Jharna-Kala: The art of Sri Chinmoy

Return to the table of contents



What is the meaning of life?
What is the meaning of work?


Art is the emptiness of space.
Art is the fulness of time.
Art is the oneness of God.


Divine art
Is the crown of the heart
And the flower of the soul.


A human artist thinks that he has created many beautiful homes for the lovers of art.

A divine artist sees that God has come to him as countless shrines and countless temples.


Even before I knew
Who God was,
God started painting my life
With His Compassion-Forgiveness-Colours.


Divine art embodies
The unfathomable dance of the soul.

Sri Chinmoy answers questions on Art

Question: How is art supposed to be manifested in the world?

Sri Chinmoy: Art is supposed to be manifested in the world in the same way that we try to manifest our good qualities: joy, peace, love, bliss and so on. Anything good that we have or that we are, anything that is good in our nature, should be manifested. Art is also an excellent thing which must be manifested.

Question: Does art reach the heart or the mind?

Sri Chinmoy: It depends on the person. If the person is a seeker, then art reaches the heart. If the person is not a seeker, usually it reaches the mind. But again, if somebody is an integral seeker, then both his mind and his heart will be touched by art.

Question: Is your art manifesting every aspect of God or only some aspects?

Sri Chinmoy: God has infinite aspects. My art is only manifesting a few aspects. All the aspects of God can never be manifested either in my art or in anybody's art, because God is infinite. Only we try to manifest Him according to our capacity, according to the receptivity that He has given us. Some aspects of God we manifest through art; others we manifest through music, literature and poetry. But all the aspects nothing and nobody has ever manifested or will ever be able to manifest, because God is infinite, He is all the time transcending His own Infinity. Since human beings don't have infinite capacities, it is not possible for any human being or anybody on earth to manifest God's infinite aspects.

Question: Is it easier to reach a child through art or through music?

Sri Chinmoy: It entirely depends on the receptivity of the particular child. Some children are more drawn to music, while others are more drawn to art. There cannot be any categorical rule. But you have to know that music is also a form of art, and art is a kind of inner music. So if a child is interested in music, eventually he can develop considerable interest in art as well. Again, if somebody in the beginning of his life is deeply interested in art, he can easily develop an interest in music. Music and art are very close to each other, and they can easily move together.

Question: In the spiritual life, is there a difference between art and music?

Sri Chinmoy: In the spiritual life, there is no basic difference between music and art because a seeker-artist is definitely a divine musician. Again, a divine musician cannot be anything else other than a seeker-artist.

Question: Is art manifested in the inner world?

Sri Chinmoy: In the outer world we manifest, in the inner world we achieve. In the inner world we don't try to manifest anything. In the inner world, only we try to achieve. Only in the outer world do we try to manifest. Manifestation is on the outer plane, realisation is on the inner plane. We try to realise the ultimate Truth inside us and then we try to manifest that ultimate Truth here in the outer world.

Question: In terms of the spiritual life, what would art be?

Sri Chinmoy: In terms of the spiritual life art is definitely a most powerful manifestation of God. Or we can say that it is a most powerful God-instrument for giving joy to mankind and helping mankind to lead a better and higher life.

Question: Is it necessary for every seeker to manifest some kind of art?

Sri Chinmoy: Certainly every seeker should try to manifest some kind of art. But that doesn't mean that you have to draw something on a piece of paper or paint something on a canvas. No! Art can be in your talk, in your movement, in your prayer, in your meditation. In everything he does, each seeker should have, at every moment, an artistic touch — while talking, while giving, while moving, while conversing.

Question: In which way are we supposed to see your art?

Sri Chinmoy: You are supposed to see my art with your aspiration-heart and dedication-life. Aspiration-heart means an inner cry, and dedication-life means a soulful smile.

Question: Is there a dynamic art and a passive art?

Sri Chinmoy: Yes. When we see some art, immediately our mind, like a dynamo, wants to do something, grow into something and become something. Again, when we see other art, immediately we feel that it is like the bottom of the sea or the vast sky. It is where peace and poise reign supreme and there is only eternal tranquility.

Question: Can anybody manifest some form of art even if he does not have the sensitivity of an artist?

