Combining myth and modernity 

"In my search for identity and roots - an identity that is free of Western impact - I have turned to mythology. I wanted to paint on subjects that belong to me and were a direct source of inspiration." 

Early in the morning with Harshringar flowers strewn on grounds, with magical change in the quality of light and with the autumnal equinox, the season evokes a festive atmosphere. From this week everywhere in Delhi and in fact, all over India, the usual performance of Ram Lila with its enactment of the Ramayana will take place ending with celebrating Dussehra. 

This is an ideal time to discuss Reddeppa Naidu's evocative painting titled 'Sita in the Garden at Lanka' (oil on canvas, 1991) which is now placed at Sheraton Rajputana, Jaipur. With this poignant painting, the artist combines a delicate style with an animated lyricism. 

Reddeppa Naidu belongs to the generation of post Independence artists who had to find an artistic method that would integrate the old and the new. He grew up in an atmosphere when modernism was taking root in a deeply religious and tradition-based society. He used free brush strokes by means of a palette knife technique and suffused his canvases with soft pastel shades. 

In the scene from the Ramayana that he painted in the course of an art camp organised by ITC Hotels sometime in the ‘90s, Naidu depicts Sita sitting in the presence of the multi-headed Ravana in a moment of despair, while Hanuman watches from the branches of a tree. He creates three conflicting moods by creating three different spaces for each one of his characters. 

Here one can see Sita's sense of isolation, the anger and frustration that seem to agitate Ravana, so that he really shakes his head, giving the appearance of being multi-headed and the worshipful image of Hanuman just waiting to spring into action. The rich interplay of various shades of green against a white backdrop make up a mosaic of flat planes that further create an impression of the prison in which Sita has been encircled. At the same time, even for those completely oblivious of the story, there is enough drama in Naidu's handling of his subject to create a strong emotional interest in the scene. The artistic depiction of the tree merging with the greenery of the forest brims with a reverence for the richness of nature with the powerful characters providing enough animation for the viewer. 

Reddeppa Naidu's reinterpretation of the best known stories from the Ramayana and Mahabharata form a cycle of paintings that will remain an enduring part of the legacy of an artist for whom tradition has remained a fresh and vital spring.