I walk the path of water and skies

My work is primarily a celebration of the female form and energy the source of the twin forces of creation and destruction. As Shakti, the divine cosmic energy flowed, three rasas or guna emerged, from which the whole universe was created -Sattva [saraswati] Rajas [laksmi] and tamas[kali].These expanded into Saptamatrikas the Ashtalakshmi, Navdurgas and the Dusmahavidyas .In time, the manifestations resulted in the creation of the Chausath Yogini and the Ekyasi Yogini, forms that continue to evolve to satisfy our needs or to bring balance to the world .

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The Chaunsath Yogini at Ranipur Jharial,Odisha was the first Yogini site I visited in 2005. Though I had been working on the idea on feminine energies like Hiranyagarbha, Saptamatrikas, Dusmahavidyas and Ashtanayikas for a while, a more full-fledged plunge into the visual representation of Yogini came only after I visited these spaces and aligned my mind body and soul to them in 2012.With this, I also made my foray into time based media work absorbing, reacting and reinterpreting the energy that inhabits these sacred sites. For me, the Yoginis now did not only exists in a mere visual form but also in close physical  form.

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Chaunsath Yogini at Ranipur Jharial,Odisha

The Chaunsath Yogini at Ranipur Jharial is situated on the top of a hill in seclusion from the villages settlements located nearby. The main Yogini temple shares remarkable topographical similarities with other Yogini sites like the one at Mitauli and Bhedaghat at Madhya Pradesh. The rocky landscape that reminds one of intergalactic space and the presence of a water body nearby presents an ideal setting for female mendicants to meditate and practice austerities. The circular hypaethral form of the Yogini temples is an important architectural feature for it allows the circulation of divine cosmic energy that inhabits these sites. This idea of the “circulation of divine energy” also exists in Sufism with the circular dance of whirling dervishes as well as the in shamanic practices. At the site, we also see the ancient remains of a once existing “maze” –a series of concentric circles –a concept, which is shared by numerous belief system in Sufism, Christianity and Buddhism. This “maze” allows entry for two people and is not just a physical encounter but also a spiritual union with the Higher Form.

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Chaunsath Yogini at Ranipur Jharial,Odisha

This Tantric experimentation was not only restricted to the realisation of the eternal self but also to gain spiritual power that would then enable them to help others. Many Kings would install these female goddess idols especially Saptamatrikas to attain fierce powers to win over enemies which however is not a prescribed use of this divine energy.

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In and around Chaunsath Yogini at Ranipur Jharial,Odisha

Today, we see the return of the mysterious science of the yogini cult. In a pedagogical sense, yoginis were a very important thought system and practiced form of Tantric worship that centred around the perfection of the body to achieve perfection of the soul. Even in the fiercest form, we can see the serenity and rejoicement in their posture. The presence of Bhairava is indicative of the balance of the male and the female energy within them.

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Bhairav,Chaunsath Yogini at Ranipur Jharial,Odisha

The site of Naresar, near Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh is a noteworthy for a unique yoni sculpture which houses 15 smaller yonis within itself. The archaeological survey of India is trying to restore the ancient temple complex at Naresar to its former glory when it existed as a secluded spot of meditative worship. There are several carved temple blocks which they are trying put together but sadly without much though.

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Yoni,Naresar, near Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh

The site of Chaunsath Yogini at Mitauli, near Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh, although dedicated to the 64 Yoginis sadly now has been replaced by 64 cement lingams without any pedestal or yoni from which the lingam traditionally arises. The yogini idol that were once placed within the temple niches have either been stolen, damaged or transferred to the Gwalior Museum nearby. Under the given circumstances, repleting the empty niches with cement lingams is not only a historical error and a false representation of the cultural practices of the past but also points towards a deep neglect of the feminine form. If substituting the yoginis with modern day lingams was seen as a viable option on account of the loss of the ancient Yogini idols, wouldn’t replacing the lost idols with maybe smaller replicas of Yogini sculpture been a more thoughtful gesture? For me, this is a grave error that is most unfortunate amounting to the “rape of the sacred site.” Invocation III, a meditation at the site of Chaushath Yogini at Mitauli, near Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh was then more than anything a cry for the lost and neglected feminine form.

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Chaunsath Yogini at Mitauli, near Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh

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Chaunsath Yogini at Mitauli, near Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh

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Lingams at Chaunsath Yogini at Mitauli, near Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh

What excites me about these places is the parallels we see in these Tantric practices and other extant faiths like Sufism, Buddhism or Hinduism. At a time when the concept of religion did not exist or compartmentalised as today, personal identity and practices were much more fluid and there was constant borrowing and exchange of ideas that took place. I feel that today when the urge to answer “Who are we?” and “Where we come from?” is so strongly rooted in a religious identity, we tend to compartmentalise practices and beliefs into regimented and narrows ways which according to me is a practice much in vain.

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Decoding Seema Kohli’s Art

I have often been told that my is extremely layered,symbolic and ensconced in mythological narrative and Tantric thought.Therefore although fascinating for my spectators they also struggle to grasp the narrative and thought behind my work.While I do not want to impose a single reading of my work and each one is free to interpret them in their own personal way,I thought I should de- mystify my work and give a brief background about them to my friends and art enthusiasts.

Let me begin with my five paneled work “Myth is Reality”[2010].And yes,there are many more to come in the series!

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Myth is Reality[2010],72 x 82 inches,Mixed Media on canvas

Shakti, the female procreative energy comprises of three gunas of satva,rajas and tamas.Tamas governed by Goddess Kali [or Kaal/time] which is hidden giving the feeling of being static is however the space of creation. At the top of the central panel in the painting, we see the ferocious black Kali while in her white avatar she sits on a cosmos which tells the story of creation in a series of non-concentric circles. From the centre of the cosmos, we see a lotus emerge from the navel of a woman followed by a variety of animals, trees, clouds and finally yoginis. The robes are representational of our worldly bonding that Kali entangles us with.

The right panel shows the satvic form of Shakti-Parvati in union with the male principle Shiva demonstrating the union of Purusha-Prakriti resulting in the opening of the third eye or enlightenment. Below we see Shakti riding a lion representing the male principle demonstrating total control and her multiple hands indicates multi-tasking. The left panel shows the birth of Shakti from Vishnu’s navel [though traditionally it is Brahma who emerges from Vishnu] once again showing the harmony of male and female principle in the cosmos. Lotus symbolises gyan or knowledge of Shakti in him .Gandharvas or flying celestial and the Tree of Life can be seen in the background while the female form rises supremely to show the omnipresence of the female energy.

On the extreme right, we see the birth of cosmos from the navel of Shakti while celestial deities in yogic posture can be seen floating below amongst various birds to indicate the derivation of the posture from the birds for centralising the seven chakras with the vortex. The Tree of Life symbolic of unlimited knowledge where the branches fall down as potent trees giving birth to new roots. On the extreme left, the tree with tea cups hanging from them is juxtaposed with the Banyan Tree-the contemporary source of contemplation with the ancient symbol of knowledge.