The mural painted on the huge dome in the lobby of ITC Maurya Sheraton in New Delhi is a larger-than-life representation of our times—one that covers various facets of Krishen Khanna’s work from his long career. The mural is not exactly contemporary life, but a fusion of the powerful and political Mauryan past with the present of the 1980s, without any obvious parading of modern achievements such as skyscrapers and traffic jams. Indian traditions contribute in several important ways, as also accounts of humanity from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.
Krishen Khanna began painting this mural in the early 1980s and accomplished it in four years. His great cast of humans and other beasts, and his ever-changing stage of buildings, streets, alleys, together with broader glimpses of nature, frame scenes or individuals. It is a rich and kaleidoscopic encounter. The brilliant colours that seem to glow with a life of their own make for continuities, as much as highlighting events or characters. Khanna’s relaxed art, still fresh and rich in cultural roots, stands testimony to his artistic intelligence and appetite for creative work.
Photography by Karan Khanna.
Norbert Lynton was professor emeritus at the University of Sussex, and director of exhibitions for the Arts Council of Great Britain. He has written widely on 20th century art. He passed away in October 2007, aged 80.