It was in 1988, during my trip to attend a job interview, that I first saw these sculptures. Two tall and strong sculpture of yaksha and yakshi that intimidate any one who walk past it as guards of RBI in Delhi. Although Delhi was a strange place for me during those early days in Delhi, on my way back I could not stop getting down from bus at RBI to have a second look of these sculptures.
Later on I learned from Lalit kala academe library that these sculpture of yaksha and yakshi were drawn its inspiration from "Parkham yaksha" and "Besnagar yakshi". During those pre internet era, there were no other way a computer professional like me could have accessed that information. Years later, in my study of Indian sculptural traditions and sculptors, I revisited the aesthetic constructions of Ram Kinker Baij's art works and found out a new narrative for these two wonderful works: Yaksha -Yakshini, the journey of Sujata and an artist's love.
Besnagar yakshi Parkham yaksha Manibadhra
3rd - 1st century BC 3rd- 1st century BC
Besnagar Yakshi and Parkham Yaksha represents the early sculptural traditions of Indian art. One will certainly find the influences of early Greek/ Hellenistic sculptural traditions in these two sculpture from Mauryan empire times. It is said that, Carl Khandalawalla, an eminent art critic appointed by the RBI at the instance of JRD Tata, considered these two sculptures as inspiration for the yaksha and yakshi to be installed at RBI gate, as he thought they represent the Hindu mythical characters Kubera the guardian of wealth and his female counterpart of fertility.
If one look at these possible Mauryan sculptures, one would not miss the similarity exist in the style, posture, structure and their dress. Its Hellenistic influence can be identified from its resemblance to the Bharhut yavana relief sculpture dated circa 100 BCE. This sculpture of dwarapala is also assumed to be of the Menander, an Indo- Greek king.
The story of Ram Kinker Baij the artist with political leaning begins here. Although he in principle got the approval of his design in accordance to the curatorial vision of Carl, he drops the Besnagar yakshi and Parkham yaksha from his inspiration in his quest for form keeping the context of RBI the controller of money, the vision of progress, idea of guarding or guard and its politics.
He goes back to his Sujata, his sculpture of the important lady in Buddhist tradition, the one who gave milk to Buddha before his enlightenment, installed among Shanti niketan's woods. In this sculpture Ram Kinker gave a complete twist to her form. A tall beautiful lady, who almost looks like becoming the bodhi tree herself with an elite grace, something one would not see in his sculptures. Although the graceful Sujata walks with a pot on her head like the ladies we often encounter in Indian villages, Ram kinker changed her physical features to that of a tall lady of elite grace, whom a viewer always will have to look upto. It was almost as if Ram kinker was paying a tribute of reverence to Indian village lady's labour and Sujata's important position in Buddha's life in particular. One may also read it as his tribute to the Shanti Niketan's trees that gives the imputes for many creative activities. It is also important to note the placement of a Buddhist icon among a largely Hindu iconography lead Shantiniketan to understand the artist's love for Sujata, the Indian female and his political position.
After dropping Besnagar Yakshi, one of the rare yakshi sculptures who has a covered torso during the Mauryan period and Parkham Yaksh with the Greek Hellenistic sensibilities, he moved on with Sujata to Sanchi in search of his inspirational forms. Probably on two accounts he could have rejected those two sculptures and its aesthetics.
One, they have the western iconography that he would not prefer in a free India,
Two the capitalistic under current in the story of Yaksha and the reductionist patriarchal nature of male gaze in Besnagar Yakshi that consider her only as an operant of fertility and the associated sensuality.
Yakshi from Burhut, the expressions of sensuality
Coming back to our story, the tall slender Sujata camouflaged among other tall trees of Shanti niketan, but took Ram Kinker from there to the Mauryan times Sanchi stupa and the Temptations of Mara in particular that tells the story of the wicked king Mara, who tried to trick Buddha with his beautiful daughters and his army, to meet his yaksha and yakshi.
