Story of Raja Ravi Varma

Every South Indian would have heard stories of Raja Ravi Varma, while growing up. Raja Ravi Varma was a very common famous name that was discussed at our homes, movies and galleries. He was a legend and all of us at least had one copy of his painting at our homes.

There are many Indian art forms that have so much of history and one of them is Pichwai art form. Read the story of Nathdwara’s Pichwai paintings.

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Who was Raja Ravi Varma?

Born in April 1848 at Kilimanoor Palace in Tavancore (presently known as Kerala), Raja Ravi Varma was related to the royal family of Travancore. He was the son of Ezhumavil Neelakanthan Bhattatriipad, scholar of Sanskrit and Ayurveda, and Umayamba Thampurratti, a poet and writer. At the age of 18, Raja Ravi Varma was married to Bhageerathi Bayi from the royal house of Mavelikkara. It was an arranged marriage and the couple were later blessed with 5 children.

The Kingdom of Travancore was an Indian kingdom ruled by the Travancore Royal Family from Padmanabhapuram.

Raja Ravi Varma is a greatest artist in the history of Indian art and paintings. He learned the basics of paintings in Madurai and later was trained in water painting by Rama Swami Naidu and in oil painting by Dutch artist Theodor Jenson.

Raja Ravi Varma
Source: Wikipedia

What was his painting style?

Raja Ravi Varma was known for the fusion of European art with Indian sensibility and iconography. He was also famous for making lithographs of his paintings, that were available to public. His painting styles depicted Hindu Gods and works from Indian poetry and mythology.

Varma received many awards for his paintings. His arts were famous for showcasing the episodes from Mahabharata especially of Dushyanta and Shakuntala, and Nala and Damayanti. All his paintings portrayed a common theme of “desire”.

Raja Ravi Varma painting
Downloaded from the website Wall Paper Access

Where can we see the original Raja Ravi Varma’s paintings now?

Raja Ravi Varma’s originals are housed at multiple places across India. It is also present internationally at Victoria and Albert museum in London.

  • Laxmi Vilas Palace in Vadodara. The Laxmi Vilas Palace was constructed by the Gaekwad family in 1890. The palace is known for its intricate details and the spectacular artworks. According to history, the Maharaja (the King) had built an art studio for Raja Ravi Varma in the palace complex.
  • Salar Jung Museum in Hyderabad. Opened in 1951, the Salar Jung Museum is the third largest museum in India. The museum is home to 39 galleries spread across three buildings. It also has one of the Raja Ravi Varma’s paintings called the Stolen Interview, a painting set in a romantic mood where an Indian woman is listening to her lover.

If you love forts and history, then you would definitely enjoy the Golconda Fort in Hyderabad.

  • National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) in New Delhi. Established in 1954, the NGMA is a premier art gallery housing the collection of modern and contemporary art. The gallery has 19 art works from Raja Ravi Varma’s paintings collection.

For other things to do in New Delhi, read my post 3 days in Delhi.

  • Victoria Memorial in Kolkata. Built between 1906 and 1921, the Victoria Memorial is a large prominent landmark in Kolkata. It is dedicated to the memory of Empress Victoria and is now a museum. A portrait of Raja Sri Thanjavore Madhava Rao, painted by Raja Ravi Varma is currently present at the museum.

Closing Notes

I am a huge fan, like everyone else, of Raja Ravi Varma. He was truly a brilliant artist and an idol for all the Indian artists. There are many artists who try and imitate some of his paintings and some are taught at art classes too. But there is no one like Raja Ravi Varma.

If you loved this article, then you would love the different types of Indian art as well. Give it a read, Different types of Indian paintings.

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11 thoughts on “Story of Raja Ravi Varma”

  1. In a couple of paragraphs, you have brilliantly potraied the life of an artist who had exemplary skills at his art. I’ve been going through your blogs & I find them informative. The info you provided on milky way in NSW is simply an extraordinary work. Thanx for the same. I’m planning to visit this winter to relish the ecstasies of night sky.

    • Thank you so much Arun. I am glad you like them. Re the Milky Way, it is the right season. It will be lovely to know your experience.

  2. I love hearing the stories of the people behind the pieces. He married so young, too! I’m glad that your family let you know about him while you were growing up – learning about art is really important and fosters creativity, too.

  3. So fascinating to read about Raja Ravi Varma and to know that almost everyone has at least one of his paintings in their home! A great tribute for any artist. And great that he made lithographs available so many more people could enjoy his works. I don’t think there is a Canadian artist with this kind of coverage.

  4. As I read this I couldn’t help but think of how many artist have a theme of desire in their work, and many children, curious about the correlation. I love that he was recognized for his works while alive and had a studio in the palace complex, what an honor that would have been for an artist. I also love that Varma’s painting are featured in London museums.

  5. Such a great read about the life and story of Raja Ravi Varma. You captured it very well in your article! I’m also into painting and love reading about the artists. It’s interesting to know that his paintings are exhibited many places in India and even in London.

  6. A wonderful blog post about the life of Raja Ravi Varma, his life and how he learnt painting. It is interesting that his paintings are displayed internationally. I love painting – most oil – and do it as a hobby. The next time I visit any of these museums, I will look for Raja Ravi Varma’s painting. Thanks for an informative blog post.

  7. Wonderfully encapsulated. Loved reading this piece, Raksha. I knew of his amazing work, have seen it too in Mysore palace and can you believe it – Chettinad antique market. However, I honestly had not dug into his origin and life history.

  8. I really enjoyed reading about Raji Rava Varma. And I also like his paintings. As it is unlikely that I will visit India in the near future, I will keep my eyes open to find pictures by him in London.

  9. He is definitely a great and brilliant artist. Thank you for sharing his life and some of his works. I am happy to know him through your post.

  10. Raja Ravi Varma sounds like a brilliant and talented artist. I was not familiar with his work so I am happy to have discovered his artwork through your article. My mom is actually an art teacher so I will have to share this artist with her!


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