Udaya Charan Shrestha is known for introducing new dimensions to the traditional Paubha art; he is also credited with introducing the three-dimensional aspect to Paubha. This introduction not only brought newness to the art but ensured the visibility of the tiniest details. From painstaking jewellery details to emotion filled eyes, Udaya Charan brought Paubha art to life.
Meeting an artist of such immense caliber was a true privilege. The Museum of Nepali Art was preparing for his solo exhibition that would feature 30 of his works on display. “This exhibition is a first of its kind for me. A one man show in the field of traditional painting is rare,” says Udaya Charan entering the museum with a wide smile.
Our brief interlude with the artist gave us insight to various aspects of this art form and he also introduced us to the significance of his painting titled ‘Gayatri Devi’ which took him nearly two decades to complete and is considered a masterpiece. “Paubhas capture the cosmic world of gods and goddesses but Gayatri Devi never had a face. I researched extensively about her, read many sacred texts and gradually started working on my canvas. When I would close my eyes and envision her, this was the face. In the 15 years that took me to paint the Gayatri Devi, I became immensely attached to the art,” he shares. Gayatri Devi is the mother of the Vedas, the female deity who encompasses the divine trinity – creator, sustainer and destroyer. Gayatri Mantra is also the most popular and powerful Vedic chant.
“In every painting, I introduce elements that are different. In the process, I have also had to face certain backlash; for example, when I introduced 3D effects into traditional paintings, many were against it. But when art lovers embraced and applauded it and the younger generation artists started to follow in my footprints, there was only appreciation and acceptance,” he recalls. Critics said that his work focused more on sensuality than divinity, yet Udaya gained recognition for his non-traditional depiction of female beauty, proving that beauty and spirituality can coexist.
Talking about his background in Paubha, Udaya Charan shares, “Many of the Paubha artists are into this art since generations. Most artists are from the valley known for its rich cultural heritage, especially in the arts and crafts. In fact, Kathmandu is known as the city of artists, and the legacy dates back to the 4th century. But unfortunately, those art works do not exist anymore. It’s only from 11th century that Thangka paintings survived.”
Udaya Charan did not know Paubha art in the initial years. He recalls, “I tried my hands at Paubha painting when I was 13 years old. I saw a 17th century Shiva, Parvati and Ganesh traditional painting in my neighbourhood and attempted it.” But he started to work on the Paubha art genre when, as a student, he saw a contemporary practicing it. “I was so inspired. I asked him to teach me and he was kind enough to not only teach me the basics but also showed me the places where I could buy the art material required for Paubha paintings,” he says.
“For Paubha artists, religion – both Hinduism and Buddhism – has been a central theme, along with natural elements. We have deities, mandalas and monuments in the art,” shares Udaya. A unique style of painting by the Newari artists gave birth to the Paubha, as they already specialised in traditional religious paintings used in worship.
Taking an established traditional art and owning it by adding his own vision and elements makes Udaya Charan a celebrated neo traditional artist who has inspired many of the young generations of artists. His is a work that is hard to forget; his art draws you in and keeps you there.