Sufi Inspiration in Art
Sitting with white papers in front, next to me, an inviting blank canvas by my side is itself such a complete moment.
It announces the readiness – the about to be – the completeness of non existing existence. The beginning of a
painting, poetry, song, weave is like the appearance of the first leaf. One-ness with your outer and inner world calls you
invites you to project.
Sufiana Kalam – The words of the Sufi sages- Simple words - for everyone to understand. There isn’t
any pretension here – these words come direct from one heart and invite
you to take a leap from the circumference to your very center – your core being. The circumference (The capacity) and
the center (is the essential start point) between the outer and inner world, between mind and no mind, between matter and
consciousness. This bridge between the two is the basic value system that emerges from within. The self could be enclosed,
encapsulated, till we experience, explore or come out , giving life to life. Getting close to the basic satya of consciousness
and then it takes off from there, it happens-it’s the Joy of Baba Bulleh Shah, the profoundness of Hillaj Mansoor- the
simplicity of Baba Farid. Not living like walking graves but most meaningfully
existing is to be next to life. The whole joy is to identify – and experience the transparency within.
Concentration illuminates illusions and the true nature of reality
appears , emerges which is the ultimate experience of profoundness. Their poetry
the Sufiana kalam be it in Urdu, Punjabi,Hindi, Sindhi or Saraiki it has layers and layers of pealing. The pealing off –
process of the very self (JO KUJ ANDAR TAINDA O SAB TAA DE ) – empty out
your self as much as you can. This understanding could be easy to a child and difficult to a sage..
There is no temple other than existence itself first. Whole is what is holy,
and this whole journey is like back home. From the point to the point. Its sublime- Its not a
journey from here to there but on the contrary it is from there to here. We are invited to go from “Then”
to “Now” – where there is a meeting of moment to the soul. Beyond the physical surface or the objective information, lies the Real , the transformation which clearly defines that the knower is
bigger than the knowledge . knowledge is the first contact. It can explain, analyse Christianity , Hinduism , Buddhism But
it can not produce a Buddha or a Jesus. Wisdom is not knowledge but
it is the Insight the clarity, the basic value system which brings profoundness.
To Know is to know all. To Know is to Be because then the knower and the
known are no longer separate. The knower is the known the seer is the seen the observer is the observed.
The Arabic word ‘Nafs’ means total freed self, Sufi self and
it also means a pure basic breath which is such a basic truth. Beyond physical reality and physical time and space there is
this all-encompassing self or the greater self, which is inseparable from cognition. I seemed to stand outside of my limited
self. Moving backwards, forwards and experiencing entirety within.
The innocence and purity is the only condition of the unconditioned state, which is Sufi. Interestingly, it reminds
me of the little shepherd-boy story – who used to take his sheep everyday to the hilltop and whilst the sheep would
graze, he would have a loud, hearty chat with his god.
“God, you must be so alone, like me - No one caring for you. I’m sure you’re unattended and no-one
has given you a bath – there will be so many tangles in your hair by now. Please call me I will do all that cleaning
and then we can speak our heart out to each other” and so on. The day would set and the shepherd boy would return to
his little hut – contented sheep would go to sleep.
Until one day, a pandit met this boy. Using his panditya (wisdom) – he told the shepherd boy – “You
know nothing, O Fool. This is not the way to reach God, silly. He’d never listen to your prayers like this. Pay me my
fee and I will teach you the actual prayer.”
The boy worked hard to satisfy the pandit for it was so important for him to learn the pandit’s way. Days passed
by and after some time the pandit died. Confronting God, he shouted “ Why hell for me and heaven? I did so much good
in my lifetime?” God smiled meaningfully and said “ You committed the biggest sin by killing the innocence of
a heart. We were so close to each other and you taught him to be boxed – you took away his transparency – What
to talk of teaching – you deprived him of his own individuality ”
The purity is what Sufi is. So, to talk about Sufi inspiration, the Sufi state is an important start point to be understood.
