Explore the legacy of a distinguished art historian, author, and institutional leader whose impact extends beyond the canvas.

Brijinder Nath Goswamy, affectionately known as B.N. Goswamy, is a significant figure in the narrative of Indian art history. His emergence in 1933, amidst historical upheavals, unfolded as an intellectual journey characterised by resilience, academic brilliance, and an unyielding commitment to unveiling the profound beauty and significance of Indian art.

From the vibrant streets of his birthplace to the corridors of academic institutions and leadership roles in cultural foundations, Goswamy’s journey is a testament to a life lived in pursuit of artistic understanding, leaving a permanent mark on the global appreciation of Indian artistic traditions.

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B.N. Goswamy, a distinguished art historian, author, and institutional leader_©Jaswal, 2023

B.N. Goswamy’s Early Years: A Journey of Birth, Migration, and Academic Roots

B.N. Goswamy’s birth on February 15, 1933, in Sargodha, Punjab Province, British India (Pakistan today), set the stage for a life defined by unique challenges and transformative experiences. The political and social upheavals of the Partition, which unfolded in 1947, would shape Goswamy’s formative years.

The significant changes brought about by partitioning British India into India and Pakistan forced Goswamy’s family to migrate to Amritsar around 1947, marking an important chapter in Goswamy’s life that shaped his childhood. The challenges and upheavals experienced during this period laid the foundation for the unwavering dedication characterising his later pursuits.

Following the family’s migration, Goswamy’s childhood was shaped in Hoshiarpur, Punjab, India. Surrounded by the culturally enriched atmosphere, he developed a deep connection with art and history. The region’s vibrant artistic and historical heritage likely contributed to his early fascination with the arts.

Goswamy’s education started in Punjab and was furthered in Amritsar, where he navigated the challenges of post-Partition life. Regardless of the difficulties, he made a promising start to academic excellence.

B.N. Goswamy’s Academic and Professional Journey: From IAS to Artistic Eminence

Transformative Academic Journey

Born to B.L. Goswamy, a district and sessions judge, B.N. Goswamy completed his intermediate studies at the Hindu College in Amritsar. His dedication culminated in attaining a master’s degree from Punjab University in 1954, showcasing his resilience and intellectual ability early on.

Joining the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) in 1956 showcased a promising start in a prestigious career. Goswamy worked in the Bihar cadre, responsible for administrative tasks and duties for the state of Bihar. However, stumbling upon Dr M.S. Randhawa’s book on Kangra paintings during a train journey set the stage for a profound shift towards art. Captivated by the world of art, in 1958, after two and a half years in the IAS, he courageously resigned, leaving economic and political history in favour of art history.

Goswamy’s departure from the IAS after two and a half years wasn’t a mere career shift; it symbolised a courageous pursuit of intellectual fulfilment, choosing passion over prestige.

His post-IAS journey was marked by remarkable roles that echoed his commitment to preserving and promoting India’s rich artistic heritage. Beyond titles, these roles reflected his dedication to art, history, and cultural heritage.

He returned to Panjab University and researched Kangra painting of the lower Himalayas and its social backdrop, obtaining a doctoral degree (PhD) in 1961. Under the guidance of the renowned historian Hari Ram Gupta, he solidified his commitment to the scholarly exploration of art.

B.N. Goswamy’s Post-Ph.D. career

B.N. Goswamy’s post-Ph.D. career at Panjab University reflects a lifelong commitment to the faculty of Art History, where he performed professor and emeritus professor roles. During this tenure, he played a key role in shaping the institution’s artistic direction, contributing substantially by organising and improving the Museum of Fine Arts. The museum, holding an impressive collection of 1200 contemporary Indian art creations, is a testament to his enduring legacy.

Goswamy expanded his influence internationally, acting as a visiting professor at respectable institutions. He also took on various roles outside academia, administrating the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) and acting as the Centre for Cultural Resources and Training (CCRT) vice chairman.

His leadership as the Chandigarh Lalit Kala Akademi chair showcased a broader commitment to cultural institutions. Goswamy’s multifaceted career, marked by academic excellence, global engagement, and contributions to cultural preservation, underscores his profound impact on art and education.

Beyond academic titles, Goswamy’s esteemed position as a professor reflected the depth of his influence, establishing his work as a cornerstone in the appreciation and interpretation of Indian artistic traditions. His commitment to preserving Indian art and encouraging a global perspective surpassed the limits of his role as a teacher and curator, highlighted by the universality of his insights into art and culture.

