Sardari Lal Parasher a master of English literature and was known as one of India’s significant sculptors, painters, social reformers and art educationists. The name is not very familiar amongst the people like other Indian contemporary artists because he never wanted to commercialize his creation, art had been just a spiritual journey for him. While remembering the great visionary artist Sardari Lal Parasher, I wish to pay homage to the great unseen master, who was a source of inspiration and in many ways served as a great guide and a mentor to a number of art students who have gone on to become celebrated artists or art educationists in their own style. He not only took care to develop in them an aesthetic awareness but also imparted values through his work and interaction.
Born on April 7th, 1904 in Gujranwala (West Punjab) now in Pakistan, S L Parasher was the son of a surgeon and passionately artistic mother. After doing his post graduation in English Literature from an old Christian college, Lahore in 1935, he went to Mysore, where he met M. A. Aziz. The teacher saw a great potential in him and under his supervision, Parasher went through his preliminary training until he achieved expertise in portrait, landscape painting, and sculpture. It was a turning point in his life. Later he had training in sculpture from another master V. P. Karmakar. His genuineness and fundamental urge to learn made him a courageous experimentalist.
In 1931 Rabindra Nath Tagore while listening to the music of Sikh minstrels, saw his portrait sketch and remarked ‘You have caught my expression, Yes you have got it, I like it very much.’ This left an amazing impact on the development of Parasher’s career. In 1936 he joined Mayo School of Art, as a teacher and later became the Vice- Principal. The year 1947 was indeed a momentous year with a political independence, which divided India and scarred many families. He and his growing family experienced an adventure through the refugee camp at Baldev Nagar, Ambala City and Delhi. There he served the Hindu and Sikh migrant from Pakistan as a camp commander and also used to sketch their distressing and crucial condition on paper as the ‘Strokes of Anguish’ and also made some terra-cotta sculptures in the post-partition refugee camp.
The partition of Punjab had deprived the East Punjab a number of educational Institutions including the Mayo School of Art, Lahore. In the pre-partition days, this Institution had played a very useful part in the aesthetic, Industrial and educational activities of the province. Its loss created uneasiness amongst the fairly large number of people who were interested in the educational development through this institution. The Artists and Craftsmen who were mostly muslims migrated to West Punjab. Although most of the art-industry remained in this part of Punjab, there were no craftsmen left to carry on the art trade.
An Art trade work center was also set up in Gurgaon for the migrated artisans to earn their livelihood and Parasher was appointed as a Technical officer. But there was a dearth of trained art masters, crafts masters, artists, sculptors, designers and architectural draftsmen in the State. Parasher proposed a scheme to establish a new School of Art & Craft on the pattern of Mayo School of Art, Lahore to the Punjab.
After persistent persuasion and consistent efforts to convince on the Punjab Government, S. L. Parasher and others, finally succeeded to get approval to start a School of Art Punjab in Shimla on 16th August 1951. Parasher was appointed as the first Principal of newly opened art School as a replica of Mayo School, Lahore. This was the only nucleus institution of its kind in the region. Other Schools of Art functioning in the country were the Government School of Art, Jaipur; Nizam School of Arts, Hyderabad; Calcutta School of Art; Government School of Art, Lucknow; Sir J J School of Art; Bombay and Government School of Art, Madras.
He was given a free hand to work, but very limited financial resources to rebuild the institution. His search for teachers continued and he succeeded in getting creative people of his choice to join hands with him. Satish Gujral, Kanwal Nain, Sunirmal Chatterjee, N. K. Dey, were the illustrious teachers. They were trained by different teachers under different centres of Art, like the Calcutta School of Art, Mayo School of Art Lahore, Viswa Bharti University Santiniketan, Sir J. J. School of Art, Mumbai and Delhi College of Art. They brought with them certain distinct mark to enrich the art of this institution. The Art school started functioning in a modest way at the fairly large cottage just below the Rashtrapati Niwas (Now known as the Institute for advanced studies) at the Summer Hill with a beautiful surrounding of Red Rhododendron flower trees. The Institution was functioning with a lot of enthusiasm under the control of S. L. Parasher. (The story of the institution was covered in Feb. 2020 issue of Art Observer)
After several years in the foothills of the Himalayas, Parasher retired in 1959 and moved to Bombay as a Director of the All India Handicrafts Board and settled finally in Delhi in the early 60s. Pt. Jawarhar Lal Nehru visited his Exhibition of Sculptures in Delhi and highly appreciated his work. His design for the mural in steel was selected by Le Corbusier which was later fixed on the wall of Men’s College, Chandigarh. Mulk Raj Anand remarked it as a superb piece of art. He designed and executed public artwork at various places in India are two murals in mosaic at Nirman Bhawan, New Delhi, a sculpture in black granite stone of the saint musician Pt. Digamber Paluskar, New Delhi and another ceramic mural for Telecommunication Building, Janpath, New Delhi, painting mural for the Mathematics Faculty of Panjab University, Landscape Sculpture, Leisure Valley, Chandigarh and a bust of Lala Lajpat Rai in bronze. His art works are in the collection Museum of contemporary Art, New Delhi, Museum of Modern Art, Chandigarh and private collections in India, West Germany, Spain, Belgium, England, Netherlands and France. He held several one-artist shows at Bombay, New Delhi, Lahore, Shimla, London, Frankfurt, Paris and Washington D. C.
His children wanted to realize their desire to build him a studio to work, but destiny had some thing else in store for him, he remained indoors struggling with leukemia unable to work much.
S. L. Parasher – the name is etached in the history of College of Arts, Chandigarh.

Dilip Kapoor

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