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A Goddess for Basant: YG Srimati’s Saraswati

It’s Basant Panchami!

We celebrate Basant Panchami and the onset of spring with a painting of the deity to whom the day is dedicated- Goddess Saraswati. As a symbol of wisdom and learning, this painting certainly captures that sentiment. While we were mostly familiar with the very Raja-Ravi-Varma and similar depictions of the Goddess, this one by artist Y.G Srimati came as a total surprise and quickly became a favourite!  

The Artist- YG Srimati

Like many of the women artists of 20th century India, Y.G Srimati’s story had largely remained ‘forgotten’ until The Met Museum hosted an exhibition of her works in 2016.

yg srimati paintings
Studio photograph (1952); The Met Museum

YG Srimati (1926-2007) was born in Mysore, and spent her formative years in Bangalore and Madras. She was trained in classical music and dance; her first dance performance was at the age of 7 – at a time when dance was only the purview of Devadasis.

She started painting in her early teens – this was a period marked by a heightened patriotic fervour and art reflected the nationalistic spirit of the people. Spearheading this trend in art was the Tagore family and consequently the ‘Bengal School’ (early art of Shantiniketan). Y.G Srimati believed in and wholeheartedly supported the idea of ‘reviving India’s past heritage to evoke a new identity’; her art therefore reflected mythological and classical scenes. Just as Ramgopal Vijaivargiya and Abdur Rahman Chughtai, she sought inspiration from ancient Indian literature, art and culture.

Looking at the painting ‘Saraswati’ by Y.G Srimati

While Y.G Srimati was greatly inspired by the aesthetic and beliefs of the Bengal school, she crafted her own identity and visual style . The Sinhalese Buddhist art murals at Sigiriya (which she visited as part of a family holiday) had a telling impact on her style as did the murals of Ajanta.

The “Saraswati” painting is said to have been created in 1947-48.

Look how closely another artwork of hers resembles the composition of one at Ajanta!

In the 1959-60, Y.G Srimati’s close friend, the dance superstar Ram Gopal (they had studied dance together) invited her to the UK where she exhibited her art, and performed as a singer numerous times in the course of a year.

Y.G Srimati subsequently moved to the U.S and truly took Indian culture to the world – today her artworks are part of prominent collections such as the Smithsonian, The Met, and Library of Congress. Even then, she remains “unknown” to the average Indian.

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