Maharaja Sayajirao University, Baroda
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The Faculty of Fine Arts , and other memories
Leena Misra, May 15, 2022: The Indian Express
N S Bendre, who taught painting at the faculty, set up the ‘Baroda Group’ in 1956, thus shaping a generation of artistes known for their “regional modernism”, who stood out from among their peers who had trained in British-era Indian art schools. Apart from Bendre, the FFA also saw teachers such as K G Subramanyam, Bhupen Khakkar, Ghulam Mohammed Sheikh and Ratan Parimoo, each of whom came with a distinct style and school of thought.
Acharya Vinoba Bhave, Dadasaheb Phalke, Babasaheb Ambedkar, Kanhaiyalal Munshi, former RBI governor I G Patel and the 2009 Nobel laureate Venkatraman Ramakrishnan are among the university’s distinguished alumni.
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 came to be known as a city that patronised the arts, one 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 who is known to have been 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, market places and offices running out of artistic spaces designed by European architects, its palaces, its railway, its artists and its alumni, make Baroda (now Vadodara) a living gallery, somewhat like Paris’s Montmartre.
MS University’s most imposing structure is the Central Hall in the Faculty of Arts whose dome, inspired from the Gol Gumbaz of Bijapur, was designed by British architect Robert Chisholm in the Indo-Saracenic style. The original Baroda College ran out of this building.
Drawing from German universities and Banaras Hindu University, MSU is among the few unitary universities. Unlike other state universities where the governor is the chancellor, MSU, though supported by government grants, has a member of the royal family as its chancellor. The current chancellor is Rajmata Shubhanginiraje, wife of the late Ranjitsinh Gaekwad, an FFA alum himself.
The university campus, in the heart of the city in Mandvi, stretches from the Music College, now the Faculty of Performing Arts, on the banks of the 18th century Sursagar lake, to Pratapgunj, 3 km away, where the hostels are. In between are the Kalabhavan, a 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 poet-philosopher Sri Aurobindo in the Faculty of Arts when he was Sayajirao III’s speech writer and principal of Baroda College from 1893-1906. Aurobindo’s house in Vadodara’s Dandia Bazaar is now a national memorial.
The university is also home to the Oriental Institute, a post-graduate teaching and research space that preserves rare manuscripts with their translations.
Yet, it’s FFA that stands out as the university’s biggest centrepiece. An academic catalogue on the MSU website says FFA has produced some of the “best-known artistes of the country”. It goes on to say: “Emphasis is laid on creative identity of students and teachers to foster an approach to the study and practice of art which is inquiring, experimental and research minded”.
But with every clash, every assault on creativity such as the recent one, that space for “experimental and research-minded” art shrinks somewhat.