Tantric Art

Background:  

The word tantric has been borrowed from the Sanskrit language. The root word is ‘tantra’, which in Sanskrit means “loom” or “weave,” but also “treatise.”  The tantric paintings date back to a long time ago when these ‘tantra treaties’ were handwritten. Since then these treatises that have been copied over many generations till the 17th century. Hindu Tantrism combines devotional elements with many other mystical elements, such as mantras and mudras.  

What is tantric Painting?

File:Mystical body of tantric meditation, flow of the life force Wellcome  L0030226.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

A painting of a Mystical body of tantric meditation

The relation of a man with the world around is very mysterious. It is often seen caught is a web of misconceptions, misled beliefs, approvals and disapprovals by religious authorities, moralists’ censure, ethical concerns, quakes’ and sorcerers’ misuses and abuses, the opposition of the ‘authorized’ – theology, philosophy …, and above all, the centuries-long antipathy of Islamic and Christian rulers.   

The tantra, which is the basis of tantric paintings, is a unique spiritual system. This system is believed to have a unique capacity to resolve the mystery of the very existence of man and its ‘being’.   

A system comprising of incredible, primitive, unscientific beliefs, which promotes blind faith and exploits undeveloped or under-developed minds. It examines the experiences of ‘Self’ with the material world and explores man’s inherent energies, spiritual and physical, methods to expand them, and his place and relevance in the cosmos.   

The Tantra exploits this human body as an instrument (yantra) to achieve its objectives. The human body or the ’yantra’, has to capacity to become a tool to command the elements of the universe and even beyond when it is an absolute command of elements. The universe becomes his stage, which he realizes through ‘yantra’ – a mystic diagram. The diagram – a ‘Mandala’, represents the universe, and through various motifs, its other aspects – Shiva-Shakti union, the emergence of ‘seed’, multiplication of his procreative act.  

Origin of Tantric Art:  

The origin of tantric art is very closely related to tantric practices. These tantric practices have been used in the Indian subcontinent as early as the 5th century. The tantric art is a ritualized practise of meditation through some esoteric principles.   

Inspired by tantric practices, tantric art involves the use of geometric patterns, which are represented symbolically. The tantric art often uses concentric circles and squares to form rich linear formations. These formations and then used practically for worship and medication during death and birth ceremonies.  

The tantric art related to the rituals is made for sacred use and has to be destroyed immediately after its use. The ultimate reality is believed to have two different approaches – The Vedic approach, and the Non-Vedic approach. Tantrika is that literature which forms a parallel part of the Hindu tradition, independent of the Vedic corpus. The Non-Vedic approach is believed to be the tantric approach. The Vedic approach is based on Brahmin texts, while the Tantrika is based on the non-Vedic Āgama texts.  

Tantric Art:  

The focus of tantric art has always been the unity of male and female principles. Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati are their proto models. The people who worship the tantra (tantra-sadhakas) have innovated several female deity-forms, which in their ‘sadhna’ acted as the female counterparts for his male energies. In many of these manifestations female principle is the very basis of sadhana and it is in her that the creative evolution takes place and enables the Tantrika to attain his objective.   

However, the form of the deity in tantric art is very unusual. It showcases a female figure, where the head is enshrined in one of the forms of Shiva with a bold icon of Ganga in his coiffure. This innovation represents the cosmic power, ‘shakti’, and represents Lord Shiva’s counter female energy. But as we proceed, the centre of the figure prominently displays another male deity. As suggests inscription on top of the folio, it could be the image of Mercury, the planet of creativity, imagination, intellectual pursuits.