Atlas’s Burden

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Oil on canvas 45”x57”

According to legend, Atlas was burdened to hold heaven and
earth together. Most of the cultures believed in seven
heavens and seven hells. In Indian mythology the seventh
hell was called Patala.

Atlas was condemned to hold celestial sphere.   The celestial sphere, some times referred as Brahmand in Indian mythology contained everything in our universe.  It included seven abyss and seven heavens.

Seven abyss were named as  Atala, Vitala, Sutala, Talatala, Mahatala, Rasatala and Patala.  Seven heavens were named as Bhuloka (the Earth), Bhuvarloka, Svarloka, Maharloka, Janarloka, Tapoloka and Satyaloka.  Concept of Seven heavens has been held by other cultures as well such as judaism and islam.

In many cultures the planets were considered as living beings.  This was because of their irregular motion in celestial space.

The painting gets inspired by all the ideas.

The companion of this painting is the situation when Atlas is unable to hold the celestial globe together.  Yugant happens as shown in the painting.

Oil on canvas 18″x24″

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Seven Seas

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Oil on Canvas 45”x54”
Contrary to what we perceive now, ancients considered seven
seas as concentric circles of seas with land in between. The
seven seas consisted of salt water, can juice, wine, ghee,
curds, milk and sweet water. There were seven land masses
in between them.

Sapta sagara par is a term often used in contemporary literature of Indian origin.  It usually means a far off land beyond seven seas.  Seven seas is also a popular concept in other cultures.  The name seven seas is still being used in commercial products.   As per today’s geography there are no seven seas, they are either more or less.  The ancient and middle ages this term was probably coined by the sea travellers.

The seven seas and seven land masses emerges out of the basic concept that earth is flat and disk like.  In a book named Bhugol Varnam the seas and land masses are described. The seas are not the salt water seas of todays world but are of fancy material such as wine, cane juice, milk.

The painting does not depict earth to be flat as envisaged in the mythical stories.  The painting has slightly curved surface forming a partial spherical disk.  This is done in order to cater for sea worthy peoples knowledge about latitude and curvature of earth.  The curved partial disk also makes way to form an umbrella with mount meru as its holding stick.  Since one of the seven seas is made up of milk, the mount mandala is also depicted along with the snake used as churning chord.

The accompanying painting shows that the umbrella is closed by the holder as it is no longer needed.

Oil on Canvas 18″x24″

Yugant the Closed Umbrella

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Nachiketa’s Time Wheel

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Oil on Canvas 45”x45”
Nachiketa travelled on foot to meet death. On the way he
came across the wheel of time. The relentlessly moving
mechanism intrigued the boy. Was it a mechanism or was it
real world itself?

Nachiketa’s meeting with death is one of the central legend of Hindu philosophy.  The story appears in Kathopanishada. In the story a small boy meets mrityudevata and learns an important part of Hindu philosophy from the death.

The legend probably was more vividly described in other scriptures.  In one of the versions of the story I read, Nachiketa takes the most difficult journey on foot.  On the way he travels through patalas (abyss)  to reach death’s abode.  As he nears the house of the death he observes a wheel with interesting features.  Later he learns that the wheel is what is called as Kaalachakra.

Kaal usually means “time” in sanskrit.   What Nachiketa observed was a time wheel.  However Kaal also means death.  Probably implying that the death is time bound. Kalachakra happening near death’s house seems logical although it is not part of original tale.

The painting is inspired by the tale I read.  I imagined the Kaalachakra to be more like brahmanda than a two dimensional wheel.  Nachiketa is keenly observing the motion in the back drop of death’s house.

The accompanying painting is about the Nachiketa’s journey through Patala by going down the Meru.

Oil on synthetic board: 18″x24″

Nachiketa travels to abyss and beyond on foot. His journey
takes him down the mount Meru.

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Divine Pair

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Oil on Canvas 45”x54”
Life and universe is an indivisible pair. It is meaningless to
conceive universe devoid of life and equally meaningless to
predict life without universe. The poetic myth suggests that
the divine pair is cause of both universe and life.

