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Koshur Music

An Introduction to Spoken Kashmiri



Suraj Tiku's Genius Lay in His Art

By Dr. R.K. Tamiri

Suraj Tiku was drawn to art instinctually. As a young boy he would pick up charcoal to draw sparrows on walls. When he was in the 5th or 6th standard his art teacher had asked him to draw a flower. Suraj finished the drawing and presented it to the teacher. The latter was annoyed and scolded him. He had an impression that somebody else had done the job for Suraj. The teacher asked him to make the drawing in his presence. He was amazed to see such free flow of lines.

Suraj's artistic instincts were spotted and honed into serious pursuit for art by Pt. Kashi Nath Bhan. The latter became Suraj's Guru, not only in painting but also in set designing and acting. Bhan was colleague and close friend of his uncle. Pt. Shridhar Joo. The former was a regular visitor to Tikus's home and had the opportunity to watch Suraj's immense talent at close hand. It is true that not many of Bhan's students achieved comparable fame and success as Suraj did. Suraj had the zeal to learn and imbibed his guru's teachings quite faithfully.

Suraj was a master artist who could do portraits and landscapes with equal ease. In later years when he came in association with Sh. Trilok Kaul at the Institute of Fine Arts Suraj received the influence of Modern Art. Suraj Tiku's abstract paintings amply reflect on his capacity to quickly adapt to the new techniques and art forms in painting.


Even as Suraj Tiku came our of the portals of Amar Singh Technical Institute he was an accomplished portrait painter. His portrait of Ram Lal, Principal of Kamahi Devi School at Hoshiarpur speaks about it. Two other portraits of this period include those of Lord Rama and Lord Krishna.

Suraj Tiku's another teacher at AS Technical Institute was Pt. Jagar Nath Mattoo, an excellent portrait artist of his time. Tiku would spend lot of time with him to learn techniques in portrait-drawing. Suraj had good hold and perfection in portrait making. He would do his portrait painting in oil. Sh. Moti Lal Kemu describes him as 'the last portrait painter I know'. Suraj never made portraits for commercial purposes.

He was asked by the J&K government to make a life-size portrait of Sheikh Abdullah, the then Chief Minister. This oil on canvas painting is preserved in Sher-i-Kashmir Conference Hall at Soura Institute.

Another master portrait drawn by Suraj is that of Bhagwan Gopi Nath, an ascetic of high spiritual merit. Mr. MK Tiku, who gave the order on behalf of Bhagwan Gopi Nath Trust, recalls, "when I showed this 4x3 painting, oil on canvas, to Pt. Shankar Joo Fotedhar he was amazed. The saint was shown in sitting posture, performing Havan. Every item used in the Havan-Thal (plate), Pambash, Shakar (Jaggery ), Narjeel (coconut pieces), Kangri (local warming stove), was so well delineated. This painting was stolen in mid-1990s when some people gate-crashed into the Temple premises at Kharyar.

Other excellent portraits made by Tiku and still available to us include those of--Saint Anandji (of Vilgam), Saint Govind Kaul Jalali (of Ram Shaiv Ashram, Fatehkadal) Dr. Amarchand Kak, the first optician (1929) of Kashmir, Pt. Tika Lal Langoo, the great philanthropist and father of Sh. Krishen Langoo, the music maestro etc. He also made portraits of Pt. Jawahar Lal Nehru, Mahatma  Gandhi, Dr. S.N. Ahmed Shah, the renowned physician and Sh. Chaman Lal Churangoo, one of the founders of Kala Kendra theatre.  Mr. Balkrishen Qasba's only regret is that Tiku never made portrait of his illustrious grandfather, Master Zind Kaul. He says, "Suraj made such an excellent portrait of Kishen Langoo's father, delineating his facial wrinkles so nicely".

Both the Artists Gh. Rasool Santosh and Suraj Tiku had been asked to make large-sized portraits of Pt. JL Nehru. Suraj was also quick in portrait drawing. Even while he was conversing with a person he would prepare the sketch of the person in ten minutes and the following day he would present the finished portrait to him.

Gokul Dembi, the famed painter-artist and Tiku's former colleague comments, "I found him to be the best portrait painter of his era. His use of colours was beautiful. In his portraits the colour of the skin would look so natural and portraits full of life".

Sh. M.K. Tiku, a connoisseur of art, who knew most of the master artists of Kashmir intimately, adjudges Tiku as good as Mahendra Nath Dhar, the veteran portrait artist of early 20th Century. He observes," Dhar was better known because he was there before Suraj Tiku had arrived on the scene. Also, the urban elite of Srinagar had portraits made by Dhar on orders. More than 75% of these portrait paintings had been done by him. It was quite natural that Dhar was better known".

Landscape Painting:

Suraj Tiku's landscape paintings have been much appreciated. He was equally proficient in oil as well as in water colour. Like other painters his landscape paintings have been done mostly in water colour.

Suraj loved to paint Kashmir landscapes and its rural scenes. Boat formed a regular theme in his landscape painting. To him boat symbolised Kashmir. In landscape paintings he would paint Dal and Anchar lakes and other water bodies in the vicinity of Srinagar and rural hinterland. Dal Lake has been the regular theme of local as well as foreign painters. Some of his best landscape paintings include 'A street scene in winter', 'River by Night' (Displayed at 32nd Annual All India Exhibition in 1968), 'In Kashmir' (Displayed at Art Exhibition in Jammu in 1964).