Sri Chinmoy: Yes, one can manifest some form of art even if one does not have the sensitivity of an artist. There are many artists who do not have any sensitivity but they draw quite well and do excellent work. It is like people in certain professions or vocations who have no liking for their particular field, but who are experts. They don't have to be sensitive; they don't have any feeling for their particular work. But they do it well. God's Grace is working in and through them, but they are not conscious of it. So they do not get as much joy in their work.

Again, if an artist is sensitive, then naturally his art will be more soulful and more fruitful. Mother Earth and Father Heaven will deeply appreciate his kind of art, because consciously he is creating. And a sensitive artist gets much more joy in his creation than an artist who is not sensitive.

Question: Is art important for the evolution of mankind?

Sri Chinmoy: Art is supremely important for the evolution of mankind. It is through inner art and outer art that mankind evolves. Inner art is discipline; outer art is the execution of God's Command. Inner art is prayer and meditation. If you pray and meditate, then easily you can know if God wants you to become a singer or a teacher, or something else. Then, if you listen to God's inner Command, that becomes outer art. This inner art and outer art are most important for the evolution of mankind.

Question: Is there any relationship between beauty and art?

Sri Chinmoy: Beauty and art go together. It is like a beautiful flower. A flower is nature's art, God's art. But when you look at it with your eyes and appreciate it, then what you see along with the flower is its beauty. The flower itself is art, but what it embodies is beauty. How can you separate beauty from the thing that embodies beauty? So, in that way, art and beauty go together.

Question: What is the role of art in the spiritual life?

Sri Chinmoy: The role of art in the spiritual life is first to awaken oneself and then to awaken the sincere seekers around one. Through self-discipline and self-sacrifice the seeker will first develop his oneness-heart, and then he will offer his oneness-heart to others. In the spiritual life, one has to be a seeker first. Then his aspiration he will offer to the world at large. That is his art. That is his progress for earth and his service to God.

Question: Did the most famous artists in the world get their inspiration from God?

Sri Chinmoy: There are quite a few famous artists who didn't get any inspiration from God directly. There are some famous artists who were atheists; they didn't even believe in God. So how can you say that they got their inspiration directly from God? In one sense, everything is from God — good, bad, everything. Inspiration, you can say, comes from a higher source, and this higher source is God. Or you can say that these artists got their inspiration from nature. Nature itself has its own inspiration, its own capacity, and some artists identified themselves with nature. Again, nature also is a part of God. But when it is a matter of God as a personal deity, God in His personal aspect, they did not necessarily get their inspiration from God.

This house, let us say, belongs to God. If anybody takes something from God's House, you can say that they have taken that thing from God. For what is the difference between God and God's House? Again, there is a difference, because God is inside one particular room of the House. If you pray and meditate, then you can go into that room and get inspiration from God directly. But if somebody doesn't care for that kind of personal God, then he can get inspiration from God's House, which is nature. Nature is also God; it is God's outer manifestation.

Question: What is art from the spiritual point of view?

Sri Chinmoy: From the spiritual point of view, art is an expression of divinity that is extremely meaningful and fruitful. It is through this divine expression that we increase and bring to the fore our own inner potentiality.

Question: What is your favourite form of art?

Sri Chinmoy: If it is spiritual art, my favourite form of art is constant meditation. If it is painting, then you can say that quite often I like acrylics best.

Question: Why are your paintings so beautiful?

Sri Chinmoy: If my paintings are beautiful, then it is because I am trying to keep my heart always beautiful. My paintings are the outer expression of my heart's prayer-beauty. When you appreciate my paintings, it is the outer manifestation of my heart's beauty that you are seeing with your aspiration-heart. Therefore, you see my art as beautiful.

Question: What do you feel when you are painting?

Sri Chinmoy: Most of the time when I paint I get a kind of inner joy and a kind of inner discovery. When I paint, I discover something which I did not know before. That is why I get tremendous joy, most of the time, when I am painting.

Question: Does colour have as much importance for an artist as it does for the spiritual seeker?

