Manav Gupta&’s array of clay bowl diyas, row upon row of them in verticals along the distant wall, cascading down, column upon column across the vast landing, down the stairs, arranged in even and uneven surfaces, to denote the descent of the Ganga, India&’s most worshipped and deified river, is breath taking.
At the India Habitat Centre, while rows of hanging chilams, the humble Indian smokers’ clay pipe form the major vertical face of the work, diya&’s adorn the further most vertical and foreground the spectacular installation. Contemporary in its very making, there is yet something intrinsically remote about the work, recalling as if another object of another time, forgotten and relegated today. In that perhaps lies the homage.
Clay pottery – the earliest residues of human habitation, studied over history, excavated, researched and dated, so much of our history is known to us by its findings. The monumentality of Manav Gupta&’s "Rain, the Ganga Waterfront along Time Machine" from the series Excavations In Hymns Of Clay comes as a recollection of the beginnings of history – our civilisations of Harappa and Mohenjo-daro and a reminder of the river-civilisations of the world, none of which would have come into being without the river.
"From dust thou art and into dust thou shall return," stands as true for living beings as for the river, for the river turning to dust signals the end of water and theron life. So a river made of clay bowls and chilams is reminiscent of times when the river was worshipped as a sustainer of life, and as a purifier of matter and spirit, especially the Ganga, wherein one dip is still considered enough to cleanse one of his sins.
The flame of the diya – fire, one of the tattvas or elements – is lit in obeisance to the element of fire or the sun, bringing alive all that is lifeless or asleep – the name of God, a ritual, a practice, or even a space. To add a little to Manav&’s observation that man remembers earth as long as he can extract benefits from its resources, throwing it away no sooner his purpose is served. Mankind has always been that way – ever a taker, with naught to return, unmindfull of the terrible end.
Manav puts in a gist. His metaphor of terracotta to depict the Ganga, or indeed any of the great rivers of the sub-continent, is a visually stunning piece of work, as sensational as deep rooted and sensitive, with as many layers as the viewer wishes to explore, both clay and river being central to our existence, whether euphoric modernkind remembers it or not. Best time to view: after sundown, when it is magnificently lit.