Artists: Notes on Art Making

Though very little is known about Tantra art in India, it has perfected a sign language which symbolises the man-universe relation.

On what we used to explain away as mysteries, modern discoveries in higher physics have shed new light. In this aspect the Tantra art deserves scientific analysis. What is more, while in abstract art we still normally think in terms of space and time, Tantra has gone further and brought in concepts of sound and light, especially in conditioning art forms.

Tantric art can be regarded as a form of yoga. To penetrate the enigmatic silence and mystery of the universe, the shilpi-yogin makes himself a part of the mystery and lives in it as well as with it. “By meditation on anything and as self, one becomes that thing.”

Both internal and external practices are imperative, because long ago, these revealed to the Tantric-yogis a truth which might open up a new understanding of the world forces in which we are living - and which modern artists are trying to explain.

According to the Tantra the cosmos is evolved out of fifty matrika sounds. These sounds, in course of time, undergo various changes, giving rise to various forms. But just as we cannot see the minute changes that altar a form, we cannot also hear the minute sounds that accompany the process of change. By repetition of mantras (charged words) and their japa (rhythmic mental concentration on them) one cam remodel one’s entire physical, mental and psychic nature.

The Tantra holds that a mantra is primarily a mental sound which is instrumental in the creation and dissolution of forms. It exerts its power not so much by the meaning of the words which make it but by its sound vibrations. The common practice in Tantra ritual is to make a mantra out of each letter of the Sanskrit alphabet and so associate each with a different part of the body; the purpose is to feel that different parts of the body are merely manifestations of different aspects of one power which is known in Tantra-sastras as Kundalini Sakti, the coiled up energy.

Tantra believes that the human body with its biological and physiological processes is but an instrument in and through which the cosmic power the Kundalini Sakti reveals itself, that the individual being and the universal being are one and all that exists in the universe must also exist in some form in the individual body.

The first and most important monosyllabic mantra, is OM, generally considered to be the sound symbol of the Supreme One. The conception of the sound OM, which is a combination of three mantras - a, u and m, presupposes geometrical patterns corresponding to a straight line, a semi-circle and a point. Every divine form possesses a bija mantra or seed syllable. Even as the smallest sound unit the bija remains a microcosm and thus may represent the essence.

Tantric yogins understand the relation between sound and light (nadaabhyantaran yoti). Light to them is nothing but around of a particular frequency. Colours result from light waves. Every object in the phenomenal world if time and space is a concentration of reflection of light throwing a pattern of form. Sound and colour are related to each other as life and form. Every colour has its life-sound and in turn every sound has its form-colour. All mantras have their corresponding colour forms.

When a mantra is pronounced correctly, its corresponding form begins to manifest itself, the quality of manifestation depending upon the nature and identity of the pronunciation.

The Tantra, on the yoga side, describes the colours of several vital forces seen in trance-vision. These colours are emerald (prana), red like evening sun (apana), milky (samana), white like the dhatura flower (vyana), colour of fire and lighting (udana).

Each mantra relates to a particular power or devata reveals himself in that sound-form. This esoteric knowledge has to be learnt from the mouth of a guru, the spiritual preceptor. It is the possession of a few initiates who form a closed circle and who guard it with great care permitting none but qualified aspirants to have access to it.

Mantra, yantra and tantra in this scheme of things form a sort of trinity. The first provides the formula; the second, the diagram and the pattern, and the third correlates one system of relations with the other. The linear yantras consist of simple geometrical figures (triangles, rectangles, circles, etc). They enclose the mantra syllables, which, when properly grouped, will cause partial aspects of a definite image to emerge (germinate). Hence they are called bijakhara or germinal syllables.

The dynamic graph or the diagram of forces by which a thing or a force is represented is the yantra. These yantras are not abstractions, they are living images of cosmic forces of graphs of definite processes.

In yantra, the spheroid is looked upon as a sphere in the process of breaking itself into separate units, each with its own centre. It represents the division of wholeness for the sake of multiplicity. The spheroid therefore stands before the world egg, the incipient quality of Purusha (Person) and Prakriti (Nature).

