In this Spring 2021 Edition of JaggeryLit. Arts Editor Srividya Ramamurthy had a fireside chat with Ruchika Kapila. Her story will resonate with each one of us. The story to nurture our inner creativity and always find a way to express it. Read through the interview to understand.
Ruchika – Thank you so much for sharing your time. We are so excited to talk with you. You have been doing arts and crafts and if we were to think of how this all evolved. Can you walk us through how you got interested? Did you have any formal learning?
Art and its various forms were an integral part of my education in school. Right from elementary school, we had singing and painting classes. I have always been attracted to colors and their various expressions in life. Painting was the perfect outlet….so many colors! I could never get enough of it. Myriad of colors add so much life and meaning. It has been a great way to experiment.
After school, being near Bal Bhawan, a center in New Delhi. I consider it to be a blessing. This is a center where children could go and participate in various activities. It was such a great extracurricular wholesome activity.
That’s nice to hear. The nurturing in childhood helps and stays through life in many ways for sure.
Yes of course! I was attracted to arts and crafts. There was some learning, but it was mostly fun. So, my art education was very elementary. But when you enjoy what you do so much, I personally think it leaves a very deep impression within you.
Anyways, life went through many phases after that. For instance, academics took the front seat and art was forgotten. As life continued and work and family took the front seat after that.
However, that deep impression I spoke about earlier was always somewhere. The desire to paint and do crafts. So when I had some time, I always looked around at the available options for something I could do at my own pace.
There started a journey that meandered through, sketching, mosaic, painting on glass vases and now painting on canvas.
What a wonderful journey. So much hope for our readers who possibly had a deep imprint of something they loved and then skipped because of how life meanders on. Please continue, love to hear more.
Sure! So, I just started doing things at my own pace. I started first with some mosaic projects available in craft stores, I got started from that. I thought it was a safe and easy route to start. Just the spark I needed. Once I had success in that, I was now bold enough to start my own projects.
As I look around your beautiful home, one thing stands out! The artwork is all done by you isn’t it! How wonderful. Can you please tell us how you did this?
Oh! Thank you! I am glad you like them. Well, as I mentioned I was looking at doing my own projects and I found mosaics to be very interesting. I found that cut tiles are available for various projects in many colors and sheens.
Wow! So, you took that and made it into these massive and beautiful artworks! Tell us about that.
Ah! I wanted a main center piece that resonates with me. Ganesha is my favorite deity.
So, I used a wood board as the base. I drew an image of Ganesha. I bought life by using tile cutting tools and shaped the glass tiles. I glued them one at a time on the board. It was a labor of love and so meditative at the same time.
Wow! Wonderful! What are you into these days?
Well, I had these plain glass vases lying at home. And I was stuck with an idea to improvise and make this unique and handmade. I truly feel the blessings of God and my Guru for these flows of ideas. Nothing is of my own doing; it is truly their blessings. There is so much that can be done with colors. An idea for a geometric pattern comes to mind. I transfer that into a vase. Once I have the pattern done, I paint it with acrylic colors. After finishing the painting on the vase, I then seal it to protect the paint from water. I work on all types of glass vases and even plates.
That’s amazing. They do brighten any room along with or without flowers. Do you commission work for people?
As for now I’m just happy sharing my work with friends and family. I’m so blessed that they appreciate and encourage me. I am happy that I was able to contribute some of these to charity to be auctioned off. I love that I can give back with my work. It truly gives me such happiness.
Totally true!! A talent like this you should consider taking this a bit bigger.
As of now, I’m just happy creating, but if any opportunity comes, I might consider that.
You mentioned earlier about the blessings of your Guru. How does this help in your spiritual pursuit?
It has been an immense help in my practice. It is very calming and relaxing which is a requisite in spiritual practice.
Thank you so much for talking with us Ruchika. This story I am sure will resonate with every single reader. It is a journey of hope to revive our past interests that brings our joy and life back. To rekindle the passion and to bring purpose and internal peace to life.
In this Spring 2021 Edition of JaggeryLit. Arts Editor Srividya Ramamurthy had a fireside chat with Vidya Warrier. Her story is an amazing journey. She is an excellent Kathak dancer, a Hatha Yoga practitioner. She has spent years learning both and has found ways and means of integrating these in a wonderful way to bring in awareness on culture, heritage and much more. This young woman is an inspiration to many of us. Her conviction and taking the path often less traveled is truly inspiring. Well, let’s talk with Vidya Warrier and hear all about it.
Vidya, thank you so much for taking your time to talk with us. I am a bit confused on where to start. Let’s start with dance. Kathak – When did you start learning? Can you also give a background on the art form?
Thank you so much for having me. I consider this as an honor. I started to learn to dance from the age of 5. My parents had me learning Bharatanatyam. However, I then transitioned to learning Kathak when I was 8 years old.
Kathak comes from the word “Kathakkar” or, one who tells stories. Kathak originally is an art of storytelling. It began in the temples and villages of North India, where Kathakkars would travel from village to village sharing stories of various kinds.
When the Mughal invasion occurred in North India, this art entered the royal courts as a form of entertainment. It is in the presence of the Moghul royalty that Kathak gained a Persian influence or “andaaz”.
Today Kathak is a synthesis of both its traditional Hindu roots, as well as Mughal influence. I suppose one hidden beauty also lies in this embrace or “dance” of two otherwise highly conflicted religions. For me personally, I find my emotions relate more in the Hindu aspect. However, I source vast technical nuance and style from the Moghul shades of the art.
Kathak also has close ties with the Sufi tradition, particularly in the swirling or dervish dances. They say Romanian dances and even Flamenco dances also have similar steps because of the ‘gypsy’ tribes that traveled through North India and picked up some shades of Kathak.
Kathak tends to be ‘circular’ in its general landscape. There is also a hugely under-appreciated subtlety in Kathak, one which requires mastery and subtle control of certain muscles in the torso, limbs, and face. But today, these nuanced pieces often get sidetracked. The jazzier pirouettes and fast footwork of Kathak are more popular.
That’s interesting to learn. Thank you for taking your time to explain how Kathak as a dance form has evolved and adapted. You are also a Hatha Yogi. Can you talk about when you started learning yoga?
I started learning yoga when I was 12 years old. In the year 2000, my mother had taken a yoga program with Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev – Yogi and mystic from South India.
Soon afterward, I received Hata yoga training and basic children’s yoga.
I was not a dedicated 13-year-old yoga practitioner at all! And I used to practice occasionally. Still, even that minimal connection with Yoga was a tremendous support I feel. Growing up in an environment where my parents and family friends were completely immersed in a yogic lifestyle had a positive impact. Although I did not have a clue of what Yoga was, there was a constant reminder that there is “more” to life than what we do every day. And, that the source of happiness is inside me somewhere, not out in the world where everyone thinks it is.
For a teenager growing up in the U.S.; I cannot tell you how invaluable that perspective is, even if it is just an idea.
How was the experience of growing up in conflicting ideologies? The yogic lifestyle at home vs. a teenager growing up living life in a Western lifestyle.
Even before my parents started practicing yoga, we (me and my sister) had a very traditional Hindu upbringing. Our “playtime” was to dress up like gods and goddesses and enact stories from the great epics of India, like the Mahabharatha or Ramayana! And hours upon hours of dancing… a lot of singing too. We lived in our own, happy world.
When I got into Junior High, of course, there was a social pressure to assimilate. While kids my age were beginning their first relationships, their first explorations with alcohol and drugs… my parents were whisking us off for the weekend to volunteer for the next yoga program!
Eventually, I did have to play the part to fit into the Western world. I tried to fit in. That is not an age where “being yourself” is respected much! So, I went with the flow. After a certain point, something in me did not feel comfortable anymore. A part of me recognized my own “act,” and was not ok with it. When I reached a certain peak of struggle, I started meditating. Things changed a lot after that.
Looking back, I think Shoonya and Kriya (yoga practices offered in the Isha Yoga Program) became available to me when I needed it the most, when the conflict hit a certain peak. That is not just for me, many people I know have shared that yoga came to them when they truly needed it. Maybe, it has an intelligence of its own.
You moved to the Isha Yoga Center in Coimbatore India, right after High School ? Wow! What made you choose that over a regular college undergrad?
After I turned 15, I started practicing a meditation called Shoonya, offered by Sadhguru. It is a conscious practice of “non-doing” – sitting still.
Once I started shoonya, I became a much more dedicated yoga practitioner. I did it every day, without fail, along with some basic kriya yoga. While I was in high school, my lunch breaks were usually in my car! I would practice shoonya, then eat fast just in time to make it into the school for 4th period.
What amazed me about meditation is the simple beauty it brought into my life. You close your eyes and the entire world melts away. And then you come back totally new and refreshed. I was deeply intrigued by this silent world.
Moreover, I felt a sort of urgency to explore yoga under the guidance of my spiritual Guru – Sadhguru. I did not want to waste time on anything else. I felt invigorated to learn more about the ancient sciences of our culture. Hence it was a natural choice – in fact it wasn’t even a choice. I knew I had to go to India to know more.
If the thirst for knowing is that intense then there is definitely no stopping that. Can you describe your experience at the Isha Yoga Center in India?
