The Bloom of Beauty on Raja Ravi Varma's Canvas

By Raja Ravi Varma Heritage Foundation

Raja Ravi Varma Varma used plants extensively throughout the various themes he painted - while portraying worship and marriage rituals, as decorative elements, as symbol and metaphor, and as part of the many natural and built environments he depicted. Botanical motifs are seen in the form of background foliage, floral jewelry, hair adornment, sacred offerings, as emblems of power and in gestures of courtship and romantic love.

Raja Ravi Varma (2018-03-10) by Rukmini VarmaRaja Ravi Varma Heritage Foundation

Raja Ravi Varma (1848-1906), India’s foremost artist was admired and respected for his realistic portrayals of contemporary figures and his interpretations of religious and mythological figures.

Shakuntala's Impending Calamity (1890) by Raja Ravi VarmaOriginal Source: Government Museum, Chennai, India

Longing for her beloved, King Dushyant, Shakuntala fails to notice the arrival of sage Durvasa, who angered at being slighted, curses Shakuntala that whoever she is thinking of would forget her.

Ravi Varma portrayed real plants as well as plant representations and like all great artists was unfettered in his pursuit of artistic liberties.

Ravi Varma's paintings present a rich context for understanding the use of plants in art and design in India.

The Palmyra Palm indicates that the setting of this painting is in a hot and arid region.

He paid immense attention to the floral adornment on the subjects he painted, particularly in mythological scenarios and those of royalty.

Vasantika (Spring) (1890) by Ravi Varma PressOriginal Source: From the Sandeep & Gitanjali Maini Foundation

The Flame of the Forest tree depicted in the painting 'Vasantika' is associated with arrival of the spring season.

Typically, the flowers are bright red in colour, as seen in the species that prevails in Northern India, while in the South, they are orange.

Ravan and Sita (1899) by Ravi Varma PressOriginal Source: From the Sandeep & Gitanjali Maini Foundation

Ravi Varma is hugely admired and respected for his ingenuity and ability to create authenticity in his settings, thereby giving his works real feel.

The pomegranate tree, seen in the ashram from where Ravan abducts Sita, is unique in his work. It is possibly one of the few times that Varma has painted a tree laden with fruit.

This painting shows a fully-grown pomegranate tree with fruits as well as its red flowers. Pomegranate trees are believed to have originated in North India, a region which highly influenced his works.

Music Hath Charms (Kadambari) (Circa 1890) by Raja Ravi VarmaOriginal Source: Collection of Madhu and Chander Verma

Plant motifs are seen across a range of Ravi Varma's paintings. He used floral motifs in a myriad of ways.

The Morning Glory creeper adds to the romance of the work as it gently flows downward on Varma's canvas, caressing Kadambari's sitar.

The bushy Boston Fern, a tropical native, adds to the mood of the painting.

A White Amaryllis White Lily, though occupying a corner of the canvas, is a noticeable botanical element. A star-shaped or trumpet-shaped amaryllis symbolises pride.

Hesitation (1880) by Raja Ravi VarmaOriginal Source: Salar Jung Museum, Hyderabad

Ravi Varma used botanica as elements within the main subject matter, as part of the environments he depicted.

Roses are a symbol of love and romance. Pink roses signify elegance, refinement and sweetness.

The man gazes adoringly at the woman, who is ostensibly mulling over the courtship proposal.

Krishna Leela (1890) by Ravi Varma PressOriginal Source: From the Sandeep & Gitanjali Maini Foundation

It is believed that Radha and Krishna enjoyed spending time in each other's company under the shade of the Burflower tree.

As per Hindu mythology Lord Krishna is believed to have serenaded Radha and the gopikas with his melodious flute under the Burflower tree.

Having grown up listening to mythological tales and scriptures, Varma aptly references the Burflower tree, showing Krishna hiding the gopika's garments in the branches of this tree.

Raja Ravi Varma: Encounters With The Botanical (2019-04-28) by Raja Ravi Varma Heritage FoundationRaja Ravi Varma Heritage Foundation

Credits: Story

Images: On loan to Raja Ravi Varma Heritage Foundation
Exhibit & References: Raja Ravi Varma: The Painter of Colonial India by Rupika Chawla & The Painter Prince by Parsram Mangharam

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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