Published in Roopa Lekha, Vol 1&2, 1978-79, pp. 7-10
Sarada Charan Ukil was born at Bikrampur, on the banks of Padma, in district of Dacca in East Bengal, now Bangladesh. He was the eldest of three brothers: second was Barada who was one of the founders of the All India Fine Arts & Crafts Society and later on became its chairman. The third and youngest was Ranada who painted the famous murals in India House, London, along with Lalit Mohan Sen, Dhirendra Krishna Dev Burman and Sukumar Bose.
Sarada received his education in art from Calcutta School of Art and was inspired by the paintings of Abanindranath Tagore. Like Asit Kumar Haldar and Nandalal Bose, Sarada is one of the pioneers of Bengal School of Painting. In 1920, Sarada Ukil shifted to New Delhi. In 1927, along with his brothers Barada and Ranada he founded the Ukil School of Art in Connaught Place, New Delhi, in a hired building. He also founded the All India Fine Arts and Crafts Society. Organization of an annual art exhibition in 1930 was his next venture. This art exhibition which is a landmark in the history of promotion of art in New Delhi was opened by the Viceroy Lord Willingdon and was patronized by the Chief Commissioner, Sir John Thompson. It was a major venture in popularising art and 1500 works by over 400 artists from all over India were displayed. This exhibition was a great success and it also provided publicity for the works of Sarada.
Subsequently, his paintings were displayed at the Indian Art Exhibitions held in London in 1932,1933 and 1935 at India House under the auspices of the India Society. Dr. J.H. Cousins exhibited his works in Paris, Geneva, The Hague, Dublin and in the U.S.A at many places from New York to Santa Barbara. It was Dr. Cousins’ appreciation of his work which provided stimulus and encouragement to the young Sarada Ukil. Real test of true appreciation of art is in purchase of artworks. To show his appreciation in a practical manner Dr Cousins purchased some of his paintings for the art galleries at Mysore and Trivandrum.
Sarada was a prolific painter and painted over thousand paintings and line sketches. It is reported that on one occasion he worked continuously for thirty- six hours, squatting on the floor. His last great work was a series of paintings of 31 panels on Krishna legend for Sri Gopalji Temple, Bilaspur, now in Himachal Pradesh. While he was working on these paintings he suffered from lead poisoning. The doctors decided to amputate his right hand. As he lay dying at a Delhi hospital he requested that he be taken back to his studio. His wish was respected. He died on 21st July, 1940, in his art gallery in New Delhi surrounded by his friends and family members.
The Krishna legend provided interesting themes to the artists of the Rajasthani and Pahari Schools of painting. In fact, the finest of these paintings depict anecdotes from the Bhagvata Purana which relate to the birth of Krishna at Mathura, and his childhood at Gokul and Vrindavana. Following this tradition, Sarada Charan Ukil also painted 30 pencil drawings. Four of these pencil drawings were reproduced in the Roopa-Lekha Vol.II, No.4. 1943, Sarada Ukil Number, in an article by Dr.Surendra Nath Sen entitled ‘Sarada Ukil and his art’.
I purchased all the pencil drawings from Barada Ukil in 1947, for Rs.6000/-. For a number of years they were on loan with St. Stephens College, Delhi, as the All India Fine Arts and Crafts Society had no building of their own where they could be displayed. In1956, they were recovered from St. Stephens College and brought to All India Fine Arts and Crafts Society. Out of these, fifteen pencil drawings were purchased for the Chandigarh Museum in 1967. The remaining fifteen are still with the All India Arts and Crafts Society. It is these pencil drawings which are subject- matter of this article. I reproduce six, which are the best to communicate to the viewer the excellence of Sarada’s art.
The adventures of young Krishna are well known. When he was an infant, Kansa sent an ogress Putana to poison him. Putana appeared in the guise of a beautiful woman and offered him her poison coated breast. Infant Krishna sucked her life, and she fell dead. (Infant Krishna Slaying Putana)
Krishna grew up into a naughty boy and played among the cows. He often sucked milk from the udder of a cow. Sarada brought a certain charm to his drawings by adding simple details such as the cow looking back at infant Krishna with a feeling of love. (Krishna sucking milk of a cow)
Krishna used to graze the cows in the jungle and in the evening the calves followed him home. The calves are all looking at Krishna with a feeling of love (Krishna bringing the cattle home)
There was once a dreadful pool in the Jamuna inhabited by a poisonous black snake with a thousand hoods, the Kaliya Nag. Kaliya Nag became a menace to the villagers and they prayed to Krishna for deliverance. Krishna jumped into the pool and subdued the serpent. Sarada represents this by portraying Krishna dancing on the hood of the serpent. (Krishna subduing Kaliya Naga)
Krishna often played pranks with the cowherds and cow- herdesses, the gopis. One day the gopis removed their clothes and started bathing in the Jamuna naked. Spying the scene Krishna stole their clothes and hid them in the crown of a Kadamba tree. Sarada’s ‘Krishna stealing the clothes of Gopis’ shows Krishna fluting and enjoying the plight of the gopis who are hiding their nakedness in water. It is a charming sketch in which we see the beauty of fluid line of which Sarada was a master.
On the night of the full moon in the month of October, Krishna saw in the clear sky the stars sprinkled and the moonlight spreading its magical charm. He went to the forest and played the flute. All the Vraja girls were greatly agitated on hearing the sound of the flute. They joined Krishna and began to dance with him. They formed a circle with Krishna in the centre. Krishna looked like the moon surrounded by stars. Sarada Ukil has provided a charming version of the Rasa dance in which one can feel the rhythm of the dance as well as the feminine charm. (Krishna playing with gopis)
Sarada Ukil’s style and compositions are indicative of a gentle and romantic temperament. His drawings have rhythmic beauty. In them we feel the beauty of the graceful women of Bengal. For their delicacy and softness these drawings have a special place in the art of India.
Published in Roopa Lekha, Vol 1&2, 1978-79, pp. 7-10