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Portrait of a poet as an artist
- Bishnu Rabha’s family compiles coffee-table book on his paintings

Guwahati, Oct. 13: You know of Bishnu Rabha the rebel, poet, singer, lyricist, actor and politician. Now meet Bishnu Rabha the artist.

As many as 19 paintings by the versatile culture icon have been compiled in a coffee-table book that is slated for release tomorrow. The Rabha family hopes the book will make people aware that he was not just a brilliant writer, but also a great artist. Rabha’s septuagenarian wife, Mohini, is expected to attend the function.

The book, titled Paintings of Bishnu Prasad Rabha, includes his portrait of Srimanta Sankardev. Not many know that the painting, acknowledged as the “official portrait” of the 16th century saint-reformer, was Rabha’s handiwork. Prints of the portrait adorn official buildings, including Raj Bhavan.

“Very few people know that the painting of Sankardev was done by Bishnu Rabha. The fact that the Kalaguru was also a skilled artist is not known to many,” his son Hemraj said today.

The coffee-table book contains four paintings of Sankardev, whose liberal teachings influenced Rabha immensely. Hemraj personally selected the paintings that appear in the book.

Rabha, a self-taught artist, primarily used water colours. He occasionally experimented with crayons.

Hemraj said his family felt an “urgent need” to preserve the paintings for posterity after noticing that these were losing their shine with the passage of time. “The canvases on which he drew have become brittle, too.”

Rabha’s son said the book had been priced at a “modest Rs 210” so that “the price does not scare away people”.

Born in 1909 in a Bodo family, Rabha died at 60. But by then, he had enriched the state’s culture with priceless gems, including songs, short stories and novels. Rabha was a very good actor and essayed a character in the first Assamese film, Joymati, which was made by his friend Jyotiprasad Agarwalla.

His lyrics, including the evocative Parajanamar subha laganot, Lagan ukoli gol, Nahar phoole nushuaai and Roi roi keteki bina oi, form a body of work that is known as “Bishnu Sangeet”.

The legend’s family is working on a memorial at Beltika in Tezpur, where his last rites were performed 33 years ago. The design of the marble memorial, 14 feet at the base and four feet tall, is based on the traditional Assamese gamocha.

The Rabha family decided to go ahead with their “dream project” on their own after a futile wait for the government’s help.

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