SL Parasher

I describe my approach to art as individual, always diffused, a constant response to other works of art — an upsurge of pran shakti or vital life energy. As this may mean I am plowing a lonely furrow in the present, I need to explain why I prefer to define my approach as being pranantarik, or guided by an internal force. I describe my approach to art.


S.L. Parasher was fated to a life of wide-swinging changes. Born in Gujaranwala, West Punjab (now Pakistan) on April 7,1904, he was the first son of a surgeon father and a wildly imaginative mother. The visible and the real, and the ever–present beauty within both, were already occupying their parallel places in his life long before he took his Masters degree in English Literature at the Forman Christian College,Lahore in 1935. In 1936 Parasher joined the Mayo School of Art as a lecturer and vice principal. In 1938 he met Lajjya Kapila, who was staying with her uncle on a visit from Burma. He knew immediately that she was the woman for him; they joined in a marriage that would last 52 years and raise four daughters and one son. In 1947 their peaceful lives took the first of many turns; his first hope was that he could stay on in re-invented Pakistan. As that became impossible, he and his growing family experienced an odyssey through the refugee camps to become the Founder Principal of the School of Arts, Simla in 1951. After several years in the footfalls of the Himalayas, Parasher moved south to Bombay as Director of the All India Handicrafts Board and settled finally in Delhi in the early 60s. The house on South Extension in New Delhi, with its series of make-shift studios, is where he finally made a permanent home and realized most of his larger pieces of art. As his children grew and became independent, they began, in 1989, to realize their desire to build him a permanent studio. This was going up, with all the associated dust and noise, as Parasher lay indoors struggling with leukemia. By the time it was almost finished, he knew he would never use it. Looking out into an ideal space at last, he said, “I was born to be a poor Brahmin.”

Born in Gujaranwala, West Punjab (now Pakistan) on April 7, 1904. Lived in Lahore, Simla, Madras, Bombay and New Delhi Education: Masters in English Literature, Forman Christian College, Lahore, 1935

Positions held: Lecturer in Fine Arts and Crafts, Mayo School of Arts, Lahore, 1936 Vice-Principal, Mayo School of Arts, Lahore, 1936 Founder Principal, School of Arts, Simla (Punjab Government), 1951 Director, All India Handicrafts Board, Bombay, 1958

Solo exhibitions: held in Bombay, New Delhi, Simla, Lahore, London, Frankfurt, Paris and Washington D.C

Art works in the collection of Museum of Contemporary Art, New Delhi Museum of Modern Art, Chandigarh and in private collections in India, U.S.A., West Germany, Spain, Belgium, England, Netherlands and France

Public Art Work:

  • A memorial sculpture in Black granite stone of the Saint Musician Pdt. Vishnu Digamber Paluskar, New Delhi Size: 12' Commissioned by the Gandharva Mahavidyalaya, New Delhi Year: 1980
  • A sculpture Mural in steel, Men's College, Chandigarh. Size 100' x 23' Architects: P. Jeannerette and B. P. Mathur Design selected by Le Corbusier after an All India Design Contest. Year: 1963
  • Two Sculpture Murals in Mosaic Concrete, Nirman Bhawan, New Delhi. Size 40' x 80' and 40' x 20' Architect: Billimoria Selected by the Committee for Selection of Artists Government of India Year: 1966-1967, Ceramic tiled in the 70's
  • Painting Mural in the Mathematics Faculty, Punjab University, Chandigarh. Size 12' x 30' Architect: B.P.Mathur Selected by the Punjab University - Chandigarh Year: 1973
  • Sculpture Mural in Brass, Copper and Steel, Kumar Art Gallery, Sunder Nagar, New Delhi. Year: 1973
  • A fountain Sculpture in Metal, National Institute of Sugar Technology, Kanpur. Size: 18' Selected by the Committee for the Selection of Artists, Govt of India. Year: 1968-1969
  • Ceramic Mural, Telecommunications Building, Janpath, New Delhi. Size: 48' x 80' Architects: Anand Aptay and Jabvala Selected by the Committee for the Selection of Artists, Govt of India. Year: 1970 - 1971
  • Sculpture in Stone, "Vishwamitra", University of Punjab. Size: 8' Commissioned by the University of Punjab Landscape Sculpture, Leisure Valley, Museum of Modern Art, Chandigarh Size: 16' Architect: M.M. Sharma Commissioned by the Capital Project Union Territory, Chandigarh. Year: 1973 -1974
  • A Sculpture Symbol in Brass Sheet, "Bull Fight", New Delhi Size: 26' x 9' Architects: Anand Aptay and Jabvala Commissioned by the Uttar Pradesh Pavillion at the World Agriculture Fair. Year: 1959
  • A Sculpture Symbol in Beaten Copper, "A Farmer", New Delhi Size: 9' Architects: Anand Aptay and Jabvala Commissioned by the Uttar Pradesh Pavillion at the World Agriculture Fair. Year: 1959
  • A Composite Sculpture of two figures of Farmers in plaster of Paris New Delhi. Architect: V.P. Dhameja Commissioned by the Punjab Government Pavillion at the World Agriculture Fair. Year: 1959
  • A Memorial Potrait in Bronze, "Lala Lajpat Rai", Jullunder City. Commissioned by the Gulab Devi T.B. Hospital Year: 1956