Sri Chinmoy: It depends on the artist. If the artist is a seeker and he cares for the significance of colours, then if he is drawing, he may give more importance to colours than an ordinary artist. If this artist is a seeker, then he will know that blue represents Infinity or that blue is Krishna’s light. Then while he is using the colour blue, he may think of Krishna or he may think of Infinity. In that way, if he is a seeker, the artist will get much from his inner knowledge of the significance of different colours. If he knows in the inner world what a particular colour signifies, and if he wants to project this quality to the outer life in his painting, then his inner knowledge will definitely help. Again, there are artists who do not know these things and do not care for them, but who have an inborn inner inspiration. And through that inspiration they do wonderful things.

Question: How can you manifest spirituality through art?

Sri Chinmoy: Spirituality means a higher life, an inner awakening, a better way of self-expression. So when art embodies these things, when you offer these things to the world through your art, at that time your art is manifesting spirituality.

Question: Is there any relationship between art and sensitivity?

Sri Chinmoy: In a broad sense, sensitivity plays a considerable part in art. You can say they remain peacefully together. Again, if sensitivity does not want to remain in art, or if art does not want or need sensitivity, then they can remain totally apart.

An artist may have sensitivity in large measure. Again, an artist may have no sensitivity at all. Art and sensitivity can go together and should go together. But even if they remain separate, the artist can still manifest.

Question: Do the colours in your paintings have different meanings?

Sri Chinmoy: The colours in my paintings have the same meaning that they have in the spiritual life. If it is blue, it means Infinity. Green is new life or new life-energy. White is purity and it is also the colour of the Divine Mother. Purple is for the divine manifestation. What I have said that colours signify in the spiritual life applies equally to my art.

Question: What do you think of when you are painting?

Sri Chinmoy: Most of the time I do not think at all when I am painting. But sometimes I do think of the higher worlds. Sometimes I think of my friends in the higher worlds. Sometimes I think of my disciples. Again, even when I am thinking, my thinking is not affecting my art. When I am thinking, I can keep my thinking capacity away from my painting capacity. They are like two persons in front of me, I am looking at only one person, my art. The other person is watching what I am doing, but I am not conversing with that person, and I am not being affected by him at all. So when I am talking to someone in the inner world, or thinking of someone, it cannot directly affect my paintings. It is like birds flying in the sky; they leave no mark. You may think that there will be some marks in the sky, but there is no mark at all. In my case, also, when thought comes, or when I enter into thought, it doesn't affect my creativity.

Spirituality in art1

Spirituality in art: what does it mean? It means the desire-life-art, the aspiration-life-art and the realisation-life-art.

The desire-life-art speaks through Julius Caesar: "I came, I saw, I conquered."

Aspiration-life-art speaks through Lord Buddha. Before he attained his enlightenment, he sat at the foot of the bodhi tree and declared: "I shall not leave this seat until I have achieved enlightenment."

Realisation-life-art speaks through the Saviour Christ: "I and my Father are one.” The Vedic seers of the hoary past declared the same message: "Brahmosmi — I am Brahman." Down the sweep of the centuries, seekers have been praying and meditating in order to reach the same ultimate goal — the goal of inseparable oneness with the Absolute Supreme.

The animal art, the human art, the divine art and the supreme art. The animal art enjoys and destroys. It enjoys the unreal, which is ignorance-night. It destroys the real, which is a genuine hunger for Truth, Light and God.

The human art cries and smiles. It cries for constant success. But when it suffers the blows and buffets of life and success is not achieved, it is doomed to disappointment. Again, when human art is crowned with success, it smiles at its glories.

The divine art grows and glows. It grows into a divine instrument to please the Absolute Supreme in His own Way. And when it is pleasing Him, it glows soulfully, beautifully and triumphantly like the morning sun.

The supreme art ascends and transcends. It ascends the Himalayan height, and then it transcends it. It is an ever-transcending reality, and its goal of today is only the starting point for tomorrow's goal in its endless journey to the ever-transcending Beyond.

