The Bose who Illuminated the Constitution of India
India celebrated the 70th Anniversary of Constitution Day on 26th November 2019. The journey of the Republic of India started much before that historic date of 15 August 1947. India had initiated its freedom from colonial rule from the sentiment of Swaraj which all the freedom fighters envisioned for decades.
Though India became a free nation on August 15, 1947, it enjoyed the true spirit of Independence on January 26, 1950, when the Constitution of India finally came into force. The Constitution gave the citizens of India the power to govern themselves by choosing their own government. But the interesting fact which remains mostly hidden and undermined is that who crafted the manuscript of the constitution. Well, this is a million-dollar question, to which very few people would know the answer of. Today we will take readers to the most beautiful aspect of our written constitution and that is “who crafted it and how it was crafted”.
Shri Nandalal Bose was a renowned painter who illustrated and illuminated various paintings in the Constitution of India. Nandalal Ji was born in Kharagpur, Munger, Bengal Presidency, British India on December 3, 1882. He was one of those painters who fought all odds to pursue his passion. Nandalal Ji was born into middle class Bengali family to Kshetramonidevi and Purnachandra Bose. His father worked as a manager under the Raja of Darbhanga, whereas his mother was a homemaker and was also an amateur craftswoman who made toys for her children. Nandalal Ji was since his childhood exposed to his mother’s craft skills and the works of other craftsmen like potters and idol makers around his locality. Because of this, he developed an interest in modeling images. It is said that during his school days, he would make sketches of Indian gods and goddesses on his books instead of taking down notes.
Nandalal Ji was sent to Calcutta in the year 1898 to pursue his high school education at the Central Collegiate School. With a natural inclination towards art, Bose wanted to pursue it but was not allowed by his family. Quite naturally, he failed to clear his examinations at college and had to change colleges. He later attended Presidency College to study commerce, based on his father-in-law Prakash Chandra Pal’s advice where he secretly learned various painting forms like still life, model painting and sauce painting from Atul Mitra, his cousin. After repeated failures, however, he attended the Calcutta School of Art.
Nandalal Bose was deeply influenced by the paintings of Abanindranath Tagore, nephew of Rabindranath Tagore and wanted to learn nuances from him. When Nandalal hesitatingly approached Abanindranath, the latter was surprised to see such impressive paintings by an amateur. Some of the paintings by Abanindranath Tagore are shown below.
The murals of Ajanta Caves deeply influenced Bose when he was a young artist. Nandalal used these patterns of Ajanta to design the borders of our Constitution. During the Indian Independence Struggle, Bose, accompanied by other artists of the Bengal School (including his mentor Abanindranath Tagore) devoted his time in reviving the Indian style of art, moving away from European techniques that had become prevalent in art-schools at the time.
Indian Civilisation is much older than we think. It was a united country with vast diversity before the Britishers and Islamic invaders came here. So, the Constitution of India was made a historic way of not only recording that how should be our modern India but also what it was in the ancient past. And when the Indian Constitution was being drafted, the members of the Constituent Assembly thought that expressing our civilization through golden illustrations will be the best way.
Nandalal Bose and his team consisting of the artists of Shantiniketan entirely decorated and crafted the original document of the Constitution of India under his guidance. He selected a team of artists (which included Biswarup, Gouri, Jamuna, Perumal, Kripal Singh and other students of Kala Bhavana) who made 22 images for the manuscript of the Indian Constitution. These 22 paintings are on the top of the illustrated in various parts of the Constitution. Some of them are:
- the Preamble, which was designed by Beohar Rammanohar Sinha;
- the National Emblem, which was sketched by Nandalal’s student Dinanath Bhargava;
- Directive Principles of State Policy, Fundamental Rights, etc.
Each part of the Constitution begins with a depiction of a phrase or scene from India’s national history. The artworks illustrate various periods in our national history, including the Vedic period, Mohenjodaro in the Indus Valley, the Gupta and Mauryan Empires and the Mughal era as well.
They crafted illustrations of ancient past showing the Zebu Bull, which was the popular seal mark of the Indus Valley, illustrated on the First Part of the Constitution i.e., the Union and its Territory. The Zebu Bull symbolizes the leader of the herd, whose strength and virility protects the herd and ensures the procreation of the species or it stands for a sacrificial animal.
Part II of the Constitution, which deals with Citizenship, is illustrated as “Gurukul”. The part on citizenship is represented by India’s Vedic Age. This was a time when the worship of personified powers (Agni, Indra, Surya, etc.) was common practice and there was hardly any artistic rendition of these. Most sacred rituals and practices were only known to Brahmans and handed down orally to pupils. This shows the vision of craftsmen on what they wanted to express to the people to get associated with the basic principles which govern them and this Constitution in present is the document that keeps people associated with them.
The celebration of Dussehra marks the victory of dharma over adharma. We celebrate this day as Vijayadashmi as on this day, Lord Ram defeated Ravana and brought Maa Sita back from Ravana’s Lanka. This scene of bringing back Maa Sita by Lord Ram from Lanka has been crafted very artistically illustrated and placed in Part III of the Constitution i.e., Fundamental Rights. Nandalal very thoughtfully placed this pious illustration on fundamental rights to express the nature and purpose of Fundamental Rights, which is to “Eliminate social evils like casteism and corruption that impede the progress of the nation”. This illustration was also used in the landmark verdict of Shri Ramjanmabhoomi Dispute, in which Lord Rama was declared as a constitutional entity.
