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Delhi’s Cultural Oasis

When art takes a definite form transcending the limits of abstractions and comes to live with us in day to day life; where there is a strong need to breathe in just the beautiful, breaking the monotony of our bland modernity, a place like Triveni Kala Sangam comes into being.

In this superb structure, designed by the famous architect Joseph Allen Stein, the life-blood of art runs like a leitmotif through the entire design. There is probably no other such place in the country that has succeeded so well in embodying the Indian cultural ensemble.

Triveni, as the three art forms dance, music and painting, and is also the meeting point of the traditional and the contemporary. A place like Triveni is meant to fulfill a definite purpose-to satiate the need of a perfect atmosphere for art and the artist, to reach out and promote the understanding and appreciation of art. Triveni embraces even the Philistine in its numerous folds of creativity and establishes a link of veneration between him and the process of artistic creation. I was introduced to Triveni at a very young age and spent long hours in its art galleries, getting an insight into the world of artistic creation. There romantic serenity, as well as the sense of austere commitment to art-the whole atmosphere enthralled me so much that I decided to become a part of this institution. Triveni has such an over powering effect on those who come here that Sudhir Dar, the famous cartoonist, (a Triveni regular) commented it was “delightful way of breaking one’s obsession with work. Triveni refreshes my creativity,” he added. “If only there were more places like this in Delhi to spread the cultural ambience.” Sudhir Dar’s association with Triveni is more than 15 years old. “I’m happy to come here,” he says. “It’s so exciting, this exchange of ideas, the interaction between cinema, theatre and the plastic arts. One actually sees creation taking place in front of one’s eyes,” his deep voice resonates in exclamation. Often it’s a poet brooding over his poem, or an actor working hard to improve his histrionic abilities, or someone just sitting around… day dreaming, perhaps! This place has an intellectual virility and an emotional compatibility among all those who come here regularly.

The ‘creator’ of Triveni Kala Sangam, Sundari K. Shridharani, was once a student in Uday Shankar’s dance school. She is now the founder-director of this institution. Mrs. Shridharani has very successfully maintained a sense of freshness in the surroundings: the greenery in and around the complex gives an effervescent aura. The story, however, hasn’t always been so plush. Triveni rose from a very modest beginning. It was started in 1951 and had just two students in one room above a coffee house in Connaught Place under professors K.S. Kulkarni, a master painter, one of the most venerated in the world of contemporary India painting.

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was so impressed with Mrs. Shridharani’s endeavours that he had a plot of land allotted to her so that her dream took concrete shape.

The sense of structural congruity, subtle though it is, is discernible everywhere. The open-air garden theatre which lies in the centre of the building is a place of creation for guru Singhajit Singh and his wife Charu, the famous Manipuri dancers. They practise here along with the disciples from their early hours of the day until dusk. The graceful figure of the Chhau dancers moving to the hauntingly repetitive beats of the mridangam imbue the surrounding atmosphere with an other worldly bliss. The café, adjoining the theatre, is the high point at Triveni and is the permanent rendezvous of the capital’s intellectuals. It is here that ideas and dreams are conceived. Late afternoons are crowded and noisy. However the waiters are never in a jurry to serve. But there is always more to a place like the Triveni café than just good food, and good service.

Mrs. Alkazi, the director of the Art Heritage’ gallery situated in the basement of Triveni, comments: “the canteen is helpful in getting different people together—attracting young people towards art.”

Art Heritage, the most prestigious art galley in the capital, is owned by Mr. Ibrahim Alkazi and his wife. This is the only gallery in the capital that exhibits foreign artists frequently. The Alkazis are an integral part of Triveni. “It’s been a 12 years long happy experience here,” says Mrs. Alkazi. “Triveni satisfies a certain kind of need in a metropolis like Delhi.” About the reaction of foreign visitors, Mrs. Alkazi says, “they are surprised that a place like this exists here in India.”

“The orderliness amazes them. The Indian art scene is for once taken seriously and professionally.”

Triveni has two more art galleries—the Shridharani Gallery and the Triveni Gallery. The Shridharani Gallery is the most popular, and perhaps the most spacious in town, it is usually booked by artists two to three years in advance. The Triveni Gallery, though smaller in size, in nevertheless much in demand, as it guarantees extensive viewership.

The serious reader of literature has a lot to look forward to at The Nook—a tiny little book shop located in the basement of Triveni, which also offers an extensive collection of India classical music. Prakriti a garden situated at the back of the main building is almost paradisiacal—quiet, cool and inviting, it is a plush, tropical boutique. Prakriti has an extensive collection of plants ranging from bamboos to palms, from cacti to a variety of creepers and all these are planted in a variety of pots made of terracotta. It is a sheer delight to visit this little garden.

Today, Triveni Kala Sangam continues to add new dimensions to the world of modern Indian art by perpetuating a highly individualistic style of painting. The artists at Triveni have developed a whole new genre of painting which can now be called the Triveni School of Painting. Rameshwar Broota heads the art department and working under him are famous painters like Vasundhara Tiwari, Jagdish Chandar (a College of Art graduate). Prabha Shah, Suneela Bindra, Anju Bhadwar, Shruti Gupta and many others.

