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Portrait of a Legend: The Man Whose Art Adorns India’s Constitution

Portrait of a Legend: The Man Whose Art Adorns India’s Constitution

Adorning the Constitution with pictures depicting Indian culture and heritage was a task entrusted to Nandalal Bose and his students

It took the Constituent Assembly more than two years to finalise a draft of our Constitution that would define the Republic status of India. After making over 2000 amendments, the ‘bag of borrowings’ was concluded on 26 November 1949.

Naturally, Assembly wanted this foundation of law, which includes and represents the diversity in India, to be adorned with artworks that would do justice to the brilliance of the Constituent Assembly.

PM Jawaharlal Nehru approached Prem Behari Narain Raizada to embellish the contents of the Constitution with his fine calligraphy.

And it was Nandalal Bose and his students that brought the rich history and heritage of India to the pages of the Constitution and ‘ignited’ it.

A page from the first manuscript, with artwork by Nandalal and his students. Source.

Born in a middle-class family, Bose never had the complete support of his family to pursue art, even though his mother was an amateur craftswoman. Even so, he pursued his passion with great zeal and went on to become a celebrated 20th-century artist in independent India.

The Tagore Influence:

Nandalal Bose had always been a great admirer of Abanindranath Tagore, the nephew of Rabindranath Tagore. When Bose started his education at the Calcutta School of Art, he was eager to learn the nuances of paintings from Tagore. But he was so intimidated by the idea of meeting his idol, that he took a friend along with him, to ease the tickles!

Bose was in for a great surprise when he finally gathered the guts to meet Tagore with his friend.

A depiction of Swayamwar (L) and Sati (R) by Bose. Source.

His spectacular paintings and near-perfect emulation of a few European paintings impressed Abanindranath Tagore, especially since Bose was an amateur artist. Tagore happily accepted him as his disciple and eventually, Bose went on to become one of his most favourite students.

The career of a painter:

In his career as an artist, Nandalal Bose created over 7000 portraits which are today housed in the National Gallery of Modern Arts, Delhi. His paintings of “Siva and Sati” and “Sati” exhibited in The Indian Society of Oriental Art brought him a cash prize of Rs 500 – which he used to travel across India, presumably for inspiration for his next artwork.

Bose is accredited with creating a portrait of Mahatma Gandhi with his lathi, after Gandhi’s Salt March.

The iconic picture of Mahatma Gandhi. Source.

This black-and-white picture went on to become the icon of non-violent protests. The government of independent India entrusted Bose with a number of prestigious works.

Ornating pages of the first manuscript of our Constitution is one of such assignments.

Bose has also designed emblems of esteemed government awards such as Bharat Ratna and Padma Shri.

Bharat Ratna (L) and Padmashri (R) awards. Sources: Wikipedia/ Wikipedia

Rabindranath Tagore approached Bose when he founded the Kala Bhavan in Santiniketan. Bose served as the principal here from 1922 to 1951.

Embellishing the Constitution:

Adorning the Constitution with pictures depicting Indian culture and heritage was a task entrusted to Nandalal Bose and his students from Shantiniketan. Beohar Rammanohar Sinha designed the Preamble page.

Bose decorated several pages of the first manuscript with stylish borders, headers, and backdrops.

The covers of the first manuscript. Sources: World Digital Library

He even embossed complex patterns on the edges and made the covers in gold. These embossments are reminiscent of the Ajanta murals.

Each part of the Constitution begins with a depiction of a phase or scene from India’s national history. The artworks represent various periods in Indian history, including the Vedic Period, Mohenjodaro in the Indus Valley, the Gupta and Maurya empires as well as the Mughal era.

Gautam Buddha with his disciples. Source.


Symbolizing the freedom struggle. Source.


The mighty Himalayas. Source.

The finished manuscript was signed by 284 members of the Constituent Assembly. Photolithographed copies of this signed manuscript were then made at the office of Survey of India in Dehradun. The original document is preserved using a special helium-filled case in the library of the Parliament of India.

Featured image sources: Culture India/ Huffington Post

You may also like: Consti-tuition: All You Need to Know about Our Constitution in One Place!

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