We grew up learning that it was revolts, marches and protests that were an integral part of India’s freedom struggle. However, much of the resistance and revolution began with the creative productions of music, dance and painting. Art has been a powerful tool of dissent and revolution. Many musicians, painters and dancers have used their art to vocalize colonial India and its struggles, injustices and despairs.
We bring many of those hidden and unrecognized artists from colonial India and their patriotic art, which spoke loud and clear about patriotic and nationalist feelings, uniting everyone.
Singing the Home Blues: Musicians from Colonial India
In the 19th century, Indians wanted to identify symbols of cultural identity in the face of growing cultural awareness. This is where ‘Hindustani Music’ has ventured. Musician Vishnu Digambar Paluskar in the same way VN Bhatkhande founded the Akhil Bharatiya Gandharva Mahavidyalaya in 1901, which marked a turning point in the modern era of Hindustani classical music. Atul Prasad Sen was a Bengali musician and composer who contributed immensely to the field of Bengali music. He participated in the work of ‘Harijan Uddhav’ promoted by Gandhi. His patriotic plays, “hao dharmete dhir, hao karmete bir” (be a hero of religion, be a hero of action) and “utha go bharat laksmi” (wake up, India), are worth mentioning. Dwijendra Lal Roy, another musician and poet, envisioned a new India strong in values, culture and economy. He wrote songs with the same ideas, which harnessed the patriotic spirit of Bengal. Rajanikanta Sen was another musician who contributed to Bengali music. During the partition of Bengal, when the Bengali rulers boycotted British goods and products and only bought/sold Indian-made clothes, he wrote the following lines: “My brothers, please accept the coarse clothes offered by your mother . Like that’s all your poor mother (nation) can afford. The song became popular throughout the state of Bengal and boosted the Swadeshi movement.
Kavi Pradip is best known for his patriotic song, “Ae Mere Watan Ke Logo”. Another of his most beloved patriotic songs was “Ek Naya Sansar Basalen”, which was also featured in the 1941 film, “Naya Sansar”. The song became the resounding call for an independent India. Dilip Kumar’s moving interpretation of Vande Mataram with Bharat Ratna MS Subbulakshmi in the 1930s captivated the masses and freedom fighters. Some of his other compositions include Bharat Amar Bharat Amar, Amar Moloyo Batashe and Banga Amar Janani Amar which were important inspirational pieces in India’s freedom struggle.
The Canvas and Sculptors of India’s Freedom Struggle
Ramkinkar Baijoften when he returned home, drew paintings of the freedom fighters he saw there. Devi Prasad Roy Choudhary was an Indian sculptor from Bengal, known for his sculptures inspired by the Indian freedom struggle. He froze and immortalized some of the key moments in Indian history. At the Shahid Samarak (Martyrs Memorial) in Patna, one can find Roy Chowdhury’s sculpture of the students who lost their lives during the Indian freedom struggle. The ‘Gyarah Murti’ in Delhi is a tribute to Gandhi and his ideals of non-violence.
Prodoch Das Gupta form the Calcutta Group, which believes in an art that is universal and free from old values. The authenticity of Indian culture and Indian philosophy deeply inspired him, and together with the Calcutta group, he incorporated this very fabric of India into his sculptors and other artistic creations. Gopal Ghose, under the direction of Prodosh Gupta, has also created art, inspired and rooted in Indian aesthetics and philosophy. During the 1940s, the artist transformed his style of art a bit and made sketches of the infamous 1943 man-made famine in Bengal.
Nirode Mazumdar led the modernist art movement in the 1940s. He created a series of paintings inspired by widespread famine, one of which was titled ‘Anath’ (1944), which depicted homeless and starving children. Paritosh Sen found his creative energies inspired by memories of a past world and attempts to understand the present. Besides the paintings, his caricatures reflected strong underlying socio-political nuances. Somnath Hore was a sculptor and engraver, born in 1921. The subject of his art was dominated by the sufferings of man. He covered at length the horrific aftermath of the 1943 famine, World War II and the Japanese bombings of Bengal. Crying mothers, starving children, dead animals, lonely village streets, etc., were brought to light in his socially realistic paintings of pre-partition India. Chittaprosod BhattacharyaHis best work was his visual reporting of the Bengal famine in 1943-1944. He documented the British-imposed famine through sketches, texts, and linocuts. This revolutionary popular art was a means of mobilizing the masses.
