Ancient statues from the Indus Valley Civilisation have been reanimated in a new series of art works by a young illustrator from Mumbai, being showcased by the animation studio Vaanarsena.

In the digital recreations by Nikhil Shinde, 28, a 5,000-year-old fertility goddess, a royal priest, a mother goddess and Harappa’s famous dancing girl come alive. The dancing girl even gets her feet back, and on her ankles are elaborate ghungroos.

“The idea was not to change or modernise any of these characters but to offer accurate, artistic depictions,” says Shinde, an illustrator with an ad agency by day.

His reference point was the book 5,000 Years of Indian Art by Sushma Bahl, which catalogues Indian art through the millennia. He puts jewellery where the jewellery was, poses and expressions remain true to form, ornaments as close to the original pieces as possible.

“I tried to transport myself to that period, and put myself in the place of the artist,” says Shinde. “I wanted to see what they must have been seeing and draw it in my style.”

This recreation is of the bust of a priest king as depicted in a 4,000-year old stone bust from Mohenjo-daro, one of the few stone sculptures found around the Indus.
Courtesy: Vaanarsena Studios

But where the antique sculptures are timeworn shapes in terracotta, steatite or bronze, Shinde’s pieces bear the glint and polished finish of 21st-century digital art. And where the sculptures were broken and damaged, Shinde takes the liberty of offering his own finishing touches.

Vaanarsena Studios has posted the series on Instagram (@vaanarsenastudios), with images of Shinde’s reference sculptures from the book, and a brief note on each.

The studio is focused on telling stories from the ancient literature of the Indian subcontinent and, over three years, has produced short animated retellings of tales from Indian mythology, starting with that of the vaanar sena or monkey army that helped Ram rescue Sita from Lanka. There’s also a retelling of the story of Durga, the goddess of war, and a Stories in Progress series where studio founder Vivek Ram works on panels of art and narrates the corresponding story.

“We’re building a portfolio with a view to making feature-length animations in the future. The next step is exploring Indian history and finding the stories to tell there,” says Ram, who runs the studio with three other animators and volunteer artists like Shinde. “Shinde’s artwork is an interesting segue into the animation world, where we soon hope to be making animated movies on Indian history.”

In the meantime, Vaanarsena Studios challenged its 61,000-odd followers to re-draw Shinde’s pieces in their own styles, and have received about 40 submissions, ranging from pencil sketches and water colours to collages and digital recreations.

What’s next? Figuring out the steps to make the dancing girl, dance.

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