Indian Artist Jyoti Sahi of Inscape.com (The Art Ashram at the little village of Silvepura, North Bangalore) has been personally very interested in Adivasi traditions in India, and has been involved with thinking about Adivasi cultures for the last twenty five years or more. What follows is a letter that I now share (with Jyoti’s kind permission):
Just now I am sending to you some photo-graphs of the transfigured Garden of Creation which I have been working on. This is a painting about five feet by four feet. It has come out of my interest in the garden as a symbol of Creation in the Biblical tradition, but also in the Vedantic image of the Upavana, the garden of enlightenment which is also the world of the forest where for example Buddha wandered in search of enlightenment, in the area near the Damodar Valley where Hazaribagh is situated.
So the image is in a way an amalgam of four different symbolic gardens, which I feel are inter connected.
- There is the garden of Creation, or the Paradise Garden in which the Primal Human being wandered.
- There is the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor, where the three disciples close to Jesus suddenly saw him (darshana) in a different way, and where he also received the witness of the Prophetic, Wisdom tradition of the ancient Seers.
- There is the agony in the Garden, which is the other side of that coin, where the text is obviously modeled on the earlier Transfiguration event, in that again it is the three disciples who fall asleep, and need to be awakened.
- Finally these gardens point to the Garden of the Resurrection, where the body of the Risen Lord transforms the whole of Creation, which we see in the light of the Resurrection
This picture, which I have been working on since the Palm Sunday, almost continually, has also been in relation to my essay on the Resurrection Body.
I was thinking that in the Garden of Eden story the serpent plays a dark role as the tempter, but there is also the image of the serpent which was lifted up by Moses in the Desert, which was a sign of healing. In fact Jesus speaking to Nicodemus, refers to this image of the Serpent who was lifted up, as prefiguring in a way his own passion.
I have also been very fascinated by the image of the garland in Indian tradition, as a circle or mandala of flowers, which is also linked to the garland of the whole cosmos, and the series of chakras, or yogic centres that are a series of transformation through the body, linked to psycho-somatic plexus nodes in the body along the path of the spinal column. Jesus is also the water fall, or stream of light and life which gives life to the garden of Creation, in that he says he is the living stream of water that satisfies the thirst of creatures.
Well, I would be interested in any comments you have to offer, or suggestions for how this idea of the four gardens could be developed.
Personally I have been also very fascinated by the Peaceable Kingdom theme, and how the American Quaker artist Edward Hicks (1780-1849) repeatedly painted this theme as his basic vision of Creation and its relation to human society. I myself have repeatedly painted that subject, ever since I first read about this artist and his vision in 1966. As you perhaps know, my wife Jane came from a Quaker family in England. We met in the house of the Quaker architect Laurie Baker with whom I worked for a number of years in South India.