God, Art and the Artist

Art and the artist. Can art open a window to the divine for us? Does not great music lift us up to the celestial heights? Can art and the work of artisans – forever seeking the flame of the spirit within – lead us to seek that selfsame flame within? We engage in conversation with sacred art and new works of art.

This morning I went out to get a haircut, and the hairdresser’s “saloon” (I use this advisedly; I have had haircuts in wooden boxes with a door and a chair, before…) was closed. Rather suprised, I asked around. “Oh, Puttparthi holiday – Tuesday is a holiday for many businesses in Puttaparthi”. I never heard this before, so I suppose you learn something new every day …

So I went for a cuppa and met the artist and her husband having masala dosa for breakfast. We got into discussion and talked about friends in common.

We talked of art and artists, and how the artists plumb the depths of human experience and hold up a mirror to culture and society to reflect society back to itself. Artists are trailblazers, torch-bearers who sometimes get burnt by the torch – for society would rather not be confronted by its own signs and symbols of how it is treating itself, its most vulnerable – nor be confronted by the future they are creating or failing to create.

I have always admired artists and artisans, people who learn a craft, acquire a discipline, practice that discipline and so create a vision of reality for all who encounter their creativity fuelled by the controlled blending and mergence of mind, body and spirit. Such creativity touches the spirit within others and opens a window to a world, a vision, an experience they do not encounter in their daily, almost sleep-like trance they call modern life.

I was shown a photo album of many photographs of artwork this artist has completed. My jaw just about fell off going through the images, they were brilliant. Absolutely.

Take a look at the Universal Gayatri:
The Universal Gayatri, an original oil painting of Gayatri Maa cast in modern form; artwork by Kim Wedell

The Universal Gayatri

This, I was told, is Gayatri Maa rendered as the modern woman – or perhaps it is the modern divine feminine energy. I was invited back to their flat to view the original. I’m afraid the image above just can’t do justice to the glory that this image is.

On the left is indigenous woman, serene, centred, full of supramental, earth-based knowledge and wisdom. She is like Goolagaia, the great mother who births creation endlessly, yet laughing all the while, her laughter wholesome, creative, healing and life-giving. Her hair, just like many modern indigenous women, short, strippy, and with blonde tips. Indigenous woman is an aspect of Gayathri Maa.

Next is the Asian woman, mysterious, silent, challenging yet elusively peaceful. Her closed eyes are redolent of the sleeping Buddha, silent, emanating contentment with the world the body is born into, and mastery of the middle path wherein all that known, the known and the knower are one. Such women attract by their subconscious spirituality. Yet, she too has a modern hairstyle, and lovely blonde-yellow tips in her hair.

Next is the modern woman with her hair trailing down her shoulders, her breastbone and collarbones visible, suggesting strength, self-discipline and internal power over the senses and the mind; one hand appears to be in meditation circle, yet on close examination, there is a ball of light – an entire universe – perhaps our own universe – being birthed, succoured, sustained and directed towards its fulfilment within her shakti, her power, her grace. Beneath this universe is fire emerging from her hand, agni, the primeval fire which humankind first worshipped, and perhaps, the flame within the heart, which rises up, always upwards, towards its very own self. Are we being given the gift of knowing this flame exists within us? Are we called to discovery, meaning and purpose?

Next is the woman I would call the modern seeker; young, open faced, perhaps with a degree and working her way through the halls of trade and commerce, yet, her eyes are wide open, suggesting cultivation of depths, knowledge and power – all learned on the journey called modern life. I see many such women at Universities, on public transport, in workplaces – but this modern seeker aspect of Gayatri Maa knows that the world is but a vessel towards the goal of life, and the true life is living by learned precepts and values discovered within.

Next is the redhead, with flaming red hair trailing behind – modern men try to call this “the ranga” in an attempt to control that which they cannot control – the eternal spirit within a woman who follows her own path. Free, unfettered, she gazes at out at the universe in a knowing way that encloses all and gives to all. Yet men gaze at her with tears within, helpless, powerless before her freedom, her raw energy of life that surges forth and they can only follow, speechless before her raw creative power.

The Universal Gayatri is holding the peacock feather of Krishna, the conch of Vishnu, the Trishul of Shiva, the rudraksha beads of the sanyasin (or the brahmacarini!), the universe we live in, the eternal fire of Agni (recalling the pranava, the Om from which all emerges), the palm leaf with the Gayatri Mantra, the curved knife suggesting Durga, the one who protects and the one who receives all living things, the discus, symbol of the power of freedom within, and the power to give life and to change life as we know it, and finally, the lotus flower, symbolic of life opening up to receive the energy of the Paramatman itself; the eternal, self-effulgent light that we truly are.

