Indian art

Gond artist Jangarh Singh Shyam’s forest is full of creatures that were never meant to be seen

The artist who died in mysterious circumstances 16 years ago painted Gondi deities that had never been committed to paper.

It’s been 16 years since Gond artist Jangarh Singh Shyam committed suicide, but art scholar and collector Mitchell Abdul Karim Crites can never forget their first meeting. In the 1980s, Crites had begun to hear murmurs in the art world about an exceptionally talented Gond artist from Bhopal. In 1987, Crites visited Delhi’s annual Suraj Kund crafts mela and found Shyam, dressed in a checked flannel shirt and jeans, sitting on a bamboo mat under a tree, surrounded by his paintings.

The canvases were hypnotic: dots and dashes in various hues depicted birds like the red-wattled lapwing and the brown wood owl along with an assortment of trees, gods and goddesses worshipped by the Gondi people, an adivasi tribe indigenous to Central India. Crites immediately invited Shyam to visit him and his wife in New Delhi. From that first meeting, Crites said, they became friends.

At the time, the art collector had little idea about Shyam’s origins or his incredible, and eventually tragic future. The artist from Patangarh village in Madhya Pradesh would become one of the greatest Gond artists in history, spawning an entire branch of Gond art named after him, called Jangarh Kalam. For reasons that most people that knew Shyam are still unsure about, he committed suicide while at an art residency at Mithila Museum in Japan.

In October 2017, Crites’ collection of 123 art works made by Shyam have been compiled into a book titled Jangarh Singh Shyam: The Enchanted Forest, authored by Aurogeeta Das and published by Roli Books. Selected pieces of the artist’s work are also on display at an exhibition at the Bikaner House in Delhi.

Art work by Jangarh Singh Shyam.
Art work by Jangarh Singh Shyam.

Shyam’s death left a pall in the world of Indian art, both because of the artist’s incredible talent and the mysterious circumstances of his passing. According to a news report, he had been persuaded to take up the residency in Japan for a low monthly fee. The artist agreed, a sign of his struggle to make a living despite his growing popularity (as is the fate of most tribal artists in India).

Crites, 73, was impressed by Shyam’s energy. “I came to India almost 50 years ago to do my PhD in Indian art history and have worked with a lot of artists and craftsmen over the years, but I had never seen anybody like him,” said Crites, 73. “He could do about anything he wanted and didn’t get intimidated if someone asked him to paint an entire ceiling or a wall. He would just sit down and start sketching. He could work with any medium – paper, cloth, walls. He was a rare talent.”

Despite the appreciation he received in Delhi’s art circles, there were not enough buyers for Shyam’s work. Crites remembers a day when Shyam showed up at his home insisting that he buy a certain number of paintings. He writes about the experience in the preface of the book.

“I asked why? He replied in a soft voice, ‘My buffalo has died.’ I put in front of him the drawings we liked and said show us which ones will ‘do the needful’ as they say in India. I had no idea what a buffalo cost, so Jangarh slowly counted them one by one and when he reached the total he needed, he stopped and solemnly handed them to me saying, ‘Mitch Sahib, THIS is a buffalo.”

Lord Ganesh (art work by Jangarh Singh Shyam).
Lord Ganesh (art work by Jangarh Singh Shyam).

The Enchanted Forest begins with chapters about the artist and his life and ends with a full catalogue of Crites’ collection, chronologically arranged. It was on Crites’ insistence that Shyam had begun to sign his works along with a date and title. According to Das, indigenous artists do not usually title or date their art.

A mural at Bharat Bhavan in Bhopal by Jangarh Singh Shyam showing tigers, 1997 (photograph by Charles Correa).
A mural at Bharat Bhavan in Bhopal by Jangarh Singh Shyam showing tigers, 1997 (photograph by Charles Correa).

Shyam was first discovered at the age of 19 by one of Jagdish Swaminathan’s talent scouts. Swaminathan, a leading Indian artist and then director of the Bhopal Arts Museum, Bharat Bhavan, recognised Shyam’s genius and invited him to Bhopal to work with him.

