A Hindu engineer-turned-art connoisseur has been turning old Catholic churches in India into artistic attractions.
Subrata Ganguly said restoring churches, and adding “Indian flavor” to it, has become a passion.
He ventured into church art at a time when European art in India was gradually fading and was giving way to traditional Indian palettes.
One of Ganguly’s first major works is the Don Bosco museum in Mawlai near Shillong, the capital city of eastern Meghalaya state.
The museum, located inside the Sacred Heart Theological College campus, is a hexagonal seven-storey building that showcases the culture and lifestyle of India’s north-eastern states — Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, and Tripura.
Ganguly has also turned the centuries-old Bandel church and the Shantiniketan church in the eastern Indian state of West Bengal into tourist destinations.
The engineer, who is also a Hindu Brahmin from West Bengal, said his interest in Christianity started during his childhood when he studied the different religions.
“I am also a product of the Don Bosco School in Kolkata,” he admitted. He knows the Bible, the Catholic sacraments and even the laws of the Church.
He said it would be impossible to execute a work of church art without any knowledge of the Bible or the sacraments.
“If I have no idea of baptism, I cannot execute a baptismal font or design a church on the theme of Ascension,” said the 51-year old Ganguly.
Inculturation is a major feature of his work.
The restoration of the 420-year-old Bandel church in eastern Kolkota’s Hooghly district is one of Ganguly’s highly acclaimed works.
Built in 1599 by Augustinian monks, the Marian shrine features a 20-foot mural of the Last Supper, an open air Stations of the Cross, which has 54 life-size statues; a galaxy of statues of popular saints; a musical fountain; and bronze church doors with liturgical symbols and figures.
A 20×8-foot mural in bronze in the mini basilica dedicated to the Our Lady of the Rosary depicts the life of St Francis of Assisi and how tried to establish harmony with nature, with God, and with oneself,
The Infant Jesus church at Shantiniketan in West Bengal’s Birbhum district is based on the traditional open-air classes started by Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore. A statue depicting Jesus seated in a lotus position under an imposing banyan tree facing the altar immediately catches one’s attention.
Ganguly, a self-taught artist who admitted that he has been inspired by tradition, has designed a grotto dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes in a conch shell. People would blow the shell while praying.
Down south in Tiruchirappalli in Tamil Nadu state, a huge mural of Jesus praying, which measures approximately 80×23 feet, greets visitors who enter the cathedral.
“To depict the Lord praying at dawn, a lot of light and shadow effect is shown in the work with minute details of Jesus’ figure and of the landscape,” Ganguly explained his work.
He said the rocks are projected very clearly and “the overall finish style is realistic with high relief work like hills of 18 to 20 inches projecting out of the base.”
A multicolor finish brings out the tonal color effect of the time of day, said the artist.
Ganguly’s crowning glory is the bronze life-size statue of Mother Theresa that is installed at the archbishop’s house in Kolkata. It is the artist’s tribute to the saint whom he knew since his school days.