Andretta — a beautiful village that lures art connoisseurs

Ravinder Sood

Andretta, a small village situated in the foothills of the Himalayas, 10 km from Palampur, is known as the “village of artists” as a number of famous artists of the country have made this village their home.

First came Norah Richards, an Irish writer, dramatist and follower of Tolstoy to this village. Her husband was a professor at the Government College in Lahore. After his death, she left for England, but later returned to India in the mid ’30s and permanently settled at Andretta.

Norah Richards got built a beautiful English-style cottage made from mud, slate and bamboo with local masonry at this village. 

She used to teach drama to students from Punjab and various other parts of the country. Later, she was honored by the Punjabi University, Patiala, and made a fellow. She donated her house and land to Punjabi University, which is preserving it as a heritage monument.

During’90s Dr SS Boparai, the Vice-Chancellor of the Punjabi University, Patiala, took keen interest in the property of Norah Richards. He declared it as a heritage monument of the Punjab Government. Dr Boparai, with the help of local craftsmen, carpenters and masons lovingly restored the house to its original look. The original shape and interiors of the house has not been disturbed. Now, its life has increased by another 15 years.

Students from Punjabi University come to Andretta every year to celebrate the birthday of Norah Richards on October 29. They enact professional drama in her modest memory. Besides, on her death anniversary, special functions are organised here by the students of Punjabi University, Patiala.

Norah called two other artists from Lahore — BC Sanyal, a well-known painter and sculptor and Prof Jai Dayal, who had been her husband’s pupil. They had also build mud house in this village. Later, Prithvi Raj Kapoor used to visit the village and stay with Prof Jai Dayal, who was his tutor in Lahore.

Another famous artist Sardar Sobha Singh, also settled in the village and lived until his death. The memories of Sardar Sobha Singh still remain at the village. His family members have preserved his entire paintings in his memorial known as “Sobha Singh Art Gallery”, where one can see dozens of his paintings and blueprints.

After the death of Nora Richards in 1971, a vacuum was created in the cultural activities of the village. Now, BC Sanyal’s daughter Amba has started a new venture known as “Norah’s Centre for Arts”.

Mini, son of great artist Sardar Gurcharan Singh, is also settled in this village. He has also started an “Andretta Pottery and Crafts Society”. The society sells its rangoli patterned glazed earthen ware all over the world. Mini also teaches students about how to make and appreciate pottery. Besides, he had also set up a museum with complete collection of Himachal village pottery, which is on the verge of extinction today. Unfortunately, the state government has shown no interest in the village and till date, it has failed to declare this village as a heritage village. 

Denis Harrap, a French national settled in Andreta, says the state government should take care of this village and declare it as heritage village. He said thousands of foreign and domestic tourists visit this small village every year, but there was no facility worth its name. The village lacks all civil amenities. There is not even a single toilet in the village. 

Hirday Pal Singh, the grandson of famous artist Sardar Sobha Singh, said a number of VVIPs who visited the village, made tall promises to the locals, but never fulfilled these. He said the state government should allocate funds from tourism projects being executed by the Asian Development Bank in Himachal. He said the road between Palampur and Andreta was in a pathetic condition causing inconvenience to tourists and needs immediate attention.

About the ‘village of artists’

Andretta village near Palampur is a place of interest for art lovers. Owing its fame to Norah Richards, an Irish writer and dramatist, who settled here, the village is a heritage place like no other. With a population of 1,000 people, the village is situated in the foothills of the Himalayas. It is immensely famous for Norah’s Centre for Arts, Andretta Pottery and Craft Society, Norah’s Mud House and Sir Sobha Singh Art Gallery. In mid ’30s, Norah Richards moved from Lahore to Andretta after her husband’s death. She began teaching drama to Punjabi students and later was made a fellow at Punjabi University, Patiala. Norah invited BC Sanyal (doyen of Indian modern art) and Professor Jai Dayal (pupil of Norah’s husband) to work from Andretta. Later, Sir Sobha Singh, Sardar Gurucharan Singh and Prithviraj Kapoor also chose Andretta as their home and started working from here. Sardar Gurucharan Singh introduced studio art pottery in India and established a small pottery for summer use in Andretta.  During the time of Norah Richards, several discussions about art, drama and the philosophy of living in a rural environment took place in the village, in which many veterans from distinct fields of art participated.