How a ‘Woman with a Lamp on Diwali’ became an iconic painting

This image of a woman holding a lamp is one of India’s most iconic paintings. But what makes it so special? Is the woman in the painting an important figure? Did the artist intend to communicate feminine values of 19th century India? What is the story behind it?

S.L Haldankar’s Glow of Hope is a painting that has been loved by generations. Visitors literally head to the Sri Jayachamarajendra Art Gallery just for a glimpse of this masterpiece alone.  The painting looks so real, that it is hard to believe it’s medium to be “watercolour” !!!

But it is the story behind the painting which makes it endearing:

70 years ago, on Diwali, a father spots his daughter (usually in a skirt-blouse) draped in a saree. She is holding up a lamp, and  gracefully protecting the flame from going out. It is that moment of adoration, that Haldankar captured beautifully on canvas…actually on handmade paper.

S.L Haldankar | Photo : DAG

This magnum-opus of Haldankar’s life was painted in 1945-46. This is a time when Indian artists tried to create realistic scenes and portraits, in a style that had come to be known as British Academic Style. It was known so, after the Royal Academy in London – who’s art techniques were adopted by teachers at the prominent JJ School of Art in Bombay. Haldankar was one of the last few academic realists.

But Who is the” Woman with the Lamp”?

Haldankar’s youngest daughter, Gita, the inspiration behind the painting was only 13 at the time. In a press interview, she recalled how she posed for 3 hours each day (for 3 days) for the painting. Little did she know then, that in being her father’s inspiration, she would be immortalised, going on to become an iconic work of art.

On the right, Gita Uplekar at 86.

In the painting, Gita meets the viewer’s gaze and stands as the ultimate picture of grace. Her illuminated face, and shadow at the back make this painting like “every Diwali picture ever” [and of course, gives us our very own Rose from Titanic]!!

The Woman with the Lamp : as a Masterpiece

Flawless in its execution, the painting is a testimony to Haldankar’s genius. S.L. Haldankar was accomplished in both the mediums – watercolour and oil. He chose the watercolor perhaps in order to showcase his mastery. The thing about oil based colours is, that you can correct mistakes by overlaying colours. However, watercolour as a medium doesn’t allow such liberties.  Believe it or not, but apparently an Italian encyclopaedia names Haldankar as one of the 3 finest watercolour-artists in the world! Here’s another sample of his work in the same medium:


“Glow of Hope” at the Sri Jayachamarajendra Art Gallery

A couple of years later, at an exhibition organised by the Mysore royals for Dussehra, the painting, also titled “Glow of Hope”,  won the first prize. Subsequently, the then rulers purchased the painting for 300 rupees and brought it to the Mysore Palace. It was  later shifted to the art gallery. Decades later, even at the offer of Rs. 8 crores, the museum refuses to part with this precious artwork.


At 102 years, Gita (Uplekar) died last month on 3rd October 2018; but then, she lives on forever as her father’s inspiration and as the “Lady with the Lamp”.

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