B.N. Goswamy’s lecture style and engagement transformed academic discourse into a cultural spectacle, where the magnetic pull of his lectures attracted packed audiences comparable to a pop concert. His talks added layers of richness to the intellectual experience, enriched by a diverse range of references, including Urdu and Persian poetry, Sanskrit shlokas, and Punjabi idioms, solidifying his place as a captivating and influential figure in art.

He emerged as a distinguished art historian and critic. He was key in shaping the discourse on Pahari paintings and Indian miniatures and permanently improved the understanding of Indian art.

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B.N. Goswamy’s lecture style and engagement transformed lectures into a cultural spectacle_©Special Arrangement, 2023

Artistic Impact and Contributions of B.N. Goswamy

B.N. Goswamy’s Global Impact

Goswamy’s expertise in pre-modern Indian Art, due to his extensive research on Pahari painting traditions, provides a clear understanding of regional artistic expressions. His commitment to resolving the details of Indian art history showcases a passion beyond academia. Goswamy’s advocacy for conserving and documenting India’s artistic traditions went beyond academic pursuits. He actively contributed to the preservation of cultural heritage with his involvement in the curation of exhibitions, advocating for art education and long-term sustainability through holistic approaches. Goswamy had a deep understanding of the interrelation between physical and intellectual development.

His innovative approach of consulting ancient texts and involving a panda adds a charming and personal touch to his research process. Through his research and teachings, he highlighted the role of individual artists in shaping artistic traditions by emphasising family workshops as the cradle of painting styles. He challenged traditional narratives, reviving painters like Nainsukh and Manaku reshaping the understanding of art history.

He had an overwhelming influence in India and on a global scale; his ability to decipher art through lectures made the intricate beauty, richness, and vocabulary of Indian art accessible to diverse audiences worldwide.

Books, Publications, and Articles by B.N. Goswamy

Goswamy’s influence reached far beyond the classroom. He authored over twenty books on arts and culture, some of which became central in shaping the discussion on Indian art. He has also published several articles in Indian and international journals and magazines and a 40,000-word audiovisual presentation. He also wrote a regular column in The Tribune, titled Art n Soul, and delivered keynote addresses and lectures in India and abroad.

Goswamy’s meticulous research and interdisciplinary approach extended to diverse regions of India, connecting elements through deep research. His published works contributed significantly to the historical art standard and highlighted previously unrecognised talents.

His books, publications and articles personalise art history and make it more accessible, contributing to a better understanding of Indian art.

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Goswamy’s last book, released in October 2023, ‘The Indian Cat: Stories, Paintings, Poetry, and Proverbs,’_© Govt. Museum & Art Gallery Chandigarh (Facebook), 2023

Philosophical Views

B.N. Goswamy’s philosophical views on art emphasise a commitment to abstraction and exploring the intangible. He encourages artists to exceed literal representation, encouraging conceptual and symbolic dimensions. He would bridge abstract ideas with analogies to reach a broader audience, making art more accessible.

Goswamy’s ability to connect different art forms, traditions, and philosophies showcases the depth and breadth of his knowledge. He preferred lightness and subtlety, a sophisticated artistic philosophy with an appreciation for elegance and poetic expression.

His intentional choice not to build a personal art collection reflects a philosophical stance, emphasising the communal nature of knowledge and the importance of adopting a collective pursuit of understanding. His wish for a ‘corpora of art historians’ highlights his visionary approach to art and its preservation.

Recognition and Awards

B.N. Goswamy earned prestigious awards throughout his career, celebrating his great contributions, scholarly achievements, and key role in reshaping the narrative of Indian art. The Padma Shri in 1998 and Padma Bhushan in 2008 are among India’s highest civilian recognitions, emphasising his work’s impact in advancing the understanding and appreciation of Indian art.

After retirement, Goswamy was designated an Emeritus Professor at Panjab University, reflecting the enduring respect and acknowledgement of his contributions. His outstanding career also saw him hold esteemed fellowships, including the Jawaharlal Nehru and Sarabhai fellowships, and he served as a Mellon Senior Fellow of the National Humanities Center in North Carolina. These affiliations signify the immense size of his scholarly engagements.

Goswamy’s brilliance was widely recognised within the art community, which called him a “national treasure”. This designation highlighted the depth and influence of his contributions and reinforced his substantial impact on the art world.

Beyond formal accolades, Goswamy earned a unique characterisation as an “intellectual rockstar.” He was admired for his intellectual depth, engaging wit, sharp and clever humour, and revered in artistic circles.

