Tantric Paintings
Tantra – a unique spiritual system capable of resolving the mystery of Being and its relationship with the world without itself being mysterious, caught in the cobwebs of misconceptions, misled beliefs, clergies’ disapprovals, moralists’ censure, ethical concerns, quakes’ and sorcerers’ misuses and abuses, opposition of the ‘authorised’ – theology, philosophy …, and above all, the centuries long antipathy of Islamic and Christian rulers, has been the subject of neglect, indifference and even aversion for quite some time now. It is considered to be a system comprising incredible, primitive, unscientific beliefs, which promotes blind faith and exploits undeveloped or under-developed minds.
Neither moral nor immoral, Tantra is beyond the ‘moral’. The Western theory of ‘sin’, which overwhelmed entire Indian theology after its contact with the Western world, has never been the domain of Tantra. It does not deal also with models, social or individual. Not ‘what should be’, the primary concern of Tantra is ‘what is’, a sincere and honest acceptance of oneself and the world around – ‘the Truth of the Being’. It is rather a spiritual science that examines experiences of ‘Self’ with the material world and explores man’s inherent energies, spiritual and physical, methods to expand them, and his place and relevance in the cosmos. The Tantra exploits this human body as its ’yantra’ – instrument, which when in absolute command of elements within helps command elements of cosmos beyond, and thus, the cosmos. The universe is his stage, which he realises through ‘yantra’ – a mystic diagram, wherein it manifests. The diagram – a ‘Mandala’, represents the universe, and through various motifs, its other aspects – Shiva-Shakti union, emergence of ‘seed’, multiplication of his procreative act.

As Tantra’s primary focus has been on the unity of male and female principles with Shiva and Shakti as their proto models, the Tantra-sadhaka innovated hundreds of female deity-forms that in his sadhana served as the female counterparts for his male energies. In many of these manifestations female principle is the very basis of sadhana and it is in her that the creative evolution takes place and enables the Tantrika attain his objective. This deity form is, however, quite unusual. On its head enshrines a form of Shiva with a bold icon of Ganga in his coiffure. This is obviously a Tantrika innovation with Ganga and the female deity itself representing Shakti and thus Shiva’s counter female energy. But, as prominently the deity has in the centre of her breasts another male deity form. As suggests inscription on top of the folio, it could be the image of Mercury, planet of creativity, imagination, intellectual pursuits.

This is obviously a Tantrika innovation with Ganga and the female deity itself representing Shakti and thus Shiva’s counter female energy. But, as prominently the deity has in the centre of her breasts another male deity form. As inscription on top of the folio suggests, it could be the image of Mercury, planet of creativity, imagination, intellectual pursuits.

Tantra has innovated hundreds of deity forms, in strange positions and aspects, and sometimes as part of a tantrika practice or realisation as here in this image. The painting portrays the devotee with the awakened ‘Kundalini-shakti’. It leaves as insignificant the early four stages – four ‘chakras’ through which it rises. The Kundalini’s ascent is, however, portrayed with its entering the ‘Vishuddha-chakra’ around the throat region from where it passes across ‘Ajna-chakra’, which the yellow crescent denotes, and merges finally into ‘Sahasrara-padma’, symbolised by an upright red lotus. The lotus magnifies and transforms into a round face of dark hue, the Great Void that is Mahakala, the Timeless Shiva. Strangely innovative is devotee’s body below the waist, the location of ‘Muladhara-chakra’ where Kundalini lies. It transforms identically to the image of Mahakala evincing Tantra’s fundamental assertion that man is the microcosm, and universe, the macrocosm of the Creation and thus man and cosmos are the same.

The lotus magnifies and transforms into a round face of dark hue, the Great Void that is Mahakala, the Timeless Shiva.

Strangely innovative is devotee’s body below the waist, the location of ‘Muladhara-chakra’ where Kundalini lies. It transforms identically to the image of Mahakala evincing Tantra’s fundamental assertion that man is the microcosm, and universe, the macrocosm of the Creation and thus man and cosmos are the same.

The painting represents a human figure of normal build but the height that it gains is in the form of mounting squares, which in Tantra denote spatial regions, and thereby the figure’s cosmic magnification. The entire figure is divided into three broad divisions symbolising three worlds. The lower part, comprising alternating white and red cubes, reveals horizontality, the character of the world below. A circle constitutes the figure’s middle part. It is so divided that it forms triangular divisions – almost the interacting inverted and upright triangles and a dot, symbolic of Shiva-Shakti union, within. This is the stage of ‘divine-leela’, the earth. Above it are vertically mounting cubes and over them a face and the sentiment of quiescence on it. Its spiral rise is symbolic of the void above, and the face, of the Cosmic Consciousness. Various forms, human, animal and vegetation, represented in the central strip, symbolise presence of life in concerned regions.

A circle constitutes the figure’s middle part. It is so divided that it forms triangular divisions – almost the interacting inverted and upright triangles and a dot, symbolic of Shiva-Shakti union.

Eclipses have special significance in Tantra. Hence, when required to perform on the night or day of an eclipse on a non-eclipse day or night, the ‘sadhaka’ would meditate on the diagram and his mind would transcend as meditated.

