I recently gave a talk at the National Symposium on Return of the Yogini, Art & Crime organised by the National Museum, New Delhi.I was thrilled to be a part of the symposium with Dr Anubha Pande,Stella Dupuis,Haripriya Rangarajan,Madhu Khanna and others.Haripriya’s enticing talk on the Varahi iconography has got me hunting for her books everywhere!For those who could not make it then,I am sharing a brief excerpt from my talk discussing the influence and relevance of Yogini on my life and my art along with a short film of the event.
The single most theme that has profoundly and incessantly influenced my art is the ancient tantric practice of Yogini worship. Yoginis are a group of female deities- sixty four or eight-one and seen as both benevolent and wish granting as well as malevolent and harmful.There are different form of Yoginis classified so based on their attributes.The horse necked Yogini is called Hayagriva while the Yogini fond of wine is called Surapriya and the terribly terrible one is called Pracanda.
It is both the iconography as well as the philosophy of the Yogini cult that inspires my work and you can find constant references to the various form of Yoginis and matrikas in my paintings, sculptures, installation and films.
What is it about the Yoginis that leaves me so fascinated and intrigued you ask?My artistic concern, interest and journey primarily revolves around the idea of creation which for me is the celebration of the feminine aspect of procreation or “shakti” which exists in balance with the male principle, Shiva, formless, undefined pure consciousness.
When He opened His eyes
Everything is Me an Mine
He closed His eyes
Everything merged within
She expanded and contracted
At her own accord
With each breath
As my family is a firm believer in the Advaita philosophy of Vedanta, I was introduced to the idea of Maya-Maya which as not just illusion but the creator of the illusion as well. Therefore, all creation, that which we know as the universe – the world, the seas, the sky, and people and animals alike – all bearers of the faith and those who created the faith, hence the creator of the gods too – is but Maya. The Brahman, or Param Purusha as we call him, is that unified force; the moment it disintegrates, Maya assumes her cosmic play or “khel”. She who gave us the power to create faith, beliefs and religion, in the process indirectly created the gods too. It is only when we understand Maya’s “khel” that we can aspire to the union of our inner force with that of the outer that we call Universal Truth, or Para Brahman.
There is a verse in Japji Sahib, a Sikh scripture:
Aika mai jagat vahayi, tin chale parvan
Ek samsara ek bhandari ek lai Dewan
O vaikhe o nadir na avai bahuta eho vadhan
There was Maya who created this universe, from whom emerged Brahama, the creator, Vishnu the sustainer and Mahesh the destroyer. The Brahman (the Unified Force comprising of Shiva and Shakti) creates this mystery. They see but are unseen.
As Shakti 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 .For me, the idea of Matrikas and Yoginis thus came about as our invocation of these basic energies that are responsible for creation and destruction and creation yet again.
Different forms of Yoginis exist and these different forms of Yoginis concentrate on different energies. The Yoginis which are supernatural beings have aligned their soul, mind and body as well as have achieved alignment with the environment and hence are able to take different forms.I believe that yoginis are intellectually driven and these feminine forms are very intuitive and conducive to imbibe these qualities seeking Bhairava as their companion.
These manifestations inspire me to attempt to analyze the world I see around me, to look inwards to evoke the energy that is manifest in each one of us, to apply the healing salve of motherhood to a world that needs it. For that energy resides in each one of us, women and men, and it is that we must manifest if we are to seek the mother goddess in the continuous spell of Maya.
I believe in that energy and it this energy that constitutes the central focus of my paintings, sculptures, installations, and video performance.
Influences in my art
Do I paint the Goddess?
But I paint nature, the universe, life.
Goddesses as mortal.
Mortals who are heroic.
I am taken, in some measure, by all faiths- Hinduism, Sikhism, Christianity, Sufism, Buddhism.