B.N. Goswamy: Life Beyond Art

  1. N. Goswamy, primarily known for his scholarly contributions, kept much of his personal life private; however, he led a life filled with diverse interests and contributions.

He was married to Karuna, an art historian and former professor at Panjab University. Together, they had two children, Apurva and Malavika, and a granddaughter, Damini.

A seasoned connoisseur, prolific writer, great conversationalist, and insightful teacher, his impact extended beyond the art world; colleagues and students spoke of his humility and approachability, revealing a more human side. With his deep appreciation for nature, likely rooted in his upbringing in Punjab, he connected with the natural world, influencing his artistic sensibilities.

Goswamy was an enigmatic figure with a multidimensional personality. His delightful anecdotes added humour into complex art concepts to contemplating existential questions through his favourite paintings, depicting the dimension of his intellectual curiosity.

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B. N. Goswamy led a life filled with diverse interests and contributions_© Malhi, 2023

B.N. Goswamy’s Later Years and Legacy

Personal Loss and Resilience

Goswamy’s personal life took a heartbreaking turn with the loss of his wife, Karuna (80), in October 2020 and their son, Apurva (58), in April 2023, leaving Goswamy emotionally frail. In the face of these deep losses, his journey through grief found expression in his recent projects and publications.

In October 2023, he released a book titled ‘The Indian Cat: Stories, Paintings, Poetry, and Proverbs,’ showcasing his relentless passion for art even during difficult times. This unusual work, dedicated to his late son, expresses his enduring passion for art and his ability to find solace and purpose in creativity.

This immense personal tragedy coincided with Goswamy’s completion of a six-volume compendium on ‘The Great Mysore Ramayana,’ a monumental work that is a testament to his unwavering dedication to becoming a pioneer in modern Indian art history.

Despite personal adversities, he contributed profoundly to the Indian art world, demonstrating the enduring impact of his scholarly endeavours until his passing in 2023. At the age of 90, and despite declining health, just 20 days before his death, he delivered an enthralling talk at the Chandigarh Museum auditorium, discussing his latest book, ‘The Indian Cat.’ 

Goswamy passed away on November 17, 2023, in Chandigarh, India. He is survived by his daughter, Malavika Goswamy and his granddaughter Damini. 

Brijinder and his wife to Karuna_©Jasinder, 2023

The Enduring Legacy of B.N. Goswamy

His passing marks the end of an era, but B.N. Goswamy’s profound impact on Indian art history extends far beyond academic awards and recognition. His enduring legacy, marked by major works that brought Indian Art to international approval, will continue to inspire generations.

His multidimensional personality, visionary approach, and transformative contributions ensure that his legacy inspires generations, encouraging a global understanding of India’s artistic traditions. As we celebrate his life, we acknowledge the insightful and lasting impact that B.N. Goswamy has had on art and scholarship.

Goswamy’s legacy, marked by a commitment to knowledge dissemination, philanthropy, and a holistic approach to art, goes beyond accolades and publications. While reflecting on his contributions, it can be found that, like the art he cherished, his life’s impact goes beyond time and space, leaving a lasting mark on future generations.

Bibliography

Reference List 

Bahadur Ramaswami, P. (2023). B N Goswamy Was a Storyteller of Art. [online] The Indian Express. Available at: https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/b-n-goswamy-was-a-storyteller-of-art-9031453/ [Accessed November 23 2023].

Bose, A. (2023). Master of the miniature: Art history pioneer BN Goswamy dies at 90. [online] Telegraphindia.com. Available at: https://www.telegraphindia.com/india/master-of-the-miniature-art-history-pioneer-bn-goswamy-dies-at-90/cid/1980744 [Accessed November 23 2023].

Chowdhry, N.M. (2023). Unlatching imagined doors with BN Goswamy: Neelam Mansingh remembers. [online] Tribuneindia News Service. Available at: https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/features/unlatching-imagined-doors-with-bn-goswamy-neelam-mansingh-remembers-563802 [Accessed November 24 2023].

Ghoshal, S. (2019). BN Goswamy: Human & Divine – Open The Magazine. [online] Open The Magazine. Available at: https://openthemagazine.com/special/bn-goswamy-human-divine/ [Accessed November 23 2023].

HT Correspondent (2023). Renowned art historian BN Goswamy dies at 90. [online] Hindustan Times. Available at: https://www.hindustantimes.com/cities/others/renowned-art-historian-bn-goswamy-dies-at-90-101700240452530.html [Accessed November 23 2023].

