Saturday, May 7, 2011


Yantra of Green Tara.
So I had tea two weeks ago with my long-time friend Ekabhumi and caught up with him since he got back from India. He was there on a spiritual and artistic retreat (he is beginning to study Newari art, among other things). He is a student of tantra, a yoga teacher, and a fine artist and was able to combine these myriad loves into an awesome way of right livelihood: he is making sacred art for practitioners in his and related traditions.

These pieces of art, called yantras, are doorways. They are symbols of deities or planets or beings. They evoke their energy pattern- which most tantric practitioners will tell you is a more accurate representation than personified paintings or sculptures.

Each color, shape, quantity of shapes, and positioning of shapes means something specific, and the practitioner meditates on the image to learn more about or open themselves to that being or celestial body. There are yantras for planets and gods.

A blank gessoed yantra form.
Eka started making the yantras out of love and giving them to teachers and friends. People saw them, loved them, and now he is making them for a living! Now, he is swamped with good fortune (he started chanting to Lakshmi and wearing gold earrings last year- I bet that has something to do with it!), has more demand than time, and asked if I could help him. Heck yeah!

I used to make visual art myself, and Eka and I have been friends long enough that he knows this. So I showed up and was treated to some moving meditation, mindfulness, mantras, and craftyness- all in one task! First, he had me sand and gesso 12 or so blank forms. This is to prepare them for the design and custom painting.

While it sounds easy- just throw some white paint at them (!)-  it isn't. Making the yantras is an act of devotion. It is sacred art. And every step in their creation reflects this. When preparing the forms, you must be "clean" energetically and keep your mind still. As I sanded and gessoed several layers onto each form, I stayed present and did not allow my mind to wander to the umpteen million things I have to do, or thinking of my son, or writing my next blog post in my head. It was lovely to have this time to myself, actually. I have been looking for a new way to have a mindfulness practice- and I think that I have found it!

Our combined handiwork!
A work in progress.
In between layers of gesso drying, Eka had me start work on a Moon yantra. (It was Monday, after all- what could be more appropriate?) He has the traditional colors of each yantra tacked up on the wall, along with corresponding mantras for each yantra being made. As I painted gold outlines, I chanted, "Om Shrim Som Somaya Namah" over and over, which is a sanskrit mantra to the Moon.

The effect was interesting. I do not know Sanskrit, but I felt an energetic "latch" when chanting this phrase. Before starting the chant, I thought of the moon and its phases, I pictured the moon, and I tried to feel what it is like standing outside under a full moon. That was fine. but when I chanted the mantra, something "clicked". I cannot fully explain it, as the tradition is not mine. But my hand steadied, and I felt like I was being lightly ridden and guided. Neat!

On my second round of work yesterday, I sanded and gessoed again (ah, the blessed luxury of empty mind), and then worked again on the moon yantra. This time, I added texture with a hammer and small tool that made small round impressions when I hammered it into the wood. I created a pattern, somewhat like a Chinese checker board inside the points of the 6 pointed star. Once he paints over it with metallics, it will look stunning and rich with texture.

Have you ever made sacred art?

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are welcome but moderated. Please be respectful when leaving a comment.