Isha Yoga Center has been designed by Sadhguru for meditation and self-transformation. The center is located near Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, India. It is such a beautiful place at the foothills of the Velliangiri Mountains. A fundamental aim of Sadhguru’s life was establishing Dhyanalinga – a “multi religious” shrine. It represents consciousness beyond all religion, caste, and creed. In fact there are no rituals or poojas. It is maintained in silence because it is made purely for meditation. I would encourage your readers to read more to understand this in greater detail. The Yoga Center is designed like a beautiful ornament for the Dhyanalinga, it revolves around that space. It is a Kshetra (sacred land). The ambience, the food, and the lifestyle in the Yoga Center is set up for spiritual growth. It involves super intense work along with yogic practice. I found myself in new situations every day. I was learning constantly and often in situations out of my mental, emotional, and physical comfort zones. Sadhguru has several initiatives that are all run 100% by volunteers. So, there is always a constant of working in multiple projects all the time. Yoga practices give one a sort of strength to keep up with the intensity of work. I fall short of explaining the experience in words. It is truly one of its own experiences that has helped me in many ways beyond my imagination.
Being a part of Sadhguru’s initiatives has helped me to approach the world in a more “wholesome” way than before. In society, there is a tendency to look at everything in parts. “Mine,” “yours,” “this,” “that.” In a capitalistic world, numbers rule. Yes, numbers have their place. But what I discovered with Sadhguru and his work is more toward seeing everything as “One.” “Yoga” means Union. Oneness of everything. So, when you are doing volunteer work, you strive to recognize the oneness in everything. That makes work much more joyous and harmonious.
Even now, I attempt to bring that element into my life every day. It makes work, relationships, and life overall much more effortless, with less friction. I go about my day with more joy and that just flows into my work.
Vidya!! Truly inspiring. Path less traveled at that young age. But has given you so much maturity and wisdom. So how many years did you spend in India? Did you also travel and visit any sacred spaces or temples and what was your experience?
I was in the ashram for 11 years. Within a few months of moving to India, I had the opportunity to visit the Himalayas. That trip certainly set the tone for my life there.
Himalayas are unique because hundreds, if not thousands of yogis and sadhus have spent time meditating there. I was part of an organized yatra or pilgrimage which covered regions from Haridwar, Badrinath, Kedarnath, Rishikesh and many other temples on the way. This was my first exposure to Indian spirituality in all its rawness and profoundness. Subsequently I visited Mt. Kailash. Kailash has been held as a spiritually significant place by multiple religions. Our trip took us through Lake Mansarovar in Tibet.
Oh, and Kashi- the “city of light” stole my heart! There is a rich background to this space that many people are unaware of. In fact, the entire city was created in the form of a sacred mandala. Personally, it was here in Manikarnika ghat that I witnessed a cremation ground for the first time. It really changed my perspective and ‘relationship’ with dying.
But one incredibly unique trip I took was to Guwahati, Assam. The powerful goddess Kamakhya temple is here. The rural parts of northeast India are some of the country’s most gorgeous and untouched places.
I also had the opportunity to travel to various South Indian temples. The Pancha Bhoota Sthalas, or the five temples which represent the five elements, are brilliantly placed in a certain geometry across South India. Being a Malayalee, I naturally had opportunities to visit temples of Kerala. Kerala is one of the few places where temple traditions are maintained in its purity.
Samadhi spaces – or places where yogis and saints chose to leave their body – dot the subcontinent from North to South. These spaces help one realize that we can not only live consciously, but we can also die consciously. It sounds a bit odd from a Western perspective, but this knowledge of “conscious” dying is prevalent across Eastern cultures. Needless to say, these powerful spaces are hugely energetic. They inspire you on all levels – physically, mentally, and spiritually – to strive for the highest.
Because I have traveled and moved so much over the fifteen years…. I don’t usually miss things very much. But if I miss anything about living in India – it is these magnificent spaces.
And now you are back in the States. Carrying all the experiences and wisdom alive within you. And here we are, you started making Vlogs. And how did that idea come from?
When I came back from India in 2018, it was after 11 years of not experiencing the Western culture at all. From an Indian American teenager, I had almost become a nice Tamil girl (lol). I certainly felt culture shock being back in the USA.
However, as I got accustomed to the U.S., I found a passion still burning inside me for India. The beauty of my culture – yoga, the arts, the powerful spaces of India. I wanted to start sharing it in whatever small way.
But how to talk about all these ancient topics, you know? These are things that people my age don’t usually give a hoot about. Unfortunately, most of the time, these topics are presented like these really ancient things that aren’t relevant for us today. But I had tasted how beautiful and exciting they really are.
So, I took to YouTube (Channel: The Dancing Warrier) for a couple reasons. Firstly, I wanted to discover my voice. What could I, as this little person, offer to the world? Creating videos on YouTube helped and still helps me to discover that. It also challenges me creatively. It requires me to evolve my story telling skills.
Moreover, I want to present aspects of Indian Culture in a more interesting way. I want to attempt to bring relatability to this lifestyle, because it has made my life so wonderful. So, I thought I’d try a format which is more modern. Instead of trying to give a lecture (which I’d fail miserably at anyway), why not just share tiny stories of my life where my culture, my roots, my yoga helps me. I suppose that is the intent behind creating Youtube vlogs/videos. It is still very much evolving.
That is a great novel idea. The culture might be old, and the wisdom might be ancient. But however, it is all very so relevant. What aspect of Indian culture do you feel most passionately about?
First, I should clarify what I mean by Indian Culture. The Indian culture I am speaking about is sort of buried under a huge influx of influences from America. It is not Bollywood (as many in the U.S. believe)!
I am referring to a set of traditions which were scientifically designed to uplift the human experience. For every step-in life and beyond life also, there is a systemic methodology established in Indian culture. These brought tremendous physical, mental, and spiritual wellness. It is a science, not a faith or a belief. These traditions were performed as rituals, festivals, and ceremonies that everyone followed every single day. Not like today, where we become traditional just once in a while!
Unfortunately, when India faced invasions, we were made to feel ashamed of our culture. We were struggling under the foot of the British, which took a toll. And even now that we are independent, a huge segment of Indians doesn’t seem interested in embracing our roots. I am not trying to be preachy. That’s just my observation.
Whereas here in California, people are so attracted to the traditions of India! It’s remarkable yet also sad to see the paradox. I don’t think these traditions can be chained onto any religion, that’s the beauty of it. It is just a way of life.
I think I’m most passionate about the exuberance of the culture. The colors. The arts. The food. The architecture. The most profound sciences of yoga. It’s such an incredible combination which makes life feel rich, sensitive. It’s a way of living artfully.
Interestingly, I am also discovering elements of this spirit in indigenous culture across the world. They recognized “Oneness” through their connection to the Earth, to the soil. I think that message is extremely important right now. So, a lot of my time and energy is going into research about those topics too.
Vidya, have I already told you how inspiring you are, and your journey is? And all of this at such a young age? So, what are you working on now? How are you working on bringing these in a meaningful way through your eyes?
For many years, I was always the “writer.” I wrote articles, I scripted for videos and documentaries. I compiled books. Writing is a beautiful medium in its own way. Words have a tremendous power.
But over the last few years, I have been drawn to exploring the visual arts. My paths in filmmaking and dance are guiding me in this exploration. Specifically, I have developed a new fascination for paintings, sculptures, and for Earth itself. The greatest Art!!!
If we pay attention to the natural world around us, one can slowly uncover a sort of inner fascination that develops for the shapes and colors in the world. The art that lives in trees, plants, flowers, the sky. The Earth is such an endless canvas. Using dance, film, or really any art form at all – one can slowly try to make a small imitation of it. So my latest venture lies in translating love for the Earth into a visual exploration.
What I love about Kathak is that it lends itself beautifully to exploration. Once you are comfortable with the basic grammar of the art, you can play around with it to your heart’s content. Additionally, many of our dance mudras are designed for elements of Nature! So it is a natural process.
I have also started teaching Kathak. Teaching is perhaps the most humbling process of my Kathak journey. It requires me to re-look at the basics of Kathak through the eyes of my students. I get to learn with them, create with them. It is an absolute blessing.
My filmmaking journey has also moved into a more professional space, working in productions here in Los Angeles. There are few exciting collaborations in the pipeline related to Hinduism and Indian culture. I have also been freelancing (www.akashifilms.com), creating promotional videos for small businesses and non-profit organizations, including personal profile videos. Developing messaging for businesses and individuals has also led me into the professional world of branding and marketing.
I agree with you. Nature is so perfect and beautiful and so bountiful. If only we can spare some time to observe and immerse ourselves in it. How do you connect dance, film, and spirituality/yoga in your life?
I find the discipline, dedication, and focus required for Indian Classical Dance is equivalent to what is required for practicing yoga and meditation. It demands your entire body, mind and heart.
The mudras, or hand gestures, we use in Indian Dance are connected to subtler states of consciousness. Different dance mudras create different impacts. In the same way, our yoga mudras and asanas, or postures, are also used for different purposes. It is so directly connected to Yoga in that way.
