Vaanar on her mind

Vaanar on her mind

In February 2020, Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal recited Hanuman Chalisa for a TV channel to prove his devotion to Lord Hanuman. Around Makar Sankranti last month, the women’s wing of the Congress party in Madhya Pradesh also took refuge in chanting, though some members clarified that chalisa was not mandatory for non-Hindus. The use of the Chalisa as a Hindu majority symbol/text was amusing in both cases.

Firstly, it spoke of the iconic status of the text, as already exemplified by Hariharan in the T-series Hanuman Chalisa recital, which recently broke all viewership on YouTube. Second, it demonstrated the innovative ways in which mythological texts and characters are incorporated into everyday discourse.

Kanika Jain Gupta’s childhood in Mumbai, especially her schooling at Arya Vidya Mandir in Juhu, exposed her to a certain kind of religious education, which inspired her meditative pen/ink paintings.

An interesting reflection of the Monkey God motif is seen in visual artist Kanika Jain Gupta’s new doodle series The Divine Monkey Army: Vanarsena. A new mother, a lockdown-hit artist, currently surrounds herself with apes, big and small, drawings and wooden cut-outs. His apes were initially part of an early January solo show at Mumbai’s Nippon Gallery, thoughtfully titled Mythical Nobel Peace. But the exhibition moved to a virtual space due to the surge in COVID-19 cases due to Omicron.

Gupta, 39, a Sir JJ School of Applied Art alumna, is a Mumbaikar who shifted to Bengaluru after marriage. Since her JJ days, her work resides at the intersection of graphics and illustration. He is greatly influenced by his seniors Sam Kulavur, Ashit Singh and Lokesh Karekar.

The artist is exploring the market for ape art, particularly puppets and toys, that can be set together like a ‘capable’ army in a hotel or living room.

Gupta’s Vanar is in demand in many epidemic-affected cities. She is working on a seven-foot-tall mural depicting the Hanuman Chalisa for a client in Bengaluru. Ideally, she would have worked in the client’s living room, but now she will courier the canvas. “The piece of art is taking shape – for me to briefly capture its association with apes magic and devotion.” Similarly, she is also considering a range of wooden ape toys and figurines, which can be placed in kitchens, bedrooms, office rooms and laptops. She is encouraging her clients to suggest ways to customize the apes’ appearance.

“These toys/figurines bring an instant smile to anyone’s face. And the thought of having a mini-Hanumanji among us is so empowering. It expands our imagination, it connects us with our higher self.” At this point in our national life, any art (popular or otherwise) that gives hope is welcome, it holds. For that The monkey form symbolizes a multi-tasking agile force that can face an uncertain world.

Gupta is attracted to the monkey theme for personal reasons. Concepts like Swadhyaya, Jaap and Prasad Buddhi electrify him. “I don’t necessarily see them as religious, and certainly unconcerned and reluctant in the political sense of some of the productions like Ram Setu and Satsang,” she clarifies, adding that the ‘Vanaar’ turn of her art march came after. 2020 When Gupta was locked in his apartment. “It was a stage for substantial reflection, a time to reassess why I love to do what I love to do. My earlier work, in fact, contained the seeds of my connection with mythological characters.” Gupta’s graduation project was based on a pictorial representation of a devotional Mirabai. Her design firm Iktara draws its central idea from an instrument supported by Sant.

Like Mirabai, Gupta feels close to many mythological (part-historical) characters, which explains her sense of attachment to the Bhagavad Gita class, which she attended in her formative years. She reconnected with the text five years ago, which also became her vantage point for watching the popularity of the Ramcharitmanas. She knows that her Vanara art is derived from the likes of Hindu scriptures. “My childhood in Mumbai, especially schooling at Arya Vidya Mandir in Juhu, exposed me to a certain kind of religious education. That was the beginning of my meditative pen/ink drawing,” she recalls. Gupta, at a later point, would like to move on to other religious texts/texts, which can be a great source of strength in the times of COVID-19. “At this point, I am exposed to art galleries where I want to represent feminine power – also borrowing from mythology and history.” The artist is exploring the market for ape art, particularly puppets and toys, that can be set together like a able-bodied army in a hotel, a living room or a reception hall. She is playing with wooden puppets in various dimensions on book shelves or in gardens. There is also a range styled around confirmation diaries.

Gupta’s apes only come in black and white, which not only matches well with her favorite color scheme, but she also feels that the interesting use of monotone triggers the idea. “When faced with a mixture of two excitable currents, one begins to think of colors, and representations of different realities. I feel that black and white brought a dimension of real life to my apes ” The dual colors really tickle a lot of gray spots.

Sumedha Raikar-Mhatre is a culture columnist in search of subtext. You can contact her at



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