Art Curator Sonal Motla Explains Why We Need A Poetry Museum In India

Art Curator Sonal Motla Explains Why We Need A Poetry Museum In India

A museum for poetry in India is a celebration of the nation's literary and cultural heritage

Sonal MotlaUpdated: Monday, September 11, 2023, 02:01 PM IST
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Baroque painter Peter Paul Rubens depicted Achilles’ anger in The Death of Hector (circa 1630-1635), interpreting Homer’s Iliad |

In a world brimming with a rich heritage of literature and poetry, one might wonder why are there such few dedicated museums celebrating this art form. While countries like America and Italy boast of poetry museums, India, with its profound history of poetic expression, still awaits its dedicated institution to pay homage to its poetic legacy.

Indian poetry can trace its roots back to the time of Kalidas, a literary luminary whose verses continue to resonate through the ages. His contributions to love poetry have left an indelible mark on the world of literature.

Poetry is a unique creative use of language. Initially, it was narrowly defined by speech in various forms like rhetoric, drama, song, and comedy. Later, definitions emphasised repetition, rhyme, and aesthetic qualities distinguishing it from prose. What makes poetry distinct is its embrace of ambiguity, symbolism, irony, and stylistic elements, inviting diverse interpretations. It layers meanings and forges unseen connections.

Poetry adapts to different cultures and languages, taking on specific forms. While some poets like Dante, Goethe, Mickiewicz, and Rumi are known for rhyming lines and meter, others like Du Fu and Beowulf explore alternative rhythms and euphony. In today's globalised world, poets often draw inspiration from diverse cultures and languages.

Poetry's roots may precede widespread literacy, used in ancient societies like the Vedas and the Odyssey to aid memorisation. Early written records include poetic fragments on monoliths, runestones, and stelae. Poetry can be traced back to the second century BC, as seen in the Epic of Gilgamesh in Akkadian and the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh from the third millennium BC.

Context plays a vital role in poetry, serving various purposes. It records historical events, inspires through liturgical hymns, expresses deep emotions in elegy and tragedy, and employs devices like assonance and rhythm for musical effects.

Poetry distinguishes itself from prose not as illogical or lacking narrative, but as an endeavour to convey beauty or sublimity without being bound by logic or linear narrative. Successful poetry often hinges on an abstract and distinct element, separate from the underlying concepts.

Poetry and painting share ancient connections. Painting is silent poetry, while poetry is a painting that speaks. These links trace back to works like the paintings of the Iliad and Paradise Lost. For instance, Baroque painter Peter Paul Rubens depicted Achilles' anger in 'The Death of Hector' (circa 1630-1635). Many artists have recreated characters from Homer's Iliad, highlighting the synergy that, Painting offers visual poetry, while poetry evokes vivid imagery.

Like music, poetry communicates before it is fully understood. It tugs at heartstrings and creates melodies. Ghazals, nazms, love songs, and more beautifully merge poetry and music.

Bob Dylan, a Nobel Prize-winning poet-musician, expressed, "I consider myself a poet first and a musician second. I live like a poet, and I'll die like a poet." 

Poetry breathes life into thoughts and kindles words. It cleanses our cluttered reality, crafting silence around moments. Poetry transcends history by expressing universal truths. It promotes harmony and invites shadows to dance.

India's poetic heritage extends far beyond Kalidas. The Mahabharata, one of the world's longest poems, stands as a testament to India's narrative prowess. From epic tales like the Mahabharata to the soul-stirring Sufi poetry of Kabir, India's poetic diversity knows no bounds.

कबिरा खड़ा बजार में, सबकी माँगे खैर।

ना काहू से दोस्ती, ना काहू से बैर॥

Renowned poets like Rabindranath Tagore, Kamala Surayya, Sri Aurobindo Ghosh, Sarojini Naidu, Ghalib, and others have left lasting legacies. Contemporary poets like Kaifi Azmi, Nissim Ezekiel, and Gulzar continue this timeless tradition.

If prose is the art of sculpting worlds with words, then poetry is the very essence and soul of this art form. It distils emotions, experiences, and the human condition into the purest form of expression. A poem can convey in a few lines what prose might take pages to unravel.

Art and poetry have enjoyed a symbiotic relationship for centuries. The works of painters like Peter Paul Rubens, who have drawn inspiration from poetry, stand as a testament to this artistic connection.

The proposed museum would provide a platform to honour poetic legends and pay homage to contemporary Indian writers who have gained international acclaim, such as Sarojini Naidu, A.K. Ramanujan, Vikram Seth, Vijay Seshadri, and Dilip Chitre.

A museum for poetry in India is a celebration of the nation's literary and cultural heritage, an acknowledgement of the profound impact that poetry has had on India's identity and its role in shaping the world's perception of this diverse and vibrant nation. 

Such a museum would highlight the rich legacy of Indian poetry and its preservation for generations to come.

(Sonal Motla is an art curator and Director at Rachna Sansad, working towards issues on art education, craft and design as a visiting faculty with a few educational institutions like NIFT Mumbai, among others. Send your feedback to: sonal25fpj@gmail.com) 

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