Jaswal, C. (2023). Talking Art and History: In Conversation with Art Historian Dr. B.N. Goswamy. [online] Karwaan: The Heritag. Available at: https://www.karwaanheritage.in/post/talking-art-and-history-in-conversation-with-art-historian-dr-b-n-goswamy [Accessed November 23 2023].

Kochhar, R. (2017). BN Goswamy: ‘One feels as though he was conversing with gods’ – Open The Magazine. [online] Open The Magazine. Available at: https://openthemagazine.com/art-culture/bn-goswamy-one-feels-as-though-he-was-con-versing-with-gods/ [Accessed November 23 2023].

MAP Academy (2023). BN Goswamy. [online] MAP Academy. Available at: https://mapacademy.io/article/bn-goswamy/ [Accessed November 23 2023].

Narayan, S. (2011). Profile of art historian Dr. BN Goswamy for Mint Lounge – Shoba Narayan. [online] Shoba Narayan. Available at: https://shobanarayan.com/bn-goswamy-2/ [Accessed November 23 2023].

Parul (2023). Remembering Prof BN Goswamy: Art historian, teacher, friend and visionary. [online] The Indian Express. Available at: https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/chandigarh/remembering-prof-bn-goswamy-art-historian-teacher-friend-visionary-9031794/ [Accessed November 23 2023].

Pathania, R. (2023). B.N. Goswamy (1933-2023) – a Life in Art. [online] Swarajyamag.com. Available at: https://swarajyamag.com/culture/bn-goswamy-1933-2033-a-life-in-art [Accessed November 23 2023].

Sahasrabudhe, P. (2023). B.N. Goswamy: Rewriting History, The Art of Punjab Hills. [online] Abirpothi. Available at: https://abirpothi.com/b-n-goswamy-rewriting-the-history-of-the-art-of-punjab-hills-by-resurrecting-the-hidden-identities-of-the-pahari-painters/ [Accessed November 23 2023].

Singh, N. (2023a). BN Goswamy ruled the hearts of art lovers. [online] Tribuneindia News Service. Available at: https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/chandigarh/art-historian-bn-goswamy-passes-away-563213 [Accessed November 23 2023].

Singh, R. (2023b). Rejecting babudom for the love of art – Chandigarh Stories. [online] Tribuneindia.com. Available at: https://www.tribuneindia.com/2003/20030809/cth1.htm#8 [Accessed November 23 2023].

Tyabji, L. (2023). The Majestic Aerial Course of B.N. Goswamy. [online] The Wire. Available at: https://thewire.in/the-arts/art-historian-bn-goswamy-obituary [Accessed November 23 2023].

Image List
  1. B.N. Goswamy, a distinguished art historian, author, and institutional leader.

Jaswal, C. (2023). Talking Art and History: In Conversation with Art Historian Dr. B.N. Goswamy. Karwaan: The Heritage Exploration Initiative. Karwaan: The Heritag. Available at: https://www.karwaanheritage.in/post/talking-art-and-history-in-conversation-with-art-historian-dr-b-n-goswamy [Accessed November 26 2023].

  1. B.N. Goswamy’s lecture style and engagement transformed lectures into a cultural spectacle.

Special Arrangement (2023). Prof Goswamy at one of his illustrated lectures. The Hindu. Available at: https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/art/bn-goswamy-dug-into-art-history-to-give-obscure-artistes-an-identity/article67547289.ece [Accessed November 26 2023].

  1. Goswamy’s last book, released in October 2023, ‘The Indian Cat: Stories, Paintings, Poetry, and Proverbs,’.

Govt. Museum & Art Gallery Chandigarh – Facebook (2023). The exceptional collection of Government Museum and Art Gallery, Chandigarh owes to the remarkable efforts of Prof. BN Goswamy. Facebook.com. Available at: https://www.facebook.com/photo/?fbid=841211288006727&set=a.414367454024448 [Accessed November 26 2023].

  1. B. N. Goswamy led a life filled with diverse interests and contributions.

Malhi, J. (2023). In a previous interview, Prof Goswamy had said he used his training as a historian and his intuition to follow the path he had chosen. The Indian Express. The Indian Express. Available at: https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/chandigarh/art-historian-bn-goswamy-obituary-9030353/ [Accessed November 26 2023].

  1. Brijinder and his wife to Karuna.

Jasinder, J. (2023). BN Goswamy with wife Karuna Goswamy, also an art historian. Tribuneindia News Service. The Tribune India. Available at: https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/features/unlatching-imagined-doors-with-bn-goswamy-neelam-mansingh-remembers-563802 [Accessed November 26 2023].

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