Asit Kumar Haldar was the great-nephew of Rabindranath Tagore. He belonged to the first generation of painters and sculptors of the neo-Bengal school of art. He brought the rich cultural heritage of India in his paintings. Haldar painted a whole series of 32 paintings based on the Buddha. A collection of episodes from the history of India on thirty canvases, illustrations of the verses of Omar Khayyam, interpretations of the Mahabharata stories, etc. became a subject of his paintings.
Benode Behari MukherjeeThe popular creation of was the mural titled Medieval Saints, which he painted on the walls of Hindi Bhavana in Shantiniketan on the eve of India’s independence from colonial rule. The mural traced the history of medieval India through the lives of Tulsi Das, Kabir and others, and emphasized their human teachings. NS Bendre covered landscapes and figurative paintings, but also explored myriad ways of combining the cubist, expressionist and abstract genres of Western modernism in his own work stemming from Indian formalism. One of his Quit India movement maidan paintings captured the intensity of India’s struggle for freedom and unity.
Sunayani Devi has been unjustly dismissed from the history of Indian painters. She was the younger sister of Abanindranath Tagore and Gaganendranath Tagore. She was a self-taught artist, often found spying on her brothers and learned by watching them. His art subject surrounded women at their toilette, dolls, players, actors and themes from the mythical Radha-Krishna cycle. She was an important member of the art of the Swadeshi movement which brought to light Indian painting styles such as Mughal miniatures and ancient Jain paintings.
Mukul Dey is the pioneer of drypoint engraving. He traveled West to study printmaking art and techniques. When he returned to India, Dey had a large number of new Western techniques. Armed with this knowledge, Dey modernized Indian art and its rich artistic heritage to benefit the rise of the Swadeshi movement in the country. He devoted his life to the artistic revival of Indian art. Kalipada Goshal was also one of the Swedish painters. He was the last successor of Abanindranath Tagore. As a noted student of the Indian Society of Oriental Art, Kalipada Ghosh produced some of the finest and most intricate paintings of his time. Some of his most important works are Shakuntala, Persian Night, Hara Parvati, Budha and Rahul, Krishna series, Buddha series, etc.
The Swadeshi painters rejected Western art forms, and by reviving the mythological and pre-colonial tales of India through art, they aimed to decolonize India from the grip of the British Raj.
Dance the beat for a free India
Dancer Jog SunderThe erased dance productions of him made him very popular. During the pre-independence period, Yog was a regular participant in nationalist movements. He has produced and directed many acclaimed dance productions. Collaborating and associating with other dancers and actresses, he founded the Indian Progressive Ballet Group in Calcutta in 1947. The group impressed everyone with the production of their renowned programs. Prominent among them are Birth of Freedom, Freedom Festival, Mahabharata, Voice from Beyond, Dances of India, Rhythms of India, Kiratarjun, Chandalika, Call of the Country, Rhythms and Melody, Ramlila, The Lore of India, etc.
YG Srimati was not only a dancer, but alongside that, a musician and a painter. She was born in 1926, and from an early age she had begun her classical training in music, dance and painting. After 1847, Srimati was invited to a number of independence rallies where she sang devotional songs. She had also sung bhajans alongside Gandhi at several of his gatherings. She did so in different languages to emphasize the cultural and patriotic unity among the citizens of India, a value that Mahatma Gandhi deeply preached. His paintings are the result of the influence of the passionate struggle for independence. She had explored major themes surrounding Indian religious epic literature and rural culture as a conscious expression of nationalist sentiments. His paintings have also been exhibited at the MET.
Art and its expressions played a huge role in promoting patriotic feelings during India’s freedom struggle. Pre-independent Indian painters, musicians and dancers added more density to the movement and were equal participants in the struggle against colonial rule.