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Raja Ravi Varma: The man who painted Indian Gods

Raja Ravi Varma, the greatest and the brightest star on the canvas of Indian oil painting, painted subjects that can be divided into three three categories

1) The Royal's

2) The lay people

3) The Hindu Gods and deities

His works, the vibrantly soothing colors of his palette bring out a sense of dreamy emotion and yearn yet perpetuating the innocence, the divine and cherishing the little joys.

Born on 29th April 1848 showed great promise as a child itself in the field of Art. It is believed he had sketched art on the wall of a holy Temple with charcoal which made the gardener very upset who in turn complained to the master of the Temple. The master came and saw the sketch and was highly impressed by the gift of the little boy. The master was none other than the King of Kilimanoor, Raja Varma.

Raja Ravi Varma was born at the Kilimanoor palace in the erstwhile princely state of Travancore (present Kerala) into an Aristocratic family that for over 200 years produced consorts for the princesses of the matrilineal Travancore Royal Family. The title Raja was conferred as a personal title by the Viceroy and Governor- General of India.

Ravi Varma's father Ezhumavil Neelkanthan Bhattatiripad was a scholar of sanskrit and Ayurveda and hailed from Ernakulam. His mother Uma Ambabayi Thampuratty belonged to the baronial family which ruled the Kilimanoor feudal estate within the kingdom of Travancore, was a poet and writer of some talent. At the age of 18, Ravi Varma was married to a 12 year old Bhageerthi Bayi of the Royal house of Mavelikkara. Notably, the house of Mavelikkara was a branch of the Royal house of Travancore. Therefore Ravi Varma's marriage to Bhaageerthi connected him to the Royal Family even closely. They were blessed with three daughters and two sons. The elder son Kerala Varma was of an excessively spiritual temperament. He never married and renounced the world. The younger son Rama Varma inherited his father's artistic talent. Two of Varma's granddaughters were marked by destiny to receive the honour of being adopted into the Royal family, the main reason being that they were the nearest matrilineal kin. This resulted in the entire present Royal family of Travancore to be the descendants of Raja Ravi Varma.


There comes Papa


Lady with a tray of fruits

Raja Ravi Varma was patronised by Ayilyam Thirunal, the next Maharaja of Travancore. He learned his basics of painting in Madurai. Later he was trained in water painting by Rama Swami Naidu and in oil painting by the Dutch portraitist Theodore Jenson. Varma received widespread acclaim after he won an award for an exhibition of his paintings at Vienna in 1873. Varma's paintings were also sent to the World's Columbian Exposition held in Chicago in 1893 and he was awarded three gold medals. He travelled throughout India in search of subjects. He often modelled Indian women or Indian Goddesses whom he considered beautiful. Ravi Varma's depiction of mythological characters has become a part of Indian imagination of the epics. He is often criticized for being too showy and sentimental.

Keechaka and Shakuntala

Shakuntala writing a love letter

Sita in the Ashoka Grove

Raja Ravi Varma started a lithographic press in Mumbai in 1894. It was the largest and the most innovative press of the time. The press was a commercial failure. The press was sold to his German printing technician and the money was given to Dada Saheb Phalke.

Fresh from the bath

Lady with a fruit


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