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Shri Gangadhar Som


Artist of the 48 Sri Hanuman paintings in the Karya Siddhi Hanuman temple, Dallas

Shri Gangadhar Som is a Bangalore, and Mysore-based artist who has created hundreds of artworks that include the 48 resplendent Sri Hanuman paintings in the Karya Siddhi Hanuman temple in Dallas, Texas, USA. In 2017, he was conferred with the title ‘Datta Peetha Asthan Chitrakara’ by Sri Sri Sri Ganapathi Sachchidananda Swamiji.


Interviewed and translated from Telugu by Usha Akella 


(With the blessings of Sri Sri Sri Ganapathi Sachchidananda Swamiji)


UA: Namaskaram Soma Garu. Let me begin my expressing the deep joy I felt when I saw your art in the Dallas temple. I was transported for hours mesmerized by the rich and detailed oil paintings exhibited all around the interiors of the temple. Ever since that day, I have nurtured the desire to find out more about the artist behind that divine work, and feel so grateful it has materialized. So, let’s delve into your story and talent. Kindly share your childhood background and training in art?

GS: I was born on October 21st, 1961 in Podur, in West Godavari, Andhra Pradesh, India, as the eldest of four sons in my family. My mother’s name was Nagamani. I was interested in art since a child as my father was Shri Gangadhar Kasa a renowned artist. My own family, consists of my wife Lalitha, one boy and one girl, both are married. The boy Tejo Trinadh is in Australia in the computer field. My daughter Monica is an animator in Bangalore.

My father was the Datta Peetha Asthan Chitrakara (Chief artist) at Sri Sri Sri Ganapathi Sachchidananda Swamiji ashram in Mysore. My father was an art director and used to do cinema publicity art and poster designs, as well as film newspaper ads. Work was manual in those days. My father did extensive film work for Kannada, Telugu, Tamil, English, Hindi, Malyalam and Odiya etc., He must have done the artwork for more than 1500 films along with me.

My art training began early at home, I spent three years of my childhood in Tadepalligudam, Andhra Pradesh for my early schooling. After that, I studied at Ramakrishna School in Chennai, Tamil Nadu from 4th on to 9th class. My father taught at the Government College of Arts and Crafts, Chennai where the teachers there started a night club for art. I used to accompany my father there, and watch the artists paint portraits, still life, and such. The early exposure to art with my father was a big advantage in my life, my father was my first teacher, and biggest inspiration. A lot of artists used to come home to meet my dad; I learnt from their techniques- line drawings, lettering styles, drawing styles, and color mixing; I observed how they created background schemes, and how colors are mixed and combined…

I finished my tenth class in Mahanandi near Nandyal, Andhra Pradesh (as I wasn’t particularly interested in studies, I was sent there to concentrate on my studies), and retuned to Chennai thereafter.

The teachers at the college recommended that I join the college for the five-year diploma course which my father was intending to do anyway after my tenth class.  

I worked very hard for the entrance exam—which was an all-day test—a figure drawing of a live model from 9-5 p.m. Due to the practice sessions with my father, I was able to successfully tackle the exam, and made about 20-25 sketches of the model, more than what was asked for. After five years, I eventually, earned my diploma in Commercial art that combined many kinds of art forms. The post diploma I chose was Textile design. No computers in those days were available to us. It was manual, and required hard work. I used to complete my work in a day at college for assignments even though we were given a week. I always had a thirst to learn new techniques, so, would go and observe other’s work, styles and techniques—and then, go home and practice. I was a silent learner, and learnt much by simply listening to students, and teachers chatting. It was an art-based college so there was a lot of freedom to be mobile around campus. The principal of the college appreciated my passion for the subject. I liked to experiment. I applied things I was learning to the film publicity work I was doing outside of college.

Upon earning my diploma, the principal even offered me a job at the college. But I chose to work with my father, and assist him. As the artists working with my father were itinerant, I was groomed to work with my father as a constant and stable support to him.

UA: Any recollections of awards you won when as a student?

GS: One of my recollections is winning a Wildlife contest organized by the Tamil Nadu Forest Department government in 1981. I also won the first prize in Loyola college’s Art Club competition in the Paper collage art category in 1978.  I won many such prizes during my school and college years.


UA: Some of your earliest inspirations?

GS: Bapu, the famous illustrator, film director and artist, Vaddadi Papayya (the painter, illustrator and artist who illustrated the Chandamama magazine, and other Telugu magazines), and Bob Peak, the American illustrator inspired me very much. I would avidly read about, and learn from old books on the classical Masters in the college library.

My father remains my biggest inspiration. He passed away in 2004.

UA: You have had a phase of working in the film industry on posters. Please share.?

GS: My first collage-style poster, was done in eighth grade on Jyoti- the Telugu movie. Most of the South Cinema industry was based in Chennai in the 50s, 60s and 70s.  This is why we were based out of there. We worked on many posters for MGR, Sivaji Ganesan, and many other actors. From 1989- ‘91, we moved to Hyderabad’s Film Nagar society, as the film industry had moved there, and was becoming a hub. Rama Naidu built a studio there. Padmalaya studios, Annapurna studios, Rama Naidu studios all became based in Hyderabad. We worked on Usha Kiran films during that time, and on posters for numerous famous actors like N.T. Rama Rao, Nageshawar Rao, Krishna, and Shobhan Babu etc., We did a few for Chiranjeevi in the early phase of his career like Kothala Rayudu. 