Moreover, Indian classical music is designed to create meditativeness. The sanskrit mantras that are used in the songs evoke stillness and peace. There is plenty of scientific evidence about the impact of Sanskrit on the brain – including considerable changes in the processing of emotions and memory retention.
Because Indian Classical Dance is such a powerful concoction of sacred sounds, sacred movements, and above all, the phenomenal instrument that is the human body – it naturally makes one peaceful, joyful. It can also be a meditative process.
The essential purpose of Classical Indian Dance was to make a sacred offering… It was a temple art. Even today, Classical Indian Dancers always seek to offer their body and mind to a higher force, or to a deity, through their dance. That’s why we always begin and close our dances with a pranam.
While I was at the yoga center, I also had the opportunity to offer dance to a live deity- a goddess or Devi called Linga Bhairavi Devi. This offering helped me discover a deeper possibility in my dance other than presenting on stage. Now, I enjoy just the process of practicing by myself. I approach it, as a way to offer myself to a force greater than me.
Film or video, in a way, is also a dance. Using visuals (dancing images), music, and a message, you create a film. Videos can have a transformative impact on the viewer. In fact, a simple film has the power to change a person’s mindset completely. I think that is what attracted me to filmmaking. The medium has so much potential. It is an easy way to make otherwise very complex topics, simple and relatable. I want people to watch content, feel entertained, and finally walk away saying – ‘ah yes, this is certainly something to be explored.
Making a film or video also involves a certain amount of love for the viewer. You are dedicated to facilitating a positive experience for them. So there is something spiritual about that process too.
Vidya, Thank you so much for such an engaging conversation! I learnt quite a lot. I am just amazed and inspired. On behalf of Jaggery I wish you all the very best in your life.
Mickey Suman is a freelance writer and copy editor living in Bangalore. An amateur shutterbug with a huge interest in nature and landscapes, the only photography she is able to dabble in these days is that of my five-year-old. However she did take the time to share with us some of her photographs.
President of India Award-winning artist, Vaijayanti is a Visualizer and Graphic designer with a penchant for writing. Having worked at leading publications like The Times of India, The Indian Express, and Tata Infomedia, Vaijayanti is also a published writer. You can read some of her selected works at The Hive.
A Mumbai native, Vaijayanti loves reading, painting, and photography. Despite her busy city life, she never takes a break from breathing life into the great and little things in life through poetry. She also enjoys the unfiltered thrill of watching horror movies while sipping orange guava slushies with her other half. Want to learn more about Vaijayanti? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hina Hussain is a Pakistani Canadian freelance writer and photographer. In 2018, she had the good fortune of travelling to Pakistan’s northern provinces of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Gilgit-Baltistan on a private tour with her mother. From harrowing Jeep rides up unpaved hairpin mud roads, to a boat ride in the pristine waters of a newly formed lake, they traveled to parts of Pakistan that a very few people have had the pleasure of visiting. The people, landscapes, food, culture, and history of these provinces — that is what she hopes to showcase through this photo essay.
Hina, has also written for VICE Canada, Matador Network, the CBC, Toronto Star, The Aerogram and other publications. In 2019, her essay ‘Pakistan, Love and Jane Eyre’ won the grand prize in the creative nonfiction category for Wikimedia Foundation’s Heart of Knowledge Contest. In 2020 Goya Journal published her photo essay on Old Lahore, and she was also invited to speak on Lahore’s rich and diverse food history for the YouTube channel Delhi Food Walks. This year, for CBC Music, she was interviewed by the Grammy-nominated artist Michael Brook for the 25-year anniversary of his collaboration with Pakistani legend Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan on their groundbreaking album Night Song.
JaggeryLit Arts Editor Srividya Ramamurthy had a virtual sit down with Ranjana DG Chandra – An artist based out of New Delhi, India. We hope you enjoy knowing about the artist and her artistic creations and spiritual journey.
Good Evening Ranjana! I am so excited to talk with you and know more about you and your work. First off, thank you so much for accepting to talk with us.
Thank you so much Srividya! The pleasure is mine (Smiles)
Ranjana, have you always been artistically inclined?
Yes, since childhood I have always had a creative instinct. I really wasn’t too much into academic studies so to speak, but I have always been able to express better through art. So, for my higher studies, I chose to apply to the National Institute of Design, (NID) Ahmedabad, India.
Ah! Tell us more about the National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad.
Sure. As I mentioned earlier, I was not very academically inclined but had a creative bent of mind. NID, hence was a natural, coveted choice. In those times, there was only one such design institute in India, and I was delighted to be selected as one of the 25 students admitted in my batch. Today, there are several options and other good institutes in the country too, but NID still holds a significant name in the world of Design. NID constituted to be the ideal place to explore and develop one’s creativity. The curriculum was very hands-on, and we did not have any textbooks and exams and I was happy never to see another report card! (laughs). Everything was project based and we were evaluated based on our creative renditions. I did my master’s in communication design with my specialization being in Graphic Design.
Wow! That is pretty interesting to know. Did they also use a lot of outdoors for teaching and such? I am sure that institute was brimming with creativity.
(Smiles) Your question brings a whiff of nostalgia and fond memories. We had huge workshops and studios and a lot had to do with our environment and outdoor learning too. The NID campus and hostel’s architecture was integrated with nature and used exposed concrete and red bricks by design. We often sat on our lawns or in the open-air amphitheater studying and drawing perspectives and nature around us or would roam around in the local bazaars sketching for a design perception of our environment. We learnt the art of typography, the psychology of color, geometric compositions and complex tessellations, played with different materials and textures and studied the applications of the design process. The curriculum was free flowing, and we were encouraged to think out-of-the-box. There was no grading one student against the other and so, one had to learn to do better against just yourself. This was before computers invaded our lives, which I think personally, helped me develop a very keen eye and attention to details. By the time I was in my 3rd year at NID, we had the first Macintosh studio and today, design has become altogether a different ball game.
So, you were just competing just against yourself? Isn’t that how learning should be?
Absolutely! Yes, the whole education system was about bringing the best in you. Everything was conceptually based, and one had to keep improving one’s ideas or designs. Design is about finding a creative solution to a problem, applying the correct design process, and the development of the form and function that follows it. You start by brainstorming with multiple ideas, and intuitively fine tune what you think will work best, enabling one to render their most creative and versatile design solutions.
Did you have a career as a graphic designer?
I started my career in advertising and worked in different Ad agencies in Delhi on the creative side. Post that I founded my own Brand Communications firm with a partner. Looking for something more meaningful, I joined an international firm as a Creative Consultant where we worked on campaigns as catalysts for environmental and social progress for non-profits across the globe. Then opting for a more flexible option, I took on an active role as Design Director in my husband’s firm (also an alumnus of NID). And finally, I have found home by doing what I love and amalgamated my various avatars into my website: padmasiddhi.com
That’s a wonderful journey. Can you tell us how the art journey started?
Many years ago, as I was rummaging through some books in a quaint little store in Rishikesh, I came across a book on YANTRAS which caught my fancy and intrigued me to get into a deeper study of the subject. Whilst in a full-time job, I was almost possessed by an inner urge to bring these sacred forms out as an expression of art so I would sit up late in the nights and create these yantras from scratch and couldn’t stop till I had the last one of the series out. I, myself, was mesmerized by the results as I almost felt a divine energy at play.
The MANDALA series is more recent and is derived from my fascination with the geometric formations in nature. For example, the Fibonacci sequence and the expanding nature of the universe which is an amazing aspect to me. Usually, while creating my art, I play and listen to Buddhist chants, so as to infuse the energy into the creations with the intention that the positive vibes will resonate in the place it finally reaches.
How did the drawing of Yantra’s start? How would you explain Yantra to our readers?
See, I’ve always been drawn to mysticism and appreciated art from ancient civilizations. I was fascinated by how Yantras have a deep spiritual significance relating to our own life force and symbolically aid in opening the gates to consciousness. And so, I began to explore the subject. Yantras are ancient diagrams representing divinity. The sacred geometric formations used in Yantras predominantly consists of triangles, squares, circles, lotus petals etc. with the Bindu at the center representing the point of creation and return back to the origin.
I am now experimenting on 3D yantras now.
3D Yantras sound very interesting, can you please explain.
(Smiles) I got this idea in a temple in Vrindavan, when I came across an ancient 3D Yantra set in stone. I am experimenting with this now but on another medium (mdf) and I am equally excited with this body of work. Earlier, I would create layers of my art in Photoshop and output it with high-end digital prints on canvas. What I am doing now is I am painting on different surface layers with acrylics and gold foil and trying to create more textures. This is a work in progress, and I am pretty thrilled to see how this idea is taking shape.
Lovely!! Also, Yantra has a deep spiritual meaning and also geometry doesn’t it, can this be used as a tool or aid to help one with meditation?
Time immemorial, Yantras have been used in pujas, yagnas, healing and meditation in the Indian subcontinent. Yantras help to harness the influential energy fields of their specific deities. So, I believe, it is a good omen to have Yantras as they represent divinity and help in one’s spiritual enfoldment symbolically.
Absolutely – How do you choose the color combinations?