Under Swaminathan’s guidance, Shyam stretched his creative muscles and began pushing the boundaries of what had defined Gond art until then. Shyam belonged to a family of Pardhan Gonds, who were usually minstrels in the Gond tribal community, entrusted with passing down folk-lore and tribal stories in the form of songs. Due to its strong oral traditions, the community rarely practised visual art.

“A skilled musician, Jangarh painted tribal deities who had previously not been visualised, and the abundant flora, fauna and avifauna he recalled from his childhood spent as an inmate of Madhya Pradesh’s forests, close to the majestic Narmada river.”

— 'Jangarh Singh Shyam: The Enchanted Forest' by Aurogeeta Das.

Shyam was one of the first artists to include images of Gondi gods and goddesses like Bada Dev, the great god and Medi Ki Mata or the protector of the grains, Mashwasi Devi and even Raksa the Gond demon.

A Gondi goddess (Art work by Jangarh Singh Shyam).
A Gondi goddess (Art work by Jangarh Singh Shyam).

“I found that fascinating,” said Crites. “The images of gods and goddesses were not committed to paper till then and he would say to me that he would get scared that as he drew them, they would get power and come after him. He was born and raised in the village, so he was very connected to his roots, his enchanted forests and gods.”

“The enchanted forest”, writes Crites in the book, “existed both in nature and in his mind.”

The exhibition is set up in a way that the visitor is greeted by a row of art works at the entrance, that depict Gondi deities. The luminous and brightly coloured dots that make up various figures almost look like delicate bead work. In his monochrome works, he used black ink to make dashes, squiggles, scallops, curlicues, waves, hatches and other lines.

A snake (art work by Jangarh Singh Shyam).
A snake (art work by Jangarh Singh Shyam).

Jangarh Singh Shyam: The Enchanted Forest is on display at The Bikaner House in New Delhi till October 24.

All images are from the Crites Collection.

We welcome your comments at
Sponsored Content BY 

Behind the garb of wealth and success, white collar criminals are hiding in plain sight

Understanding the forces that motivate leaders to become fraudsters.

Most con artists are very easy to like; the ones that belong to the corporate society, even more so. The Jordan Belforts of the world are confident, sharp and can smooth-talk their way into convincing people to bend at their will. For years, Harshad Mehta, a practiced con-artist, employed all-of-the-above to earn the sobriquet “big bull” on Dalaal Street. In 1992, the stockbroker used the pump and dump technique, explained later, to falsely inflate the Sensex from 1,194 points to 4,467. It was only after the scam that journalist Sucheta Dalal, acting on a tip-off, broke the story exposing how he fraudulently dipped into the banking system to finance a boom that manipulated the stock market.


In her book ‘The confidence game’, Maria Konnikova observes that con artists are expert storytellers - “When a story is plausible, we often assume it’s true.” Harshad Mehta’s story was an endearing rags-to-riches tale in which an insurance agent turned stockbroker flourished based on his skill and knowledge of the market. For years, he gave hope to marketmen that they too could one day live in a 15,000 sq.ft. posh apartment with a swimming pool in upmarket Worli.

One such marketman was Ketan Parekh who took over Dalaal Street after the arrest of Harshad Mehta. Ketan Parekh kept a low profile and broke character only to celebrate milestones such as reaching Rs. 100 crore in net worth, for which he threw a lavish bash with a star-studded guest-list to show off his wealth and connections. Ketan Parekh, a trainee in Harshad Mehta’s company, used the same infamous pump-and-dump scheme to make his riches. In that, he first used false bank documents to buy high stakes in shares that would inflate the stock prices of certain companies. The rise in stock prices lured in other institutional investors, further increasing the price of the stock. Once the price was high, Ketan dumped these stocks making huge profits and causing the stock market to take a tumble since it was propped up on misleading share prices. Ketan Parekh was later implicated in the 2001 securities scam and is serving a 14-years SEBI ban. The tactics employed by Harshad Mehta and Ketan Parekh were similar, in that they found a loophole in the system and took advantage of it to accumulate an obscene amount of wealth.