As life itself is an art, even so each individual is an artist in his own right. Each seeker-artist is fully and sleeplessly conscious of his animal art, human art, divine art and supreme art. But there are many human beings on earth who are ignorant of these arts. Ignorance is bliss, they say. When is it bliss? If we are not aware that a calamity is about to take place, and if we are not assailed by worries and anxieties, then at that time ignorance is a veritable bliss. But very often our ignorance prevents us from averting a calamity and then we have to suffer the consequences. A child is ignorant of the capacity of fire; so he touches fire and burns his finger. Again, there are some who will see eye to eye with Robert Browning: "Ignorance is not innocence but sin." Now what is sin? Sin is man's limited consciousness — the consciousness that is earth-bound rather than Heaven-free. The earth-bound consciousness binds the seeker-artist. The Heaven-free consciousness liberates the seeker-artist. It is on the strength of spirituality that a seeker-artist has to paint and liberate his life.

When Sri Krishna left the body, he did not take back his message of transformation-light. He said that by virtue of his code of life, life would be transformed. His vision-message of nature's transformation the Transformer Sri Krishna left here on earth. The Liberator Buddha left his message of liberation here on earth. The Saviour Christ left his message of salvation here on earth.

Each sincere seeker-artist can easily claim these supreme messages of life's transformation, life's liberation and life's salvation as his own, very own. For these three supreme artists — Sri Krishna, the Buddha and the Christ — are all playing their respective roles in and through him at the same time.

JKA 31. An extract from a talk given Sri Chinmoy at McGill University, Montreal

Exhibits of work

1984 • Centro de Bellas Artes, Maracaibo, Venezuela

1983 • The National Arts Centre, Ottawa, Canada

1982 • A travelling exhibit, chosen by Henry Geldzahler, who was then Curator of Twentieth Century Art of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

1982 • Rheinisches Landesmuseum, Bonn, Germany

1981 • The National Arts Center, Ottawa, Canada

1981 • University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Canada

1980 • Place Bonaventure, Montreal, Canada

1980 • National Gallery, Ottawa, Canada

1980 • Museum Alexander Koenig, Bonn, Germany

1979 • United Nations, New York

1979 • National Visitors Center, Washington, D.C.

1979 • Will Stone Gallery, San Francisco, California

1978 • Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts

1978 • City Hall Civic Center, San Francisco, California

1978 • Lake Placid School of Art, Lake Placid, New York

1977 • Eyes and Ears Foundation, Billboard Exhibit, San Francisco, California

1977 • Museum of Man, Ottawa, Canada

1976 • Department of Education of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico

1975 • Museo del Arte, Ponce, Puerto Rico

1975 • School of Visual Arts, New York

1975 • Columbia University. New York

Comments on the art of Sri Chinmoy

A painter of the spirit

Sri Chinmoy stands out among today's artists as a painter of the inner spirit of man. He affirms human potential in its transcendent greatness — the experience of joy, beauty and truth — concepts that have become outmoded in a post-modern world, that find their genesis in meditation. His paintings evince both an enduring power and a delicate sensibility conveyed in loose but deftly handled abstractions that are fresh, open and simple visualisations of heightened experience.

Not just an artist, Sri Chinmoy is primarily a spiritual teacher, whose life is consecrated to the ideal of continual self-transcendence. For over 40 years he has explored the variety of meditative experience, always striving to reach higher and climb deeper into the vastness of human potential.

Born in India in 1931, Sri Chinmoy spent most of his youth in a spiritual community, combining an active schedule with quiet contemplation. Since coming to the US in 1964, he has offered this transcendent perception in more tangible forms through both the arts (painting, poetry, music) and athletics. In meditation, he feels, in the heart of silence, is formed the nexus of all other activity. He has given numerous concerts, lectures and meditations in the US and several other countries, and since 1970 has conducted twice-weekly peace meditation sessions at the UN and, recently, a weekly session at the US Congress.

In art, Sri Chinmoy's understanding of contemplative experience takes form in primarily non-figurative, abstract works that best convey the freedom of spiritual perception. His paintings are named by him in Bengali "Jharna-Kala," or "Fountain-Art," indicating that they sweep forth spontaneously from intuitive insight like a fountain. Although working independently from the mainstream of modern art, he has nonetheless achieved a similar stylistic abstract vocabulary. Moreover, these Jharna-Kala paintings have no preconceived form; instead they "occur" at the moment the brush or sponge hits the canvas. They are never retouched or added to. By mixing the paints directly on the canvas through a scumbling effect, he preserves the spontaneous immediacy of transcendent experience as it takes form through paint.