Temptations of Mara
Saanchi, 3rd to 1st bc
In this panel of Jataka tale, one will find the Sujata at the extreme right corner next to Bodhi tree, standing with her milk pot and fruit bowl, strangely nude!. Also notable in this panel is Mara and his seductive daughters remain body covered till waist!. The right side of the panel stands the army of Mara, the soldiers who supports or tries to facilitate the temptations to trick the holy buddha. Here Sujata introduces Ram Kinker his Yaksha. Look at the second sitting soldier, one will find the Yaksha there. Unlike Parkham yaksha, Ram kinker's yaksha is stout, powerful and an aboriginal, who only out of his loyalty to the wicked Mara, attempts to facilitates temptation or guards the temptation drama. Ram kinker found his Yaksha in those loyal aboriginal soldier who guards the seductive temptations but not unleash temptation himself or remain just labourer. Most notable in this panel is the physical features of Mara and his daughter, a perfect fit to the idealisation of beauty: the slender body of aryan, while the demon army is made of "fat" aboriginals/Dravida, a trait till today remains to be the representation of villainess in mainstream Indian visual culture.
Second important point is the similarity Sujata has in physical features with Mara's daughters. It was not acceptable to Ram kinker. Ram kinker wanted his sujata in spite of her nudity, not being naked like the seductive daughters of Mara or in other words her virtues of compassion and service had to surpass her nudity. He found his Yakshi in her; in his sujata. For him she represents the value of compassion, loyalty and service of Indian women. Since he could not find these virtues in Mara's daughters, he did not want any resemblance of them in Sujata. So he copied the Sujata in the same posture from panel with the expression of service, loyalty and compassion in her nudity but with the loyal soldier's physic. Sujata became the chauri bearing yakshi far away from elite aryan Besnagar yakashi.
The ten years evolution (delay) of these sculpture tells this romantic story, one that is evolved with Sujata. An intricate story of a politically left leaning artist, who had his intensive negotiation with his art and its form. A journey of love for identity and its politics. He tells us the story of an average guard in this country through Yaksha; an average aboriginal Indian of discriminated economic and cultural strata, the one who protects the temptations of this country (here for instance the money minting RBI) . Also this guard, even as he fights to protect or facilitate the temptation drama, he never becomes an element of that seductive trick himself. He looks stout as thug and still remain only a loyal soldier, one who is discriminated as ugly by the outsider-insider game of aryan- Dravida visual culture, the aesthetics of the society of economic affluence.
In his Yakshi, although he found the depiction of loyal agency of service in womanhood, but he brings in the grace of feminism by abolishing the construct of female form in elite visual culture and its male gaze. He construct her as stout, aboriginal counter part of yaksha in nude. Her existence, one that is on your face and as a provocative nudity of confident aboriginal female who's dominance in existence disturb the mainstream society. The nudity of Yakshi and its presence there in front of RBI went upto the level of a parliament discussion to decide the righteousness of her existence as a confident nude labourer, something that proved the merits of Ram Kinker's political construct of Yakshi, the marginalised female laborer's body politics. In his first Sujata, if she remains an aesthetically slender lady of elite grace for male gaze, his second Sujata, Yakshi becomes a powerful, confident, assertive on your face naked lady of eminence, who is not ashamed of her "Labour" status. Sujata becomes the lady, we often encounter in the fields of rural India or among factory labourers. Ram kinker's yakshi becomes the epitome of the aboriginal female labourer who fill the length and breadth of this country and still goes missing from main stream visual culture. Ram kinker, the left leaning artist immortalise her by placing at the most important sight of this country, where money is produced and maintained, one that defines the value of labour and its associated visual constructs. Most importantly they were built with constructivist style of art.
Sujata and Ram Kinker epitomises the love of every artist with his or her socio-political or cultural positions in life that determines one's art and its form. Ram Kinker Baij's Yaksha and Yakshi at RBI Delhi, defines it.
|Emperor Ashoka tries to take Buddha's relics from nagas. Sanchi. Here again we can see Sujata at second position from second pillar form right|
Image courtesy : RBI,ASI and wiki