Eclipses have special significance in Tantra. Hence, when required to perform on the night or day of an eclipse on a non-eclipse day or night, the ‘sadhaka’ would meditate on the diagram and his mind would transcend as meditated.

One of the most powerful manifestations of the energy of Mahakala, the form of the deity seems to emerge from Mahakala’s head. She is the source of all energies, kinetic or otherwise. She is the sustaining power which two figures feeding on her breasts symbolise. Her prominently defined ‘yoni’ – vulva, which three snakes guard and two human figures feed on, is both, the source of kindling Kundalini as well as of fertility. In Tantra-sadhana ‘yoni’ has rare significance, as ‘yoni-sadhana’ not only kindles dormant energies but also leads to ‘Sahasrara-chakra’ – the thousand petal-lotus plane.

Her prominently defined ‘yoni’ – vulva, which three snakes guard and two human figures feed on, is both, the source of kindling Kundalini as well as of fertility. In Tantra-sadhana ‘yoni’ has rare significance.

This form of Mahisa, a demon of Kalanemi clan, with green body colour, is a rare Tantrika innovation. It combines with darker regions of the cosmos the earth’s fertility aspect and thus seeks to channel animal or rather misled energies into the creative process, the Tantra’s primary objective. While meditating on this form of Mahisa the ‘sadhaka’ is able to harness his animal energies and use them for achieving higher goals.

This form of Mahisa, a demon of Kalanemi clan, with green body colour, is a rare Tantrika innovation. It combines with darker regions of the cosmos the earth’s fertility aspect and thus seeks to channel animal or rather misled energies into creative process.

Bhairava, Lord Shiva’s awful manifestation, is the supreme Tantrika deity. Bhairava is beyond present, past and future which emerge from within him and terminate into him. He is hence also Kala Bhairava – Bhairava beyond time. In this strange innovation Bhairava has fire emitting eyes, a serpent with mouths on both ends comprising his lips and two other serpents framing his head. Meditating on this form of Shiva the Tantrika transcends time and the timed world.

In this strange innovation Bhairava has fire emitting eyes, a serpent with mouths on both ends comprising his lips and two other serpents framing his head. Meditating on this form of Shiva the Tantrika transcends time and the timed world.

The scroll, divided into five folds, comprises five images of astronomical significance. The first is a four-armed deity symbolising time. Its mount is a multi-trunked blue elephant. The second to it is a chariot-riding deity. A white deer is driving the chariot. The third is a couple. The male has a flower in one of his hands. In the fourth folio, a four-armed deity is riding a green elephant. Its head and trunk is red. In two of his hands the deity is carrying clubs. The fifth and the last portrays an archer shooting an arrow. The archer’s figure is upper half man and the lower half horse.

The scroll, divided into five folds, comprises five images of astronomical significance. The first is a four-armed deity symbolising time. Its mount is a multi-trunked blue elephant.

The painting represents a female form with a circle covering her midmost body part. The circle contains a diagram comprising seven triangles, six projecting and the seventh, in the centre forming their axis. Ordinarily, it is a ‘Bala-chakra’, the expression of static balance and dynamic equilibrium, for which the female energy stands. However, with a serpent figure portrayed in its centre the diagram seems to relate to ‘Kundalini’ – the coiled up dormant psychic energy, and its ascent through six ‘chakras’ – dynamic elemental centres. Six triangles represent six ‘chakras’ and the seventh, ‘Sahasrara-padma’. Kundalini, also known as ‘serpent energy’, has been symbolised by a serpent motif. The central triangle where Kundalini lay is symbolic of the base-chakra – ‘Muladhara’. It is from here that the Kundalini ascends to ‘Sahasrara-padma’ – the thousand-petal-lotus. ‘Muladhara-chakra’ is supposed to situate around the midmost body-part, almost where the circle has been drawn in the painting. It is contemplated to have the shape of a young girl’s ‘Yoni’. Inclusion of female figure in the painting is just incidental. It is to merely indicate Kundalini’s basic location and its broad form. The diagram with six triangles comprises also two initial triangles, one inverted, representing female principle, and other, upright, representing male.

The circle contains a diagram comprising seven triangles, six projecting and the seventh, in the centre forming their axis. The diagram with six triangles comprises also two initial triangles, one inverted, representing female principle, and other, upright, representing male.