Another much appreciate landscape painting of Tiku is 'A River scene near Purushyar Temple' in Habbakadal. This was the painting he gifted to his friend Sh MK Tiku, a trustee of Bhagwan Gopi Nath Trust and a  leading saffron trader. One evening Suraj was gossiping with Mr. Tiku at the Habbakadal bridge. He took out cover of cigarette packet and drew a pencil sketch of the area near Purushyar temple, with Jehlum flowing in its full majesty and behats (big boats) moored on its banks. Tiku asked Suraj to try a better landscape scene-near Chinar Bagh or Nehru Park. After 5-6 days Suraj droped in at Mr. Tiku's shop in Habbakadal and handed him over the painting-depicting river scene near Purushyar Temple. Great landscape painter Dina Nath Wali 'Almast' on seeing this painting in Mr MK Tiku's house had all praise for Suraj. Suraj also respected Mr. Wali and admired his landscape work. Tiku would preserve Wali's paintings. Wali's poetic collection "Sahrayuky Posh" (Desert Flowers), presented to Suraj by the author was carried by him to Jammu also. On another occasion artist GR Santosh  took this painting in his hands, kissed it and exclaimed, "Yi Chuh Kamal, Yi Gav Artist. Atha Asiah Logmut Rupaya Ya Zah, Vuchiv Kamal' (This is great. This shows the artist in him. It must have cost him a rupee or two. How wonderful it is?) Another artist from Maharashtra, who was connected with Khadi Commission and visited Mr. MK Tiku, saw the painting. He had all praise for the painting and asked Mr Tiku if the artist of the painting was alive and expressed desire to meet Suraj Tiku. The meeting could not materialise as the Maharashtrian artist had to leave early.

Oil on Canvas Work:

Suraj Tiku also did oil on canvas landscape paintings. His best paintings in oil include 'Horses', 'Roses', 'Dongas at Habbakadal' (1975) etc. 'Horses' was gifted by Suraj to Muzaffar Ali, the noted filmmaker of 'Zooni' fame. Another painting with similar title adorns Amar Mahal Gallery. 'Roses' (displaying Roses in coir basket) was presented by Tiku to Dr. Naseer. The latter on seeing this beautiful painting got up from his seat in appreciation.

Many of Suraj Tiku's paintings are in collections of J&K Cultural Academy and other Art Galleries of India. His paintings have been displayed in exhibitions held by J&K Cultural Academy and 'Visionaries' Group. This group was launched by artists serving at the Institute of Music and Fine Arts in 1969, with an objective to activate the work of art in Kashmir and hold exhibitions. Its leading lights were Suraj Tiku, Prof. Santji Sultan (Gen. Secretary), Trilok Kaul, PN Kachru, Gokul Dembi and others.

This group held an exhibition in Delhi , in which Suraj also participated with his paintings.

Suraj Tiku's paintings have been awarded for 'First Snowfall' (1963-64), 'Horses' (1965), 'Roses' (1964), 'My Land' (1967). The awards were given by J&K Cultural Academy.

Miniature Paintings:

Tiku had fascination for Kashmiri miniature paintings. Whenever a miniature painting would come his way he would preserve it in his archival collection with great care. Santosh Tiku remarks, "father did not only appreciate the antiquity or beauty of these paintings but would also speak with great sense of pride that Kashmiris had such remarkable creativity".


Tiku's contemporaries and juniors had great regard for his artistic work. Pt. Trilok Kaul, his mentor and close friend comments:

"Suraj was very sincere towards his art and profession. He was inquisitive, had will to learn and evolve. His paintings on the strength of their quality qualified for exhibitions alongwith those of Somnath Bhat, Kishori Kaul, PN Kachroo etc. Tiku's landscape paintings had an edge over those of DN Wali (particularly after 1949) as Tiku was in tune with contemporary trends in art though his base was traditional. He had seen Sat Lal Kampassi, DN Wali, British artists etc. Tiku's style was different from that of Wali. GR Santosh, however, had an edge over Suraj in line".

According to Krishan Langoo, Suraj Tiku accepted no artist other than Trilok Kaul. Tiku admired Trilok Kaul's creativity and had all appreciation for his struggle to pursue art despite hardships and economic uncertainty.

Trilok Kaul, Tiku's Director at the Institute of Fine Arts, had a positive influence on Suraj's persuasion of art. Return of Trilok Kaul and others from Baroda saw a new interest among local artists in use of bright colours and trying new art forms like cubism, expressionist styles and other forms of abstract painting. Suraj Tiku also absorbed these influences. 'Kanzalvan' (1975), a village near Gurez, is perhaps the best done by Suraj in this genre.

Gokul Dembi also admires Tiku's landscape paintings. He observes:

"Suraj would make beautiful landscape paintings. He would do in water colour usually and occasionally in oil. The reason was water colour was fashion of the day in Kashmir. Suraj's landscape paintings were done in a realistic way, his water colour used to be like water where freshness would be preserved. He would do it in traditional way. Suraj did abstract painting also. There was influence of Trilok Kaul on him but Tiku's basic concepts remained the same".

Rajinder Tiku, an eminent sculpturist remarks:

"I know Suraj more as a person who was very jovial and loved to cut jokes on anything. He would also treat his work very jovially. His work would excude energy".

Illustration Work:

Suraj Tiku would prepare portraits and sketches for Gaash, a magazine in Kashmiri, published by publication wing of J&K Education Ministry. He would also do illustration work for books brought out by the Education department. Tiku made title covers for many books, including Lol Badrayas Lol Rey, Saya Git  (authored by PNK Sayil and Halas Chu Rotul' ,by Harikrishan Kaul.

Tiku used to work for exhibitions, designing models for different departments. He helped B.Ed. students in preparing models.

Source: Kashmir Sentinel



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