Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Cosmic Sacrifice


In 1978 a meeting was held in the Jesuit College of Shembaganur in the hills above Madurai, where a number of Jesuits concerned with spiritual direction, came together to reflect on ways in which Indian Jesuits could relate the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola, with Eastern techniques of meditation. I was invited to attend this conference as an artist interested in the relation of the imagination to meditation. In fact, the reflections that I shared in during this meeting very much influenced me when I started to think about an “Art Ashram” in the early eighties. At that time Fr. Tony Coelho sj, who became the Tertian Master, stationed in Bangalore, was also working on the establishing of a center for inter religious dialogue in Bangalore, to be called “Ashirvad” or the place of Blessings. I was asked to design the chapel for this center. This led to my organizing at this center my first “art retreat” in 1984, which focused on the function of art in the creation of conditions leading to Peace. Later this was to lead to the publishing of a small booklet that Jane and I worked on, entitled “Symbols of Peace”, published under the auspices of the Peace Centre which had been set up by the National Christian Council in Nagpur.

Through the eighties I worked with Fr. Tony Coelho, and other Jesuit friends, trying to develop this idea of an “Art Retreat”. It seemed to me that this would be something that should form the basis for an “art ashram”. Art here is not just a matter of making art objects, but is an inner imaginative search or “Sadhana”. It was at this time that I was also exploring Tribal myths and symbols, as I had become involved in the efforts of those concerned with a Tribal or Adivasi Theology, which could be linked to an Indian understanding of a Creation Theology. This it was being felt would add another dimension to the Liberation Theology underlying a theological reflection on the Dalit issue.

In the late eighties I worked on a series of paintings based on a tribal myth called the Lohar Kahani, or the story of the Iron Smelters. I had come across this myth when I visited the tribal state of Chotanagpur in 1987, and discussed the way that Fr. Van Exen sj had used this myth in his efforts to provide a basis for Tribal theology among the Christians of that tribal belt extending from the State of Bihar, to Orissa, which was also the region where the Lord Buddha had his kingdom, and wandered as a teacher of Wisdom. The series of paintings which I made on the Lohar Kahani, was used by the World Council of Churches during the gathering on Justice Peace and the Integrity of Creation which was held in Basel in 1989. It was in that year that I also was invited by Missio in Munich to conduct an art retreat in Bavaria. Subsequently for the next ten years I spent a great deal of my time and energy thinking about ways in which such an art retreat could be organized.

One of the basic concepts underlying the “art retreat” was the concept of the “Interior Landscape” which has played a very significant role in the art of the Far East. I had been introduced to this concept through my reading of a small collection of poems translated by A.K.Ramanujan of the “Sangam Poets” of South India, which he introduced with an essay on the “Interior Landscape”. This concept of the Interior Landscape, going back to Buddhist poetic traditions (as found developed, for example in the early Tamil Alwars) was later to evolve into the highly complex philosophical traditions of the Sri Vaishnavites, as has been carefully documented by the scholar Friedhelm Hardy in his famous work of Viraha-Bhakti.. But once again, it is beyond the scope of these notes to go into these sources of Indian metaphysical poetry.

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