Nasadiya Sukta of Rigveda dwells on a question of how real world started.  Another eternal quest of mankind is how the life began.   Myths all across the world dwelt on this question.  All of these myths generally require a pair (or pairs) to start the life on lifeless reality.  Judaistic, Christian and Islamic philosophies dwell on first pair Adam and Eve.   The Mesopotamian legends of similar nature also dwell on myth of first pair.  The first pair is sometimes godly.

Hindu mythology particularly samkhya school relies on Purush and Prakriti a cosmic pair.  This cosmic pair met each other and the whole universe and life emerged.  Purusha and Prakriti also appear in Bhagvad Gita and many other prominent books of Hindu scriptures.  Shiva Shakti is also a similar cosmic pair which helps in constituting the world.

Purusha is thus the spirit while Prakriti is matter. Purusha is the soul while Prakriti is that which wraps around the soul – the mind, the body and the world.” Devdutt Patnaik. the well known author

The concept of pairs is in ancient astronomy too.  The zodiac sign of Gemini emerges out of pair.  Double strand of DNA molecule is also a pair.

The painting has been inspired by all of these legends.

The Yuganta companion of this painting is quarrel.  If the pair is origin of life, unpairing by quarrelling can end the life. The painting gets inspired by this.

Oil on Canvas 18″x24″

World becomes barren when the pairs quarrel. End of life is
end of universe.

Another painting was drawn (not part of this show) on the same theme.

Oil on synthetic board

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The Snake Charmer:

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Oil on canvas 45”x57”

Celestial snakes hold earth and other planets on their heads.
The snake charmer makes the serpants move to cause
celestial movements.

Snake is rare amongst the support of the earth .  Mahabharata’s aranyaparva holds a legend that earth was borne by the cosmic serpent “shesha”.    Snake being a supple and narrow support can be imagined to move the earth more frequently than other firmer supports such as ox, turtle, elephants.   The legend of snake bearing the earth probably comes from the fact that snakes live underground.  And it must be some underground animal which supported the earth.

The painting is more of figment of imagination than myths.  Suppleness of snakes is used to hold all the planets along with earth.   Snake charmer is probably charming them to hold everything in place.

The yugant companion of this painting is called “Disturbance of snakes”.  It relies on the fickle nature of snakes.

Oil on Synthetic Board 18″x24″

The snake charmer’s efforts fail to stop the snakes
abandoning their role of with holder of the earth and planets.

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Oil on Canvas 45”x57”

Myths predict existence of a very large mountain comparable
to Meru the Axis. The mountain stands in sea of milk and
was used to churn it. Mandar the Churner extracted the moon
from celestial sea of milk.

Mount Mandar is a more mysterious mountain than Mount Meru. Meaning of Meru is quite closer to the english word axis. Merudanda means spine (body axis). Mandar otherwise means a heavenly tree.

Mount Mandar appears in the legend of samudramanthan. In this legend the mount mandar was used as a churner to churn the ocean of milk. According to legend this mountain is also comparable in size that of Mount Meru. So the legend expects it to be non terrestrial mountain within cosmos standing near celestial sea of milk.

The painting depicts both these mountains and celestial ocean of milk.


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Meru: The Axis

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Oil on canvas 45”x45”

Meru, Sumeru, Mahameru lies at the center of universe.  All of the celestial bodies revolve around this mountain.

Since early ages during Greek period, and beyond, a working model of universe came in to vogue.  This model of the universe became widely accepted in various civilizations. The essential feature of this model was a rotating celestial sphere with earth at its centre and concentric invisible spheres on which planets moved.

Indians had their own variation of this model. They did not have concentric invisible spheres for the planets. The celestial sphere was called Brahmanda and it probably believed to have a physical axis. The evidence of the concept of this axis comes through the literature of the three religions of the region. In all scriptures of all three religions Mount Meru is conceptualized. This mountain has height nearly equal to the then perceived radius of Brahmanda. Buddhists and Jains claimed that this mountain is below (in the southern direction) the earth. They also claimed that entire cosmos revolves around Meru.