I try to retain the original colors of the Yantra in some, like in the yantras of certain Goddesses (Bhuvaneswari, Purneshwari etc.) where I have stayed authentic to what the ancient scripts have depicted. But in my Shiv Shakti yantra, I have composed it with relevant elements like adding mantras and making it very visually attractive from a color perspective. However, the diagrams are accurate with mathematical precision as these are sacred and cannot be tampered with, as it is considered to be the subtle body of the deity. Hence the power and blessings of the deity is preserved which leads to the purity of the yantra. You can view my Yantra series on my website: https://padmasiddhi.com/sacredart-yantras/
I have also created some art pieces using geodes and resin.
Tell us more about that. Girl! You are truly talented!!!!
(Smiles modestly) Inspired by natural geode formations, I have created free-form, stunningly eclectic geodes with acrylic and resin as the medium. I hand craft them using glass, deco stones, glitter and crystal beads. Each piece is unique, and I love the fluidity of the colors swirling into each other. It would truly spark up any space that it is placed. I have categorized them under “Celestial” and “Meteoroid” collections depending on the color palette. Do check them out at: https://padmasiddhi.com/resinworks-geoderesin/
I also heard that you are into Kundalini Yoga, can you tell us how that journey began?
“Autobiography of a Yogi ” by Paramahansa Yogananda was the book that altered my life. After reading the book, the message was very clear and direct to me. “Kriya Yoga – is the lightning path to Salvation”. That was my awakening call, and I began to seek. As the saying goes: “When the student is ready, the Master appears” and that is exactly what happened with me.
(As a person engaged in this conversation with Ranjana Chandra – I get goosebumps at this point)
I was very fortunate and blessed to have found my Satguru, an enlightened Himalayan Master Yogiraj Satgurnath Siddanath and was initiated and empowered into Kundalini Kriya Yoga by him. I am now a certified Hamsacharya in South Delhi and endeavor to spread my master’s message for the enlightenment of humanity. I teach Mahavaratar Shiva Gorasksha Babaji’s Kundalini Kriya Yoga of the Siddhanath Yoga Parampara. I have details on my website for anyone that is interested. https://padmasiddhi.com/meditation/
Wow! How wonderful! I am amazed with the progression that you have had. Back to arts (Laughs) Do you commission art based on what one might be interested in?
Yes. I would love to. I can personalize the Yantras or Mandalas or create new resin pieces and customize according to one’s preferences.
And they can take a look at your website to see what you have or what your latest artwork creation is?
JaggeryLit Arts Editor Srividya Ramamurthy had a virtual sit down with Mr. Suresh Muthukulam – An artist based out of Kerala, India. We hope you enjoy knowing about the artist and his artistic creation.
It is so lovely to meet you Mr. Suresh! I am so excited to talk with you and know more about you and your work. First off, thank you so much for accepting to talk with us.
Thank you so much Srividya! The pleasure is mine.
Can you please explain to us what Kerala murals are? How is this different from other art forms?
History of Kerala Murals can be traced back to about 2000 years. Within Kerala these forms were drawn in palaces and places of worship using natural colors. This is a visual art form done on the walls. These paintings were all done much much before the use of synthetic colors came into practice.
There are some major differences between Kerala Mural and other art forms. The first being the fact that these murals use only 5 colors. Yellow, red, leaf green, black and white. These 5 colors are representative of the 5 elements or the Pancha Bhutas (Earth, water, fire, air and space)
The second difference is the usage of lines and facial or visual representation. Based on the character that is being drawn, and the story being told of that character in that drawing the colors are based on that character’s innate intrinsic quality that is being presented in that story. This is very different from other art forms like Western for example where things might be more black and white.
Ah! I never thought of the colors to represent the character. Now if I think about that, it makes sense as to why some have red in face vs. blue in another painting. How impressive!
What is the history of this art form? Again, I cannot get beyond the vibrancy of colors that is so unique to this painting. How did that evolve? If you have any historical pointers to help to understand that would be wonderful as well.
This is a good question. I am not sure how many people are aware of the history. This might be a lengthy answer, but you did ask me a lengthy question (Smiles)
In India, one can trace the artwork with the usage of colors to the Ajanta and Ellora caves. Now if we were to look in Kerala, India. In Wayanad, Eddakal caves there are plenty of artistic engravings however there is no usage of colors in these. If we were to look and trace the oldest of the murals within Kerala – In those days Kanyakumari used to be part of Kerala (It is now part of Tamil Nadu India), there are Thirunandikkara caves and there are artistic works done here. According to historians, they trace the timeline to the 12th century AD.
If we move on, then we have to look at the mural artwork in 3 main palaces. The 3 notables amongst them are the Padmanabhapuram palace in Thauckalay, Kanyakumari District Tamil Nadu, Krishnapuram palace in Kayamkulam, Allapuzha District Kerala, Dutch palace in Cochin, Kerala. We also find mural artwork in many old temples and in some churches.
For colors we use all-natural colors. For yellow and red we use laterite soil. For Green we use an ayurvedic plant called neelamari( Indigofera Trincora) and along with Erivikara (Garcinia Morella). For black, soot from oil lamps is used. For white, since the base or substratum for the painting is usually transparent and the wall is usually coated with a layer of lime.
Wonderful! I have always loved history (Smiles). Tell us how you get interested in this art form? Where did the inspiration to learn the Mural art come from?
I grew up in Kayamkulam, Kerala. And our house was very close to the Krishnapuram Palace in Kayamkulam. The palace had a Kerala Mural depiction of Gajendra Moksha. It was superbly depicted with all of the emotions. The main highlight is the face of Vishnu. There are 2 bhava’s (aspects) that are shown. There is an emotion of karuna (grace ) shown towards the devotee namely Gajendra (The Elephant King) and then the anger shown in as a Vira rasa which is directed to the crocodile which was causing such pain and agony to Vishnu’s devotee Gajendra. One face having both the aspects just fascinated me as a child. I have been to the palace many times and this just created just an indelible impression with me. After I finished my schooling, I finished a Diploma in Fine Arts in Mavelikkara, Kerala. After that I joined the Institute of Mural Painting, Guruvayoor Devaswom, Guruvayoor. This was a five-year course, and I was trained and was amongst the first few of the students of the late Mammiyoor Krishnankutty Nair. I consider this to be a privilege as Mammiyor Asan(teacher) as he is famously called was an expert in this field. I learnt the art from the best and years 1989-1994 were the best grounding years to learn the craft.
Once I graduated, my first job was to restore the paintings of the famous Shri Padmanabha Swamy Temple in Trivandrum Kerala. I consider myself extremely lucky and privileged to be able to do this work.
So, restoration of the murals in the famous Shri Padamanabha Swamy Temple in Trivandrum was your first job?
Yes. After we graduated from Guruvayur, my asan (teacher) called a few of his students and I was one amongst them. He informed us that he had received a letter from King Marthandavarma of Trivandrum. The letter said that they are looking for artists to restore the mural paintings on the wall of Shri Padmanabha Swamy Temple in Trivandrum. However, he said that there would be no remuneration however they would provide food and accommodation. This was a bit of a dilemma for me as I lived by the coastal area which was not close to Trivandrum and so it would be hard for me to go back and forth to visit family since there would be no source of income. However, 3 of us decided to take the offer, others possibly didn’t take the offer due to financial constraints. I am not very sure. So, 3 of us went to Trivandrum and started doing the restoration work.
3 months into the job, I had an art exhibition in the Trivandrum museum. This was of great success. People really liked my work. There were some people from New Delhi that had visited this exhibition and they called me to New Delhi to commission an artwork for them. And then work back at the Temple was going on full progress. I had another exhibition in Chennai. That was received very well too. So, my name started to garner some amount of recognition in these 3 years. I sincerely believe that even though I received no remuneration for the restoration work of Shri Padmanabhaswamy Temple, all the fame and success that I have received, are all due to his Grace.
That was Divine grace indeed! Was it easy from that point onwards in your artistic journey?
I was one of the first batch of students (1989- 1994) graduating from the Guruvayur College. I consider this as my luck and the start of my destiny. Earlier my Asan Mammiyoor Krishnakutti Nair was the only person who was doing this specific style of Kerala Mural. So, in the whole mural scene the artist population was extremely rare. Being the first batch of students graduating under the best teacher of the times, our batch mates received plenty of opportunities. When we went to work for different places in Kerala for many of them it was seeing this for the first time in their life. We got the opportunity to work for different entities, private, commerce, places of worship. It was definitely a great break for our batch. As the years continued and more and more students graduated, we started having more artists capable of doing Kerala murals in our midst. However, there is no disadvantage due to this. All of us have been able to have a good life. I have explored various options of expressing Kerala Murals and hence I have a gallery platform for my art.
Can you please explain what you mean by that?
Sure! We have murals in temples or palaces, and they all depict a story. It is essentially a mural artistic way of representing or stating a story. The colors add to the vibrancy of the murals. So, in similar fashion, we can easily say a story on the wall of, let’s say in a top hotel. The story can be what a client might want to showcase. And I find this similar to let’s say Kathakali or Bharatanatyam (both being a dance form from South of India) originated in the temples. It was an artistic way of using dance as a platform to say the stories. In the old days, this art form stayed only inside the walls of the temple. Now if you see they have also made entry to the world outside of the temple. They continue to tell stories, but they also tell stories based on events that happen around the world.
