Dying Pahari Architecture Comes To Life At Shimla Art Festival

Puran Thapa, 25, has felt a unique connection to the hills of Himachal Pradesh since his father was posted to Subathu Cantonment in Solan district, where Thapa attended a military school in Dagshai. His father, a retired subedar major in the Gorkha Rifles, crossed the borders from West Bengal to Pathankot in Punjab.

Born in Nepal, Thapa, a graduate in fine arts from the University of Himachal Pradesh, is on a mission to restore glory to dying traditional Pahari architecture –Kath-kuni.

Last week, when he recreated the magic of a fascinating Kath Kuni drawing on canvases at the “Shimla Art Festival“, a three-day mega event, his work has captured the attention of countless visitors, including tourists and creative veterans.

“It is an abandoned house in Dhashal village, near Manali in Kullu. I visited this remote Pahari village some time ago. I was really moved by the craftsmanship of its architecture which unfortunately is disappearing,” Puran Thapa said. Outlook.

Derived from two words – “Kath”, which means wood, and “Kuni” which means corner – is a natural style of building construction using locally available wood and stones as the basic building materials.

Kath Kuni

The buildings thus constructed are environmentally friendly, resistant to earthquakes and suitable for the climatic conditions of the hilly region.

“The construction technique is to use alternating layers of long, thick wooden logs and stone masonry. There is no mortar or other materials except the occasional cup. “there are no vertical columns, instead horizontal beams are built. The stones are tightly fitted to provide a solid foundation for the structure,” said Harbans Brascon, public relations manager, who hails from Kinnaur. The construction technique is often called ‘Cator and Cribbage’

the Kath Kuni buildings are popular in Kullu-Manali, Chamba, Shimla and Kinnaur except Uttarakhand and Nepal.

Puran Thapa said he studied nearly 100 to 150 Kath Kuni buildings and recreated their architectural magic on the canvas.

Most of these buildings are either abandoned due to the movement of families and children to urban towns, or they remain poorly maintained as craftsmen are not readily available to preserve the age-old architecture. The shortage of wood and stones is another contributing factor.

“Nevertheless, some families have managed to retain their Kath Kuni buildings. They turned them into foster families, using their commercial value,” Puran Thapa said.

The budding creative artist is also working with descendants of the legendary Stokes family to research how Samuel Stokes, the man who introduced apple farming to Himachal Pradesh, came to the hills in 1904 and makes Thanedar his home.

Commenting on Thapa, Him Chatterjee, a renowned creative artist and Chairman of the Department of Visual Arts, University of Himachal Pradesh, said, “Puran Thapa is an outstanding artist, whose work at Kath-Kuni is of great importance. His work is not isolated in Himachal Pradesh but also in the Himalayan region including Nepal and Jammu and Kashmir. His art definitely went beyond the canvas to make people realize the value of preserving Kath-Kuni.

Puran Thapa reiterated that he plans to resume Kath Kuni as part of his doctoral thesis and contribute to the preservation, revival and propagation of this traditional art of construction.

One of the most popular Kath Kuni building is the Bhimakali temple at Sarahan, near Rampur. Bhimakali is the family deity of former Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh. Only a few years ago he had conservation work done to give the temple a nice finish. The building was also a theme chosen by one of the participants in the art festival.

Another veteran artist from Jammu, KK Gandhi, also brought with him live visual impact on a large canvas at the sprawling Ridge, to showcase his brilliant artistry. His paintings are related to the Himalayan landscape with Buddhist stupas and snow lines in the high mountains.

Sharing his experience, Gandhi said, “Where can I attract such a fantastic crowd to my work? Open blue skies, a cool breeze and the scent of cedars. This is what art needs, after all!


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Reggie S. Williams