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Articles on Indian contemporary art by Swapna Vora
Janurary 11, 2008
Padmaputra Ashok Shah.
Ashok Shah always
liked painting. However, undecided about his future career; he went to
'the science side' in college. He started painting tentatively, part time,
and later full time after receiving a sadhu's blessing rather mysteriously.
Today he paints religious paintings partially in the Rajput miniature
tradition and more so in the Jain temple heritage style, the mother lode
of western Indian art. He paints old stories of righteousness and has
received the rare, coveted title, 'Padmaputra' which means Padmavati's
(Saraswati's) son, i.e. someone whose art emanates from the goddess herself.
Today Padmaputra paints, designs marble icons, and prepares wonderful
miniatures of well-loved Jain temples.
This painting attracted Vikramsurishwarji's attention and brought Ashokbhai blessings. The concept of Gruhlakshmi is a favorite topic. Gruhlakshmi, every housewife, is the house goddess, someone who provides nourishment and protection to a household, and is verily Lakshmi (abundance) herself. She teaches sanskars, (values), and guides her children, showing them how to live. A housewife brings prosperity to a household. Here, a breeze moves her silky anchal (sari) slightly away from her face. The evening diya (lamp) shimmers through her fingers, she protects it and will not let it be extinguished.
Kalyan Mandir is a famous Jain shloke (hymn). This painting is from a collection of 44 paintings on 44 shlokes done for Acharyashri Sthulabhadra Maharaj Sahib. In Kalyan Mandir, a soldier sees a monk asleep in a Shiva temple and whips him. When the King, Vikramaditya of Ujjain, asks the monk to prove his holiness, the monk, Siddhasen Diwakar, composes hymns extempore and starts singing. During the thirteenth hymn, an icon of Parshwanath emerges from the holy Shivling. This symbolic story about the soldier, the king, the Shivling, monk Diwakar and the bull, Nandi, is in the horizontal panel, dividing the painting into two. The symbolic top part matches the shloke, and the realistic bottom part depicts a Jain historical story. In the top, each figure has its symbolic meaning. Radha and Krishna, Brahma and Tilottama, Shiva and Parvati are swayed by emotions, and hence subject to Cupid's arrows; whereas a Tirthankar is liberated and unmoved by mere infatuation. Madan's bow and arrows are rendered useless, showing his ability to burn oceans of desires. The circles symbolize the journey from mohini (attraction) to the siddha state as nearby a Siddha quenches the fire of existence. This style is loved in Jain temples for the devout know and appreciate the symbols and their meanings at many levels. In the lower part, we see Meghrath Raja, (Lord Shantinath's fifth life), devoted entirely to meditation, while seeking Moksh (liberation from birth and death). Women try to arouse him, but temptations prove useless, so finally they too bow to him.
simple poster paints on paper and labors over all the minute details himself.
He worked from '93 to 2001 to complete these paintings.A particular joy
is the varied expression on each face. He said this paint can fade. Perhaps
he should use acid free paper and acrylic paint with its good long-lasting,
If you can see reality,
then all desires disappear, for you realize their futility. The common
theme in Jain dharma is that there is far, far more to life, far more
than simply existing and spending time catering to the body's feelings
and fancies. This is viewed as a terrible waste of this precious, rare
opportunity, this chance of a human birth.
The paintings are
gorgeous, planned with devotion and executed very painstakingly. However
one wonders at the rather virulent approach to women, seeing them essentially
as thorns on the path, as temptation most foul rather than as half the
highly prized, rare experience of being born human, or as half of humanity.
Not accepting the female, does it imply rejection of half of every human,
of the perfection of Ardhnareshwar? Aren't males or females simply minor
differences, just unimportant variations in matter that is itself in a
perpetual state of flux? The only acceptable role seems to be as someone's
wife or mother, not in a glorious life lived on its own, capable of reaching
wisdom and liberation with or without a man. This attitude and the acceptance
of culturally acquired Hindu deities, I am told, is a later development.
Jain do not support caste distinctions, converting anyone to Jainism was
never a goal and all human births, male or female, are considered unimaginably
valuable. Is this attitude then from the earliest scripture or acquired
via Manu or simply representative of more recent thoughts? Many historical
records prove Jainism is, arguably, a much older religion than Hinduism.
Records about the Buddha mention Jain Tirthankars who lived before him.
However one wonders about the major role that Hindu deities play in these
stories. Were the Jain their original followers or are they simply culturally
Maharaj sahib (sometimes pronounced 'sab') is the reverent, affectionate title for monks and nuns.
Tirthankar is greater than a siddha for he establishes or resurrects Tirth (religion) and is depicted with symbols like three silver umbrellas and golden halos.
A Siddha is not god but a human being who has attained the stage of being god, one every Jain aspires to. Human birth is valued as a rare opportunity to aspire to a wonderful, blissful, everlasting state: all knowing, with eternal peace and joy, the state of Kewal Dnyan, total and complete knowledge.
Palitana, a wonderful town on a mountain in Gujarat, has many, many gorgeous Jain temples.
Tiryanch includes animals, birds, reptiles and aquatic creatures.
Barparshda: Twelve types of human beings assembled in the first gadh (fort) .
Most Jains trace their origins to Rajput royalty and the very word means 'conqueror', some one who conquers mundane existence and his/her body and mind to reach a glorious goal far beyond limited comprehension.
Padmaputra Ashok Shah was born on Sep 24, 1949, and lives in Ahmedabad, Gujarat.
A self taught artist, he has a Master's degree in Physical Chemistry from Kolhapur University. His unique style has evolved after years of effort and experience and is fueled by intense devotion. He continues to study the Vishnu Dharmotar Puran, the Jain Bhagwati Sutra and the Jain Granth, known as Kuvalyamala, to learn the ancient canons of traditional art and feels this style is valid for all time and need not ever change. He has done 108 paintings on events in the lives of Jain personalities during the last 2500 years, i.e. after Lord Mahavir, the Tirthankar for our time. This has involved major, painstaking research in several languages.
Some of his paintings are now at Samavsaran Mahamandir, Palitana. Three more paintings were done for Khadtar Gachh. Another 44 paintings depicting 44 shlokes from Kalyan Mandir are at the Shri Nakhoda Parshwanath Temple in Bengaluru.
He has designed 180 designs for the Jain temple at Antwerp, Belgium, home of the Jain diamond merchants. Another wonderful achievement is designing yantras, the mystical diagrams used as vehicles to enter meditation and divine communion. These include the Shri Uvasaggaharam Yantra and the Shri Chintamani Parshwanath Mahamantra.
He has also designed and redone various old and new temples, both Jain and Hindu. He has designed a hundred year calendar and a set of playing cards on politics, suitable for corporations! Several books have been published on his paintings including 'The Glory of Jainism', (Dec 1998). A major ongoing project is on the Kalpasutra and the Bhav Prapanch Upmiti, a wonderful novel about Jainism. The work is endless and he sighs happily, 'One life is simply not enough!'
He has received medals and acclaim from Jain communities all over the world. He says Jain art is really the western Indian school of art and the mother of both Rajput and Mogul art. It is vitally important for Padmaputra that his work shows spiritual achievements and does not incite destruction or contribute to idle living. "As long as I am alive', he says, 'I hope my work inspires people to lead a great life, a good life and appreciation for the Jain principle, 'First harm no one'. This art has again found favor in our time." He says modestly, that even if a few souls accept the principles of Jain living, his life's work will have been worthwhile.
As they say joyfully, Jai Jinendra!