A spirit of creative energy pervades this exclusive and elegant department with its spacious and surprisingly clean studios where the atmosphere is congenial and, intellectual…

Learning, understanding and creating art is what Triveni Kala Sangam is all about. Art is intricately woven into the fabric of the routine activities at Triveni. Here at last is a place for the human mind to seek refuge in the heart of artistic creativity.


The idea of setting up a gallery for contemporary art was first voiced at an art conference held in Kolkata in 1947, when Maulana Abul Kalam Azad was the Education Minister. In March 1954 the gallery was inaugurated by Dr. Radhakrishna and Hermann Goetz was appointed as it first director. A committee was also appointed under the chairmanship of Maurice Gwyer (the then Vice Chancellor of Delhi University) to decide on the extent and subject matter the gallery would cover.

The art objects housed in the Gallery include paintings, graphics and sculptures. The paintings of the earlier artists are divided into three phases. The first is from 1858 till around 1905. The revivalist phase of India paintings covers the next phase from 1905 to 1930. And then there are the individual painters like Rabindranath, Jamini Roy, Amrita Shergill and Gagonendranath Tagore.

Giving the background of the so called ‘revivalist’ Indian artists, A.S. Raman says, “With the disappearance of the families known for their rich contribution to Indian miniature painting, there was a vacuum in the 1860s. So the British artists and art teachers took over the began to introduce Western style and techniques as part of their civilizing mission. Thus began ‘Company Paintings’—following rigid academic style and making no attempts to bring about a synthesis of Western style and Indian sensibility.” Strangely enough, like the Indian national Congress that was started by A.O. Home, the man behind the concept of revivalism was another Englishman, E.B. Havell—Principal of the Government School of Art, Calcutta.

In 1907 the Oriental Society of Art was established in Calcutta and Abanindranath and Rabindranath guided the students. The first generation of artists who came from here included Nandlal Bose, K.N. Mazumdar, Mukul De, Asit Kumar Haldar and Venkatapappa. Again, it was in the opening years of this century that Abanindranath introduced his famous ‘wash’ techniques. Several examples of this can be seen in the gallery and it is based on an amalgamation of Indian and Far Eastern styles of painting.

There is a whole room of paintings displaying Rabindranath Tagore’s painting in the gallery. Most of them are in dark colours and the brush strokes are very prominent. Similarly, Nandlal Bose also has a whole room devoted to his works. In fact, out of the 12,000 odd art objects on display here, about 6,700 pieces are by Nandlal Bose.

Jamini Roy’s display constitutes about 250 pieces. His contribution to Indian painting was his use of the folk themes. He was particularly inspired by the Bankura terracottas and used the style in his paintings.

Amrita Shergill came to India in 1934 after having got her diploma from Paris. Not satisfied with the Bengal School, she started easel painting in India. Her themes were oriental but the styles were occidental. She was deeply influenced by Gaugin’s paintings. Later she turned more and more towards the Rajput miniatures and the Kangra School for inspiration. Several paintings of Shergill are displayed in the gallery and the distinctive style has a special attraction of its own.

Gagonendranath Tagore decided to be universal in character and painted a series of paintings in black and white with a synthesis of futurism and cubism. After 1941, B.B. Mukherjee and Ram Kinkar are two names that stand out and whose works are on display at the gallery. Around 1943 a group of dynamic young artists started the Kolkata group. Man was the nucleus of their paintings and, its members were artists like Prodosh Dasgupta, N. Mazumdar and Ram Kinkar.

Apart from these painters the Gallery has several other rooms depicting various objects d’art. The 50s and 70s have been treated decade-wise as are the paintings on New-Tantra art by a large number of artists like Biren de, G.R. Santosh, Prafulla Mohanty, Om Prakash, K.V. Haridasan, P.T. Reddy, Sohan Qadri and K.C.S. Pannikar. In the Gallery there is also a whole room of India women artists and foreign artists.

The room of sculpture has exhibits ranging from terracotta to marble. Exhibits here start from 1924. To bring the Gallery up to date with the fresh artists working all over the country, their works are purchased at the regional centres. At these centres meetings are held, advertisements printed and the artists are invited to submit their works.

A new wing for the Gallery in the same campus has been planned. The present building will then have the paintings of the Bengal School and the new wing will have the modern works. The restoration unit attached to the art reference library is doing serious and useful work in giving a fresh lease of life to old and damaged paintings which would otherwise be lost.


Garhi, located in South Delhi, came into being in 1976. The inspiration came from the ‘City of Art’ in Paris where individual artists are provided with studios and lodging.

However, Garhi has some distinctive features. Only qualified professional artists can apply through the Lalit Kala Akademi. It provides four community studios for graphics, sculpture, pottery and painting, apart from seven individual studios. Eight to 10 artists can work at a time in a community studio.

Garhi is the ideal place to visit if one wishes to see painters, graphic artists, sculptors, potters and a wide range of other artisans at work in close quarters.

But the list of galleries in Delhi is not complete by any means. For the serious art aficionados there are the Lalit Kala Akademi (on Ferozshah Road) and the AIFACS Gallery (on Rafi Marg). If that’s not enough try the more than half a dozen prominent private galleries strewn over the city.

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