Featuring Mrs Rukmini Varma

By Vidhya Nair

The December edition of Spotlight Series on the 13th featured Mrs Rukmini Varma on the topic: Hidden Truths – Raja Ravi Varma: The Inside Story. The title comes from the book authored by the Mrs Rukmini Varma who is herself a leading Indian artist who paints in the classical tradition.

Born in 1940 as Princess Bharani Tirunal Rukmini Bayi Thampuran of Travancore State, Rukmini is the great-great granddaughter of the master painter Ravi Varma and custodian of his artistic legacy through the Raja Ravi Varma Heritage Foundation.

In her talk, she shared rare pictures of their ancestral home, Kilimanoor Palace in Thiruvanthapuram, Kerala and how the Travancore royal family lived. It was interesting to learn of Raja Ravi Varma’s birth and the prophecy of his contribution. She also reviewed a number of his notable paintings and shared his artistic techniques, use of colours, his appreciation of aesthetic beauty in his use of saree drapes, jewellery and his interpretations of significant events from the epics of Mahabharata and Ramayana. She also shared personal family anecdotes learned from her grandmother on Raja Ravi Varma’s challenges in gaining patronage for his art from other royal families around India and his relationship with the East India Company. She also shared the sadness and his sufferings with diabetics which ultimately claimed him in the years when he produced his best works. It was significant to note that he lived in the same time space as Swami Vivekananda when the West was taking interest in Indian culture, religion and the arts and the lasting contributions that these men made in their time and beyond.

Mrs Rukmini Varma earnestly took time to answer questions from the audience of over 80 who keenly asked about the printing press he created in Mumbai, his foresight to have greater outreach to the masses and she shared that he considered it his life work to create a universal Indian identity and this was his way to unify India as a collective whole.

This talk was made possible by the Raja Ravi Varma Heritage Foundation which is a not-for-profit institution that works to preserve and promote the artistic legacy of one of India’s greatest artists. The Foundation works in the space of research, documentation, authentication and education with regard to Ravi Varma and his art works and does not trade in the work of the artist but collaborates with public and private museums, collectors to promote Ravi Varma’s artistic contributions.

This talk was held in conjunction with the premiere of Apsaras Arts’ SITA – selected paintings by Raja Ravi Varma, a first of its kind digital dance film production which was screened at Esplanade Recital Studio in 3 separate sessions on 20 December 2020 to full-house audiences and rave reviews.