Siva stands for asabda-brahman, the unqualified one. Linga, according to “Skanda Purana”, is the name for the space in which the whole universe is for the process of formation and dissolution. Siva-linga, the all-pervading space, thus symbolizes a cosmic form, serenely detached and self-sufficient, whereas Sakti, the sabda-brahman, is the creative impulse in the cosmic process. In the egg-shaped Brahmanda, the globe-shaped Salagrama or the Siva-linga the artist tries to release the symbols imprisoned in stone by a reduction of the material to its absolute essence. Matter is made to yield its intrinsic nature, the inert becomes lively.

According to the Tantra, the ultimate truth is the union of Siva and Sakti, or Purusha and Prakriti, Siva represents pure consciousness which is inactive - the static aspect of the ultimate reality, while Sakti represents the world force - the kinetic energy of the ultimate truth. Every conjunction of opposites produces a rupture of plane and ends in the rediscovery of the primordial spontaneity.

Here there is no flamboyance or associative corruption. Broad universality of impersonal form and content, and close relation to nature predestine this art to wide recognition and general acceptance. To give these figures depth and significance they are placed under the open sky, below the banyan tree, in a serene godlike perspective.

The single static figure, like the great symbol of Purusha, does not move until he unites with his Sakti. From the ensuing action between these two figures, theseriesofmathematicalproportions emerge. Their material forms, so mathematically harmonised, become clear from the abstract symbolism of the diagram.

The conjunction of opposites further represents a transcending of the phenomenal world, abolishing all experience and duality symbolically represented by interlocking triangles. Owing to the intensity of the embrace, Siva and Sakti become as it were a single principle. Thus in the ultimate reality there is neither Siva nor Sakti. Only the One without a second is ever existing and will ever exist.

All physical and metal forms, everything in the universe, is that One, appearing in various ways. Life is one, all of its forms are interrelated, in a vastly complicated but inseparable whole. Every act by any form of life, from the highest to the lowest, must react on every other form. We are but links in a long series. We are made of the same substance as the stars, the same substance as the gods.

Modern science in its striving towards unity is trying to reduce the explanation for as many phenomena as possible to one single underlying principle. Its greatest achievement has been the dematerialisation of the matter. The elements which compose the universe can now be broken down into one vital substance. This monistic spirit of science is similar to the growth of the tendency in art towards the dissolution of corporeality.

The artist expresses something that already exists, sarvam, of which he is a part and which he feels impelled to give back to the world. This process of communication becomes a way of life that creates concepts and forms whereby his deepest intuitions are crystallized and conveyed to others. Vijnanabhiksu knew that the statue already existing in the block of stone is only revealed by the sculptor.

The shilpi-yogin has not attempted to absorb something extended to himself, but to release something universal he has experienced inwardly. This unfolding lays bare the universal mental configurations. Bild ist seele, as Jung says. The atman manifests itself in images. The Shilpi-yogin’s concern rests not only with forms but with the forces that give rise to form. Art of this kind is firmly rooted in spiritual values. He is involved in a continuous process of discovery, not of himself, but the roots of the universe which he has been able to discover within himself.

The artist’s concern with the concept of space is an example of his probing to realise inner truths. Do we see things as they really are or only as they appear to us? If the latter, are we doomed, to perceive their appearance only, never their reality? If a person could apprehend the fourth dimension, for instance, a stone would look different to him from what he does to us. Again a person in a trance vision could perhaps see or even hear the actual dance of the electrons in a stone.

It is only when we shatter all forms and get behind the veil, maya as the Tantra says that we find reality and become free. When we close our eyes we can really look at things. We see without seeing, to be exact. In the ultimate act of vision the body meditates as well as the mind. The Upanishad affirms; “He alone sees, who sees all beings as himself.” The unknown is within, in every atom of our being. The Tantric artist works in this spirit.

Art is not a profession but a path toward truth and self-realisation both for the maker and the spectator. Tantra has a great message for this awareness.

Published in Lalit Kala Contemporary, 1971
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