My work I believe is firmly ensconced in the narrative of female form and energy constantly straddling the space between modernity and tradition. Deriving my inspiration from ancient myths and legends, philosophy, faith and literature, my work however is never confined to the traditional iconographic rules. For me these “mythological subjects” are more “real”, more essential, permanent, and truthful – than the even the everyday.
Engaging with concepts and philosophy of ancient times, I re-narrativise and re –tell these legends giving it a modernist sensibility. My works like Swayamsidha (The Self Realised) and Hiranyagarba (The Golden Womb), Ouroboros and Tree of Life take mythological tales from the past to interpret the modern world. I not only incorporate ancient myths but create my own urban myths as I paint. I live in a metropolitan environment and when I paint, these elements from my life, from the neighborhoods and the urban skylines automatically weave themselves in. Alongside the many natural motifs in my paintings: the birds, animals, fish, flowers, trees, sun, moon, rivers, you will find material objects from everyday life – coat hangers, ladders, handbags, sofas, film strips.My work is never restricted to the myths of any one religion or faith but shows borrowing from different faiths, belief systems and mythologies.
Performances and Shakta Sites
Reds of the morning
Blacks of the night
Yearnings of the past and the freshness of the present
All caught up in the amalgamation of five elements
Under the spell of Maya
Engulfing, floundering, celebrating
Enchanting me, seducing me
Into her world of magic, a world of dreams
And like an enchantress, holding my hand
Walking me through this inexplicable experience
Influencing me to open my thoughts to grater heights
Stringing me into watching the flight of limitless dreams
Into the discipline of happening
Making my path my destination
My video performances that once again largely engage with the similar theme of feminine energy are recording of my visit to various Shakta sites like 64 Yogini Temple, Jharial, Ranipur, Odhisha; Saptamatrika caves at Ellora (numbers 14,16, 21, 22), the Yogini temple at Bheragat near Bhopal and Mahadev Pani, near Bhopal and so on where I absorb, react and reinterpret the energy that inhabits these sacred sites.
In my quest to seek these powerful feminine energies, I have travelled far and wide, my visits taking me to strange places, exotic places, places touched with the energy of the ancient deities.I engage in a series of symbolic acts- meditating, bowing, fervent encircling of the temple, rolling on the floor, striking yogic stance, cleansing the body and so on that are reflective of the potent nature of the energy that engulfs me. By meditating beneath a giant lingam, curling myself into and then out of a hollow in the ground or by sitting as one of the 1300 year old stone Matrikas,I attempt to become one with the headless idol, the parched earth, the distant resounding chants and the sacred geography of the site.
The visit to these Shakta Sites themselves become a part of the creative process which is undertaken within the realm of experience which is translated into the realm of expression through painting, installation, writing, filmmaking and documentation. My exploration is not only visual but is perceptual, intellectual and sensorial.
Yogini who they say struck terror, venerated
thus for their dangerous fecundity, their terrible wrath.
Yet, were they not simply fulfilling their destinies? Being protective? Nurturing?
In their zeal, they came to be represented for their darker powers, venerated in temples as goddesses to be appeased, associated with gods either as their spouses, or as
their forms of energy, female principles that have been ritualized, iconicised, cherished,
And so I undertake a journey.
A parikrama …is it of self-realization?
I empty myself.
I become the womb.
Armed with solace and caring, I am the earth. Ancient, primeval, modern, all encompassing.
So the world – all nature – tells me.
So it should tell you.
The idea of Yoginis becomes very fascinating today because Yogini is not simply a thought and neither is her message a sermon.She is experimenting on herself through kriya and yoga through which she enters our blood, vein, bones and our soul.She comes down to subliminal levels and starts her own journey, her khel –her play with herself which takes us to new mystical heights. Is it through her journey, I search for my identity. Am I then a shaman or a priestess? A psychic or a storyteller? A Yogini or a spiritualist? A feminist or a manifestation of feminine energy? My work I believe then becomes an exploration into these realms of the self and the relationship of the self with the larger cosmos that seeks an identity, symbol and meaning.