The word Sufi comes from the word “Saf” – which in Persian means Pure. Sufis are called so for their transparency
of vision. It is said that the one who dies for love dies Sufi. And Sufi’s never die. Its important somewhere to talk
about the uncovering – going deeper – discovering the very soul of the thought, which is so undisturbed, joyous,
giving free experience of being with the essential. Immanuel Kant puts it like this “In this state of clarity, the content
disappears and the form emerges. Expression sprouts, the transparency links the soul within, and art emerges.” The basic
commonality, or I shall say, the meditative sublime one ness between Art and Sufi expression is really so profoundly close
to each other that it is difficult to say which appears first. The thought process of the Sufiana Kalaam is basically a leap
from the circumference to the center of the human soul. The circumference is the capacity – the outer world. The center
is the inner world – the essential, the home, the source. Now between mind and no mind, between matter and consciousness,
the real emerges. “Jo Kuchh andar tainda, sub taa dey” – or, clear all hurdles, constraints and walls inside
you. Understanding could be as easy as a child and as difficult as a sage.
This verse of the medieval Bulleh Shah, marks his progress from being One with the One. Bulleh Shah – the Sufi
poet – (1680- 1735 AD) was born in a Syed family of Qasur – now in Pakistan. Once, Bulleh Shah bowed before Inaayat Qadri – the market gardener who was transplanting onions (Qadri historically
taught Dara Shikoh later and lead him to initiate attempts to synchronize Hinduism and Islam). Qadri spoke while working “Bulleh-ya
– Rab da ki paana – Aidron putna tey Oddar laana” , or do you
seek God just put your soul from here (below) to there on high.
When we talk of Sufi’s– its important to understand that all of Sufism stems from a said master. The master
is at the heart of the Sufi thought process. What the master says (the Kalaam) is meaningless without the master. You may
have an understanding, you may read the same verse as the master and yet, without the context that the master provides, the
words are meaningless. Thus, the book of the Sufi’s is a book of white pages. Implying that there is nothing which you
can learn without the master. Yet, the master cannot teach you more than what you choose to learn. Noted American Psychologist-
Carl Rogers – has experimented and come to the conclusion that possibly, nothing can be “taught” by one
person to the other. Everything has to be learnt in the presence of a facilitator. Each verse is an interpretation –
contextual to the time, space and life of the master. Each attempt to learn is contextual to the individual seeking to learn.
With the master no more with us, the interpretation comes through snatches of insights provided by others. Perhaps
they are on the right track. Perhaps the master would have said the same thing. Perhaps not. Thus, the role of the Sufi artist
is as much to make an attempt to understand the master’s verses and reinterpret them in his or her context and age and
present them to an audience. Whether the audience is able to make the same Sufi connection or not is never quite known. Partly,
this will depend upon their need to make a connection and to understand. Partly it will depend upon whether the artist was
able to make the leap himself or herself. Whether the artist was successful or
not in understanding the true meaning – perhaps we never can tell. But this is what the artist in his or her capacity
as potential Sufi student has understood. This is what he or she wishes to communicate. This is the inspiration which the
artist wishes to pass on to the world.
Thus, eminent Sufi singer – Puran Chand Vadali – adds to the verse through his own soulful profound expression
and resounding voice full of movement. It makes one wonder - what comes first? As an Artist working on sufi art myself, (more
on my work later) people often ask me – do you paint first or these words come first? Well, first is the meeting, which
just happens between the thoughts and the expression. Between inhaling and preserving. Before I express, exhale or paint,
that spark pushes me. That essence is what is important between the audience and the art. That is the inspiration which helps
me understand myself as much as helps me build the artwork.
And then the role of the audience - Why does one stay longer with one work ? Why is it that one song out of all the
others strikes one in an unknowing, wordless way? Perhaps because it relates better to that individual – it is pure
meeting that takes place. Rest of it is all content. May that be art, Kalaam, poetry –it creates a movement within,
which is a start point of the journey. And some work often leaves one cold.
Today, AR Rahman – music composer – picks up “Tere ishq nachaya karke thaiyya thaiyya”. Muzaffar
Ali works his timeless journey of calligraphical works of art, Satya Paul in his textile flow of garment designs talks of “Jado di mai Jogi di hoi”. A garment designer which could design closely to the true
essence of the fabric of life.
Begum Abida Praveen – the successor to the legacy of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan – is regarded as one of the
greatest singers of Sufi culture. A Sindhi from Larkana, she is a disciple of Ustad Salaamat Ali Khan, and sings Sufi songs
in Punjabi, Sindhi, Sariki, and Hindi.