It is important to understand Jharna-Kala as Fountain-Art. The paintings do not occur as individual works of art, but as an integral part of the fountain-flow. Sri Chinmoy prefers to exhibit many paintings simultaneously so that the viewer can be inundated with this flood of paintings. As they are created by a sweeping forth, the viewer is likewise swept away by an "assault" of painting after painting.

Although Sri Chinmoy started painting in the late 1940's, he stopped for a period of nearly 30 years, resuming again in 1974. The development of Sri Chinmoy’s style was then rapid and intense, forming over a period of just a few years.

His initial drawings were simple marker studies, bright and vivid. They have an endearing, childlike quality that touches the heart of the viewer, bringing forward the viewer's own childlike qualities.

Sri Chinmoy's first experiments with paint were soft suffusions merging water colours that lend atmospheric fulness to the paintings, creating a sense of presence and hovering forms. They recall his paintings from the late 40's, which were representational, but gave the impression of hovering shapes and unearthly luminescence. Even then he was able to capture a palpable, nonphysical but transcendent light that became a major characteristic of his later works. The subjects are animals, figures, birds and landscapes. The drawings are never of any particular place, and are minimally drawn on white backgrounds. Only a few carefully turned strokes are necessary to create an a work full of character and life. The landscapes and flowers are painted with colours that are not descriptive per se, but evince the feeling of a fresh new world.

After completing over a thousand works, Sri Chinmoy started painting full abstractions. He arrived quickly at his mature style — fluid movement that effects simple joy. The paintings are uncluttered, unlaboured. Jharna-Kala offers a freshness and newness; it is uplifting and elevating. Joy, generated from within, is painted without any representational reference. In the world of pure abstraction, of pure form and pure colour, Sri Chinmoy's inner freedom speaks out strikingly.

With progressive experimentation using first pens and markers, then pastels, crayons and finger paints, Sri Chinmoy arrived at his preferred medium, acrylics, chosen for their translucent brilliance and plastic ease. He tends to use related colour combinations, although he will choose unusual opposites with stunning effect, and employs all the colours of the spectrum. Although his paintings can be subtle, they are never muted. Rather, they vibrate with glowing colour. In Jharna-Kala colour breathes, emitting a tangible light

In search of a diversity of forms, Sri Chinmoy developed an array of painting instruments. These include sponges cut in a variety of unusual shapes and wands wrapped with cotton and other materials. He uses all sizes of commercial brushes, ranging from fan brushes to house-painting brushes. The sizes of his canvases range from tiny frames of just a few inches to huge mural-size paintings. The bulk, however, range from 9" by 12" to 30" by 40". A further addition are the "calendar paintings," using paper with a printed blank calendar format with either 35 sections for days, 12 sections for months or 4 sections for the seasons.

What characterises these 140,000 works of art? The many thousands of paintings actually occur in series. Sri Chinmoy will follow a particular theme — a certain shape, brush stroke or colour combination — and may do dozens of variations on this theme which then form a series. Then within each series there are many delicate and subtle changes.

One style is to use rich dabs of colour, creating paintings where the paint is so thick it retains its natural sheen, like a lush jewel. Brush strokes become orbs of colour, full and ripe. The effect is paintings that resonate a sense of completeness and satisfaction.

In contrast, over time Sri Chinmoy's handling of the paint becomes more deft and subtle, creating works of exquisite delicacy. Brush strokes become less like jewels and more like flights of colour — loose and ethereal. Their weightlessness resonates with elated upliftment, as of wings of light.

When Sri Chinmoy began to experiment with sponges, he would combine several colours on a single sponge, varying their thicknesses and streaking the canvas with multicoloured movement. As the colours blend, they merge into new and thrilling gradations that generate light from within.

Regardless of the kind of brush stroke employed, the paintings all tend to spring outwards, as if impelled from within. There is frequently an upward movement in each of the strokes, conveying a sense of spontaneous delight in the very act of creation. Some shapes are billowy and comical, others are serene and subdued. Uniquely cut sponges will create a specific form or, when applied in successive strokes, will follow the form of the sponge, thinning out as the paint is used up. Sri Chinmoy will also trail the sponge in long, meandering lines, particularly in the larger paintings as he curves the sponge leisurely across the canvas.