Behind Gayatri Ma in the deep blue of akasha, are tiny white lights; although they look like stars (I was reminded of the Pleiades for some reason) our artists tells that she was told to create entire universes within universes – so these brilliant lights represent these multiple universes, what science is now discovering are multiverses! Behind Gayatri Maa are more hands holding universes as balls of light – suggesting that Mother Gayatri is not only three dimensional divinity, but divinity itself creating, sustaining and receiving life in dimensions we as yet do not know about.

Before Gayatri Maa, the many waterfalls suggest the journey of all embodiments of the divine atma to their one goal, each falling endlessly towards the ocean of the divine itself, upon which float the instruments of our salvation – the articles of worship. Our lives are but a garland, many flowers joined on a common thread of oneness with all.

Do go and see the original in its full glory on the website: http://www.anandasaiart.com … (that’s the full website – much awaits you there. The original of the Universal Gayatri oil painting is found there. )

I had mentioned earlier about artists, signs, symbols, creativity and everyday human experience. What of the artist or artisan whose subject is the Almighty, the Divine itself? Is it possible for humans, artisans, masters of their craft, to present a window to the divine, to open up chthonic experience of the divine within the human at depths heretofore unplumb’d?

I feel such is true, a vocation which is scarred by formal approaches to the divine, however important and salutary the nine forms of devotion would be, for example. Or lighting candles before a Marian shrine in a grotto, or watching the flight of birds and seeing the wings opening and closing endlessly; what is that force, that element, that power, that energy within the man, the woman who seeks further, who wishes to see beyond the veil of maya to the reality, the really – real of this world?

I am fond of saying that there are forms of devotion, there are models of devotee life and there are many different stages of faith. Yet, as we have sat on the sands here in Prashanti Nilayam before our beloved Swami, watched his every move, listened to his words to us and read his divine discourses – this is the very Divine Itself, the Almighty, who is at the same time, sharing our human experience – albeit in this day, our senses know he has dropped the body, and our hearts know he is still present, we KNOW that HE knows our human experience so intimately, so closely, and when he looks into our eyes, or into our hearts, he sees the many lives before, the many layers of mind, and every now and then we get a cryptic reply from him. Whither these cryptic replies?

Mankind cannot control divinity. Mankind from the moment consciousness has been born within, has sought to appease the elements, worship them in all their power and glory, to worship that force or source which MUST be behind yet within the elements, the sky, the night sky, the very flame itself. Man makes signs and symbols of the Divine, in every culture, in every time and place. Man makes ways of worship and passes on such ways of worship to their families, their offspring, their community, and ultimately seeks encounter with the Divine.

Do we not do the same with our bhajan, our puja, our offerings of flowers and prasadam? Do we not do the same with prayer and letters and fasting and selfless service?

The artist serves – each artist, artisan, crafts-person – all serve in their own skill and discipline to provide the opportunity to move beyond signs, symbols to encounter. In some times and places, these are variously called samkaras or sacraments, where the fullness resides deep within the work of the artist/artisan/crafts-person, which, when encountered, elicits a knowing, an experience, a felt reality of the Divine from within in ways heretofore unknown.

St Francis captured it all in the Canticle of the Sun:

Most High, all-powerful, all-good Lord,
All praise is Yours, all glory, honor and blessings.
To you alone, Most High, do they belong;
no mortal lips are worthy to pronounce Your Name.

We praise You, Lord, for all Your creatures,
especially for Brother Sun,
who is the day through whom You give us light.
And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendor,
of You Most High, he bears your likeness.

We praise You, Lord, for Sister Moon and the stars,
in the heavens you have made them bright, precious and fair.

We praise You, Lord, for Brothers Wind and Air,
fair and stormy, all weather’s moods,
by which You cherish all that You have made.

We praise You, Lord, for Sister Water,
so useful, humble, precious and pure.

We praise You, Lord, for Brother Fire,
through whom You light the night.
He is beautiful, playful, robust, and strong.

We praise You, Lord, for Sister Earth,
who sustains us
with her fruits, colored flowers, and herbs.

We praise You, Lord, for those who pardon,
for love of You bear sickness and trial.
Blessed are those who endure in peace,
by You Most High, they will be crowned.

We praise You, Lord, for Sister Death,
from whom no-one living can escape.
Woe to those who die in their sins!
Blessed are those that She finds doing Your Will.
No second death can do them harm.

We praise and bless You, Lord, and give You thanks,
and serve You in all humility.



© Chris Parnell