Mukul Dey's Writing

The Painters of Kalighat: 19th Century Relics of a Once Flourishing Indian Folk Art Industry Killed by Western Mass Production Methods

— Mukul Dey

Girl combing her hair. Nineteenth century Kalighat drawing.
Photo: Mukul Dey Archives
Reprinted from The Statesman, Calcutta, Sunday, October 22, 1933, p. 19, the following published article originally carried six Kalighat paintings from Dey’s collection as illustration, which exactly could not be reproduced here owing to the fragility of the newspaper clipping. In stead, we have included on this page some rare visuals from the old photographs of Mukul Dey’s collection of Kalighat pata paintings, which were photo-documented by him about eighty years ago. Emphasis added.

 

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Temple Terracottas of Bengal

— Mukul Dey

Reprinted from Illustrated Weekly of India, November 25, 1951.

Pancharatna or five-pinnacled terracotta temple at Surul, Birbhum
Photo: Mukul Dey
Folk arts and handicrafts occupied a conspicuous position in our national life in bygone days, and were centered mainly in rural areas, where they flourished for many centuries. The advent of the machine age changed the picture. The decay of rural life and culture set in with alarming rapidity. Indigenous arts and crafts fell into neglect and artisans had to migrate to cities in search of employment. By the end of the 19th century, folk arts and handicrafts almost vanished from Bengal.

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My Reminiscences

— Mukul Dey

Mukul Dey’s portrait by noted London photographer Georges Maiteny
Photo: Georges Maiteny
My Reminiscences is a slim monograph by Mukul Dey, printed at The Statesman, Calcutta in 1938. It provides a rare insight into the early life and career of the author and his cross-cultural interaction with various personalities in the field of art and literature in an international arena.

Iwas born on July 23,1895, at Sridharkhola, a tiny village in the district of Dacca, East Bengal. This was my maternal home. My grandfather, Mahim Chandra Dey, was a leading Pleader of his time at Dhubri, Mymensingh, which is close to Dacca. My father, Kula Chandra Dey, was a poet and was in the service of the Government of Bengal. My mother, who is alive, is of a pious disposition and of the old school.

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Abanindranath Tagore: A Survey of the Master’s Life and Work

— Mukul Dey

Abanindranath Tagore
Photo: Mukul Dey Archives
This article on Abanindranath Tagore, was written by his disciple Mukul Dey and is reprinted from ‘Abanindra Number, The Visva-Bharati Quarterly, May – Oct. 1942’.


Dr. Abanindranath Tagore, C. I. E., the famous artist of modern India, was born in Calcutta on August 7, 1871, at the Jorasanko residence of the Tagore family, 5, Dwarkanath Tagore Lane. The day happened to be Janmastami, the birthday of Sri Krishna. He is the youngest son of the late Gunendranath Tagore and grandson of Girindranath Tagore, the second son of Prince Dwarkanath Tagore.

His eldest brother Gaganendranath was also an artist of repute, and the next brother is Samarendranath Tagore who is of a studious and retiring disposition.

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Which Way Indian Art?

— Mukul Dey

Dr. Abanindranath Tagore with his first batch of students. These were the founder students of Bengal School of Painting. Photograph taken at Govt. School of Art, Calcutta. Sarada Ukil standing on the right and Nandalal Bose sitting fourth from the left. Also present are Asit Kumar Haldar, Samarendranth Gupta, Shailendranath Dey, K. Venkatappa, Kshitindranath Majumdar and Shami-us Zama of Lucknow amongst others.
Photo: Mukul Dey Archives
An extremely important article, ‘Which Way Indian Art?’ by Mukul Dey, is reproduced below from the CENTENARY volume of the Govt. College of Art & Craft, Calcutta; published in 1966- Ed.

Bengal — Hundred Years Ago

About a century ago it was decided by the British Raj that modern education should be given to us through the medium of the English language. The younger generation in Bengal gradually got rid of their superstitions and prejudices, and broadened their minds by coming into contact with a virile literature. They were, for at least fifty years, completely overcome by British influence. Many at that time even tried to forget Bengali to learn English. Many even embraced Christianity mainly for the sake of its prestige, and young Bengal in general tended to look down upon anything, which had the slightest Indian flavour in it.

Indigenous literature and art found a precarious refuge in Bat Tala and Kalighat while the educated classes wore frock- coats, furnished their homes with plush furniture from European shops and gratified their artistic cravings with nude marble statues bought from undertakers, garnishing their conversation and letters with fluent quotations from Shakespeare, Milton and Byron.

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Drawings and Paintings of Kalighat

— Mukul Dey

Lovers. Early 20th. century Kalighat pata painting
Photo: Mukul Dey Archives
Mukul Dey was one of the earliest writers who drew the attention of the ‘educated’ Indians to their own original art forms. As early as 1936, he wanted to establish a national art museum in Calcutta, a project endorsed by Rabindranath Tagore.

However, that was not to be. During 1930s the bulk of Mukul Dey’s priceless Kalighat painting collection was acquired by W. G. Archer (ICS); and many of these found a permanent home in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

The following article by Dey is reprinted from Advance, Calcutta, 1932. It gives an account of the artist colony at Kalighat as the writer knew it:

Strolling through the streets of South Calcutta a few years ago I chanced to get into the precincts of the old temple of Mother Kali. The lanes and bye-lanes leading to the temple courtyard were full of small shops dealing with everything interesting to the pilgrims, specially women-folk and children. There were sweetmeat shops in plenty, toys, utensils, bangles and what was most important to my eyes, pictures in colours as well as in lines, hung up in almost all the shops. These drawings had a pecularity of their own which attracted the attention and interest of any man who had any taste for art and drawings. The drawings were bold and attractive and at the same time their technique was so different and simple, that they looked something absolutely distinctive from their class found anywhere else.

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Portraits of Mahatma Gandhi

— Mukul Dey

Photo: Mukul Dey ArchivesPublished in 1948 by: Orient Longmans Ltd., Bombay, Calcutta, Madras.

My book Twelve Portraits had just come out at the end of 1917 and, with a view to making a collection of portraits of the great men of South India, I visited Madras in 1918. There I heard that a great leader of the Indians of South Africa had come to stay in Madras for a few days.

It was Mrs. Sarojini Naidu who took me one morning to the house where Gandhiji was staying at the time. I found him sitting on a taktaposh (wooden-bed) with only a loin cloth tied round his waist, talking to several people who sat round him on the floor. His hair was closely cropped, but he had a shikha, the vaishnava Hindu’s tuft of hair at the back of his head. It stuck me that he was a great saint and a political leader at the same time.

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