Vijay Sharma, 58-years-old, is excited and nervous like a schoolboy.
Why? It boils down to when the Himachal Pradesh government asked him to make a miniature painting to honor the renowned lyricist, Gulzar, during a conference in the state.
Now, he was going to meet his childhood idol, Gulzar. Even though Vijay Sharma had won the Padmashree for making Pahari-style miniature paintings, he was nervous beyond measure.
For his painting, Vijay stepped away from his natural flare and made a masterpiece based on Gulzar’s first poem for Hindi cinema, Mora Gora Ang Lay Le. He colored Radha blue and Krishna white as per the lyrics.
Gulzar was delighted with the Pahari-style painting and gifted Vijay a signed copy of his book ‘100 Lyrics’ while inviting him to his home in Mumbai. He was impressed as to how Vijay translated his poem into a painting.
Vijay still gets nervous when making his next painting. He knows an artist can never stop learning. He treats every painting as his first and is still hungry for perfection as a young man would be.
These virtues of humility and a child-like desire to learn new things bagged this natural pool of talent India’s fourth highest civilian award.
Vijay is credited, for not only preserving the 300-year-old art of Pahari-style miniature paintings that were on the verge of extinction but also passing down this knowledge to the younger generation. He also runs Shilpa Parishad, an NGO, to promote this genre of miniature painting.
Pahari miniature paintings dates back to the 17th century when the Guler court kings hired professionals to illustrate the beauty of the Himalayan foothills. The painters created artwork against the backdrop of the hilly regions on mini canvases of less than 25 square inches each.
The artists translated Jaydeva’s Sanskrit love poem, the ‘Gita Govinda’, ‘Bihari’s Sat Sai’, ‘Bhagawat Purana’, and the romantic tale of Nala and Damyanti into paintings.
Vijay came from a modest background. A visit to the Bhuri Singh Museum in Chamba when he was just 13 years old is where his love affair with art began. His father was a bus driver with the Himachal Road Transport Corporation.
Miniature paintings had such minute detailing made of horsehair and bird feathers that completely mesmerized him.
However, the fact that these artists had discontinued making miniature paintings and switched to carpentry work surprised him. His research into the art form finally is how he entered the world of paintings, which often need a magnifying lens to be appreciated.
He learned that there were different schools of Pahari paintings — Basohli, Guler, Kangra, Chamba, and Mandi schools.
“They are similar to the Rajasthani style, as themes are usually centred around love and grief. Before paper was invented, the paintings were done on palm leaves. Sheets of paper are combined to make the base thick and all the colours are sourced naturally,” Vijay explains.
For example, sindoor (a traditional vermilion powder) is used for red, black is extracted from the black deposits of a diya, and white is created by shredding stones. Interestingly, poison extracted from poisonous plants is applied to prevent the paintings from decaying.
He also learned Hindustani classical music for ten years to decode ragas (compositions) and the emotions behind them. Once he understood the different bhavas (emotions), he started capturing the emotions of Nayak-Nayika (hero-heroine) from mythology and poems in his paintings.
In 2009, Vijay Sharma was awarded the Padma Shri award for his services to Pahari-Style painting.
By the way, it takes anywhere between a week to a month for a miniature artist to complete one painting.
Interestingly, this famous painter practiced for days to make the Radha-Krishna Pahari-style miniature painting that now hangs in Gulzar’s house!