MSU, where freedom was once a lived reality

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A distinct souvenir for any visitor to Vadodara is likely to be Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda (MSUB) students with their sketchbooks and pencils at the station, Kamatibaug (now Sayajibaug) or Khanderao Market, on the train to draw. If you’ve waited long enough at the station, you might even become a budding artist’s muse. Such was the omnipresence of the student of the Faculty of Fine Arts (FFA) of Vadodara.

For those of us in other faculties, being able to dance at the garba organized by the Faculty of Fine Arts during Navratri was a privilege. The students wore everything from jeans to chania cholis as they danced to the dhols.

This is how we left our university — with memories of a free and happy space. Time spent hanging out on the steps of Central Hall, arguing with our professors, noisy campaigning during student body elections, and sipping overboiled tea from cracked cups in the college canteen.

Then May 9, 2007 arrived. A crowd stormed the FFA to protest against allegedly lewd depictions of Goddess Durga and Jesus Christ by a 26-year-old student from the village of Mandapalli in Andhra Pradesh. Srilamanthula Chandramohan’s work was exhibited as part of her Master of Visual Arts (MVA) degree assessment. Chandramohan’s works remain sealed in the faculty as a crime scene, unevaluated. And he, without a diploma, faces two criminal cases, one for his art which would have favored “enmity between different groups for reasons of religion, etc.” and another for attempted murder and arson in 2018, when he allegedly burned down the VCs. office out of frustration at not getting his grade sheet.

In a sort of deja vu, the FFA saw another wave of vandalism when, on May 5, MSU union member Hasmukh Vaghela targeted Kundan Yadav, a first-year master’s student from Bihar for a performance ” reprehensible” of the Hindu gods and Ashoka. Pillar.

Prominent artists who have been associated with the FFA since its inception in 1950 as one of India’s first and best independent art schools find these episodes “painful”.

They recall with nostalgia the time when the late NS Bendre, who taught painting at the faculty, created the “Baroda Group” in 1956, thus shaping a generation of artists known for their “regional modernism”, who stood out from their peers. . who had been educated in the Indian art schools of the British era. Apart from Bendre, the FFA has also seen teachers such as KG Subramanyam, Bhupen Khakkar, Ghulam Mohammed Sheikh and Ratan Parimoo, each of whom has a distinct style and school of thought.

Acharya Vinoba Bhave, Dadasaheb Phalke, Babasaheb Ambedkar, Kanhaiyalal Munshi, former RBI Governor IG Patel and 2009 Nobel Laureate Venkatraman Ramakrishnan are among the distinguished alumni of the university.

Founded as Baroda College in 1881 by the ruler of Baroda State, Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad III, the university was established in 1949 by his grandson Pratapsinh Rao Gaekwad, who was also its first chancellor. Vadodara soon became a city that patronized the arts, a city where freedom of thought and expression was a lived reality.

It was Sayajirao III who invited the famous Raja Ravi Varma of Travancore – the artist known for being the first to give human form to Hindu gods and goddesses through his art – to Baroda State. The city has a gallery dedicated to Ravi Varma in the Maharaja Fatehsinh Museum.

The city’s various museums, marketplaces and offices short of artistic spaces designed by European architects, its palaces, railway, artists and alumni, make Baroda (now Vadodara) a living gallery, a bit like Parisian Montmartre.

The most imposing structure of MS University is the central hall of the Faculty of Arts whose dome, inspired by the Gol Gumbaz of Bijapur, was designed by the British architect Robert Chisholm in the Indo-Saracenic style. The original Baroda College lacked this building.

Drawing inspiration from German universities and the Hindu University of Benares, MSU is among the few unitary universities. Unlike other state universities where the governor is the chancellor, MSU, although supported by government grants, has a member of the royal family as chancellor. The current Chancellor is Rajmata Shubhanginiraje, wife of the late Ranjitsinh Gaekwad, himself a former FFA.

The university campus, in the heart of Mandvi town, stretches from Music College, now the Faculty of Performing Arts, on the shores of the 18th century Sursagar Lake, to Pratapgunj, 3 km away, where the hotels. Between the two is the Kalabhavan, an 1892 palace housing the Faculty of Engineering and Technology, the Faculty of Fine Arts on the banks of the Vishwamitri River, and the Faculty of Science in Pratapgunj.

There is hardly a student who has not seen the room used by the poet-philosopher Sri Aurobindo in the Faculty of Arts when he was speechwriter for Sayajirao III and principal of Baroda College from 1893 to 1906. Aurobindo’s house in the Dandia bazaar of Vadodara is now a national memorial.

The university also houses the Oriental Institute, a space for postgraduate teaching and research that preserves rare manuscripts with their translations.

Yet, it is FFA that stands out as the university’s greatest showpiece. An academic catalog on the MSU website indicates that the FFA has produced some of the “best known artists in the country”. He goes on to say, “The focus is on the creative identity of students and teachers to foster an approach to the study and practice of art that is curious, experimental and research-driven”.

But with every clash, every assault on creativity like the recent one, that space for “experimental and research-driven” art is shrinking somewhat.

Misra, Resident Editor, Gujarat, is an alumnus of MS University

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