Through a human bust the painting represents ascent of Kundalini from ‘Muladhara’ to ‘Sahasrara-padma’ – the thousand-petalled lotus, symbolic of Cosmic Consciousness. In Indian tradition, the body is perceived as comprising six ‘chakras’, dynamic Tattvik – elemental
centres, of which four, ‘Muladhara’, ‘Svadhisthana’, ‘Mani-pura’ and ‘Anahata’, are situated in between midmost body-part to heart region, the part not included in the painting. ‘Vishuddha’ and ‘Ajna’, other two ‘chakras’ are located in throat, that is, mouth region, and in between the eyebrows. Over them is situated ‘Sahasrara-padma’. When kindled, ‘Kundalini, contemplated as female energy and hence a female deity, begins ascending from ‘Muladhara’ through these ‘chakras’ using ‘Sushamna-nari’, one of the three main artilleries having mystic significance, as its channel. In the painting, red line symbolises ‘Sushamna-nari’, while the white, Kundalini, for at this stage ‘jivatma’ sheds its colours and transcending beyond the material existence dissolves in Parmatman, which white conventionally symbolised. It is the state of ‘samadhi’ – complete transcendence. Hence, the deity that agitated at throat or mouth-level and mind boiled red is portrayed seated in complete quiescence when it reached ‘Ajna’ and ‘Sahasrama-padma’ levels. The ‘Sahasrama-padma’ has been portrayed as a multi-petalled lotus head-dress of the figure.

The ‘Sahasrama-padma’ has been portrayed as a multi-petalled lotus head-dress of the figure.

This form of Bhairavi combining Hanuman – a Tantrika innovation, affords to the Tantrika two aspects of the same cosmic principle. Both Hanuman and Bhairavi are demon slayers and have been conceived as awe-striking, one carrying a skull-garland and the other with a blood-smeared lolling tongue, but while Bhairavi feeds life on death, Hanuman promotes life by its own means. This synthesis of opposite – male and female negative and positive….is the pith of Tantra.

This form of Bhairavi combining Hanuman – a Tantrika innovation, affords to the Tantrika two aspects of the same cosmic principle. Both Hanuman and Bhairavi are demon slayers and have been conceived as awe-striking, one carrying a skull-garland and the other with a blood-smeared lolling tongue, but while Bhairavi feeds life on death, Hanuman promotes life by its own means. This synthesis of opposite – male and female negative and positive….is the pith of Tantra.

A Tantrika deity is as a rule operative, not a mere passive boon-giver. Hence, in Tantrika innovations gestures such as abhaya or varada, are rarely seen. Instead of , a female representing any form of mother, is conceived with exposed breasts, full of milk- the endless source of life. This form of the female deity confers abhaya with the trident she is carrying, and well-being, by her capacity to feed

This form of the female deity confers abhaya with the trident she is carrying, and well-being, by her capacity to feed.

Representing some regional ritual tradition, the painting renders a large snake coiling around a flower symbolising, perhaps, life to which the snake, symbol of long life, imparts endless tenure. The painting includes three diagrams. The diagram on bottom right corner with male and female principles emerging from all four sides and uniting to create the ‘bindu’ – seed, is the Bija-diagram. The triangle, divided into four triangles, on the bottom left, represents recurrent union of male and female principles. The square with four square equal ivisions on the top right represents ‘Chaturyugas’ – four ages. Thus, the painting celebrates life, the creation of the union of male and female principles, to sustain through all ages.

The painting renders a large snake coiling around a flower symbolising, perhaps, life to which the snake, symbol of long life, imparts endless tenure.

The goddess who decapitates herself is instantly identified as goddess Chhinnamasta, one of the ten Mahavidyas. Instead of demanding blood-sacrifice from her devotees she feeds them with her own blood. Chhinnamasta is not the deity in regular worship among Hindus; she is nonetheless one of the most popular deities of Tantrikas. This form of the goddess is, however, far different from her normally known image. She does not have sixteen arms. She has an altogether different posture. It is also not the style of blood releasing from the cut stump of her neck. Normally three jets of blood spurt from it, one of which feeds her own decapitated head and the other two, two ‘yoginis’ on either side. Quite strangely, her form here joins two deity forms, both females, one green and other blue, each attributed with eight arms. Influenced, perhaps, with the forms of the Buddhist Tara, who has green and blue manifestations, the Tantrika painter has innovated this form believing that this will double her power of fulfilling her devitee’s desire.

Quite strangely, her form here joins two deity forms, both females, one green and other blue, each attributed with eight arms. Influenced, perhaps, with the forms of the Buddhist Tara, who has green and blue manifestations, the Tantrika painter has innovated this form believing that this will double her power of fulfilling her devitee’s desire.

Not a regular or established deity-form of Hindu pantheon, the winged deity seems to manifest the power of ‘Mantra’ – the nucleus of Tantrism. As a bird agitates with wings high and low winds, so the ‘Mantra’ charges them on all levels. Having mastered wind, the source of life in all regions, the ‘Mantra’ controls all nine planets, which the nine-petalled lotus portrayed under the winged deity symbolises. The ‘Mantra’ is the cosmic word receiving direct from cosmos its energy which it passes to the ‘sadhaka’ and through him further to others, something which the painting portrays graphically. What the divine image is receiving from above, is being passed to others, and further on through them. The icons receiving the power of ‘Mantra’ and passing it to others are decapitated heads, which besides symbolising sadhaka’s mortality suggest that those who dare self-decapitation, that is, who are capable of conquering themselves, alone can be the vehicle of cosmic energy of ‘Mantra’.

Not a regular or established deity-form of Hindu pantheon, the winged deity seems to manifest the power of ‘Mantra’ – the nucleus of Tantrism. As a bird agitates with wings high and low winds, so the ‘Mantra’ charges them on all levels.

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