Public Works

“I describe my approach to art as individual, always diffused, a constant response to other works of art an upsurge of pranshakti or vital life energy. As this may mean I am plowing a lonely furrow in the present, I need to explain why I prefer to define my approach as being pranantarik or guided by internal force.” These words were written by S. L. Parasher in Delhi in 1989, and represent his own looking back at a career which spanned one of the more tumultuous periods in India's always changing history. Any told story of Parasher's art must begin now where we have the first surviving trace of it, in that part of the Punjab where Partition placed Hindus who had formerly lived in new Pakistan. “I have lost all,” he said when applying for directorship of the relocation camp at Ambala, but it turned out to be 'all' in the most direct sense all of his possessions including his art. An as-yet invisible future rich with joy, rich with productive work, was just ahead. After the heartbreak of the camp, for Parasher and his growing family the years founding The Punjab School of Arts in Simla represented both a respite from tragedy and an opportunity for a new beginning. In addition to founding a national center to foster education in the fine arts, painting, sketching, sculpture, S.L.'s plans included more than reincarnating in new India the Mayo School of Art left behind in Lahore. By 1951, many unexpected consequences of building a new nation had already made themselves felt. One of these was that, in the Punjab, metal craftsmen, traditionally a Muslim community, had migrated into Pakistan. In an effort to foster these and other enduring art forms, Parasher also included in his curriculum various kinds of metal work, pottery and even what he eventually called the creation of 'everyday objects.' Not only did he search out compelling masters of these forms to serve as teachers, but he also set out to learn the crafts himself. As with so much of his life story, where this European perspective would take him next was still a mystery. When the school was shifted from Simla (1958) the Parashers' lives were again disrupted as they moved to Bombay and S.L. assumed directorship of the All India Handcrafts Board. With the loss of the natural beauty and near-isolation of a Himalayan retreat came an urban life more closely connected to the larger art community, both Indian and international. Parasher mentions almost casually that his original training was through traditional and then contemporary movements of modern art, which meant a largely European tradition. Only as he began to think more deeply about, and be further immersed in, the 'practice' of art, an expression he uses frequently, did he begin to realize that the artistic traditions of his own heritage had a great deal to offer both as a route to creativity, and perhaps more importantly, an alternative to a pervasive artistic perspective that suggests that the creative, expressive life is lonely, isolating and full of despair. In Bombay S.L. met many artists and other intellectuals and eventually was selected by Le Corbusier to create a mural for the new city of Chandigarh. The creation of this city, an enactment of Nehruvian nation building, became one more step in the complex process of traditional study, interaction with contemporary visionaries, and artistic experimentation which fueled Parasher's vision. Transitional in both his professional and artistic development, this was an important node on the growth of Prana (vital universal life force) as seen in Parasher's public works. The 1963 Sculpture Mural in Steel at Government College for Men, Chandigarh, was the first of the works S.L. produced here. He has left a written record of how he struggled with ideas for this project, settling finally on concern about the effect the finished work would have on the immersion in the Vedic tradition, one that is, or could be, a more comfortable frame for modern art practice than some of the individualistic (he might have said 'erratic') forms used when he was working and still seen today. “In the ancient world theartist, like the seers, the shamans and the poets, sought to communicate with ultimate reality through acts of art experience which were regarded as a part of an irrational creative process. Artists had a status in society and fulfilled a definite role. Intheir work, they translated insight to its realization embodied as inner aspiration and fervor of spiritual faith. They worked under the guidance of the 'Sthapatis' (artist-craftsmen) who were learned men of great meditative capabilities, well founded in the knowledge of the sciences of number proportions and scale.” Another enactment of this philosophical position is seen in the mural at Nirman Bhawan (1966.) The word 'mural' is not quite enough to describe the outer face on a building which is integral to its very structure. Built of reinforced cement concrete, design elements of the visible surface project two feet outward and are also window openings, with the structural bones of the architecture announcing themselves as not separate from the swooping, curving surface of what is, inside, ordinary office space. As with earlier public works, the connection, one might almost say merge, the artist felt with his materials is evident in the way he allows them to be individual while still participating in the larger whole. Always