Many beautiful women have been subjects of paintings the world over but Sobha Singh’s immortal work The Kangra Bride is special
DRIVE to the Kangra valley on a clear day and try to reach by dusk to view the rays of the setting sun on the snows of the mighty Dhauladhars. There are many roads leading to Kangra. No matter which you take, you will know Kangra is not far when you see small villages, roadside teashops and homesteads, all with sloping grey slate roofs. We were unlucky with the weather. The mountains were shrouded in mist but you can’t expect clear skies in Kangra in July. This is after all one of the wettest places in India.
If a glimpse of snow on the Dhauladhars was denied, there was compensation by way of a glimpse of the Sobha Singh Gallery at Andretta. The great artist settled here around 1950. His home has been turned into a museum. There was a personal reason to visit the gallery. More than six decades ago, a bride had left Andretta for Delhi. Sitting demurely in a modest but sturdy palanquin, borne by her father, the bride reached her new home safely. She was placed in a simple wooden frame to adorn the walls of her new owner’s drawing room. I was only five-year-old when the painter handed over this masterpiece to my family. I can’t describe how the bride’s father may have felt on the day he had to part possession of his artistic creation. Perhaps, he felt sad like all fathers do when they bid farewell to their daughters. The bride has been taken good care of. She is in a splendid condition, though her existence is not so well-known.
She is strikingly beautiful, such exquisite elegance — dreamy almond-shaped eyes, sharp features. She has pulled her dupatta above her head for everyone to see her lovely profile. And has turned back to have a last look at the home she is leaving. At a distance, the dawn is breaking. It seems to be time for her to set off for her new home. At her feet sits a dove, with one wing outstretched. Has the bird brought a message? May be, the bird is trying to comfort her. But the bride has a composed look. She is looking out and does need comforting.
What are her thoughts? One can only imagine. Will her husband be kind and gentle to her? And, what about her mother-in-law? Her husband is probably in the Army — is she humming “Bhala Sipaeeiya Dogariya”? Probably not yet. That beautiful piece is a song of longing, sung by a young wife waiting for soldier to come home on leave from the front. She may sing this song later when her husband goes away to serve the country.
The sun rises in Kangra from behind the Dhauladhars, and spreads its light on the lower hills. Dawn it definitely is, may be the bride is heading for the plains.
Of her jewellery and garments, neither are flashy. She is wearing a saggi phul, a huge nose-ring, earrings, three in each ear, red bangles and gold bracelets or karas, and a huge ring on her right thumb and gold anklets on her feet. Her clothes are simple, pinkish purple choli and ghagra, with midriff exposed. This is rustic sophistication at its best.
The bride probably travelled to Pathankot, en route to Delhi, by the Kangra valley railway. The traveller can enjoy scenic views of the Dhauladhars from one window, rolling hills, gurgling brooks, green fields from the other. The landscape is picture perfect. It must have been pristinely so in 1929 and in 1952 when the bride made the final journey to her new home.
Sardar Sobha Singh’s painting is after all our Mona Lisa. All masterpieces have their own special place. Johannes Vemeer’s “Girl with a Pearl Earring” is the Dutch Mona Lisa. There must be hundreds of paintings of beautiful women by well-known painters, but our very own Kangra Bride is very special.