I find the transition of Kerala murals in a similar fashion. They originated and stayed in the walls around the temple and now it is also adaptable to the walls of the outside world. It is definitely a very interesting journey.
For me just as a person who appreciates art, I was in awe of your huge ceiling to floor painting of these Kerala murals at the Mumbai International airport. Can you give us details on how you were invited to that project? Did they give you a theme to paint to or were you free to paint what you had perceived from an artist standpoint?
The Mumbai International Airport project is a very interesting one. They had this idea of having contemporary and traditional art from all across India. They had invited many artists and they had a selection process. The selection team then shortlisted artists. I was shortlisted as an artist from Kerala.
With regards to the theme for the project, it was given to the artist. I chose to create a thematic drawing of Ashta Dikbala. As you might know this signifies the protectors of the 8 directions.
Namely: East – Indra, South East -Agni, South – Yama, South West – Niruti, West- Varuna, North West – Vayu, North – Kubera & North East – Isana.
So, this was my theme, and I used my own creative ideas to portray this on 4000 Sq ft of wall space in the Mumbai International Airport. This work of mine was highlighted in Forbes India Magazine. It has won me a lot of recognition and fame.
You said about restoring the old paintings in the temples, can you give us help us understand how you approach a project that old and that big at the same time.
Yes, this is something that I have a lot of experience with this type of restoration work. I have worked on art in temples that are anywhere from 500 to 700 years old. I have worked in about 4-5 temples. The way I look at restoring this artwork is to keep the sanctity of the original painting. Think about the archeological importance and the history in these walls. To me that is pristine and timeless. So, the way I start at these restorations is to first study the walls. Examine if there are any cracks in the base structure. Get a plan in place to restore the crack. Then I look at what is the color scheme that has been used. And continuing on the visual inspection, I look to see if there has been any dirt on the color pigments. If there are then the cleaning has to be done in such a way that the original pigments are kept intact.
The next stage would be to identify the color scheme that has been used. Using the same color scheme, I just restore the needed. Then I also examine the art and the story it is trying to convey. Who are the characters in the art? Since it is all traditional art in the temple, it is important to know who they are. For example, if the art is about a Vishnu in Ananthasayana pose, then as an artist I would need to know who else would need to be there. Like Bhoo Devi, ShreeDevi, Sanakathi and so on. In some cases, there has been loss of up to 50-90% percent of the painting, in such cases, there would be no color left in the mural. In such cases, I spend time to understand what the subject or the theme or the story that was conveyed. Then I would plan on what the color scheme needs to be. So that way I restore it.
The next stage would be to identify the color scheme that has been used. Using the same color scheme, I just finish the needed touches for the restoration. What I mean by that is, I just look where the colors have possibly been peeled. I touch the colors in those places.
I am very sensitive to ancient history and I want to keep the sanctity of the art. I have found that people actually like it restored this way, as they can still find the old nature of the art and the mural and it is not completely new.
Wow! That is definitely some back breaking work. But I agree with you being sensitive to ancient history and preserving the original roots in the restoration efforts. Do you find instances where such standards are not followed?
Yes, unfortunately sometimes I have found out that some of the artists just completely whitewash the whole ancient artwork. They then create completely new ones in the new canvas. This is more of a renovation than restoration. In some cases, I have been asked to do something like that and I have put my foot down and not encouraged this kind of renovation. I have in fact only received positive feedback from people visiting the temples that I have restored. They feel the authenticity has been kept intact. Walls have history and they speak a story for sure in the cases of Kerala Murals (smiles)
There must be many old temples that possibly need restoration of the murals isn’t it? How different are the colors used then to now?
When we talk about colors to be used for restoration, we try to keep the colors as authentic as it originally was. Now the Archaeology department has its own guidelines which states to use water-based colors. However, I feel they framed this without prior knowledge of the murals and the fact that only natural colors are used. Murals do not use water-based colors and they do not last long. So, I follow what my teacher has taught me. Which is to use all-natural colors which I explained in detail earlier.
Can you give us some details on your VIVID corporation project?
It is a project in a place called Varkala. VIVID (VISION VARKALA INFRASTRUCTURE DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION), is a Kerala Government project. I was involved with the performing arts center. This setup is on the compound of an old palace. It is one of my favorite projects situated by the side of a beach. Shri. Adoor Gopalakrishnan Sir is one of the main advisors for this project. The performing center’s aim is to teach, learn and perform the various ancient performing arts so pristine to Kerala like Koodiyattom, Kathakali, Chakkyarkoothu, Mohiniyatoom, Thullal, Theyyam, Kalampattu, Thiruvathira, Markgamkali, Oppana. Also, another specialty is the fact that: Kavu, Kulam (Lotus Pond) – which have traditional as well as mythical backgrounds. In the “Kavu” – the serpent dance and snake worshipping folk arts forms will be presented. So, there is also protection of the serpents and snakes. In addition, the center will also have training and learning centers for Nalukettu, Koothambalam, Kavu, Kulam, Kalari
As you can see this is just going to be an amazing place and a destination for teachers, learners, performers and tourists as well. I was just thrilled when Sir reached out to me and asked me to paint the walls of the performing art center.
That does sound wonderful! Wow! How did your murals come to play in this?
So, the pit for Kalari is at a lower level. So, what I have done on the inside walls is using these murals to showcase in a learning tutorial visual of the 18 important adavaus (steps) and the vadivu meaning imitating the animal for the sounds. This is something unusual. You might find the visuals of a kalari move in the murals but what I was able to do here with the guidance and advice of Sir was to make this as a visual technical tutorial of these adavu and vadivu.
While Kalari was inside, the outside walls are complete black and white of scenes from Theyyam, kathakali.
Apart from this there is a tall structure resembling a tower. In Bharatanatyam there are 108 karanas. These are the poses that Lord Shiva as Nataraja performed. All of this is part of Bharata Muni’s Natya Shastra – I have drawn all of these 108 Karana’s on this tower. It is just a fantastic piece of work. My team and I were able to wrap this entire project in 3-4 months’ time frame.
Wow! I am just completely in awe! I have to make a trip to Varkala just to see your murals and the grandness. It seems like it would be a complete one-day trip to have a feast to the eyes with the art and the performing arts!
With COVID everything has gone digital and online – How has this impacted the learning of Kerala Murals? Can people learn this remotely?
The entire world has been reeling under the pandemic. And artists I should say have not had it easy either. There would be periodic venues for art exhibitions and work based on commission etc. All of that has come to a standstill. While learning has gone digital, I have not gone teaching in the digital platform. However, I have been able to help or clarify doubts that come my way. But I have to say that the positive aspect to this slowdown has been the fact that we have been staying put at home and spending more time with family. Which was just very hard earlier due to all of the travel. I have been able to spend more time in my own gallery at home.
I own one of your magnificent creations, “Mahishasura Mardini”. The art on canvas has received so many compliments. How can people buy your artwork? Do you commission artwork based on what people want to hang in their homes?
I have had very good support from connoisseurs of art. Exhibitions have been a wonderful platform. Several governments as well as private ones. For example, in New Delhi the Ex Chief Minister Smt. Sheila Dixit had purchased a few pieces for her office. Similarly, there have been many people that have purchased. And when it hangs in an office space or home and such it gets noticed and people find out the name of the artist. Also, my work is showcased on the walls of the Mumbai International Airport, Grand Hyatt Mumbai, Imperial Hotel in New Delhi are some places to mention.
All of this has led to people finding out who the artist is, and they look it up on the internet, social media sometimes they contact me personally. I don’t mean to put down anyone but sales in the exhibitions, the artists don’t get paid all of the sale amount as there are commissions involved. Visiting an artist gallery and or working with any artist in person would generally be beneficial from a price point for the buyer as well and it also works well for the artist. But that said it is definitely nice that we have so many avenues such as exhibitions, social media for people to contact the artist. You can always visit my website: https://www.keralamurals.com/
Suresh – It has been such a pleasure talking with you. We have learnt a whole lot about the history of Kerala murals as well. Thank you so much for taking your time and sharing your thoughts with us. On behalf of JaggeryLit, we wish you all the very best. Thank you!!
In our Spring 2020 edition of Performing artists, Arts Editor of Jaggery Srividya Ramamurthy had a virtual sit down with Thanmayee Krishnamurthy.
It is fantastic to talk with you Thanmayee, so tell us did music choose you? (Smiling) How did you get into this form of classical Indian music?
Yes, you could say that. I was born into a family of musicians. My mother Smt. Rajalakshmi is a violinist and my father Sri. Krishnamurthy is an ardent lover of Karnatik music.
My initial training of music was at home under my mother, my grandmother Vidushi Krishnaveni and aunt Vidushi. Rajarajeshwari Bhat. My maternal uncle Vidwan. Vittal Ramamurthy, a world-renowned violinist is also my musical guide. Growing up in such an atmosphere, music was an inevitable part of my childhood. Since 2009, I have been blessed to come under the tutelage of my guru, Vidwan. T.M. Krishna. I had been a very big follower and a fan of T.M. Krishna Anna’s music all along. So, this was a very special moment for me as a student of music.