Call it greed, addiction or smarts, the 1992 and 2001 Securities Scams, for the first time, revealed the magnitude of white collar crimes in India. To fill the gaps exposed through these scams, the Securities Laws Act 1995 widened SEBI’s jurisdiction and allowed it to regulate depositories, FIIs, venture capital funds and credit-rating agencies. SEBI further received greater autonomy to penalise capital market violations with a fine of Rs 10 lakhs.

Despite an empowered regulatory body, the next white-collar crime struck India’s capital market with a massive blow. In a confession letter, Ramalinga Raju, ex-chairman of Satyam Computers convicted of criminal conspiracy and financial fraud, disclosed that Satyam’s balance sheets were cooked up to show an excess of revenues amounting to Rs. 7,000 crore. This accounting fraud allowed the chairman to keep the share prices of the company high. The deception, once revealed to unsuspecting board members and shareholders, made the company’s stock prices crash, with the investors losing as much as Rs. 14,000 crores. The crash of India’s fourth largest software services company is often likened to the bankruptcy of Enron - both companies achieved dizzying heights but collapsed to the ground taking their shareholders with them. Ramalinga Raju wrote in his letter “it was like riding a tiger, not knowing how to get off without being eaten”, implying that even after the realisation of consequences of the crime, it was impossible for him to rectify it.

It is theorised that white-collar crimes like these are highly rationalised. The motivation for the crime can be linked to the strain theory developed by Robert K Merton who stated that society puts pressure on individuals to achieve socially accepted goals (the importance of money, social status etc.). Not having the means to achieve those goals leads individuals to commit crimes.

Take the case of the executive who spent nine years in McKinsey as managing director and thereafter on the corporate and non-profit boards of Goldman Sachs, Procter & Gamble, American Airlines, and Harvard Business School. Rajat Gupta was a figure of success. Furthermore, his commitment to philanthropy added an additional layer of credibility to his image. He created the American India Foundation which brought in millions of dollars in philanthropic contributions from NRIs to development programs across the country. Rajat Gupta’s descent started during the investigation on Raj Rajaratnam, a Sri-Lankan hedge fund manager accused of insider trading. Convicted for leaking confidential information about Warren Buffet’s sizeable investment plans for Goldman Sachs to Raj Rajaratnam, Rajat Gupta was found guilty of conspiracy and three counts of securities fraud. Safe to say, Mr. Gupta’s philanthropic work did not sway the jury.


The people discussed above have one thing in common - each one of them was well respected and celebrated for their industry prowess and social standing, but got sucked down a path of non-violent crime. The question remains - Why are individuals at successful positions willing to risk it all? The book Why They Do It: Inside the mind of the White-Collar Criminal based on a research by Eugene Soltes reveals a startling insight. Soltes spoke to fifty white collar criminals to understand their motivations behind the crimes. Like most of us, Soltes expected the workings of a calculated and greedy mind behind the crimes, something that could separate them from regular people. However, the results were surprisingly unnerving. According to the research, most of the executives who committed crimes made decisions the way we all do–on the basis of their intuitions and gut feelings. They often didn’t realise the consequences of their action and got caught in the flow of making more money.


The arena of white collar crimes is full of commanding players with large and complex personalities. Billions, starring Damien Lewis and Paul Giamatti, captures the undercurrents of Wall Street and delivers a high-octane ‘ruthless attorney vs wealthy kingpin’ drama. The show looks at the fine line between success and fraud in the stock market. Bobby Axelrod, the hedge fund kingpin, skilfully walks on this fine line like a tightrope walker, making it difficult for Chuck Rhoades, a US attorney, to build a case against him.

If financial drama is your thing, then block your weekend for Billions. You can catch it on Hotstar Premium, a platform that offers a wide collection of popular and Emmy-winning shows such as Game of Thrones, Modern Family and This Is Us, in addition to live sports coverage, and movies. To subscribe, click here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Hotstar and not by the Scroll editorial team.