Way back, Shah Abdul Latif – an 18th Century poet and composer blended folk music and classical ragas
in a style known as Kaafi. Begum Abida Praveen primarily sings the Kaafi’s soaked in Sufi poetry as well as the soulful
kalaam into ghazals. The sufi masti flows through Abida’s (invisible) in visible godly voice. Shah Hussain, Bulleh Shah,
Baba Farid, Baba Hazrat Sultan Baahu, and Rumi have given the poetry a mystical experience incommunicable fully through words,
awaits to be experienced. often, when I listen to her sing, what she is saying is so meaningless – it is where she is
saying it from that suddenly strikes. Perhaps her inspiration lies within her own soul and the verses, but my inspiration
lies in her interpretation.
Calligraphy is another area sprouting from total dedication – an outcome of your total freed self. Each letter
that holds the breath spells in space the very soul of the word which lies within the character. Calligraphy is so close to
a prayer – so personal, full of movement and joy – but it demands a pure state of collected self. In paintings,
calligraphy has the capacity to have one to one conversation with the theme.
I have worked extensively in calligraphy. I was the first Indian to
work on the inherent poetry within the Devnagri script (my works in this conext are now placed permanently in the archives
in Germany). In a recent series, titled
Jogia Dhoop – the saffron sunshine - I have picked up some of these pearls of Mohd. Hazrat Mohani, Baba Bulleh Shah,
Hazrat Shah Niaz, Hazrat Zaheen Shah Taaji, Baba Farid and Rumi as the inspiring force. For example some of the thoughts born
of Baba Bulleh Shah has such an intense and immense depth and beauty that it strikes a chord. It emerges from the same base
as of a true Zen master or of the singing shepherd of the hills (which I had talked of earlier in the article) who has only
innocence to offer in his prayers.
A search for this innocence, this silence is the source of the flowing music
in my works- created in multiple tones of lilac, grey or dusky dusty siennas fading in time. Sometimes a spread of movement
inspired by the Raag Vistaar of (Indian music) or a small couplet, a bandish of a ghazal – the flow of tones into space is behind the visual experience of the paintings.
The treatment is delicately graded . The succession of hues,
one dissolving into an other suggests the Kalam resounding appearing and fading into space. The potential of the oils and
the fluid transparency is a medium handled closely enough to the selected mood
of the works.In these paintings, calligraphy is imprinted as a murmur . the sound-resounds. Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944),
speaking of a spiritual encounter with Rembrandt,says, “It moved me deeply , The flow of colour has dark and dissolve
approach which has effect of antiphony (Purely musical term) It evokes the sound within me.”
I will attempt to illustrate my point by referring to two of my recent paintings from Jogia Dhoop - RAB and JO HO SO HO. In each of these paintings, I have taken a verse from a Sufi master and have attempted
to interpret the meaning visually in my own context and have imprinted calligraphy (in Devnagri). So, when you see “JO
HO SO HO” coming out broken alphabets from the hands of the subject – its my interpretation of abject surrender
by the individual to the love.
Rab bandey vich aivey vasda,
Jinve kapde vich roo
Aape aap noo waja maarey
Aap kare hoo hoo
Baba Bulleh Shah
Realization is so close.. Just look inside
yourself..You are already Realized!
Its so transparent, so visible that actually
it can be felt.
Its not next to me- what it conveys is
it is me.. Divine feeling of one ness is imbibed just as cotton hides in the
basic fabric - The substance is woven into the basic fabric.
We shout out, call ourselves and reply
ourselves tied in our own web of ego. So you see
We see this image looking through a misty
screen getting clearer and on the edge is a spread of calligraphy
JO HO SO HO
(Within and Without)
Ishq mein tere kohe gham
Sar pe liya, jo ho so ho
Aisho nishaat zindagi
Chhod diya jo ho so ho
Now that I have decided to seek you, I
will search regardless of what happens to me.
Its one thought at the very root level
to be in harmony. My hands you see here - relaxed, fold, and unfolding thoughts
within – All is yours - the boldness of the image that you see has a subtle
softness to be one with silence.
No shades of colours just black, grey and
white. No waves remaining at all. So you see the red element only in the backdrop, leaving behind the noise. Just as as if you dive deep into the ocean, there are no waves. The deeper you go, the calmer, the
more graceful, the more peaceful you get.