How wonderful! Blessed indeed. Apart from music what has you’re your other interests academically?
I studied bachelor’s in Computer Science in Nitte Institute of Technology, Bangalore and had worked as a software programmer for two years in Bangalore.
After I moved to the US, I studied my masters in Ethnomusicology from University of North Texas.
Ethnomusicology is a study of music within its social and cultural contexts. My thesis, entitled, “Sing Raga, Embody Bhava – The Way of Being Rasa,” phenomenologically explores the ontological connections between musical experience and rasa philosophy within the South Indian Karnatik vocal tradition. My other research interests include South Indian performance practices with an emphasis on Indian aesthetic, philosophical theories, literature of spiritual and bhakti traditions, and South Indian cultural history.
Apart from Karnatik music and academia, I have always been fascinated by language, literature, and poetry. I have also practiced and performed a form of expressionist poetry in Kannada language, which is popularly called as Bhavageethe. Recently, along with a few literary enthusiasts in Dallas, we released an album on D.V. Gundappa’s Mankutimmana Kagga, very famous literary work that is also referred to as Bhagavad Geethe of Kannada.
Ah! That is interesting. How can an interested person listen to this album?
Excellent!!! Can you tell us about your stage performances and any awards or recognitions?
Definitely. I did my debut performance at the age of 11, and since then I have been a regularperformer and have given concerts in major music festivals in India and the USA. Including several prestigious venues like Chowdaih Memorial hall (Bangalore), TheBangalore GayanaSamaja, Music Academy (Chennai), Krishna Gana Sabha (Chennai), Shanmukhananda Hall (Mumbai), Vigyan Bhavan (Delhi) and Cleveland Tyagarajafestival (USA), to name a few. As a graded artist of the All India Radio, I have performedin both All India Radio and Doordarshan.
A few awards to mentions are:
Smt. T. Brinda Endowment Award from Sri Krishna Gana Sabha Chennai
M S Subbulakshmi Award from singing Ragam Tanam Pallavi from Brahmara Trust, Mysore
Yuva Kala Mani award from Mani Krishnaswamy Academy, Mangalore
All India Radio competition award.
Recently, I have been selected for 2020 Texas Folklife Apprenticeship Award from Texas Folklife, Austin, TX.
That is amazing! Congratulations !! Tell us about your transition from India to the States. How easy or hard was it from a perspective of your musical pursuit??
Honestly, it was not an easy transition as the social and cultural set-up here in the US isnot very similar to that of in India. The number of opportunities for a performer (whoresides in the US) is lesser compared to those in India. Also, the constant learningprocess that materializes, while being in the vicinity of one’s Guru is something that Imiss staying in the US. I try to catch up with these things by staying in India for 3-4months a year.However, the most inspiring part of moving to the US was pursuing ethnomusicology, doing my part of research and writing about music, which has definitely been anenriching experience. Ethnomusicology not only has introduced me to different musiccultures across the world, but also has given me tools to introspect my own culture, andmusic. In other words, it has made me unfold and experience music with moresensitivity.
Do you teach music? What are your experiences as a teacher??
I teach Indian music as a guest lecture for world music cultures and music appreciationcourses at the University of North Texas, Denton, Southern Methodist University, andDallas and Hiram College, OH. These courses are usually attended by both students doing music majors andnon-music major students. I usually go to these classes with my Tambura and sing forthe students along with explaining the technicalities of Indian music. Teaching thesecourses have always been an enriching experience, as they give me myriad opportunitiesto view Indian music from various perspectives. Some of the questions that are raised inthese classes are very thought provoking.
Ah! Can you give us an example?
Well, students aregenerally enthralled with the process of learning in our tradition, which is intertwined within thisunique association, Guru and shishya. The dynamics of a concert is also something that fascinates these students – where nothing is rehearsed with the co-artists. We meet them on stage at the time of the concert and an entire concert is done all extempore with each co-artist bringing their expertise and their bhava or laya to add the layers to a concert. The raga scheme and the interlayering, I can go on.
Interesting indeed. Are there any specifics where there is more interest based on these classes.
Yes, like the Jazz majors are interested in knowing more about the improvisation techniques, ormanodharma. Along with the technique, there is also an interest in knowing how India musicians masters the art of various styles of improvisation. Some students are more interested in knowing the social structure and its implications on music culture. Recently, I had a session with Opera students who were particularly enthusiastic about the aesthetics of brugas(a type of stylistic speed phrases in Karnatik music). As I mentioned earlier, these sessions/classes have been an opportunity to contemplate and learn more about our culture, society, and music.
Thank you so much Thanmayee. On Behalf of Jaggery we wish you all the very best.
Thanmayee Krishnamurthy, a student of Vidwan T.M Krishna, is one of the most sought-after young artists in the Karnatik (South Indian classical music) scene today. She is best known for her emotive and expressive style of singing. Although primarily a vocalist in the Karnatik tradition, she also has a penchant for the Bhavageete style of music, which is a form of expressionist poetry. She performs regularly at concerts and musical extravaganzas in India and United States. Reach out to her at her website, Thanmayee Krishnamurthy.
In our performing arts section, Arts Editor of Jaggery lit Srividya Ramamurthy had a virtual sit-down session with Shobana Nair. Shobana Nair currently resides in United Kingdom. While Shobana also creates artwork with Madhubani, Warli, Gond; She specializes in an art form so unique to Kerala, India. The art form captures vivid expressions and is known for its vibrancy through colors.
This conversation brings to life in knowing about Shobana and also the “Kerala Murals”. Without any further ado let’s begin this conversation with the artist Shobana Nair.
It is so lovely to meet and chat with you virtually Shobana. Can you tell us your background? How did you get interested and learn to do murals?
I was born and raised in New Delhi. I worked in financial services for a long time. However since my father was in the travel industry and mother is a fine art and porcelain artist. This meant that growing up, we got the chance to travel to many unique places around India and explore the varied art forms in India Every state in India is like a country with its unique language, culture, cuisine and of course its art. Since my father’s roots are from Kerala, many of our summer holidays were spent there, so I got the chance to discover many of the temple murals. In one of my recent visits to Kerala, I had an opportunity to learn this art from an artist who has dedicated his life to this art form – Mr Surendran K U.
That’s interesting to know. Father’s home state and mother’s talent in fine arts. Seems like a perfect jugalbandi here.
Is this art form called Kerala Murals or does it have any other name? What is it locally called perhaps in the native language?
Kerala Mural is a form of wall fresco and was a form of expression from the 9th to the 19th century. These paintings are idealistic reproduction of humans, deities, animals and trees with vibrant colors and rich /delicate strokes. The themes usually revolve around epic scenes from Hindu mythology. Traditionally the murals used Panchavarna (five colors), namely red, yellow, green, black and white. These colors were made from natural elements such as cinnabar for red, manayola for yellow etc. These were then mixed with locally available resources like coconut oil and gum from the mango tree. Kerala is the only place that has retained relics which represent the classical traditions of wall mural paintings in India: aside from perhaps the Ajanta/ Ellora in Western Maharashtra.
Any painting art form requires a lot of perseverance, in your mind what is the hardest part of this art??
Kerala mural painting has a meditative quality. It is a slow art that encourages you to look within. The hardest part of the art is the detailing and the intricacy. For example, In Kerala Art, I apply a method calling ‘Stippling’ technique or simply put dot painting. In this process, the paint is applied on the canvas using dots. There are at least 2 or 3 such levels of coating applied to give depth to the painting. These are done using really thin brushes. Although it requires a lot of time and patience, it is also the part that I enjoy the most.
How different is this compared to painting the murals on a wall?
While I haven’t done a Kerala Mural painting on a wall, asking the same question to my teacher, I have heard that there are no major differences in painting the mural on the wall to a canvas. In my own personal take as an artist, painting on a wall requires you to ensure you have the right perspectives. This definitely requires some practice and well thought through process. While that is a relatively easier when working on canvas.
So, tell us more about how you went about from a Financial Services background to creating these beautiful murals?
Although I used to paint before, I really got the idea when we bought our home in London in 2017. I painted wall murals on the staircase and bedroom walls, using Madhubani (Artform from Bihar), Gond (technique from Madhya Pradesh) and Warli (tribal art from Maharashtra) Folk art techniques. This added a great of splash color to our home and was very well received by visitors. This motivated me to start painting professionally. You can see a picture of what I did.
If you lived close by, I would have asked you to commission an artwork on the walls of my home as well. (Both have a great smile)
Well, I can definitely work on commissioning on your walls with my paintings on canvas.
That’s brilliant! We should talk more about that in a minute but interesting to know is that, you are not just into Kerala Murals but also into a host of other art forms.
Yes, A lot of them have been self-learning. I visit a lot of artists and their art form. I have been fascinated to arts in general especially from these little villages. I also like to have them on the clothes like Sari’s etc. I just like the whole vibrancy and simplicity of these arts.
Tell us more about your art shows and exhibits.
I had my first exhibition in Feb 2019 at the Parallax Art Fair in Central London. It was a great experience and my paintings were very well received. I have had participated in several art exhibitions in London and online as well.
