The Constitution of India was not originally a printed document, but the handiwork of artist Nandalal Bose and calligrapher Prem Behari Narain Raizada. The finished manuscript was 251 pages long and weighed 3.75 kg and is now preserved in a special helium filled case in the Library of the Parliament of India.

The members of the Constituent Assembly wanted the Constitution to depict India’s heritage and thus wanted Nandalal Bose to illustrate it. As a young artist, Bose was a disciple of Abanindranath Tagore who was impressed by his emulations of works by master artsists. During this time, Bose developed his own style of art which while was deeply influenced by Ajanta murals, European and pan-Asian techniques, always portrayed Indian subjects. He graduated from Government School of Art, Calcutta in 1910. In 1919, he accepted Rabindranath Tagore’s invitation to become the president of the newly established Kala Bhavan at the Visvabharati University in Santiniketan.

To make the Constitutional art, Bose enlisted the help of his students at the Kala Bhavan. Santiniketan. Together, they painstakingly decorated every page of the Constitution with intricate frames around the text.

Image Credits: World Digital Library

 The front and back cover are made of black leather embossed with complex patterns in gold. Additionally, each of the 22 parts of the Constitution begins with a depiction of some part of India’s 4000 year historic journey. The first part has the Indus Valley seal, a zebu bull, indicating the most powerful clan of Harappa or Mohenjodaro. The great Hindu epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata, don’t go unnoticed in the Constitution; the part on Fundamental Rights is shown by Rama, Laxmana and Sita, and that on Directive Principles of State Policy by the iconic conversation between Arjuna and Krishna before the start of the war.

Image Credits: World Digital Library

Buddha depicts the rules of the President and Vice President, indicating enlightenment (or marking the end of tyranny, and the start of reason). An illustration of the Gupta period is representative of India’s world prowess in science, and a scene from Akbar’s court marks the foundation of Indian architechture. Finally, India’s struggle for freedom is shown from a black and white figure of Gandhi holding a stick during the Dandi March, one of Bose’s best known works, to Rani Lakshmi Bai and Tipu Sultan.

His work reflected the changing environment, people and places in modern India’s cultural development. In honour of the contributions Nandalal Bose has made to Indian art, he was awarded the Padma Vibhushan in 1953.

This special art makes the Constitution more than just a document: it is an indication of the country’s arduous, yet vibrant journey - from the Indus Valley Civilisation to the Freedom Movement - that led India to make its Constitution.

One can view the digital copy of the original Constitution here.

(Sampada S. Venkatesh, an intern studying 11th grade in NPS Indiranagar, authored this piece.)