Kashmir in works of Artist ABDUR REHMAN CHUGTAI

More than 2200 water colours , thousands of Pencil sketches , so many Aquatints , Hundreds of etchings and so many oil paintings though essentially a water colour Artist .That was Abdul Rehman Chughtai , a punjabi and a a direct descendant of *Mian Salah Mimar of Lahore Durbar . He belonged to a family that produced many Artists , Architects and Engineers .An artist of Bengal school, his work shows influence of Rabindranath Tagore and Abanindranath Tagore .

Chughtai was trained by Samarendranath Gupta of Mayo School of Art Lahore and Samarendranath Gupta was himself trained by Abanindranath Tagore. Later , Chughtai joined Mayo school of Art as Head of chromo-lithography Department .

Chughtai went to England in 1932 and 1936, both times primarily to learn Printmaking , Etching and Aquatint . For an artists , All these processes are very complex and need Training ,Skill and Precision . Luckily he came in contact with some masters of Europe like Paul Drury ( Artist and Print Maker ), Douglas Ian Smart ( Etcher , engraver and Water colourist ) and Bill Robbins ( Aquatint Artists).

He evolved his own style by synthesising Hindu Mythology , Islamic History , Mughal Royal style, Miniature , Japanese wash and Printing Techniques and totally isolating himself from the European Artistic trialing . He believed more in reviving and synthesising traditional forms than looking towards west . He  made a successful attempt to recreate Mughal and Miniature classicism in his own style  that came to be known as CHUGHTAI ART which is a little different in Features , images ,dresses and presentation while adhering to basics of Bengal school of Art.

Artist and Art Curator Salima Hashmi ( Daughter of Faiz Ahmed Faiz ) writes :

“Chughtai is one of South Asia’s foremost painters. He was part of the movement that started in the early part of the 20th century to establish an identity indigenous to the subcontinent. He rejected the hegemony of the British Colonial aesthetic.”

Kashmira Singh author of a Monograph on the Artist writes :

“For his characteristic style, perfect technique and universal appeal he has been described as the artist of all Nations. Posterity will remember him as the greatest exponent of the spirit of Indian art in Modern Age. Chughtai is a shared heritage of India and Pakistan.”

Chughtai had his patrons from Hindu, Muslim and other groups of people. He painted themes from all religions. His paintings on Buddha, Holi and Radha Krishna and other themes are displayed at  the National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi. Dhoomimal Art Gallery also had two or three paintings of this master on Display. His work is also on display at Bharat kala Bhawan Bhopal , Golden Temple Museum Amritsar , Chandigarh Museum, Punjab State archives  Patiala , British Museum (London), Victoria and Albert Museum (London), United Nations Headquarters (New York), New York, the Kennedy Memorial in Boston, the US State Department (in Washington, D.C.), President’s House Bonn, Nizam of Hyderabad’s Palace, Queen Juliana’s Palace in the Netherlands, Emperor’s Palace Bangkok and in many Art Galleries world over .

In 1934, he was awarded with the title of “KHAN BAHADUR”and in 1960, Pakistan Government awarded him “HILAL E IMTIAZ”  and declared him as  a National Artist . In Punjab ,  ****Chughtai family enjoyed respect and official patronage since  the rule of Maharaja Ranjit Singh of Lahore .

Among the prominent poetic works he illustrated through paintings are Diwan-e-Ghalib and the Rubaiyyats of Omar Khayyam. “Muraqqa-e-Chugtai” is a rare publication in which Chughtai transformed the poetry of great Urdu poet Asad Ullah Khan Ghalib with his brilliant skilful strokes and elegant art-work .This book had a beautiful forward written by Allama Iqbal.

He designed the cover of Noon Meem Rashid’s Poetic collection Maavara published in 1940. This Book heralded the age of free verse in urdu poetry.

He designed coins , Book Covers , stamps and Buildings . He also did Grand Calligraphy work in some Mosques .

His admirers included Gurudev Tagore , Allama Iqbal , Pablo Picasso, Nehru and Queen Elizabeth II.

In a letter addressed to Abdullah Chughtai Brother of the Artist  ,Pablo Picasso wrote:

“Being a draftsman myself, I can highly appreciate this quality in the work of your brother, the painter M.A. Rehman Chughtai.”

His paintings represent energetic and liberal work done in soft and thoughtful colors with bold curved lines. His human figures are elegantly dressed . His work carries Flowers , Trees , Building Architecture, Animals , Birds , Flora and Fauna in background. He was a master in drawing Rajput and Mughal Princesses and courtesans , apart from illustrations based on Punjab’s folk lore


Chugtai is reported to have been a lover of kashmir and its Natural Beauty .He is reported to have visited the place thrice before partition of the country . I am not sure how many paintings and etchings he has done with regard to kashmir but his Two works that i came across are “  Two kashmiri women with Apples” and   “Kashmiri wood cutter”. Both these works   speak about his  immense understanding of Natural  beauty and widespread  Poverty in kashmir at that point of time .

About the above work , I need to add something more.

I have come across a reference about organizing Lahore’s KASHMIRI MAZDOOR BOARD . At the suggestion of Allama Iqbal , **Kashyap Bandhu Organised this Board.

Many leaders and old kashmiris living in Lahore, were touched by Shabby living conditions ,Exploitation , Unregulated working hours and Part payment of Wages (every time these people returned home after winters ) by some unscrupulous people( Consisting of Both Hindu and Muslim Traders and Timber Merchants in Undivided Punjab ) to kashmiri labourers . This vicious circle forced the hapless labourers to come again and again to the same exploiter. Allama was in favour of Kashyap Bandhu to lead poor kashmiri labourers in Lahore and entire Punjab . Accordingly Kashyap Bandhu became the first secretary of Kashmiri Mazdoor Board lahore .

A meeting was organised at the residence of Allama that was attended by some leaders and intellectuals from Punjab including A R Chugtai wherein it was decided to hold a rally in Ludhiana. A R Chughtai was also a regular visitor to Allama’s House in Lahore.

Later , Under the leadership of Bandhu ji , a massive rally of kashmiri labourers was organized at Ludhiana in 1927 that was addressed by Moti lal Nehru.Bandhu ji put forward following issues in the rally.

(1) No one shall address Kashmiri labourers as ‘ HAATO’ in Punjab.

(2) Every effort shall be made at Government and society level to improve the living conditions of kashmiri labourers working in Punjab.

(3) A labour officer shall be designated by Government of Punjab to look into the problems of kashmiri Labourers .

In this meeting , Kashyap Bandhu also announced as under

Kashmiri labourers would lodge their complaints and seek help from a local office of the Board in Ludhiana and lahore .

That was possibly Chughtai’s direct encounter with harsh realities of working conditions of Poor kashmiri Labourers in Punjab.This etching could be a result of that .

His younger Brother Abdullah Chughtai also followed his style.A large number of Artists are following his style that has come to be known as “Chughtai Art “.

Hum Ne jo Tarz e Fugaan Ki Hai kafas mein ijaad

Faiz gulshan mein Vohi Tarz e Bayaan Thehri hai

( Faiz Ahmed Faiz)

Autar Mota is a Blogger , Translator and writes in English , Urdu , Kashmiri and Hindi. His write-ups have appeared in many national magazines and journals.