“Shanta” – Peace begins with You

Greetings from The Art Dungeon!

Before I embark on today’s blog post, I want you all to sit back and relax your bodies, minds as well as souls. When you become absolutely still and quiet, you will be at peace. When you are at peace, you become so full that you are empty.

Didn’t quite make sense? Let me explain. I am referring to the second rasa in my Navrasa Series, namely, “Shanta” Rasa, which will take you into a world of deep calm and tranquility. So let’s get the ball rolling and commence our journey!

“Shanta” means to be peaceful, tranquil or contented. It represents a state of calm and untroubled steadiness. Shanta exhibits complete harmony between the mind, body and universe. It is what Buddha felt when he was enlightened, thus leading him to salvation or nirvana which freed him from the cycle of life and death. It does not require an absence of activity or emotion; rather it is the stability that comes with the true experience of peace, which can be carried anywhere, while doing anything. It holds in itself non-violence, as well as equanimity (balanced peace).

Equanimity is the ground for wisdom and freedom and is the protector of compassion and love. While some may think of equanimity as neutrality or aloofness, mature equanimity produces a radiance and warmth of being. The Buddha described a mind filled with equanimity as “abundant, exalted, and immeasurable, without hostility and without ill-will”.

Shanta is a rasa that is simple in its physicality but profound in the feelings it can evokes. All of these feelings together constitute Shanta. Buddha centralized the role of suffering in transformation. For Him Shanta represented the space of Enlightenment and He is one of the most beautiful archetypes of this rasa. Vishnu’s archetypal physicality of reclining on the ocean nuances surrender a bit differently as a restful but aware observer of the universe. For Him ‘suffering’ does not exist because He has no expectations.

Acting in surrender is central to Shanta and all other feelings go towards creating this state of submission. Surrender is an active, committed and empowered feeling where one has the ultimate realization about life being transitory and impermanent.

Shanta is the state of freedom from everything, be it worldly desires or actions. Its foundation is patience, service-mindedness, philosophical knowledge, self-control, pure spirits and freedom from all kinds of bondage. Its key note is non-violence or “Ahimsa”. If Shanta rasa has to be depicted through facial expressions, it is expressed by keeping the face in a peaceful expression or with the eyes turned upside as if doing penance and also by half closing the eyes.

The purpose of recreating this rasa is to depict the attainment of detachment from everything (or “Moksha”) and salvation. This is the representation of contentment or aesthetic bliss. It is experienced through the attainment of knowledge or the realization of truth, practiced through self-control & meditation and generates feelings of calmness, purity etc.

As this rasa represents serenity and peace, it is a state of calm and unruffled repose that is marked simply by the lack of all emotion. Sages in India meditate for entire lifetimes to attain this state of being. Shanta rasa is symbolic of the clearest form of aesthetic bliss and has been described as “as-good-as but never-equal-to the bliss of Self-realization experienced by yogis”. In music, it is often represented through a steady and slow tempo.

Shanta is a clear and cloudless state.
Shanta is untroubled steadiness.
Shanta is the key to eternity.

As mentioned in my earlier blog post, Indian art is based on the ancient aesthetic theory of rasa which, by extension, refers to   the ‘essence’ and emotional qualities crafted into a work of art (or a performance) by the maker and to the response the contemplation or perception of the artwork evokes in the viewer, in other words, it is a viewer-response theory. That is the reason why in Indian paintings and sculpture a narrative mode predominates – a narrative gradually unfolds over the area of a painting or the length of a wall or even building.

The aesthetic application of Shanta rasa has been caught in the woodcraft of Saharanpur, a city situated at the Ganga Yamuna doab region of Western Uttar Pradesh, one of the famous Indian states for craft. The significance of this rasa is based on the visual perceptions of the individuals. Some motifs found in nature are eye-pleasing such as when a person sees the moon at night, he or she feels calm and peaceful. Shanta rasa is a reflection of the still mood so the application of auspicious and sacred motifs in woodcraft conveys the message of calmness and softness. These motifs create a spiritual atmosphere in nature. Auspicious motifs and geometrical structures also increase a calm and peaceful environment for the spectators such as Kalasha, Swastika and jali work with different geometrical shapes and forms.

In Indian art, the rasas become apparent, for example in the colour in which a certain deity is depicted which hints at the predominant character trait associated with this deity, or in the colour of the aura of a person. For instance, a black aura indicates a frightened person, and a red aura indicates that the character is angry. The god Krishna, who is the archetypal lover and hero, is always depicted with a blue-black complexion and yellow garments.  The color of Shanta rasa is white.

So how did I depict Shanta rasa? For me, this rasa defines the ultimate desire that we all are striving for and that is the desire to attain Peace of Mind, which is also the title of my second painting of this series.

As I had mentioned earlier, one of the core elements of Shanta rasa is non-violence. But like peace, violence also takes shape in the mind. As our mind jumps from one thought to another, its gets lost in the chaos created by doubt and fear emerging from continuous speculation and contemplation on these thoughts. Our narcissistic nature (believe me, we all are to some extent!) and our ego cannot accept any suggestions or situations that go against us and the fearful demons of ambiguity and worry  give birth to some very violent ideas.

These ideas that happen unconsciously and against our will, are facets that we dislike in ourselves as well as in others. Thoughts spill over into words and actions and lead to stresses and strains both physically as well as emotionally. The random comings and goings of stressful thoughts wreak havoc in our consciousness.  Our thoughts and impulses are the result of impersonal conditions but by taking them personally, we become uneasy which leads to upheaval in our minds.

 Another cause for mental turmoil is our tendency to judge people by their actions and not for who they really are. This particularly applies to our loved ones. If their actions do not agree with us, we overlook their true nature which eventually takes a toll on our relationship with them. Consequently, it strains our emotional faculties further, thus adding on to the stress. There comes a time when our mind becomes a mangled array of stressful thoughts and worries. That is when we start to yearn for peace and order.

With all the advancement of science, no remedy has yet been found for lack of inner peace and tranquility. Often, even when we are in good financial condition or good health, we lack peace of mind, which only proves that peace of mind does not depend on external conditions or on any scientific or technical progress.

But how does one attain this Inner peace? How do we acquire that peace of mind that we are desperately looking for all around us? The solution to this dilemma lies within us, not in external means.

 “There is nothing permanent but change.” This famous quote by Heraclitus holds good in this context as well. We need to realize that everything changes and we can’t hold on to anything, so the mind needs to stop clinging on to its emotional baggage and learn to let go. Letting go brings equanimity; greater the letting go, deeper the equanimity. Once equanimity is achieved, peace and tranquility follow.

To depict the mental commotion, I have personified them in the form of the branches of a tree that keep growing and spreading until they start encroaching on our intellect. I found the perfect medium in the form of a hot glue gun to execute this effect. The thermoplastic property of the molten adhesive worked like magic! I went on to personify the thoughts as well with….you guessed it! Birds!! This being a mixed media artwork, I have used a combination of acrylics as well as oil paints, the former for the branches, birds and sky and latter for the face and its backdrop. Once again, I chose to break the norm and opt for a color palette of greens instead of the conventional white that is used to portray Shanta rasa.

So remember, worries are like flightless birds entrapped in the cage of the mind….give them wings, set them free to soar away and find that inner peace you have been searching for far and wide.

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