Hence, composition becomes the intuitive interplay of light and colour rippling across the canvas. Unstructured skeins of colour flow outward as Sri Chinmoy follows an innate guide, resulting in springboards of colour bursting into form. Some compositions are contained, dense and compact; others are sweeping, expansive and loose. Some are two-sided compositions; some are concentrated in a corner, spreading outward. Some fan all over; still others are wandering lines.

Above all, Sri Chinmoy's love of simplicity predominates. The drawings are open and clear; there is no complexity or fragmentation. Clarity is their main strength. They stand out with an extraordinary immediacy — they seem to "happen" without any struggle, they exist without any belabouring, they grow and breathe as naturally and spontaneously as life itself. There is no conscious artifice, no calculated design. And they work.

(by Upasana Y)

Wonderful world

Jharna-Kala is a wonderful world. When you see Sri Chinmoy's paintings on display, you are simply overwhelmed by the abundance of colour and design. Individually and collectively, the paintings convey the artist's confidence in his vision. You know or sense that each design, pattern or space was not created by chance, but rather by inspiration.

Sri Chinmoy says of his art: "The way people see my paintings entirely depends on the consciousness of the viewers… But, in my case, if I have to be the judge of all my paintings, then I will say that they have a childlike tendency… Maturity is there, but from the highest spiritual point of view, this maturity is all simplicity."

Each artist has the responsibility to create art that is true to his vision. There must be a sense of timing, a sense of truth, proportion and, of course, satisfaction. The artist lives with the hope that each viewer will experience that moment of creation, the intimacy of the vision, the satisfaction in its manifestation. Ultimately the artist hopes that the painting will have a positive, lifelong effect.

Sri Chinmoy, first and foremost a meditation teacher, has found in Jharna-Kala a means to convey and share his meditative experiences and elevated states of consciousness. Even more than most artists, he hopes that his paintings will have a transforming impact on the viewer. In fact, that is the only reason Sri Chinmoy paints at all.

Like an old friend, Jharna-Kala has no barriers or secrets. You are immediately taken into its confidence, and it into yours. There are no doors to open — only a vastness to explore and a joy to be felt with the heart.

(by Pulin Sumner)

The Venezuela Experience

On Sunday, 8 July 1984, the museum doors of Maracaibo's Centro de Bellas Artes opened to present its newest exhibition to the Venezuelan public. Jharna-Kala, Fuente de Arte, was being exhibited for the first time in Latin America.

The beautiful museum, resembling New York's Guggenheim Museum, had been decorated for the occasion with touches of India, a decor which proved elegant in its simplicity. It served as an appropriate introduction to the flood of Jharna-Kala colours which touched every wall. A gracefully curving rampway led from the bottom to the top level of the museum, where clusters of colour and joy seemed to dance in natural sunlight from the overhead skylight.

The inevitable reaction to such an exhibit was the heart's feeling of oneness, peace and joy. In anticipation of this, one part of the museum had been decorated to resemble a temple, where the viewer could go to make contact with those same qualities within himself. Here was an opportunity to absorb the peace of Jharna-Kala in an eastern ambience surrounded by a dancing figure of the Hindu goddess Kali, the artist's haunting music and the smell of incense.

Jharna-Kala was explained to the public as divine art, created solely for the purpose of giving its peace and joy to the art-lover. Those who understood its divinity were profoundly moved. Others were able to perceive this at various moments when their minds were not asking too many questions. But everyone, on this special opening day, felt that they were in a special environment, a refuge of purity and peace.

This was evident by some of the many positive comments recorded in the guestbook on 8 July:

"It inspired a deep inner feeling."

"It could not be better."

"Beautiful, inspiring peace and love."

"Beautiful art."

"The art, the ambience are a road to achieve peace."

"Infinitely beautiful."

"Fantastic movement."

In addition, every local newspaper covered the exhibition with an inspiring picture-review.

