Millennium Post


At the Visual Arts Gallery, Sanjay Bhattacharyya's Shrines is a celebration of unwavering faith – evoking deep sentiments of worship, encompassing power and thoughtful subservience

At the Visual Arts Gallery, Sanjay Bhattacharyya's Shrines is about the power of faith and the beauty of worship, though he is an atheist. Four paintings, three surreal drawings on canvas and a few photographs present a sojourn. Kali has been an iconographic symbol he has often created in the power and passion of the black goddess, both in the abstract form as well as in all her fury.

Kalighat Temple

"It is not one of Kali's oldest temples, but it is undoubtedly one of the best-known," says Sanjay. "The elements of the goddess and all the objects around the temple fascinated me – the bell, the vessels, the trishuls, the Sati statue on one side and the sadhu sitting on the other side. I wanted to create a scene that was not monotonous." What unravels is the panoramic perspective that greets the human eye – at once the Kalighat experience is about many things.

Assam's Kamakhya

Kamakhya is created as a corollary of conversations within another coming together of facets. The temple at Kamakhya, Assam, was built in the 17th century by the kings of Cooch Behar. But the deity within is an ancient one, a Tantric goddess predating Vedic culture, a goddess of the local Khasi and Garo tribes. Devotees have often said that when they enter the Kamakhya Temple they feel they are entering the womb of the earth.

The painting unveils like a panoramic spread. The Shiva and Durga sculptures have about them an incandescent essence, while the beaded and bangled sadhika, a bronze-toned tantric persona has a robust demeanour. The bells, the idols, the temple domes and the tantric – each facet is a robust rendition along with the tall sculpture that is fashioned in lead like stone. The greatest myths contain a kernel of truth and this composition becomes a spiritual cartography of human abilities in the iconography of carving deities from rocks and a mapping of faith's many features.


'Tiru' is Tamil for what is referred to as 'Shri' in Sanskrit: affluence, abundance and auspiciousness. In the Rig Veda, Shri is a goddess, who in Puranas is identified as Lakshmi. This makes Tirupati, or Shri-pati, the lord of Lakshmi, who is identified as Vishnu. History says, Lord Vishnu descended from his celestial abode of Vaikuntha and made his residence on the seventh hill of the range of seven hills known as Seshachalam, in the Chittoor district of Andhra Pradesh. The seventh hill is called Venkatachalam. The resident Vishnu is therefore Venkateshwara. Tirupati is located at the entrance of the seventh hill.

Historically, scholars trace the temple to around 300 AD and has been patronised by most major rulers of South India including the Pallavas, Cholas, Pandyas, Vijayanagara kings and, later, even the Marathas. Sanjay gives us the priest with the tray of fruits for the archana as well as the tanpura, to personify the power of the ritual for the Tirupati Balaji over the years. Equally evocative is the ivory-tinted Gopuram and the Sthamba with lit lamps. The many facets in the painting add to the mood of prayerful reverie with a lithe-lined Hanuman.

Golden Temple

The Golden Temple is shown as a corollary of silent experiences of the spirit of being: The dip in the pond, the shrine, or gurudwara (doorway to the teacher); when you bow before the Guru Granth Sahib (holy teacher-scripture); when you hear the wise words and songs of the gurus and the sants and the pirs from Bhakti and Sufi traditions that constitute the book; when you eat in the communal canteen (langar); when you chant and pray (simran) as you do service (seva), and cook, serve and clean and watch others doing so, irrespective of religion, caste, class, nationality, race, gender, or sexuality, with full humility and piety.

Sanjay translates the Sikh tradition that describes the universal oneness, the supreme unchangeable truism, the creator, the sustainer, who is beyond fear, hatred, death, birth, who is self-contained and manifests as the grace of the guru. Animating is the presence of the fish in the pond known to impart healing energies.

Duclet Drawings

Durga, Kali and Buddha at Bodh Gaya become a trinity of sorts. Energy and vitality seep through the simple lines and the seductive wasp-waisted figure of Durga. Lord Shiva's double-sided trident and the expression personify iconography that is the supreme expression of the power of this goddess, "the Unassailable, the Unconquerable."

Durga here assumes one of the most dramatic poses for the goddess in all Indian art, which conveys to devotees the unequivocal power of the aroused devi, a frontal posture with four pairs of hands given a flat plane shared with some esoteric Durga imagery. Durga stands with one robust royalty, her body is full and seductive and modelled with a remarkable artistry. The pronounced musculature of her hips, for example, reveals the tension in her body as she uses her divine strength to plunge the trishula into the demon's body. Her waist is slender, as are her limbs, whilst her breasts are firm and full.

The Kali is like a vector, she creates a kinetic energy in her form, no doubt all the more powerful when contemplated in a shrine dimly illuminated by oil lamps. The Buddha with the monks is another mood, it is both evocative and equivocal in its suggestions of spirituality.

The show enshrines the journey of the devotee, while for Sanjay the form is what defines his exploration, it brings to mind the Bauls and their music, whom Rabindranath Tagore loved. And, his translation of one song becomes an apt epitaph.

The man of my heart dwells inside me.

Everywhere I behold, it's Him!

In my every sight, in the sparkle of light

Oh, I can never lose Him —

Here, there and everywhere,

Wherever I turn, right in front is He!

The show at Visual Arts Gallery runs till September 29, 2018

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