Many years ago, a performance by Pandit Bhimsen Joshi at Delhi’s Shriram Bharatiya Kala Kendra had the audiences in a meditative trance. Among those present was a Delhi College of Art student Sankha Samanta, who noticed in awe, the extravagant gestures and the contours of the musician’s face change with every note he breathed.
He “watched” the raga being delineated. Now almost 25 years later, Samanta, now 44 and a stamp artist, has conceptualised a commemorative stamp for Joshi in which delicate strokes of a saffron sun, sea and sky can be seen segueing into a sombre Joshi.
The stamp is one of the eight commemorative stamps released as a part of philatelic products released by India Post. The set includes stamps on doyens of Indian classical music with Pt Ravi Shankar, Gangubai Hangal, DK Pattamal, Kumar Gandharva, Ustad Vilayat Khan, Ustad Ali Akbar Khan and Mallikarjun Mansoor finding a stamp each to themselves.
“The project was commissioned to me in the year 2011 as a set of four stamps, which later became eight And since then I have worked extensively on these. Apart from watching artistes’ videos repeatedly. I also had meetings with the children of artistes and people close to them before embarking on the project,” says Samanta, who has created more than 300 stamps so far out of which more than 15 are Mahatma Gandhi stamps.
While stamps of Shankar and Joshi are priced at Rs 25, the other six come with a denomination of Rs 5 each. The collectors’ edition includes eight lakh and five lakh stamps, respectively. Besides individual stamps, the postal department has also come up with miniature sheets and sheetlets that are available at 83 philatelic bureaus. “It’s challenging to create these stamps because of the detailing involved in the portraits. So the amount of research that goes is also massive. Variations in colour comes later apart from the brightness in print which is important. People in the philatelic world should be happy this time. It’s a real treat for them,” says Samanta, who originally drew the stamp designs on A4-sized canvases in oil and acrylic before they were turned into miniature stamp versions. Samanta’s first visit to the Dak Bhavan had him create a poster of Indira Gandhi for a stamp, which was approved in 1987. Since then, he has been one of the more important artistes associated with India Post.
What is surprising for the postal department, however, is that the sale of stamps in not dependent on the quantum of mails in times when letter writing is a lost medium. “If we do not realise the responsibility of bringing out these stamps, we begin to get frantic calls from collectors. It’s also an important revenue earning product for us,” says Anula Kumar, DDG, Philately, India Post, who adds that soon more thematic and personality stamps will be brought out by the department.