Closer to God

- Ramanjit Singh


We often get too involved in the matters of our own daily lives, too immersed in our own interests that we forget those who remind us of things that are greater than our own self worth. Those who bring us closer to God.


We are forgetting what it was like to be a part of a culture that loved simple acts of life with great passion. A culture that celebrated life. A life that was less calibrated, without boundaries. A life represented by people who were proud of being Punjabi.


And one such individual who reminds us of that past is S.G. Thakur Singh (1899-1976, wiki). One of Punjab's greatest painter, S.G. Thakur Singh's paintings captured the essence of Punjabiyat. Through his paintings, he captured who we are, our culture, our lifestyle, our emotions and that too in such a grand scale that his paintings adorn the walls of royal palaces, art galleries, Presidential and Parliament buildings the world over.


One of his work is titled "Expectation", painted in 1930. To me, this is probably the greatest painting of Punjab. The central figure is a woman, and what a beautiful woman she is. This painting shows her in a different light, brings us to a different mood, a lover's longing. A graceful Punjabi woman waiting for her loved one, embellished with jewelry, a feeling of wait, of anxious wait. An element of sadness in her face, a wait that is becoming unbearable, a wait that reflects a sense of anguish and yet an expectation that the wait may soon be over, all the while holding a rose in her hand. The use of light and shadows, the red drapery in the background, the beautiful wooden structure she is sitting on, the clothes and the jewelry she is wearing, all of these elements create a feeling of expectation that is brilliantly expressed with great beauty and simplicity. It pulls us into this scene as if we are waiting along with her. This is the brilliance of this painting.


I can also sense the painter's thoughts of what he's thinking while painting the central character. S.G. Thakur Singh is talking to us about the meaning of love, the pain of separation, of what it means when those who we love are not with us. He has captured something incredible, a face, her longing eyes, the sanctity of space.

Expectation by S.G. Thakur Singh, 1930

This painting was recently sold at Bonhams auction U.K. The provenance of this painting is of a private collector. Here's how the auction house describes this painting,


"The hours of waiting are, in fact, the hours of prolonged anguish. The woman embellished with jewellery and brocaded raiment, and with the rose of love blooming in her heart and in her hand, is apparently awaiting the arrival of her faraway lover, long separated from her. Her expression reveals a mixed emotion of joy and sadness - joy in the hope of meeting and sadness born of uncertainty - sometimes the one and sometimes the other gaining ascendancy."


Another painting that touches me deeply is of a devout Muslim woman praying.

Divine Presence by S.G. Thakur Singh, 1922
Divine Presence by S.G. Thakur Singh, 1922

In S.G. Thakur Singh's book, the Paintings of Indian Womanhood, published in 1928, the author writes this about the painting,


"During her daily recitals of the Holy Quran, her mind, all of a sudden, is captured by a Divine Vision, ineffably beautiful, and she falls into a trance. The world of the Spirit is not far-off but hovers unseen around us only to be visualized, more palpably that reality itself, through reverence, simplicity and love. But the world is too much with us, and, lost as we are in its hollow and unmeaning glitter, we cannot partake of mystic experiences which alone can open before us the golden road to bliss.


The tranquil solitude, the mysterious effect of light and shade very dexterously manipulated, the vague effect of the architectural background, and, above all, the charateristic pose of the figure, tend to create a consciousness of Divine Presence."


Yes indeed, "the world is too much with us, lost as we are in its hollow and unmeaning glitter" strikes a chord and in today's world, the purpose of paying homage to such artists like S.G. Thakur Singh is of great importance because it reminds us of our reverence for those who we love and those who we hold dearly in our hearts, the need to live life fully, to not forget who we are and where we came from. In most of his paintings, his central characters are woman. There's no greater method of how one depicts human condition then from the point of view of a woman.


How does one put a monetary value to all the paintings that S.G. Thakur Singh had produced during his lifetime. Here's one article that briefly talks about it. How does one put a monetary value on something that touches us deeply, emotionally and expresses our own feelings through a volume of paintings that is so unique, vast and diverse in its themes. His life begins from a simple village Verka in Amritsar district, receives art training from Mohammad Alam, a teacher in his village. And as you read through his life's journey, one can get the sense of passion he had about his work.


Sometimes I wonder there are so many things in life that we are not even aware they exist. How does one calculate the immeasurable absence of things that are waiting for us to discover. If only I could have seen that painting, if only I could have read that book, if only I could have met that person. And most often we spend all our lives without knowing about things that could have enriched our understanding of this world and of our own existence. Life's dissonance, its ups and downs, the anguish and joy, all of it has been so beautifully portrayed by these artists. The work of these artists are not taught in schools, the society is not aware of the inspiring life stories of these individuals that produced some of the greatest art and literature in the world. Their work makes us human, provides meaning to our life. We as a society have become illiterate amidst our own wealth of knowledge and experience. Hate is being taught, love is being punished, and I think this is a sad reflection of who we are as a society.


On his death in 1976, S.G. Thakur Singh's estate passed to his son, S Paramjeet Singh, and is currently handled by his US-based grandson Harsimran Singh who is creating awareness of his legacy. I'm grateful to Harsimran Singh for making me aware of this great personality of Punjab and through this forum, I want to share the artist's work with the Punjabi diaspora.


Coming back to the paintings, the woman waiting for her loved one, or that of a woman praying, the sanctity of that moment, captured so brilliantly by S.G. Thakur Singh, brings us closer to God. He has painted that tranquil solitude, the singular moment that creates a sense in our hearts that, as one says in Farsi, Khoda ba mast, God is with us.


Reference links:

https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/archive/amritsar/museum-on-sg-thakar-singh-soon-736413

https://amritsar.tourismindia.co.in/s-g-thakur-singh-art-gallery-amritsar



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