A form of art which has gained recognition as an important part of our contemporary movement, is known as Tantrik Art. The importance of this movement is not only because of its creative merit but the talent it has consumed. Much of it is a picturization of the convex-concave interplay of sex, garbed in an aura of mysticism. The socio-cultural approval that has been bestowed on it and its visibility, are understandable, particularly in the context of present day frustration with technological culture throughout the world. Their esoteric symbology has culminated in the celebration of the body, it rarely reaches the realm of the celebration of the soul, which is the aim of tantra.
True Tantric Art is a form of yoga and cannot possibly be guided by merely the aesthetics of painting or creative skill, however matured. Tantra is truly the correlation between mantra and yantra and this can be achieved only through painstaking practice and sadhana.
What is mantra? It is the manifestation of certain thoughts or ideas formed in words, meant to be recited in a certain rhythmic pattern. Necessarily, therefore, a mantra produces a sound-vibration or shabda. These vibrations in turn can produce in the mind of one who recites mantras, two-dimensional geometrical figures or even solid figures with curves, known as the yantra or the instrument for thought. Those are closely related to mathematics and the theory of relativity, including the fourth dimension even though this science was born some two thousand years ago.
The physics of sound is based on the principle of vibration, but the Indian metaphysics, while accepting the theory of vibration, asserts that there can be sound without vibration, which indeed is the origin of sound. Our ear is an imperfect instrument to receive sound waves, it can hear only within a fixed range, neither below nor above -- such as, the ultrasonic sound the presence of which can be felt only through its action. It is used, for instance, as an insecticide of a high degree of efficacy. Similarly with our eyes--we see through light waves within in a specified range. Once it goes beyond the maximum limit and reaches the frequency of the x-ray, we become aware of its existence from the x-ray plates prepared by the radiologist. But an existing sound, under certain circumstances, may not be audible even when it is within the audible limits of our ears. An example has been cited that, if you put a ringing bell in a sealed jar and create a vacuum inside, no sound will be heard even though the bell can be seen ringing.
Sound is born in our system simultaneously with the idea. This is known as para shabda, it is the inaudible sound which exists before manifestation. The next stage is called pashyanti, the visionary sound, it is as yet a mental sound. Then sound reaches the madhyama stage when it is associated with intelligence, on its final journey toward spoken manifestation or vaikhari. It is not different to the process of communication which begins with the idea and then passes through the cerebral and technical stages of encoding to the final stage of message. As the early beginning of a message or mantra is in the static idea, the germ of the uttered word is in the shabda without sound waves.
What happens to the sound waves ultimately? The sound physicist is of the view that sound energy gradually fades out, but it is capable of transforming itself into other energies, depending on its intensity. On the other hand, Indian metaphysics asserts that sound is ever-lasting, it is absorbed in the space. It also tells us that once we learn to tune our apparatus to a specific wave of length we can reproduce the sound of the past, however remote. No past can be erased. That is why sound is the eternal record, that is why silence speaks. Akash is the tape which records and also reproduces all sounds, including the inaudible sound, the anahata nada. Not being confined to specific wave lengths, its power is limitless. And this includes the static sound produced even by inanimate objects -- that inanimate objects too emit sound is accepted by modern science. The outstanding feature of this sound is silence, audible only to the ear of the initiated, a Tantrik. It is this sound which leads him to bindu, the point of cosmic origin and also the end. It ‘connects alogical transcendence of the Absolute with its logical and mathematical descent and immanence in creation.’ Bindu is one of the factors which omnipotence to Om, the first creative sound, which has the power to create, sustain and re-absorb. Om can take one to great spiritual heights through its vibrations.
The power of sound is truly limitless -- it condenses, it disintegrates; it creates, it destroys. It creates light and electro-magnetic fields. Sound can cure diseases, the curative qualities of mantras is established beyond doubt. Sound in a certain combination of notes can not only create moods, but can create fire (Raag Deepak) or induce rain (Megh Malhar). The rhythmic repetition of beeja mantra can heighten one’s physical, mental and spiritual powers as it reverberates in the total being of the individual.
It is well known that the yantra is an instrument basically connected with and promoted by mantra; the inter-relating process is tantra. The practitioner of tantra, whether he uses it for its magical, mystical or spiritual powers, makes use of mantra as an apparatus for his upliftment to the level of Absolute Truth, for his ultimate liberation. The technique is important. He faces the East, the true East where the first beam of the sun is sighted and chants the mantra of his choice, each letter of which is charged with latent nuclear energy. Now he enters an electro-magnetic field. The precision of his direction and diction are important. He must articulate each letter of the mantra with clarity and understanding. He has visions and experiences, the yantras unfold themselves in his inner being. His mind records. The visions are reversible, they are the products of shabda and to shabda they can be transformed once again. An inter-action is established between the mantra and yantra.
Tantra aims at a ceaseless dialogue between Purusha and Prakriti, man and nature -- the eternal male and eternal female. This fundamental dualism is symbolized through the linga-yoni union, where the goal is not orgasm, the culmination of bodily ecstasy, but supreme integration in tune with the cosmic vibration. It is for this reason that the iconography of tantra is devoid of sringara rasa, which is an essential part of eroticism. It is steeped with the spirit of bhakti or the supreme quality of devotion. A true tantrik is incontinuous search of the Universal Truth through a discovery of his own personality. Unlike orthodox Buddhism or Hindusim, for tantra sensuality is no anathema. A practitioner of Tantra seeks to kindle within himself an awareness of his complete being by his personal experience and understanding of the elements of life, the Universal Truth. He strives to charge his own being with the power to hold the vision of bindu and with it the vibrations of the eternal sound Om. We should not, however, forget that tantra is not confined to sexuality. It has five different aspects, each being a subject matter of dialogue between Shiva and Parvati as mentioned in the scriptures. They are (i) creation, (ii) destruction of the world, (iii) worship of the gods, (iv) attainment of all subjects and (v) modes of union with the supreme spirit by meditation.
True Tantrik Art, both in form and content, is beyond the comprehension of one who is not a Tantrik yogi himself, capable of experiencing and making use of the latent powers of mantra and the resultant yantra. Inclusion of a few Tantrik symbols in a pictorial structure, because of their aesthetic or decorative quality, does not lead to Tantrik Art. Any picturisation of this nature must necessarily be preceded by personal experience. Indeed the tern ‘Tantrik’ when applied to any facet of contemporary Indian painting or sculpture is as inappropriate as it would be to label a painting ‘Atomic’ with the inclusion of a symbol of atom. They are no more than what meets the eye -- juxtaposed areas of colour to form abstract patterns that please or sometimes titillate our senses.
So many of our contemporary painters and sculptors have directed all their aesthetic creativity to this form of art, whatever the motivation. They have, thereby, put themselves into straight jackets which allow them little mobility beyond the creation of a few pleasing decorative canvases. Tantrik Art is an indication than an artist, once taken to it, fails to shake off. It leads to a national loss.
A number of our artists of talent today are labeled as Tantrik artists. To name only some, they are KCS Pniker, Nirode Mazumdar, Biren De, SB Palsikar, GR Santosh, Dhanraj Bhagat, PT Reddy, Om Prakash, Prabhakar Barwe, Balakrishna Patel and KV Haridasan. It is known that at least some of them have said categorically that the cap does not fit them. I have in mind particularly Paniker, who is no more, Biren De, and Om Prakash. It is not known who created the label -- critics or the artists themselves. Whoever may have been responsible for this, we should have a careful look at it. If I had my way I would tear it up and save the artists concerned from the stigma of being the creators of a phoney art form.
Published in Lalit Kala Contemporary 30, 1980