting.
When laid flat, the egg in the painting appears brown; once it is held in hand to be viewed, it gleams golden.
Doesn’t it sound a lot like one of those holograms you might have played with as kids? The only difference is that this 3-d effect was created more than 200 years ago – by hand!
Manaku created the perfect balance between the swirls of the ocean in the background (movement) and the stillness of the perfectly oval Golden Egg in the foreground.
Who was Manaku?
Manaku, the older brother of celebrated painter Nainsukh, hailed from a small town (Guler) in the hills of northern India. His series of paintings on Gita Govinda (by Jayadeva) and the Bhagvata Purana are examples of his precise workmanship and treatment of various scenes. The two brothers’ contribution towards Pahari art remains unparalleled.
Take a look at this portrait of Manaku painted by his brother, Nainsukh [part of the Govt. Museum & Art Gallery Chandigarh collection]