Once the exhibition opened, the month of July quickly flew by. Each day was on experience of discovery for all who come to view the art. As the museum contained a large public auditorium, every night of the week the halls were filled with people attending the ballet, the Maracaibo Symphony Orchestra and many graduation ceremonies. The Jharna-Kala exhibit was able to offer its beauty and peace to hundreds and hundreds of people who otherwise might not have had the opportunity to come to the museum.

Only five days earlier, the museum stood naked and empty. Its graceful lines were cold and lacked movement and colour. Suddenly, like a dynamic snowball, three of Sri Chinmoy's students come to Maracaibo from the New York winter to begin work on the exhibition. Under the amazing talent of Shivani and Dhurjati Mueller, the transformation-snowball gathered momentum. The New Yorkers — Shivani, Dhurjati and Barada — were joined by Sri Chinmoy's Venezuelan friends and students, including Aurora Saavedra and Victor Virla for day-into-night sessions of planning, building, cleaning and framing. The workers were often joined by the museum's Assistant Director, by members of the Maracaibo Symphony Orchestra and just by interested people stopping by. When only one day remained until the opening, it seemed humanly impossible to have all the paintings mounted by the next morning. But thanks to the patience and perseverance of the museum's mounter, Mr. Antonio Inciarte — who worked 24 hours to assemble every painting — the miracle was completed.

The art seemed to emanate actual waves of peace and happiness so that everyone who entered the museum felt something spiritual. Actress Lupita Ferrera, who had starred with Anthony Quinn in his films, came to visit the exhibit and said that the paintings gave her more peace than she had had in a very long time. John W. L. Russel, the United States Cultural Attache in Venezuela, visited the exhibit and said that he wished he could own all the paintings.

On 29 July the exhibition of Sri Chinmoy's 75 paintings and drawings closed. A special function was held for the public, complete with a vegetarian meal and a selection of Sri Chinmoy's music played by the cellist of the Maracaibo Symphony Orchestra, St. John Maber. The taking down of the paintings as the last person left the museum was sad not only for Sri Chinmoy's students but the museum staff as well. But although Jharna-Kala had to go back to New York, its message of love and peace had penetrated deeply the hearts and souls of many, many wonderful people in Venezuela.

“I am a sea of consciousness vast. I shall sweep you away in my tide, my colour-current, and wash you up upon the golden shores of Infinity, the shores of your own inner Reality.”

— Sri Chinmoy

(by Barada Weisbrot)


CKG is the artistic pen-name of the Indian yogi and mystic Sri Chinmoy (Chinmoy Kumar Ghose). And if it seems unusual to find such a man in the art world, then that very paradox is what makes his art such an exciting development. For behind his art is the profoundly vast and ancient tradition of the East, yet his work has on appeal which is wholly contemporary, completely fresh.

His paintings, in fact, represent an entirely new genre. (Yogic art, perhaps?) And, recognising this, he has given them the name Jharna-Kala, which is Bengali for Fountain-Art, art stemming from the source, the fount of creation.

Thus, while his paintings might bear comparison to Tantric art (translating the flow of life-energy into colour and form) or to the art of the Mandala and the Tanka (harmonious form as an object for concentration and contemplation), at the same time there is a freedom here, a gestural dynamism with similarities in technique, say, to 'action-painting' and Abstract Expressionism.

This need come as no surprise though. As the art critic of the Sunday Telegraph painted out in writing about an exhibition in London of CKG's paintings, the modernist, abstract movement, from Kandinsky and the Blaue Reiter group on, owes much to Indian influences.

Behind CKG's art is a harmonious and consistent philosophy, but his approach is far from the overcerebral reduction of art to what Tom Wolfe has called "the painted word."

Vibrant with life and colour, his paintings depict realms or 'worlds' which Sri Chinmoy enters during meditation. It is not 'religious' art in the traditional sense of the term; the paintings are not about religion; rather they are visual expressions of a truly mystical experience — the perception of reality as a continuous, harmonious flow.

As artist Paul Jenkins put it at a Jharna-Kala exhibition in New York, "What's here is an abundance of colour, abundance of images, abundance of things that go through your mind when you meditate."

