“The art of a people is a true mirror to their minds”: Jawaharlal Nehru
While talking of art and culture of Punjab it is often said, though wrongly, that the state has only one culture; agriculture. It is another story that the state, of late, has been losing in the field of agriculture also.
On a closer look at the cultural side of the State one confronts a very gloomy picture. May be because art and culture has always been at the lowest foot of governmental priorities.
Before the unfortunate divide of India in 1947, the state of Punjab used to have a very pulsating artistic environment. Lahore used to be the hub of most of the states’ vibrant cultural activities. The unfortunate partition not only triggered the displacement of a massive number of families, on both its sides, but also caused a loss of huge number of lives and properties. Most importantly it damaged, beyond repair, a valuable artistic atmosphere that prevailed all over the region.
For instance, established in 1875 both the Lahore Museum and the Mayo School of Industrial Arts, (now known as National College of Art, Lahore), had played a significant role in developing a rich artistic environment.
Apart from Bhai Ram Singh, who served as the first Indian Principal of the Mayo School, there were also luminaries as BC Sanyal, Dhanraj Bhagat, S.L Prashar, Munshi Miran Bakash and Abdur Rahaman Chughtai on its teaching faculty.
Alas, both of these two institutions, which incidentally were designed by Bhai Ram Singh, too had to be divided into two.
How a wide range of rich collection, comprising sculptures, paintings, manuscripts and books of these great art institutions, would have been divided equally between India and the newly created Pakistan, is much beyond one’s apprehension. But, sadly enough, it did happen!
Since our side of Punjab then had chosen Simla (now Shimla) as its temporary capital, the school of art, renamed as Punjab School of Arts and Crafts, started functioning from there in 1951. While S.L Prashar became the first Principal at the Simla School, he appointed Satish Gujral also as one of its faculty members. And our share of the Museum collection was shifted to Patiala.
Soon after the birth of Chandigarh, which was coming up fast as the new capital of Punjab, thanks to a great visionary Nehru, the School of Art was brought here from Simla in 1962. Also the museum collection was brought here from Patiala and housed temporarily in the art school premise itself. For, the museum building came up and started functioning much later in the year 1968.
In 1964 the state of Punjab suffered a second partition and made the state lose its ownership to its newly built capital. Funnily enough the half-hearted demands for its inclusion in Punjab have been popping up, now for more than half a century, only during every election time.
Strangely enough a seemingly insensitive towards its art heritage the Punjab State government gave to the newly created Union Territory not only the control of the Chandigarh region, but also an unethical administrative hold over both these prominent art institutions, the art school and the museum.
It is another story that the babu-dominated Chandigarh Administration has been running both these institutions with an unprofessional approach. For, both these institutions are being headed by bureaucratic babus since ages.
And the sad state of the Punjab Art Council, which runs three Akademies; Lalit Kala, Sangeet and Naatak and Sahitya, being always been short of funds and run on non-artistic political whims, is too well known to talk about.
Of course the setting of sensible agendas for economic, agricultural and scientific growth and road-mapping of creating institutions like the PGI and IITs is very much required for a better development of the currently ailing Punjab state.
However, without putting sincere efforts to let healthy and free growth of an artistic and cultural environment, all other developments would perhaps be soulless and deadly materialistic.
Thus it is imperative for any government that next occupies the saddle of the Punjab’s power-horse to have a serious view of the artistic and cultural sides by raising basic, if not world class, infrastructure that currently is totally missing.
It is high time the derogatory tag of Punjab having only agriculture as its culture or of having only a balle-balle culture of Patiala-pegs and tandoori-murgaas, removed. Better sooner than later!
The creation of art schools, theatres, museums and art/exhibition galleries would not only be embellishments to the overall growth of the State, they would bring in a much required spiritually satisfying social vibrancy!
Nourishing a scientific temper, as Nehru had rightly envisaged, is not wrong. But strict sciences without artistic refinement would perhaps lead one to nowhere.
“Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men”: Martin Luther King Jr#(Published on 27th March 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 13)