intended as a textured surface, the mosaic concrete was tiled in the '70's. This finish adds, along with its rich color, an additional layer of metaphor. Tile making was imported to India from Iran during Muslim rule. These hand made ceramic tiles were created nearby in Delhi and fired in a wood kiln, a traditional process which created the variations in color that the artist planned. In other elements of the design, the sun, the eyes of the lion, are covered in a mosaic made of broken white china, a classic usage which can still be seen on terraces and roofs in old Mumbai. Broken tile edges and careful fitting of irregular pieces call attention, in a way that the rest of the work does not, to the actual labor of the maker as well as to the history of the material; thus another evocation of the nature of time, both fixed and moving, enters the mural. As in other works, rhythmic movement is felt everywhere. Unlike Vidyavalanj and Ganit Jantra though, the triangles are there in feeling but blunted to softer forms, looking more organic than geometrical. Symbolic evocations are also less concrete. Despite the unavoidable regularity of the building's windows, it is difficult to pick out a recognizable configuration such as is available in previous works. As Parasher continued in his pranantarik approach, he created forms that are flights of rta made mainfest. “The theme of the Nirman Bhavan murals on the east wall is Cosmic Energy (Para-Shakti Jantra). The flow and outflow of the wave like forms in it and the play of light and shade on the interacting forms are intended to create a feeling of energetic movement, restless and perpetual. The circular patterns of the pebble-dash background carry forward that feeling into every nook and corner of that wall. The main forms of the mural fall into diagonally opposed figurations. The multi-composite forms on the left with their upraised and intimidating gesture of force, and then the thrust of the counteracting forms on the right, provide a dramatic juxtaposition. They represent the forces of phenomenal and subliminal worlds in the universe. The entire composition, with its symbols of the sun and the moon, is evocative of a cosmic scale where the hidden energies of the cosmos rise and flow.” It was in the nature of Parasher's public works that once the design phase was over, he did not work alone but with crews of craftsmen such as stonecutters and masons. Much as the origin of his art was in solitary concentration, there is every evidence that he cherished these opportunities to engage in what has historically been the prime purpose of artistic production, the making of a public statement about community understandings of the nature of meaning. Vishnu Digamber Paluskar (1980) a twelve-foot granite sculpture at the Gandharva Mahavidyalaya in Delhi, carries within his massive body a joyous demeanor and slightly laughing face that is similar to images of the artist himself. It happens that the paper trail behind this project includes photographs of Parasher at the stone yard in Mahabalipuram. A comfortable aura of concentration unites the figures of stonecutters and Parasher gathered around the giant slab of granite that was to become Vishnu Digamber. There is attention and skill in every visible hand as they mark their material. Certainly sculpture, especially sculpture in stone and even more especially sculpture in a stone as taxing as granite, can be seen as a visible completion of Parasher's intense artistic practice, one he felt indivisible from historic practice and attitude: “I firmly believe that it is by a process of unfolding the layers of consciousness that an artist is enabled to participate in the spectacle of the universal life spirit which merges into the live force of the artist accompanied by the majestic rhythmic cosmic order the Rta in the cosmos. This joyous experience was manifested by Indian artists, poets and musicians in words, notes and lines in their poetry, music and art. By following the insights of the experience of poets and artists, my creative efforts received direction. I gradually understood that through deep and concentrated absorption in self, the process resolving different elements of correlating the art experience and producing a work of art could be directly and spontaneously realized.” Such spontaneity comes of course at the end not only of long discipline but also of remarkable respect for the materials, the skills, the embedded cultural meanings, and, perhaps foremost of all, the joy of art, of causing a beautiful thing to be where nothing was before. In a peripatetic life always in search for the Rta, Parasher created public art which manages to look both back and forward in the same moment if moments be separate from endlessness. The dynamics of perpetual discovery which brought him to these achievements wait, both quiet and large in context, further discovery for each viewer who comes under their spell.

Select Bibliography

  • Sterner, Sandy, and Parasher, Prajna Paramita. 2004
  • Time Space Light Consciousness. New Delhi: SarNir Foundation. Sterner, Sandy, Parasher-Sen, Aloka and Parasher, Prajna Paramita. 2004
  • Kalaa: Fieldnotes from the Interior. New Delhi: SarNir Foundation. Gwendolyn Jane MacPherson is an art critic based in Chicago. vidyavalaj, states of knowledge, 100'x23' (selected by le Corbusier) government college for men, Chandigarh, 1964