Indian tantrik art moving beyond traditional icons (Feature, With Images)

August 3rd, 2011 - 12:32 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Aug 3 (IANS) The repertoire of Indian tantrik art has expanded over the years to co-exist with other forms. The dots, squares, mandalas and the flaming core consciousness usually represented by a red or yellow ball of paint are playing with complex forms, geometry, size and coloured textures on the contemporary canvas.

Akkitham Narayanan, an Indian artist based in Paris, experiments with textures, geometry, surfaces and colours in his tantrik abstract compositions.

The cubic, triangular and rectangular forms in Narayanan’s canvas fan out from a cosmic core, usually a large circle or a triangle, in varied textures that melt into one another with the precision of chessboard patterns.

From a distance, they resemble blueprints of ancient temples cast in muted glows of red, ochre, orange, black and white.

“In 1967-68, I saw an exhibition of tantrik art by Delhi-based artist Devi Kumar in Paris. His abstract works, which interpreted the tenets of tantra, made me realise that when tantricism is stripped of its philosophy and religious rites, one is left with geometric symbols and images,” Narayanan, a Rig Vedic scholar from Kerala, told IANS.

“I first improvised these symbols into geometric compositions on my canvas in 1969,” he said.

In his new body of works, “Through the Kaleidoscope”, on display at Art Alive gallery here, the Vedic chants of Narayanan’s childhood find their way on his canvas as fractured “waves” which he etches on the coloured surface to “serve as boundaries for his tantrik forms”.

The tantrik icons represent life, energy and death in Indian mythology. History cites that tantricism and its icons originated in India nearly 5,000 years ago.

The symbols of Indian tantricism translate into colourful dots, cicrles, triangles and squares on S.H. Raza’s abstract canvas. Raza says the dot - which recurs in his compositions - represents the source of life and energy.

The artist, who returned home in January after several decades in Paris, says “his new set of landscapes blend nature with the ‘bindu’ (dot) and ‘avartan’ (recurrence)” - two essentially tantrik concepts.

Tantricism and yoga were the aesthetic bulwark of Denmark-based artist Sohan Qadri’s works.

“I was living a tantrik way of life to paint. One has to live the tantrik way, then, and only then, reflections of the tantrik tenets will appear in paintings,” Qadri told IANS in an interview before his death.

The artist used icons like concentric lines and dots on layered textures to give his canvases a textile finish and represent the flow of energy.

Tantrik art may not have changed much over the years but the elements are being redefined in a variety of forms, says senior art promoter Sharon Apparao, owner of the prestigious Chennai-based Apparao Gallery.

“I have worked with several artists like Akkitham Narayanan, K.C.S. Paniker, Jayapal Panicker, Haridasan, N. Raghavan and others who used tantrik motifs in their art,” Apparao told IANS.

But these artists do not like to describe their work as “tantrik art” because of the misuse of tantricism by western artists and black ritualism associated with it, Apparao said.

He observed that the number of abstractionists innovating on tantrik icons was more in the south than in the north.

“The large volume of texts available in southern India and the easy access to education have helped the artists assimilate tantrik philosophies and iconography in their art,” Apparao said.

A seminal text, “The Tantra Art”, by Ajit Mukherjee published in 1966-1967, inspired several artists of the era, Apparao said. Foremost among them were Biren De and G.R. Santosh, whose idiom became “neo-tantrik” after reading the book.

In the mid-1960s, Paris-based artist V. Vishwanathan was inspired by the geometrical and ritualistic magical diagrams of Kerala, an ancient form of Vaastu and tantricism. Over the years, he has honed the form to an innovative perfection.

“I draw the spirit from the matter in my art,” Vishwanathan said.

Writer, curator and art critic Ina Puri says the language of tantrik art has undergone a change. “In 1960s and 1970s, artist Biren De had interpreted tantrik symbols in his art.”

De was artist Manjit Bawa’s teacher. “As a result tantrik influences were found in Bawa’s early works,” Puri said. “Many contemporary artists have made the pictorial iconography of tantra part of the vocabulary.”

(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at

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