Some partnerships are meant to be; art historians BN Goswamy and Karuna Goswamy are one such couple. While Covid took Karuna away, she will always be a pillar of strength for her husband. On Sunday, at a Government Museum and Art Gallery and Chandigarh Lalit Kala Akademi event, when Professor BN Goswamy gave an audio visual-presentation, there was an empty chair, “Karuna is here, but not speaking,” BN Goswamy said.

The presentation was on the recent book A Sacred Journey: The Kedara Kalpa series of Pahari paintings & the painter Purkhu of Kangra by him and Professor Karuna Goswamy.

While the painting with five pilgrims evinced interest and were speculated to be that of Pandavas or from Ramayana or Bhagwat Purana, BN Goswamy calls it a sthala purana to Kedarnath. “A sthala purana is about a place—a pilgrimage; what it entails and what it leads to,” shares BN Goswamy.

A mystical tale, some 33 paintings that were scattered the world over are brought together in an allegory representing a pilgrimage. “We ascribe it to a Pahari painter Purkhu. While there is not enough evidence, by the style these appear to be made between 1815 and1820,” says BN Goswamy. Purkhu did a lot of work for Maharaja of Kangra, Sansar Chand. Goswamy shares, “It seems like a Himachali princess who married the King of Garhwal commissioned these paintings to Purkhu, the painter was from her mayka—Kangra. These paintings are in two series—done within five years of each other.”

The paintings, which have five travelers walking barefoot through icy mountains and deep ravines, rivers and rocks, are about an intriguing journey. The book, for which research was done by Karuna Goswamy, was left unfinished, but BN Goswamy finished and launched it in Switzerland in early October. It is distributed by Niyogi Books in India. “Karuna was way more adventurous than me in research. She put the work together but before she could finish the work, she was gone, so I decided to complete it,” he says.

These paintings, provoking and intriguing both scholars and collectors, were ascribed to a little known Shaiva text. “Apart from the one sizeable group belonging to the small series, which is now in the National Museum in New Delhi, the paintings have been scattered —some are now in museums—at Philadelphia, Boston, Richmond, Berlin, Baltimore, Los Angeles, San Diego, Hyderabad, Kolkata; while others are with private collectors and art-lovers. We have paintings from all over put together here. Each of these works intrigues and informs, and in some ways expands our awareness, for nothing quite like these do we see elsewhere in the range of Indian paintings. There is something here for everyone to save for sure,” BN Goswamy adds.

Apart from scholars and friends all over the world, who helped them put this book together, Goswamy’s A Sacred Journey is dedicated to their children— Apurva and Malavika. — Mona

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