The scene of a conversation between Arjun and Lord Krishna on the Chariot before the battle of Mahabharata is illustrated at the beginning of Part IV, i.e., Directive Principles of State Policy. The Directive Principles of State Policy are based upon moral principles and considerations. They ensure social, economic and political justice and proper law and order for the people. DPSP are the guiding principles in the State’s policy-making to ensure that there is a well-adjusted monetary growth as well as holistic growth of the country as per the values enshrined in the Preamble.
Lord Krishna in the third chapter of Bhagavad Gita tells that Arjuna must perform his own dharma, and not neglect it in the name of Dharma. Arjuna can neither protect dharma not keep himself on the spiritual platform if he abandons the duties born of his nature. In the fourth chapter Lord Krishna reveals that He appears in this world to protect the principles of dharma and curtail the destructive influence of adharma. Krishna Himself vows to re-establish dharma, upholding those who support dharma and vanquishing those who oppose it. So, to summarise this for present-day, an effective government must not only create laws but enforce them as well. In the same way, the Supreme Lord brings forth His law as dharma. When obedience to his law crumples and human beings propagate instead their own illicit “law”, the Lord descends to protect the good citizens of His Kingdom, vanquish the outlaws who practice adharma, and re-establish in human society the prestige and power of His will. This message of Lord Krishna to Arjuna about state policy, governance and law & order are clearly depicted in the Directive Principles of State Policy. Hence, Nandalal Bose chose to illustrate Lord Krishna giving Gita upadesh to Arjuna.
The enlightenment of Buddha and his disciples is portrayed on Part V of The Constitution i.e. The Union, which deals with the rules related to the President and the Vice President. Nandalal opted for this illustration on this part because this was a time where the term ‘enlightenment’ can also be understood as the awakening of the human race from innocence to consciousness and in addition to that, Buddhism also plays an important role in State Diplomacy.
The illustration shown above shows Gautam Buddha giving sermon to his five companions at Sarnath. This was the first-ever sermon that Gautam Buddha gave after attaining enlightenment. Sarnath is an important place in our country because this was the place where our holy men lived. After Buddha, many elite monks live here.
Part XII of the Constitution, which deals with Finance, Property, Contracts and Suits has the illustration of Chola Bronze Nataraja. The significance of the Nataraja (Nataraj) sculpture is said to be that Shiva is shown as the source of all movement within the cosmos, represented by the arch of flames. The Chola Bronze Nataraja was created as per the instructions of the Shilp Shastras (Craft Manual). The Chola Bronze Nataraja was discovered in South India, which dates back to The Great Chola Empire, which was the Golden Age of Bharat. It was at the time of the Chola Empire that Bharat came to be known as Son-Chiriya. The Cholas Empire was one of the longest-ruling empires in the southern regions of India.
Part XVIII and XIX illustrate the revolutionary movement for freedom during the British Colonial Rule. Part XVIII, which deals with emergency provisions is illustrated by Gandhi, taking a tour in the riot-affected areas of Noakhali. The riots in Noakhali were sequel to the Direct Action Day, which happened on 16th August 1947 due to communal tensions between Muslims and Hindus. The day also marked the start of what is known as The Week of the Long Knives.
Similarly, Part XIX, which deals with Miscellaneous Provisions is illustrated by the glorifying image of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose and other patriots fighting the war of freedom to liberate Mother India from the British & other foreign forces. The border of the illustration reads “Mahatama Ji – Father of our Nation! In this holy war for India’s liberation, we ask for your blessings. We must not forget that it was because of the efforts of Netaji and his Indian National Army that the British forces were made to leave India.
The finished manuscript was signed by 284 members of the Constituent Assembly. The Constitution, after making around 2000 amendments and various illustrations was finalized on the 26th of November, 1949. Many more illustrations are shown below:
Later on, the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru asked Nandalal to design the emblems of prestigious government awards, such as Bharat Ratna and Padma Shri.
Shri Nandalal Bose was awarded Padma Vibhushan in 1954 for his impressive contribution in illustrating the Constitution of India and for designing the most prestigious government awards. In 1956, India’s National Academy of Art honored him by electing him as the Fellow of the Lalit Kala Akademi. He was only the second artist to be honored by the National Academy of Art, after Jamini Roy, who was the first one. He was conferred with the title ‘Deshikottama’ Vishvabharati University.
The University of Calcutta honored him with the honorary D. Litt for his contribution towards the field of art in the year 1957. He was also honored by the Silver Jubilee Medal by the Academy of Fine Arts. In 1965, the Asiatic Society of Bengal honored him with the prestigious The Tagore Birth Centenary Medal award. Unfortunately, Bose died on 16th April 1966 due to natural causes, but he left a legacy of his artistic work behind that many people follow even today in Santiniketan.
Advocate, New Delhi. Interested in history, Indic heritage, constitutional law, international law, defence and diplomacy.