By Swati Chopra
Sohan Qadri makes art that is deeply influenced by his tantra practice. His paintings depict the energic reality of creation, and of one’s being. these are presented here, along with a tête-à-tête with the artist.
I first met Sohan Qadri a couple of years ago, when he was in Delhi on one of his annual visits from Copenhagen, Denmark, where he lives. It was also the time when he was exhibiting his paintings, whose Tantric symbolism was striking and hard to miss. The colors and forms were not as much geometric and yantra-like as they seemed to be elucidations of experiences of vibrational states of being. To me, they were very much representations of the Tantric view of reality as a grand play of energy.
Speaking with the artist, I discovered he had studied at a young age with both a Sufi master and a Tantric guru. His spiritual practice is a syncretistic one, of which his art is an intrinsic part. His life as an Indian living and working in the West, his spiritual practice, and his art making are different aspects of him that feed into one another, each nurturing the other, none separate from the other. This spirit of integration is at the core of Tantra. As a Tantric sadhak, Qadri seems to have been able to manifest this in his life and work.
Excerpts of an email interview with Sohan Qadri:
You are an artist as well as a Tantra practitioner. What came first?
Tantra, of course. Tantra yoga is the basis of all life. I became aware of this while practicing it; this is not an understanding that will come only from reading scriptures and books. For me the physics and philosophy of Tantra are conjoined. Art within (painting) is a profession learned and acquired at a mature age while gathering knowledge from the media.
For me, making images in clay or mud was primordial in inception. Art is a sophisticated following of this primordial instinct. When we speak only of Tantra we are referring to the philosophy or theory of Tantra, whereas for me, the practice of Tantra yoga entails special asanas, bandhas, pranayam, mudras and kriyas. All these constitute the practice of Tantra, which I have gone through at an early age under the guidance of my guru. I still follow this practice.
I am a Tantric sadhak first, and then an artist.
You have studied with a wide variety of masters and systems—Tantra, Sufism, and Buddhism. Have you been able to find a balance between all these systems?
If one rises above the ritual, through the ritual itself, then all systems point to the one bindu (center point) that is within the symbol. But the symbol, no matter how authentic or powerful it may seem, has to be transcended at an advanced stage of sadhana.
Systems and symbols are catchy but to be caught in them is a sign of retardation giving rise to narrow-mindedness. In such a way, systems and symbols become hurdles. In my opinion, these forces have affected almost all religions today, and hence the rise of fanaticism and hatred towards systems and symbols other than those taught by one’s own religion.
This we see happening in everyday life and they divert energy from the spiritual aspect. So for me, all systems point to the same bindu. One does not have to find a balance between systems—there is inherent cohesiveness in all systems, and one only has to become aware of it. Then the contradictions fade away.
Was it a conscious decision to make art inspired by Tantra? Or did it come naturally to you?
It was not an intellectual decision but came as an instinctive pull from the depth of my psyche. So you can say it came naturally.
Would you call yourself a ‘Tantra artist’?
I am a Tantric sadhak, who is an artist by profession.
How much of your Tantra practice do you include in your art? Could you tell me something about the process of creating each work?
A work of art is not created by premeditation. Many forces work in this process. The imagery and the spirit in the work of art come from one’s deep-rooted instincts.
This process is not intellectually and wishfully constructed. Symbols, forms, colors and spaces arise spontaneously from deep subliminal levels of one’s consciousness.
Tantra has a well-defined system of colors and symbols and their relation with states of consciousness and energy levels. Do you work from this framework? In that sense, creating art must become part of your spiritual practice?
Yes, Tantra has a well-defined system of colors and symbols and their relation with states of consciousness. I feel knowledge of this system is meant for the research student who has to theorize it and elaborate it further.
I am not a theoretician, so for me, every symbol created has a fresh relationship with energies since it oozes out of primordial shakti. The creation of art is spiritual only if the theorizing mind does not dominate the process.
What has been the highest point of your spiritual journey as well as your life as an artist?
The highest point of the spiritual journey is when past and future merge into the here and now.
The highest point in the life of an artist, according to me, is when a symbol, a color or form appears on the empty canvas by itself and the artist only helps it to formulate.
How would you place your work, for you are a modern artist drawing from an ancient tradition?
For me the energy is never old. The symbols become old when they are part of a tradition.
When I paint, I don’t draw from any tradition. I draw from the primordial energy, which is always fresh, hence fresh forms point towards that.
You have lived and worked in the West for a long time. How does the West view your work?
And how has living in the West in turn impacted your work?
I do not actually live either in the West or the East. I live in myself. My work has been appreciated in the East and West equally.
And if you throw me on the moon, I will paint in the same way as living in the jungles of Africa. It is because I paint from within and it has its own dwelling territory dissolving geographical boundaries.
Tantra generates a lot of interest around the world, mostly because people relate it with sex.
What has been your experience of this, since you have been teaching meditation too?
This perception of Tantra being related to sex is right, but only superficially so.
Tantra I feel is the only system in the world that liberates sex from its bondage. Tantra’s approach towards life is to deal with the energy as its basis.
This energy is a life force pulsating in all matter. This energy is cosmic in character, and is one, but in manifestation this one energy becomes bipolar, which is psychosexual.
To comprehend the sensual and the sacred as one unit, or in unity, is the extraordinary approach of Tantric sadhana. In the domain of nature, it is a force for survival and revival, since nature procreates through sexual energy. To procreate is also to recreate.
Tantra is positive and open towards experiencing with awareness this phenomenon. It is all-inclusive, taking in the negative with the positive.
What otherwise becomes a religious trap is used as a stepping-stone for advancement in Tantric sadhana. Tantra believes in viewing life as a whole, so there is no denial of any sort.
How can we relate Tantra to our lives, so that we can live with greater fulfillment and awareness?
Only authentic Tantra has a place in contemporary society. Not the mumbo-jumbo, jadoo tona and other such practices that are a misunderstanding of Tantra.
In deep states of meditation, all limitations are dropped. The mind, once it is free of limitations, can relate with every situation amicably. Opposing forces are harnessed and turned into positive prana.
This prana (bio-force) is the energy that becomes available to the sadhak in real ritual. Through this energy, the whole pattern of one’s behavior changes and one is inspired towards greater fulfillment and awareness in every act of everyday life.
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