But my turning point came when one of my paintings – Map of London in Warli Tribal Art was selected for London’s prestigious Royal Academy of Arts Summer Exhibition in 2019. With a selection ratio of 10%, given the large number of applicants, this was a great motivation for me. Aside from this, I also display my work on online sites like Etsy, Instagram and Facebook.
That is an interesting way to show the Map of London indeed. What a great idea!
Warli art form is local to a place called Thane in Maharashtra India. In this art form the locals depicts their day to day life in imagery using geometric forms and patterns. Also visiting and going around London with my family and by myself, I saw these in my own artist’s lens, and this art form is what came to my mind. Thus, the seeding idea to represent Map of London in Warli art form.
Wow! I can relate to imagery that stays with you as you see a visual. What are your plans or aspirations for the future??
I aspire to make ‘relatable folk art’ which people around the world can understand and appreciate. My experience with the Map of London in Warli, where I painted a Western city map in a Indian tribal art form, really brought home the possibility that the arts of our cultures can be depicted in far more ways than just the traditional; while at the same time staying true to the techniques passed down to us through the generation. An inveritable East meets West.
In this small way, I hope to preserve and promote the Indian folk and tribal art forms. I keep my eyes and mind open for traditional art forms around the world, but the amazing variety in India are enough for one lifetime 🙂
So, do you commission paintings for individuals that might not be as talented as you are but have an eye for art form and what they would like to see in their homes or other settings?
Definitely! For an artist bringing something to life that a client can relate to forever is the most satisfying experience. Commissioning is a collaborative effort between the client and the artist, a process that I enjoy the most!
Anyone who is keen on commissioning any form of folk/tribal art can reach me on my Etsy, facebook, Instagram or my web page.
Indeed! What advice would you give to others who might be interested in learning Indian folk arts??
Indian folk art is very diverse and vibrant. If you ever get the opportunity to learn any of them, I would highly encourage you to. The Kerala Mural Art form does require tremendous time and patience. It requires hours of study, understanding the use of colors and techniques.
My parents have now retired to Kochi. When I visit them on my holidays, I am continuously fortunate to be able to learn this art form from artists in Kerala who have done this their whole life. The amount of dedication is just mind boggling to me. If you are able to find a teacher like that, you are indeed fortunate, so make the most of that. The vibrancy, the colors and the unique techniques will make it a very satisfying and rewarding experience. This is my very personal take; traditionally these paintings were limited to temples, churches and palaces. However slowly they are making their way into urban homes and offices. There is still lot of scope to develop and promote this art form. More research and reimagination is needed to contemporize and revive this art form. I aspire to contribute to this revival in my own way. It is a whole ocean of possibilities; all it takes is an earnest approach to learning and mastering any art form.
Excellent! It was such a lively conversation with you. Thank you so much for spending your time and talking with us. On behalf of Jaggery, we wish you all the very best.
Shobana Nair is an artist based out of United Kingdom. Her parents would travel to different parts of India and one of the favorite things to do was to visit different artists, tribal artists. She became deeply interested in these art forms so local to each specific region in their travels. Growing up in New Delhi also meant a place of melting pot of different artists showcasing their art forms, having live demonstrations of their artwork. All of these piqued her curiosity and her interests. Shobana was pursuing a career in Financial services, while she thought of painting a wall leading up to the staircase in her new home. This drew so much of appreciation and encouragement from her family and friends. Later a big turning point came when she submitted to the London’s prestigious Royal Academy of Arts Summer Exhibition in 2019. Her art using a Warli painting depicting the map of London. Her art work was chosen at this prestigious academy. This came as a huge motivation and pat on the artist back. While she paints in Madhubani, Warli, Gondh techniques, Kerala murals is a form that she is now focusing more now.
Contact Shobana and see some of her artwork on the following pages:
I was born in Madhubani district of Mithila region in the state of Bihar in India. Art ispart of life in a typical Maithil family, being indispensable to every festival and ritual. Growing up in such environment I took up the Mithila art at an early age observing my mother Dr Mridula Prakash, a Phd in History of Mithila Painting. Even during my years at Business School and professional life at Bank my passion for art continued through participation in exhibitions and conducting workshops in early years in India.
My paintings have been awarded and exhibited at various galleries, shows and publications in India and USA. My paintings were in the store at Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, USA. My painting Dheeya (The Girl Child) won an award at the national juried art show Color organized by Brooklyn Waterfront Artists Coalition juried by curator from Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in 2016. My paintings are in private collections at many places all around the world. She featured among the popular people involved in social activities by Fame India Magazine – Asia Post Survey in 2017. Hand painted Piano for Sing for Hope was displayed at Central Park, NYC during celebrations of 50 Years of Public Art in NYC Parks in 2017 and also featured on the popular CBS New York Sunday Morning Show and Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, USA. I was honored to be a featured artist for Animodules (3D structures) by Barat Foundation, Newark on display at Nassau County Museum of Art, NY. My art adorns the walls of esteemed venues and homes. I am featured on Meet the Neighbors program by Hudson County Office of Cultural and Heritage Affairs.
How did you navigate towards the arts? And why painting?
I moved to US in 2011 when my husband had to relocate for work. Since moving to US, I had to restart my career and I preferred to pursue my passion for Mithila Paintings. I spent few years just honing my skills and exploring new avenues such as paper, cloth, wood, ceramic, terracotta, glass, everyday products etc. apart from the traditional paintings on walls and floors. My interest in technology inspired me in taking the art form digital route in a way that the paintings can be showcased in various modes for widespread reach. I used to blog about Mithila Art and my paintings which was truly instrumental in developing my art and art career. I have evolved a unique style of art with an amalgamation of traditional motifs of ancient folk art with modern contemporary themes and tools with global appeal.
Could you share with our readers some history of Madhubani paintings.
Mithila or Madhubani painting is a style of folk art form practiced by millions of women in the Mithila region of Bihar, India since ancient times. The origins of these paintings are not known, since they were traditionally drawn on walls and floors, and then redrawn over time, when they faded. They are still living because they are an integral part of any Mithila family function, and have been passed diligently through generations from mothers to daughters of Mithila. One view is that this style of painting originated at the time of the Ramayana, when King Janak commissioned artists to do paintings at the time of marriage of his daughter SITA, to Hindu Lord Ram. When there was little focus on education of girls in India, Mithila paintings probably also served as an informal medium of education. Some Aripans borrow heavily from science with their depictions of Calendar etc. Holding a brush is probably the precursor of holding a pen or pencil.
In 1934 after a great earthquake in Bihar, the then British Colonial Officer of Madhubani, W.G.Archer, brought these paintings to the attention of outside world. Hence it is also popularly known as Madhubani Paintings. During 1967 draught it was used for providing vocation to the women artists of this area. This was initiated the visit of PupualJaikar, the then Director of the All Indo-Nepal Handicrafts Board, and facilitated by Bhaskar Kulakarni. Traditionally, Madhubani paintings are drawn on floors or on walls, with the help of brush or pen made of bamboo. In some of the paintings even fingers were used as a drawing instrument. With the growth of available media, even modern coloring instruments are now being used on a variety of cloths, paper and canvas. With themes ranging from nature, spirituality, social events and science, these are highly complex intricate paintings having elaborate structure involving different types of geometrical figures and curves.
They also have very rich color patterns, with traditional painting typically utilizing natural colors made of plants. The paintings have to be understood in conjunction of folk stories, folk songs and other folk traditions linked to the occasion. There are paintings for each occasion in a man’s life such as birth, upnayan (sacred thread ceremony), rituals during marriage, and even Death (Aripans, the floor paintings are made in the prayer rituals after death too) and for various festivals such as Makar Sankranti, Kali Puja, Lakshmi Puja, Diwali, Bhai Dooj and others. These paintings are also Symbolic paintings, with widespread use of abstraction through symbols and patterns. Different motifs used in the paintings are quite rich in their meaning. The paintings draw inspiration from the folk stories, folk songs and other folk traditions linked to the occasion. Mithila Paintings dwell on heavy abstraction of thoughts by use of symbolism, and were probably the first modernist ideas in art, that went beyond What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get. Extensive use of natural symbols such as sun, moon, navagraha, bamboo, lotus, fish, peacock and serpent; and their interaction with each other in different contexts leave much to interpretation. Each artist of Mithila Painting has his or her own style, and the form of art lets its participants to explore the new. Probably, this is the reason why Mithila Paintings were done traditionally, only as a transient feature and then redrawn, something on which people leave layers and layers of their own imprints.
How do your creations differ from others’??
Over the years, I have evolved my own distinct style by fusing the contemporary ideas with traditional art form using modern tools. Mithila Artform is famous for the details in the paintings in a flat two-dimensional perspective with no shading or overlapping. Taking it to the next level I draw inspiration for my art from my experience and surroundings. I visualize objects and situations in perspective to create the symbolic motifs and designs which makes my art unique and distinct. Mithila paintings use natural and bright colors with symbolic distinct features, which I never hesitate to experiment with while conserving the essence of the art form. I like to work mostly freehand without using any stencils or pattern tools on my projects.I have also incorporated digital medium to Mithila art being one of the pioneers in the process.
