The story of the Mural Competition at TIFR

The mural- Bharat Bhagya Vidhataby M.F. Husain came out of a competition process. Here we unfold the story of the competition.

TIFR buildingTata Institute of Fundamental Research

The Colaba Campus of the The Tata Institute of Fundamental Research was inaugurated by Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru on January 15, 1962.

The founder of the Institute Homi J. Bhabha was not only a famous scientist, but he was also a good artist himself and a great connoisseur and patron of art.

Tata Institute of Fundamental Research by TIFR ArchivesTata Institute of Fundamental Research

Soon after independence of India in 1947, a group of six artists formed the Progressive Artists’ Group to establish new ways of expressing India in the post-colonial era.

Homi Bhabha was both a patron and a close friend of some of these artists. He bought several of their works for very nominal prices. In doing so he founded the priceless collection that can be seen today at TIFR.

Decorating the new Institute provided Bhabha with the opportunity to indulge his love for art and also simultaneously showcase what was best in contemporary Indian art.

Foyer of the A Block of TIFRTata Institute of Fundamental Research

Photographs taken in 1962 show that artworks were installed from the very moment that the new buildings were opened, and it was the foyer of the A Block that saw the main concentration of paintings. However , from the photograph it is clear that the mural was created afterwards.

Reception area of Tata Institute of Fundamental Research by TIFR ArchivesTata Institute of Fundamental Research

The mural is the most important single work in the TIFR Art Collection. The work was commissioned by the TIFR and came out of a competition process that ran from the end of 1962 into the first months of 1963.

Whether the 45 foot-long space next to the library was constructed with the mural in mind or whether it was a decision made after the construction of the buildings is not quite clear.

The idea behind the mural was simple: each artist was requested to produce a preliminary design in a scaled- down size.

An internal note of that time reveals that Ara, Bendre, Gaitonde, Gujral, Hebbar, Husain, Padamsee, Prabha, Raval, Raza, Sadwelkar and Solagaonkar were requested to submit competition entries.

In addition, the names Shanti Dave, Ram Kumar and Jamini Roy were noted in a separate list, probably in case any of the first list were not able to participate.

An advertisement was also placed as an open call for applications. From the initial list of invited artists, Raza, Padamsee and Gaitonde were not to submit entries and instead Jamini Roy was added.

Krishna and Balarama (1963) by TIFR ArchivesTata Institute of Fundamental Research

Roy responded promptly to Bhabha’s invitation. The special respect given to Roy is revealed
in a letter that Bhabha wrote on 19 October 1962. Here is an excerpt:
“In view of the eminent position you occupy among the artists of today and the fact that you are so to speak the doyen of contemporary artists in India… it is clearly understood that your design will not be considered for competition with the rest, but as a work of art which we would treasure as part of the art collection of the Institute."

He continued,

"I may mention in this connection that the Institute has one of the best collections of contemporary Indian art in the country, and the absence of any painting by you is a serious lacuna, which we wish to fill… May I take this opportunity to express to you my admiration for your pioneering and original contributions to contemporary Indian painting, and I would like to call on you when I next visit Calcutta.”

Cosmos in the making (1963)Tata Institute of Fundamental Research

Bendre’s Cosmos in the Making tries to portray the very origins of the universe with a semi-abstract angular forms and bright colours.

Civilization (1963) by TIFR archivesTata Institute of Fundamental Research

Hebbar takes the viewer through a liner history of India, beginning with hunter-gatherers and ending with the arrival of electricity and hydroelectric dam.

Spring Festival (1963) by TIFR ArchivesTata Institute of Fundamental Research

Ara uses classical motifs and depicts carefree girls and men dancing and singing in a grove.

Man Triumphant (1963) by TIFR ArchivesTata Institute of Fundamental Research

In the painting Man Triumphant, the artist paints the elongated figures and animals with minute details. The central theme of the painting depicts a bull being tethered by men on either side of it.

The title of the work suggests that the bull is a metaphor for the harnessing of nature’s forces through science.

Vigil (1963) by TIFR ArchivesTata Institute of Fundamental Research

A painting by Satish Gujral.

Black Moon (1963) by TIFR ArchivesTata Institute of Fundamental Research

An abstract painting by B. Prabha. This was a period of shift from figuration to abstraction seen throughout the world.

Trees of Life (1963) by TIFR ArchivesTata Institute of Fundamental Research

A painting by Badri Narayan where the artist celebrates the journey called Life.

Abstract (1963) by TIFR ArchivesTata Institute of Fundamental Research

An abstract painting by G.M. Solegaonkar

Bharat Bhagya Vidhata (1963) by TIFR ArchivesTata Institute of Fundamental Research

A painting by M.F. Husain, Bharat Bhagya Vidhata. This work takes a Rajasthani landscape as the venue.

Homi Bhabha, Prof. M.G.K. Menon and M.C. Chagla in TIFRTata Institute of Fundamental Research

Bhabha had also seriously considered asking Pablo Picasso to design the mural for TIFR. Referring to a previously held conversation about Picasso doing mural for the institute, he wrote to J.D. Bernal: “We talked about the possibility of interesting Pablo Picasso in this on special terms”. The timing of this letter is significant in that it comes at the same moment that letters had already been sent out to the Indian artists to submit entries for the mural competition.
However no further correspondence on this subject is available and TIFR ultimately never got its own Picasso mural.

Bharat Bhagya Vidhata (1963) by TIFR ArchivesTata Institute of Fundamental Research

After the artists submitted their works, a four-member committee was appointed to assist Bhabha in selecting the mural. The committee comprised art critics Mr Karl Khandalavala, Mr Rudi Von Leyden, Mrs Phiroza Wadia, and Professor K. Chandrasekharan, then head of Mathematics at TIFR.

The committee shortlisted Raval and Husain and finally, chose Husain. Bhabha summarizes their views in a note dated 29 April 1963:

"There is unanimity of view that the only designs good enough for being considered for the final mural are those of Husain and Raval. The consensus of opinion is that Husain is to be preferred. I am personally of the view that the Raval, though elegant, is more manneristic, and it is possible that it may wear less well with time."

Bhabha continued:
"The Husain seems to me a more substantial and enduring composition and in view of my knowledge of the artist’s finished pictures, I would expect that the full-scale mural would be richer in texture and detail than the sketch. In the light of Raval’s present style, it is doubtful whether the full scale mural will be any richer in texture or detail than the sketch.”

Bharat Bhagya Vidhata (1964) by TIFR ArchivesTata Institute of Fundamental Research

Husain's fully realised mural in TIFR is an exceptional achievement by the artist at the peak of his powers.

Husain was the only artist to take up residence at the Institute during 1963-64 during which he executed TIFR’s most iconic wok – the mural Bharat Bhagya Vidhata.

Credits: Story

Photo of Mural and the other paintings- Anil Rane

Archival photo-TIFR Archives

Other photos- Nupen Madhvani

The TIFR Art Collection by Mortimer Chatterjee and Tara Lal, published by TIFR, 2010, Mumbai

Finance- Tata Education Trust

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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