In 1992, we moved to Bangalore for the Kannada film industry. We worked extensively on Dr. Raj Kumar films in Karnataka, the number one hero in Kannada film industry.  I was offered an ongoing work space at Parijata movies offices. My last film was Shabdavedi.  I also worked on CD and DVD cover designs for companies like Shri Ganesh Video, Nakoda Video etc., I executed many other oil paintings. This work continued till about 2010. Another interesting thing I did were the oil paintings portraits for the guests of honor like Shri Balasubramaniam garu, Shri Vishwanath garu etc., for Chaitanya Bharathi organization, in Bhimavaram.

UA: How did your involvement with Sri Sri Sri Ganapathi Sachchidananda Swamiji begin?

GS: As mentioned, my father was the Asthan Chitrakara (Chief artist) at Sri Sri Sri Ganapathi Sachchidananda Swamiji ashram, and his work on the Datta Darsnam film in 1985 deepened his association with Swamiji, and ashram’s art projects. An important project that my father did was (and I assisted him) the 48 paintings of ancient and classical musicians for the Nada Mandapam in the ashram. So due to my father, naturally, our involvement in the ashram began. My father lived there till 2004, and executed numerous projects for Swamiji as seva, and with utmost devotion. After my father passed away, Swamiji has embraced our family, and now my work is focused on his projects. I became attached to him deeply since 2008 since he asked me to take my father’s place.

The ashram’s management team is like a family to us. We were sent to Jayalakshmi Puram, Swamiji’s town to understand Swamiji’s life. I was asked to render a daily sketch of Sri Hanuman from his life story for the ashram’s Facebook page that was accompanied by a story. Sketching various Hanuman’s idol forms was another project—all this became practice in a way for the final Dallas temple project. In the Ganagapuram ashram, Karnataka, the Narasimha Swamy paintings I painted are on display. We were sent to Pitapuram, Andhra Pradesh for inspiration, read books, and then created the paintings. My wife is my staunch companion in all my work. 

On the occasion of Swamiji 75th birthday in Mysore in 2017, I was honored with the title ‘Datta Peetha Asthan Chitrakara’.
We are blessed to be associated with Swamiji so closely, and to be able to be associated with this peaceful, and devotional work, immersed in spirituality. He has showered us with care, opportunities and blessings. Due to him, my work now is in Dallas being viewed by thousands of devotees. I am indebted to Swamiji for his grace.

UA: How did the project for the 48 paintings of Sri Hanuman Charitra begin?

GS: On 2002, in Mysore, for Swamiji’s 60th birthday the exhibition, 60 of my Sri Sri Sri Ganapathi Sachchidananda Swamiji paintings were exhibited and sold.  It took a few months for us to paint this set of paintings. I also did 25 paintings of Sri Narasimha Saraswati’s jiva charitra (life story) in 2011, 25 of Sri Pada Vallabha jiva charitra, and 25 oil paintings of birds which was a unique art project. Swamiji wanted kids and people to understand and remember the role and symbolism of birds in our Indian religious literature and folklore. I also did over 100 sketches for the Guru Geetha book. All this work instilled Swamiji’s trust in my talent.

In 2010, we sent the first Hanuman painting to Dallas—of Shri Hanuman carrying the Sanjeevani Mountain. It was liked very much, and I did a second one as well. In 2019, I began the Dallas Temple project of the 48 Shri Hanuman paintings. I submitted the 48 oil paintings (in Camel oil colors) in 2021.

UA: Please share the process you adopted to work on the paintings.

GS: The covid lockdown helped me gain time to develop, and expand the ideas for each painting. I was aiming for a dynamic effect; my knowledge of all the masters’ work I had observed, and a lifetime of experience gained with my father came into play. I was able to formulate my ideas for the compositions paying close attention to backgrounds in each painting.

The ashram gave me a content-script for the 48 paintings. I started with smaller sized rough sketches. Then, there was a discussion on the sketches. The final paintings are 8 feet by 5 feet. I drew the scenes on each canvas.  No computer aided work happened for this series. Each painting took at least 20-30 days. Some were simpler compositions; some were more complex.

Sri Hanuman flying to the sun as a boy was the first painting I did. We sent 2 to Dallas first, after Swamiji gave us the green signal to proceed with the work. As I recollect it, these paintings were, the Panchamukham Anjaneya painting, and Sri Hanuman flying to the sun. The next installment was a series of 20, with some corrections and suggestions provided by Swamiji.

After that, the Dallas temple team saw the paintings in Girinagar ashram (Bangalore), and the paintings were shipped off to Dallas from there. I would have liked Swamiji to see all of them before we shipped them off, but the joy is that Swamiji saw the entire exhibit in the temple itself. Swamiji gave me the strength to do this project. This project took more than two years to complete by staying at home without any travel with the loving support and help of my wife, son and daughter.

UA: Upcoming projects?

GS: With the grace and blessings of Swamiji, I want to do many more works. Swamiji encourages thousands of artists abundantly promoting art in various fields. I hold a deep desire in my heart to work on a modern art exhibit in the oil painting medium. 

Swamiji is the God in my life, I have thrived, and my art has flourished due to his generosity.
Namaskaram. Jai Guru Datta!

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