Speaking of the same exhibition, T. J. Bergen, Secretary of the American Contemporary Artists Galleries, commented, "There's nothing static about these works. There's an organic, biological flow. It seems electrical. Instead of seeing the world as a concrete solid body where things are separate, Sri Chinmoy sees the world as a unity where all things seem to move together. The paintings are physical manifestations of his inner meditations, a reflection within the optical spectrum of what he perceives inwardly as a real, living experience. They show a higher level of consciousness."

Perhaps the most remarkable feature of CKG's output is its sheer volume and the speed at which he works. During one period of several months he was averaging 100 paintings a day. This is a function of the yogic powers he brings into play when he paints, the intense focus of concentration. And to demonstrate still further, in November 1975 he painted for 24 hours straight, completing some 16,000 pieces! In order to accomplish such remarkable feats, he says he quite literally creates time. He is not speaking metaphorically. Observers who were present spoke of his hands being 'a blur' and were not quite able to believe that what was before their eyes was actually happening.

Apart from the speed at which he works, the aspects of CKG's art which have most impressed critics are his unique use of colour and the unity of composition which he retains even in the largest and most complex canvases.

One of his large paintings, the 12' x 27' "Larger than the Largest," was praised by Henry Geldzahler, then curator of the 20th Century art collection at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. Indicating the canvas, he said, "Picasso said you have to know when to paint and you have to know when to stop painting. This one is amazing. One universe; compact."

Another of his large canvases, the 13' x 25' "Journey's Battle-Victory," was specially commissioned for a display of 'billboard art', exhibited in conjunction with the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Artist Paul Whitehead, who organised the exhibition, said that CKG "took the show into another realm, a whole other light." Speaking of CKG's use of colour, he went on, "It was almost vibrating. I looked at it and there were areas my eyes almost could not see. I don't know what it was. I can only talk as an artist — he put certain colours next to each other and the fact that they were on a white background made them appear as if they were vibrating. There is a great vibrance there. I can only think of it in terms of the fact that it was done in such a short span of time. It definitely comes off, comes off the canvas."

A unique film was made of CKG at work on this canvas, and it provides a valuable insight into his approach to the process of creation. Clearly painting, for him, is an act of meditation. The process is completely intuitive. He prepares himself by meditating, then draws on a deep inner wellspring, that 'fountain' of creative energy. In his own words, he "devotedly follows a streak of light."

His own comments on this remarkable process are reminiscent of nothing more than the writings of Paul Klee. Klee wrote, "The creative impulse suddenly springs to life, like a flame, passes through the hand onto the canvas, where it spreads farther until, like the spark that closes an electric circuit, it returns to its source: the eye and the mind."

Sri Chinmoy's response to this creative impulse is one of wonder, but also of gratitude and humility. The artist, he says, is a channel, a "mere instrument." And here again it seems worth quoting Paul Klee at some length as he expresses this same realisation. Comparing the artist to a tree, Klee wrote, "From the root, the sap rises up into the artist, flows through him, flows to his eye. Overwhelmed and activated by the force of the current, he conveys his vision into his work. And yet, standing at his appointed place, as the trunk of the tree, he does nothing other than gather and pass on what rises from the depths. He neither serves nor commands — he transmits. His position is humble. And the beauty at the crown is not his own; it has merely passed through him."

Klee himself was the most analytical of artists, and his expositions on the nature of abstract art demonstrate a subtle, clear and powerful intellect at work. Yet it is not fanciful to suggest that Sri Chinmoy, entirely intuitive in his approach and not in the least analytical, might almost be said to embody the theoretical precepts which Klee outlined in his philosophical lectures. For Klee was supremely aware of the importance of the intuitive, the transcendental, the magic and the mystery of art.

"Chosen are those artists," wrote Klee, "who penetrate to the region of that secret place where primeval power nurtures all evolution. There, where the power-house of all time and space — call it brain or heart of creation — activates every function; who is the artist who would not dwell there?"

Sri Chinmoy, CKG, on the strength of his meditation, has penetrated to that "secret place,” the reality behind the shifting surface of forms, the realm in which, to use his own words, "The eye of vision knows the many in the One and the One in the many."

[by Alan Spence. Alan Spence is author, poet and playwright. Former writer-in-residence, University of Glasgow.]