Tantric Art~Darshan

  • Srimati Lal
  • India
  • Mar 09, 2012



TANTRA is a spiritual movement that arose in medieval India, and developed into a fully-articulated aesthetic, mystical and philosophical tradition by the Gupta Period. As one of India’s greatest schools of thought, aiming to bring about freedom from ignorance and rebirth, Tantra also evolved into one of the world’s first-ever genres of Abstract Art. Centuries before Modernist Abstraction came about in the west, Indian Tantric art had identified the intricate microcosmic design of the smallest particle, the indivisible ‘anu,’ with the larger infinite macrocosm. Tantric art thus discovered a set of magical ‘abstract’ symbols that could cut through the illusory figurations of a veil of Maya, to express the abstract, joyous, Divine Consciousness. In the words of the Tibetan Buddhist Tantric master, Lama Thubten Yeshe – “Everything that we need in order to be complete is within us at this very moment. The Tantric approach is simply a way to recognise it.”

As an apt continuation of my special series on Gurgaon Artists’ Studios, I met one of the world’s senior Tantric painters, Shobha Broota, in her hi-rise studio at DLF Phase 5’s Princeton Estate. My Guru Shobhaji, as I call her, is one of the calmest, most compassionate beings I have ever known; and her art finely refelects this. Shobhaji’s corridor-like studio-atelier lurks quietly, like some mystical phoenix’s nest, high-up in the Gurgaon sky. You enter her Zen-like space of a few simple, uncluttered rooms, surrounded by her subtle geometrical canvasses on every wall. In Shobhaji’s words: “Society needs to respect art as a medium which contributes to spiritual growth. Art helps society to see the finer aspects of living.” 

With an artistic career spanning 5 decades, Shobhaji is a very young and energetic 68-year old. She studied at the Delhi College of Art from 1959 to 1964, and is also a highly-revered art teacher. Travelling extensively for her recent exhibitions to locations as diverse as California and Singapore—apart from exhibiting widely all over India—she is currently working for a solo show in Sydney. In 2007,Indigo Blue Art of Singapore showcased her work as EDGE OF INFINITY. In 2008, Peter Nagy and Patricia Hamilton curated her work in the Los Angeles show CONTRADICTIONS AND COMPLEXITIES. Other titles of her exhibitions speak as vividly as her cosmic Tantric paintings: APART, BEYOND (2008, Aicon Gallery, California); MAHAVIDYA  (2008, Curated by Ravi Kumar); MUSIC OF THE SPHERES (2003, Visual Art Gallery); and SONG OF THE DIVINE (2006, Palette Gallery). 

In an exclusive interview, Shobha Broota answers some pivotal questions about her oeuvre.

Srimati Lal: You are equally well-known for your great skill in realistic portraiture; and yet, you chose its opposite style—abstract Tantra—as your defining leitmotif. How and why did you grow away from the human form?

Shobha Broota: All change and evolution is an effort. I was in search of something new. I had become saturated with figuration. After more than 20 years of painting, by 1987, I arrived at a centralised, non-figurative element. The focus of my painting was in the centre. And I’ve evolved from this, too: I know I am moving, searching; I hope this search never ends. I keep changing my forms, colours, mediums.

SL: Tantra, in Sanskrit, literally means ‘loom,’  ‘thread’ or ‘warp’ – connecting with Tanoti—‘to stretch, to expand’, and Trayati—to ‘liberate’. It is interesting that you also choose to work with threads and wool, creating unique ‘woven paintings’ and Tantric thread-art. Very few artists have done this in your manner...

SB: That connection is true. You see, the tactile qualities of thread, wool, crochet and knitting impress me. Art is a physical medium; pigment, canvas, wool, are all a physical means to an end. I take these materials beyond, towards abstraction. The simple is always complex. 

SL: Refinement, elegance, and finesse require a heightened simplicity, would you say?

SB: My work as an artist is to reduce the complexity: to reach a heightened intensity. I have learnt from my work that what you do not need, you must discard. Cleansing is a lifetime process. One sheds one’s childish things, as one grows. And the main point of learning, really, is that one must not give importance to ‘things’. Every day is a new challenge, with your vision getting sharper, clearer, deeper – else, how do you improve, or change? Through the very grace of nature, you are being changed

SL: Your art is quite distinct from that of other Tantric painters such as S.H. Raza, Ghulam Rasool Santosh, and Biren De. In your paintings I find greater concentration, stillness, and transparency.

SB: The more you reduce, simplify, the deeper you reach. My perception and experience is very different from theirs. That is what makes every artist unique. I find that when I carve-away the unwanted, the lesser I ‘fiddle’, the deeper and more powerful the work becomes.

SL: Concentration and Transcendence are what I see in your art: almost like a ritual-bath; a purification-process that is sacred. 

SB: Those two words you have used contain all that I have said.

SL: Shobhaji, life has not always been pleasant or easy for you: in a sense, you have ‘seen through’ all the follies and foibles of human behaviour. And yet, your art depicts no bitterness, anger or negativity. In fact, your paintings are lambent with serenity, even optimism; many of your works seem to—literally—‘shed light’. How do you connect your artistic attitude to your actual experience of life? What are your current visual developments?

SB: Art is the stem of life; it stems from life. Art comes from experience, not from a void. My work has been my teacher. Just as I have removed the excess from my life, so do I remove excess, physicality, the sensory, from my work. My work is a reflection of my life. Abstraction is a keen, sharp ‘seeing’; that is not only inner, but outer too. If I am truthful to my own experience, and my perception is clear, it will reflect in my work. Reflections are now often appearing in my recent works. Reflection is everywhere in Prakriti: as in shadows. Glow, Brilliance, Goddess, are some recent names of my paintings.

SL: Perhaps Art, then, is an opening of the Third Eye?

SB: Yes – the ‘third eye’ is, for me, looking within. God gave us two eyes to look ‘out,’ and an inner eye to look deeper within. So art doesn’t have just a tactile purpose, but also the power to transcend, via vision. I can’t say I have personally reached Nirvana—the Buddha was not a painter—but my work is my own ritual. We all play our physical roles—but with a detached vision comes real understanding. You transcend tragedy—to realise that life is beautiful. All negativities are only a door towards the positive. Light can only be expressed by its opposite: darkness. I must use physical, gross paint and threads to express formless, transparent, pure light. Life is actually about help from all quarters. One must be able to perceive this. One life is like one spark, and there is no beginning or end. This is what I depict in my art.


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