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Damdama Murals - Embellishments Bold And Simple

The Damdama murals are the earliest specimens of wall paintings in Punjab. These dramatic, simple and bold murals occupy an outstanding place in the history of Punjab paintings.

Damdama Sahib is Situated at a distance of 28 kilometres from Bhatinda. This area falls in the Malwa (plateau) region of Punjab. Damdama or Talwandi Sabo is sacred to the Sikhs because Guru Gobind Singh, the 10th guru of the Sikhs, had stayed here around 1705-06 A.D., devoting himself chiefly to converting people to Sikh religion. Thus it came to be known as Damdama Sahib.

In the north of the present Gurudwara is Bhai Dallas samadhi by the side of the tank. Bhai Dalla, a native of this place, met the Sikh guru, and impressed him by his skill in archery and was blessed by him. This building was fully embellished with murals on the interior as well as exterior. Now the outer walls have been completely whitewashed obliterating the murals. But the murals can still be seen on the walls and the ceiling inside the samadhi. They are in a fairly good state of preservation. These murals are historically very important in that they are the earliest specimens of the Punjab murals. They were executed roughly between 1705 and 1740 AD. And were discovered by K.C. Aryan in the 1960s. The themes painted here are derived mostly from Hindu mythology and legends. The most notable are those depicting Durga riding on her lion; Hanuman and an ascetic absorbed in meditation seen in the front; the gigantic figure of Ravana being attacked by monkeys and bears; Surya riding in his chariot driven by a seven-headed horse; Kartikeya riding on his Vahana, the peacock, etc. A few episodes from the Krishna legend such as the Gopi Vastraharana are painted with equal skill. The most unusual scene is the one depicting Shravan Kumar, the epitome of filial love and service, carrying his parents in a palanquin.

Probably because the village of Damdama was one of the important centres of Sikhism, the Sikh themes were painted on the walls of Bhai Dalla’s samadhi alongside themes from Hindu mythology. An impressive and forceful mural shows Guru Gobind Singh astride a horse.

The historical importance of these murals lies also in the fact that they are the earliest specimens of wall painting in the Punjab and Pahari areas and also of paintings on Sikh subjects. Some murals depict. Hindu themes with Guru Nanak and other Sikh gurus. Plants, the branches of which from a kind of arch, are painted between each figure. Below the arch, we find Guru Gobind Singh riding on his horse with attendants. In front of him, a Sikh Bhai is seen reading the holy Granth. It is a well known fact that in Amritsar and Lahore Sikh subjects came to be painted only in the latter half of the 19th century.

Another remarkable feature of these murals is the use of Gurumukhi script for inscription. It is possible that the painting of Sikh subjects and the use of Gurumukhi script were due to the fact that Damdama was one of the earliest strongholds of Sikh religion.

One of the peculiarities of these murals is the depiction of secular and unusual themes such a Sant Kabir and his family, a lady playing a musical instrument and entertaining a man seated on a chair (this portion suggested the late Mughal period), a lady learning music from a master, etc. Kabir is shown in a standing posture, looking down on his wife Mai Loi who is weaving. Kabir’s son Jamala and daughter-in-law can be seen seated on the other side of the loom, while his daughter is shown in the foreground, grinding. The names of all these persons are inscribed on top of their heads in Gugumukhi script.

It is difficult to say anything precisely about the style of the murals because no specimens of paintings or wall paintings earlier than these works are found. After a careful study, it may be concluded that the style of the murals is a mixture of Pahari and Rajasthani schools. Varied influences can be traced her. For instance, the crowns and costumes worn by the Hindu deities and other figures are similar to those seen in Basohli painting.

These murals have most of the characteristics of Basohli school such as an: archaic style, an essentially simple composition and the figures having a savage vitality dominating the scene. The practice of painting the figures in colours and leaving the background completely bare and unpainted reminds us of similar treatment in Mandi school of painting. The Mandi artists also painted elongated figures as to be seen in these murals. The facial expressions of practically all the figures, the floral designs and certain motifs such as the plants twining round the figures of Sikh gurus reflect the joy in floral decoration common to most paintings of western (Rajasthani) school. The sun painted in the centre of the ceiling has a typical Rajput beard. The entire treatment of the Surya is peculiar to the Jodhpur school of painting.

Another notable figures is that of the prancing horse of Guru Gobind Singh; the same character is to be seen in the paintings and wooden carved horses of Jaisalmer. It is likely that there was an encounter of Pahari and Rajasthani artists at Damdama, and from that encounter was born this particular style.

On the whole, what strikes one most about these murals is their intensely dramatic character, amazing simplicity, predominance of folk elements such as crudity, lack of sophistication and distortion and total absence of classical finesse.

Despite the fact that Damdama murals are crude and unsophisticated, they are undoubtedly a bold experiment in style and occupy an outstanding place in the history of Punjab murals. The colours most commonly used the yellow ochre, Indian red, orange and green. In the four corners of the small room are to be seen peacocks painted in conventional style; their necks are in low relief. These murals are outstanding not only for the richness and variety of colours but for their lively drawing intelligent stylization and the refinement of the decorative pattern.

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