A word of advice for budding artists? Especially those trying to gain a firm foothold abroad?
I feel honesty and patience are the key. If you are true to your art it will grow. We need to have patience and lots of it just to maintain sanity and encourage creativity and succeed in the Art world. Just Keep Creating!!
Nupur Nishithis a New Jersey, USA based artist, born in Madhubani district of Mithila region in India. Growing up in the environment famous for a unique ancient folk art of Mithila / Madhubani Paintings she took up the art at an early age from her mother. Even during education and profession in marketing and banking her passion for art continued through participation in exhibitions and conducting workshops in India.
Since moving to US she has tried to explore new avenues such as paper, cloth, wood, ceramic, terracotta, glass, everyday products etc. apart from the traditional paintings on walls and floors. Her interest in technology led her in taking the art form digital route in a way that the paintings can be printed in various modes for widespread reach. Her digital paintings have featured in national award-winning film and clothing line for children.
She has evolved a unique style of art with an amalgamation of traditional motifs of ancient folk art with modern contemporary themes and tools with global appeal. Her paintings have been awarded and exhibited at various galleries, shows and publications in India and USA. Her paintings are also in the store at Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, USA. Her painting Dheeya (The Girl Child) won an award at the national juried art show Color organized by Brooklyn Waterfront Artists Coalition juried by curator from Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in 2016. Her paintings are in private collections at many places all around the world. She featured among the popular people involved in social activities by Fame India Magazine – Asia Post Survey in 2017. Her hand painted Piano for Sing for Hope was displayed at Central Park, NYC during celebrations of 50 Years of Public Art in NYC Parks in 2017 and also featured on the popular CBS New York Sunday Morning Show and on display at Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, USA. She was featured artist for Animodules (3D structures) by Barat Foundation, Newark on display at Nassau County Museum of Art, NY. Her art adorns the walls of esteemed venues and homes. She is featured on Meet the Neighbors program by Hudson County Office of Cultural and Heritage Affairs.
She also uses her art for social causes where she has made special paintings for NGOs working in the field of education and promotion of creative learning.
She maintains a website, Creative Mithila, to promote Mithila Artform. The name self describes itself where her art is inspired from the traditional ancient art from Mithila though evolved in her own unique style.
In the first series of Jaggery lit’s spotlight on “Artist Profile”, we sat down to talk with CA Rajasekar, violinist and teacher. Below are the excerpts of our conversation.
Welcome Shri Rajasekar Sir to the first edition of Jaggery Lit’s spotlight on performing artists. We are so thankful for your time.
CARVA: Thank you so much for having me here. I think this is a wonderful effort by Jaggery lit to showcase performing artists under “Artist profile”
How did you get attracted to violin? Please tell us about your background and your initial training.
CARVA: I was born into a family of musicians and violinists. I am the fourth-generation violinist in my family. There has been an unbroken continuity in my family in learning this instrument. I was fortunate to be listening to classical Carnatic music and tunes from when I was in the womb. My father Shri. Chittoor Appanna Bhagavathar was a performing violinist. He along with his 3 brothers would practice and perform. There was hence a constant buzz of music at home. I would say I picked up the instrument rather naturally. However, my father initially taught me vocal music when I was about 3 years old.
So, was your father your first Guru or teacher?
CARVA: Yes, my father was my first teacher. As I said earlier, he taught me classical vocal. When I was about 7 years of age, he started to teach the basics of Carnatic classical music on the violin. He would later tell me that I was able to play the Geethams (small songs) with gamakams(musical accentuations given to a musical phrase or a single note, thus producing melodic tunes) as opposed to how a learner would initially learn. Songs are taught to learners as a plain musical note and the accentuations to make it more pleasing to hear like how a musician would sing the song are taught later. This is because the student has to get a hang of how to play the different notes first in the instrument. I later continued my learning from Sangita Kalanidhi Shri Dr. M. Chandrasekar. He helped me hone my skills more and I am ever grateful to him for letting me accompany him on stage on some of his performances.
Was it easy to have your father as a teacher? Was he strict?
CARVA: It was easy in the sense that I didn’t have to travel (laughs) for my classes. He was a teacher who also instilled the sense of discipline. He himself would spend hours practicing. He naturally expected it from all of his students. So as a beginner, I would have to practice at least 2 hours each day. I am thankful to him for setting me straight right in the beginning as the discipline really helped out.
Can you elaborate that a bit more please?
CARVA: Of course! The teaching continued and when I was a teenager, the interest kicked in even more. I would spend hours 6 – 8 hours practicing every day. Music got to me so much that after I finished my 10th grade in High School, I focused on my violin learning totally, that I did the reminder of my High School years by correspondence or home-schooling as you might want to call it.
Oh Wow! That must have been a hard decision for you.
CARVA: Well, I guess so for most people as the primary focus predominantly is on academics. But as far as I was concerned, I was very sure by then; that this is what I wanted to do. And I just went full throttle with it. By 16 years or so I started performing concerts as accompanying violinist. Between 17 – 22 years, I did a lot of travel worldwide being as part of dance group and being part of musical for various famous dancers.
That must have given you a lot of exposure while still being a young adult.
CARVA: Yes, it did. I was always interested in knowing to play Western Classical as well. I had a very curious mind to understand their script and their notation. While initially my father did not agree, he later saw my earnest seeking. I learnt Western Classical from Shri V. S. Narasimhan. He was one of the leading violinists for many famous music directors like Illayaraja and others.
And how did that go? Did you find any major differences?
CARVA: I would say that it helped me fix some techniques. Like I would say bowing for example. It really aided me in overall understanding of the instrument. I would say right now 91% of performing violinists in Classical Carnatic music these days have all undergone training in Western Classical as well. It is really easy for anyone to switch between the 2 classical forms if they have learnt one form very well.
That is amazing. So, tell us more about how CARVA Trust came to existence and also about your Violin Ensemble.
CARVA: Even though I was teaching violin for many years before as an independent teacher, I wanted to create an institute. However, with active concerts and performances throughout I did not have the time to make this more of a reality. In 2000, I created CARVA Trust (C A Rajashekar Violin Academy). I had about 50 students and they were are different levels(beginner/intermediate/advanced). An idea struck me, Why not create a violin ensemble with my students? It would be a great opportunity for the students to get on stage. Personally for me I thought that would be a motivation and encouragement for them. The audiences were enthralled to see a stage filled with violinists performing. Their response was more than encouraging. The auditorium was over flowing with people. Subsequently these continued for 14 years. My students from abroad would come and participate in these as well. I had about 150 students on stage performing the ensemble. It was just amazing.
But these days I am focused on continuing the 2 music festivals that my father had started.
Please tell us about them.
CARVA: Sure. We do a Sadhguru Sri Thyagaraja Swamigal’s Krithi Akhandam Ganam. Akhandam really means continuous, in this case it is continuous music for 24 hours. The songs are compositions of the great Saint. Thyagaraja. However, no song is repeated and there is no break in music either. The musicians render songs as a concert with accompanists. Many of the senior and top artists perform on that day. This is a great opportunity for many junior artists. It is like a cloud burst of music. A great day of music to music lovers.
The second festival is an offering or “Aradhana” to the great music saint Purandaradasa. Usually this is organized by January of every year.
Amazing! Music to all senses, what a great offering! What else is hidden in this artist (laughs)?
CARVA (laughs): Well, I did my “Isai Kalaimani” course from Adayar Music College in Chennai. I did finish BA from The Madras University. I also enrolled myself for MA in music at the University of Madras and was a Gold Medalist. I went on to complete M.Phil and my thesis was on “Teaching methodology and different types of teaching in Violin” where I was a rank holder. Now I teach many students worldwide. Technology has bought all of us closer, just like how this interview is now.
I offer Skype (for long distance students) and also teach at home to seeking students on a 1 on 1 basis.
That is fantastic! Technology has definitely made the world smaller indeed! It has been wonderful talking with you. Finally anything that would advise to students of music?
CARVA: Well, if you are a student of music and more specifically if you are interested in Classical Carnatic music. First and foremost, you need to find a good teacher or Guru. Do spend some time in searching for a good teacher, this usually pays off in the end since you would have a good foundation. Second attend classes regularly. Third; Practice, practice and practice. There is no substitute to this. Fourth, listen to music of great stalwarts and musicians. The more you listen, the more you can understand music. If all of the above 4 are done well with full commitment, it is extremely easy to become a good performing artist. There is no other short cut. I wish and bless all of the students of music. May you find your journey fulfilling!
Thank you so much Sir. It was a pleasure to talk with you. We at Jaggery Lit, wish you many more success and laurels.
Shri. C A Rajasekar is a leading violinist and teacher. He plays classical Carnatic music on the Violin and is based in Chennai, India. He is the founder of “CARVA Trust” (Chittoor Appana Rajasekar Violin Academy) in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India.
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In this Spring 2021 Edition of JaggeryLit. Arts Editor Srividya Ramamurthy had a fireside chat with Ruchika Kapila. Her story will resonate with each one of us. The story to nurture our inner creativity and always find a way to express it. Read through the interview to understand.