By Waikhom Chitradhani
Imphal(Manipur), May 9 : “A picture is worth a thousand words” is an old adage. It is more exemplified by the work of the doyen of the art of painting in Manipur, Rajkumar Chandrajitsana Singh or RKCS as he is popularly known.
Known for his historical paintings, RKCS started his career as an apprentice to his talented father during the period of the second world war. He is regarded as the first Imaginary artist or painter in Northeast as he never used a model or a photograph.
He was born on October 13th, 1924 at Keisamthong Longjam Leirak in Imphal. Son of Late Rajkumar Yumjaosana Singh, one of the pioneer artists in Manipur, RKCS was the third generation artist in their family. His great grandfather Rajkumar Gour Singh was also an artist.
He read books, researched on stories, met intellectuals and made sketch first. After having an imagination of the scene he used to paint on his canvas.
In 1990, an exhibition was organized which was sponsored by Manipur State Kala Academi at GM Hall , in which he had displayed 72 paintings depicting the history of Manipur (1709 – 1949).
Such a huge crowd in an art exhibition was never seen in Manipur, said RK Budhimanta, the second son of RKCS. ‘A journey through the blue mountain’ written by Chintamani Panigrahi was launched on that ceremony and in his book he described RKCS as a born painter.
In 1947, RKCS Chitralaya was set up and it was one of the earliest art studios in the Northeastern region of India and one of the premier in Manipur. It was in the developing era, he had to draw the developing scenario like signboards, milestones, any short of paintings which related with art.
He painted film posters, textbooks paintings for children, Republic Day gate, vehicle’s name plate, drama scenes, photo studio scenes. In 1961, he received the best stage decorator from the Theatre Centre.
RKCS did not set up a school or an institute but with the tradition of an artist he had taught many students. Khero from Yumnam Khunou, Yaima from Moirang, Thambalngou from Mayang Imphal, Rajo from Khurai, Ahanjao from Kakching etc. were some of his students who helped him at the studio.
When Christianity came to Manipur, there was no printer. Picture of Jesus Christ was sent from England and it was painted by RKCS for decorations and worship in the church. At that time, orders came in huge numbers and could not be handled by himself. Especially during Christmas time, he could not give the paintings in time to the customers.
One of the very unique contributions of RKCS is the refinement of the theatre movement of Manipur. He took interest in theatre. He was a make-up man as there was no beauty parlour at the time. He joined Roop Mahal theatre and he was also a life member of MDU.
Budhimanta said, if someone wants to do research on RKCS there are enough materials. Many come for writing their dissertations for their academic purposes, he added.
In 1946, Christopher Gimson, a British Political Agent at the time called RKCS in his residence (present Raj Bhavan), asked him to write the address in the boxes he packed when Gimson was about to leave Imphal for Bombay. RKCS painted the words with neat and clean handwriting. Seeing that Gimson said in Manipuri language “ebungo fajana fajana emankhreda” (you are writing beautifully). In the same year he gave one commission to RKCS — 36 different tribes to be made with wood and it had to be painted. Winston Newton was the material used for painting which was ordered from Kolkata. It was a turning point in his career, sell his works to the states of outside Manipur as well as outside India.
In 1956, RKCS made Durga, Saraswati Idols with mud during Durga puja, Saraswati puja. He made them for Assam rifles, DM college students etc.
Now his son is carrying the tradition of painting in their family. In 1974, Budhimanta started painting as a profession with cinema hall posters of various cinema halls in Manipur which helped his father in the field of painting.
RKCS was his mentor, great teacher, he said and added, a good teacher teaches from the heart. His father put so many restrictions while painting, from every angle. War pictures, cinema posters, insects, science fiction, star wars, jungle etc. were drawn as a practical. At that time they used watercolor Gouache medium. From this he gained many techniques of painting from his father.
In 1994, he got a commission when NCC observed a large ceremony in Jawaharlal Nehru stadium, New Delhi. He had sent a 100*100 ft painting in 25/25 folding under the titled “The Depiction of North Eastern States”, showing North East cultures in the painting.
RKCS Chitralaya was officially inaugurated on 5th May 2003 as RKCS Art Gallery becoming one of the important destinations for tourists in Manipur. Many artists got inspired from the gallery. Tourist guides aim to send the tourists to the RKCS art gallery so as to make it easier to know the overview of tourist spots in the state which is depicted in the paintings of the gallery. Many even came to Manipur with the sole aim of visiting the gallery only.
RKCS now has its own website RKCS.in. During Sangai festivals, there are numerous visitors in the gallery. They exhibited their gallery only once in the Sangai Festival. RKCS paintings are produced as a study and attract many tourists and they want the gallery to be officially exhibited in the largest festival of the state, Budhimanta said.
A diabetic and hypertension patient, RKCS left for his heavenly abode on a very historic day of Manipur. 20th November 2004, the day when the Prime Minister of India, Dr. Manmohan Singh handed over the kangla palace to the state of Manipur and moreover the government of Manipur presented RKCS’s last painting titled,”Kangla the glory of Manipur Civilization” to the Prime Minister as a state gift.
Representatives from around 50-60 countries have visited the gallery but mostly visitors from England and the UK have been in numerous numbers in the gallery. Budhimanta said that they are so happy to see the visitors including high ranking dignitaries from around the world in their gallery. Ambassadors of South Korea, Japan, USA, Cuba, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Myanmar, Nepal, Bangladesh, Brunei, Vietnam, chief justice of India, Bangladesh, Former Defence Minister George Fernandes, MPs, Governors of different states had visited the gallery.
Budhimanta hopes to see his son look after the RKCS museum of art and craft gallery, carrying on the legacy and tradition of this artistic family.