Probably during prehistoric times mankind started enumerating stars. They did so by naming cluster of stars with familiar figures. Eventually clusters on celestial equator got redefined and were neatly arranged into 12 clusters of equal angle and were called sun signs.  Each of these Sun signs represented a month in solar calendar.  Indian calender system progressed on different lines. Their focus was on the Moon and they developed a lunar calender with solar year correction. Naturally their clusters were different and they called them Nakshatras. Each of the nakshatra was related to one day of lunar travel. They added poetic meaning to this. To the Indians all of the nakshatras were females and the Moon was their husband who spent one day with each of them.

Meru: The Axis painting uses these legends of Meru and nakshatras.

The accompanying yuganta painting dwells on possibility of broken axis

Oil on Canvas 36″x30″

The Sun will explode and become large enough to swallow earth.  Our era will come to an end.  Yugant will also happen when the axis of  the world breaks down.

According to an early Indian legend the Meru was both above (north) and below(south) the earth. The above portion of mount Meru broke down and fell on the earth, and thereby forming Lanka.

Similar to this,  bottom part of Meru can break off. This will cause the end of the world. The painting depicts this along with other reaction of other players.

The Yugant series of paintings are companion paintings of the main paintings. Most of these paintings are imagined tragic/comic sequel of the concept in main painting. Yugant literally means end of an era (Yuga). In this series it means end  of our cosmos.

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What is up and what is down?

Once upon a time wise men believed that it is natural tendency of bodies to fall down.   The discovery that earth is like a sphere and “up” direction is not constant everywhere probably became a constant enigma.   As a supplement to the theory of up and down the wise men then believed that if you cross the equator you will fall down to the bottom of universe.  Probably they thought earth to be a hemispherical body or further smaller part of sphere.

There were always not so wise men in history.  They crossed the equator at will either on foot in africa and america or through ships in africa, america and indochina to austraila.  It is quite likely that then wise men did not come across the stories told by these people or they did not believe them.   So the idea of up and down remained for quite some time even till medieval  times.

We come across the up-down theory in large number of myths.  All these myths require earth to be supported.   Usually north is considered up and south as down in most of the myths.

People in Kerala believe that the king Bali comes up (north) and visit the people of kerala every year.   This tale signifies that the patalalok was somewhere in south.

Shape of earth

Travellers have made a great contribution to astronomy.  Sky looks different from places on different latitude.   Astronomy took a leap forward once the difference was noticed.  As the astronomy improved, it started helping travellers to find where are they by just looking at sky.  The travellers also established the fact that earth had a curvature.

The shape of earth was like a flat plate in most of the earliest myths.  It is probable that mount meru was at the centre of the flat plate for some people.  Al-biruni talks about this and discards this concept as illogical.  Arabic and Persian myths had a complete range of mountains around the flat plate of earth.   Today a very minuscule minority of people considers earth as a flat body.

Anaximander thought that the earth was cylindrical in shape.  This view did not become popular.  Astronomers soon homed on spherical earth.

My paintings will show some of these themes.

Height of Meru

Meru and Mandar are mythical gigantic mountains in Hindu tradition.  Buddhist and Jain traditions  also talk about gigantic mountain Meru.  There is a very tall mountain in Arabic and Iranian traditions it is called Mount Qaf.   The height of these mountains vary according to each tradition.  But these are truly gigantic compared to any traditional mountain now known.

With extremely rudimentary equipments our ancestors found several celestial dimensions quite accurately.  It did not take long for them to know that earth is spherical in shape and its diameter was accurately recorded by merely observing sky without even a telescope.  More than 2000 years ago the learned people amongst us knew how to find distance between earth and moon and then earth and Sun.

Mount Meru is taller than 100 earths placed on top of each other according to Jain and Buddhist Literature.  Where as in one of the puranas it is several light years tall.  All these dimensions are not earthy but celestial.  It was a puzzle for me as I wanted to build a reasonable picture,

Many of my paintings in this series contain a picture of mount Meru.