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Circle is an old symbol. The earliest humans looked up the sky and found the orb of fire giving them light and warmth. Sun for them was a mystical power, a god. They saw its movement from morning in the east and to the west in the evening. Next day again it came up in the sky. They regarded it as an omnipresent power that repeated its emergence with cyclical regularity. There was no beginning or end to the sun for them. It was the sun that allowed their imagination to look in the circular form endlessness, infinity. Thus quite early circle became a symbol of completeness, eternity and also rejuvenation.
Circle also denoted the Nature. They found seasons changing and then again re-emerging with regularity. The seasons became the circle of Nature. In winter all greenery vanished and then when Spring came life stated flourishing once again.
The great Mohenjo daro-Harrappan civilization had a script as yet un-deciphered. They often had a symbol of a circle with six spokes inset. What it represented is not known.
From prehistory to history circle gained greater importance and came to symbolise the cycle of birth and death and also the soul’s eternity. In the rainbow spectrum of Indian philosophy, religion and culture, circle has been used as a varied symbol. The cycle of birth and rebirth is broken only through moksha. King Ashok propagated Buddha’s path to enlightenment through Dharm Chakra—a wheel with eight spokes of a chariot. I feel the wheel was invented with inspiration from sun or moon. Hindu philosophy talks about chakras. It is believed that there are seven chakras or source of light located within the subtle body. The Tantra cult uses the concept of chakras for awakening kundalini. The chakras were illustrated with images and this lead to the development of tantric art. Ajit Mukherjee in his seminal book The Art of Tantra helped to create in early sixties a movement of tantric art in India. But it did not last very long being bound by a strict and regulated expression as per dictates of Tantra iconography.
Baljit Chadha is an artist with deep roots in Asian cultural traditions which includes India and especially Japan. Long years spent in Japan drew his creative interest to Japanese style painting. With great felicity he paints Nature and flowers. That is but only one aspect of his creative forays.
Here I am concerned with his spiritual focus on the circle as a means of artistic expression. To paint with spiritual symbolism requires an inner search, equanimity, and a feel for the timeless.
Paintings without this kind of attitude will not carry the dynamics of the spiritual; they will be like empty shells. Baljit paints with the inner dynamics. His present works are an effort to capture the metaphysical. His creativity unfolds through the circle in a kind of inner automatism. You have to understand his oeuvre in the context of his personal search for righteousness. I wish to bring to your notice the spiritual umbilical of his personal search.
It is pertinent to know the Indian philosophy of life and Beyond. In Sikhism karma or kirat is seen as the vehicle to free us from the cycle of birth and death and to have mukti. One has to free oneself from pride, lust, anger, greed, self-centricity, maya and moh (attachment) and to devote life to sewa—service to mankind.
Bhagavad Gita 2.27 also says, "One who has taken his birth is sure to die, and after death one is sure to take birth again. Therefore, in the unavoidable discharge of your duty, you should not lament." Thus cycle of life, death and rebirth are essential parts of thought process in India.
Baljit’s paintings have varied moments of inspiration. In some works the circle is a serene quiet peaceful disc emitting soft tones and leading you to a feeling of inner joy. This you find in his work 2380. This work has a churning of the inner space and a rotation suggesting the cycle of the world or universe. The core of the painting appears to be a mystical kernel beyond human mind and intellect. In yet another work there are concentric circles and the core is a black bindu. Here the circles appear to symbolise the simultaneous working of different cycles of worldly activities and attachments. You get out of one circle and you are caught in another and so on ad infintum. (2486). You must notice the use of free moody lines that cross the circles and daubs of congealed colour. Baljit use this inner automatism where he does not seem to guide his hand or brush consciously. A lurking desire to be free of the material, bodily, intellectual and to allow the magic of anhad to take over is what I see in his use of these Zen like child’s scribbles. Baljit has used these idiosyncratic free floating lines in most of his works. These lines seem at times to ‘obstruct’ your view of the pure circle. The eternal spiritual that the circle represents is often made hazy by our infatuation with the maya. At other times he uses tumbling interacting images in embellished gold reminding of the drama of life that has its own breathtaking charm. In yet another painting there is a linear window-like overlay through which you see the circle of the infinite. Here you become aware of the beauty of the spiritual that shines in cosmic blue colour (2376). Spiral is another important symbol that is our journey to a higher reality of being. Sometimes the luminescent circle has a spiral running over it—the desire to reach the ananata through our soaring spirit (2471, 2476). The subconscious doodles that are used sometimes have a rhythm that seems to evoke the universe and the movement of stellar constellations.
Many painting have a centre or a kernel of the circle that seems to enter infinity and mystical Beyond. Observe that the centre of the circles is always full of light to make you think of the spiritual aura and awe of unknown. Baljit has his spiritual awakening in the world and in the flowers that he so lovingly paints. On an art related visit to Singapore I found the overflowing joy that he felt while visiting the botanical garden with different exotic flowers in bloom. This you see in the beautiful painting of an ethereal blooming blue flower. He paints the golden yellow stigma of the plant reminding you of the mystical centre in the circle. The flower opens with immense energy straight in your face, it mesmerizes you, holds you in its clasp and if you focus long on its centre you are drawn in it. In a different way his painting reminds me of Van Gogh’s intense sunflowers that emit a spiritual intensity.
You find in the world what you want to see in it and not what it has. Baljit finds what he is looking for in the circular forms—be it a round flower, sun, or the eternal soul or the cycle of life death and rebirth or the planets and stars in the universe.
Baljit looks at the eternal drama of the universe through his symbolic circle. I may here quote from a poem from the great Indian saint and poet Kabir that is also apt for Baljit’s art—
I have known in my body the sport of the universe: I have escaped from the error of this world.
The inward and the outward are become as one sky, the Infinite and the finite are united: I am drunken with the sight of this All!
This Light of Thine fulfils the universe: the lamp of love that burns on the salver of knowledge.
Kabîr says: "There error cannot enter, and the conflict of life and death is felt no more."
November 8th, 2008
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