art historian

Sidharth, it seems, is aware of the long and rich tradition of Baramasa poetry, those wonderful series of paintings whether from Rajasthan or the Pahari region, folk songs on the seasons sung in the countryside everywhere. But in his own work, as he approaches the theme of the Baramasa, he prefers to plough a different furrow. There are no narratives, not even seeming narratives: in these paintings his intent is to take flight on the wings of all the sights seen and sounds heard in his growing years. In full awareness of all that is there is in the tradition, he moves into a dream-like state in this work: birds gather densely amidst tree branches as if to replace leaves; gentle forms glide in space to the accompaniment of soft-winged peacocks; clouds rumble as if making up their minds before bursting into rain. Yellows take on the aspect of burnished gold, reds are like silk dyed in scarlet with mallow juice, blues shimmer like lapis under the rays of a rising sun.

Ms. Sushma Bahl

Sidharth, a multi talented creative and colourful personality with a remarkably checkered career, has led a life full of turns and twists that make this born again artist’s story full of mystique, that gets mirrored in his art. Traversing from realistic figuration to ritualistic work, classical imagery to abstract installations, folk idiom to international contemporary sensibility, his repertoire includes painting, print making, writing poetry, composing music, singing, sculpting, calligraphy, drawing, filming and now a unique creative genre that is an assimilation of these varied streams. From humble beginnings as a child assistant to a wall painter he has turned out to be an internationally acclaimed artist exhibited and collected extensively.

The early track

The journey however has not been a straight forward or an easy one. When I first met the artist nearly three decades ago, he was still at Chandigarh, struggling to find his feet on a new ground of urban artistic practice and lingo. But for someone so deeply rooted in to the soil, putting behind the learning from real life until then, was not to be. Instead of flowing with the current, he changed it to suit his own philosophy and creative track. The work he created as a young lad working under various masters including wall paintings, murals, sculptures, portraits and installations using traditional and natural materials helped to sharpen his academic skills in working with pen, pencil, water colours, pastels, oil, papier-mâché and tempera at a later stage in his career.

Some of the childhood learning and memories are replayed in his early work- such as the old havelis in charcoal drawings, the village festivities around Baisakhi in many of his paintings or the dogs that gave him company wherever he went in the series that he did during his lonesome days in Chandigrah. There are portraits of Sikh gurus including the one he made when just 8 years old, influenced by what he had seen at the Golden Temple Gurudwara when on a pilgrimage to Amritsar with his mother.

In the 80s and 90s he painted a large body of work in an amazing series entitled hop scotch that replayed his love for nature through his reinterpretation of the game he played as a child. Socio-political concerns such as the riots and violence of 1984 also featured in his work. The series of multimedia installations in the rag ball series recalled his childhood memories of working with his mother. But what followed in neti neti, or neither this nor that series, was about his philosophy of meditative life and an egoless spirit. The germination of his interest in natural elements and seasons was perhaps a natural corollary to the series that subsequently followed as Panchtatva.


Sidharth seems to have found his nemesis in the vast and varied repertory around Baramasa or Baramaha that continues to resonate though his work. Rotating around the twelve months or seasons of the year, his ensemble in the series runs through most of his creativity of the last decade or so. In terms of its philosophy, aesthetics and matrix the work springs from the artist’s learnings of Guru Granth Sahib and other mystical traditions of the world.

Known for making his own colours, paper and canvases from minerals, vegetables and other organic sources, his fascination and study of nature gets variously reflected in the distinct- Rooh (spirit/mood), Rung (colours/flora & fauna), Roop (image/weather) and Rachna (life/creation), of each season. Depicting the changing pattern of nature and the physical landscape, it celebrates the changing seasons, time, mood and the resulting life pattern and consciousness. Mirroring the inner state of human mind corresponding to the changing weather it focuses on the continuum of life cycle: birth- life- death and rebirth in the series.

Starting with Chayet perceived as the time for harmony and renewal his canvases depict birds singing, flowers in full glory and the seeds taking roots. Baisakh referred to as Sona or gold is depicted as the season when life, death and rebirth happen simultaneously. Jaith which literally means ‘bigger’ is the season when the sun is at its peak closer to the earth giving us long stretched days of burning heat. The artist uses the metaphor of a herd of wild elephants to depict hot winds as the birds are shown to perch under the shades of the few firmly rooted surviving trees and when only the restless soul burnt with desire, be it for love or power, dares to step out. In Asaad which to the artist implies ‘asha hui’ he paints dark ominous clouds, suggesting that the Gods above will soon relent and shower the earth with blessings for life to flower again. In Sawan the divine rains bless the earth bringing nature and the habitat alive all around- with insects buzzing, lightening and thundering of clouds, peacock dancing as the earth and sky meet- like two lovers. The strong winds and pouring rain of Bhadon depict the season’s duality as the image resonates with excitement together with an uneasy feel of a lurking danger marked by lightening and fallen trees. Aasun that to quote the artist “says …come, listen, and quietly is a time for sthirta”, and calmness to search within.

Katake or Kartik with temperate weather- neither cold nor hot as the earth turns green and the sky blue –all clean and pure, is replayed as a season of resurrection, happiness and nirvana. Manghar- is time for story telling and home coming as the cold weather commences while Poukh with short lived days and nights long, is a time to hibernate and seek warmth. Maagh the month of rebirth is marked for the seeds sown to start sprouting in the imagery while Falgun as the lyrical month of colour, music and ecstasy when life blooms all around with flowering trees, singing waters, dancing skies and awakening of the soul.

The cow series

Retaining his distinct thrust for lyrical figuration in balanced compositions with fine textures and renderings in delicate palette, comes his current work with its thrust focusing on the cow. Instead of the human figure it is now the grace and beauty of the cow with its own character and compulsions that inundate his art frame.

Sidharth’s most recent muse the cow is a take off on the four legged creature’s place in Indian psyche, history, myth, celebration and reality. Regarded as a sacred symbol and a holy animal as Kama Dhenu- she is the nurturing, nourishing mother or wishing cow. Its male form the bull or Nandi is revered for its masculine powerful image as Lord Shiva’s vahan. There are numerous legends and creative expressions in Indian literature and art around Radha Krishna’s love stories set against a romantic landscape and playfulness of the occasion including Krishna’s youthful shepherding. Cow is also a symbol of compassion and feminine docility as perceived even today.

Dedicating the series to legendry Manjeet Bawa who mastered the art of painting cow in its myriad forms and romantic moods, Sidharth attempts to re-locate the sacred symbol into a contemporary context by placing it in today’s urban setting. All decked up but abandoned by the devotees, once she turns unproductive, the sacred cow is shown wondering through the city streets as a metaphor of diminishing compassion, disregard for the environment, prevalent hypocrisy and inaction of the onlooker in post modern India. The unconcerned gaze is explored in new series of paintings, sculptures and a short silent film that follows the holy cow in the urban jungle. Tiptoeing around in its attempts to survive on the cross roads amidst traffic, the cow is shown to engage in playful interactions of a different kind. Instead of gopis or gwalas, she is seen in the company of rag pickers or surrounded by cars and traffic. Meandering through the uncaring city and trying to avoid getting trampled over, she is obliged to live on heaps of garbage, chewing plastic instead of the green grass of Vrindavan!

What seems amazing is the artist’s ability to paint these two very different series in trademarks imagery in his inimitable style that makes it instantly recognizable. So what is this style and what are some of the recurrent features in Sidharth’s art? The section below is an attempt to explore and articulate some such strands that are distinctive of his art and aesthetics.

Recurring features

Using motifs from the Indian philosophic and literary traditions, folk culture, history and techniques in his own unique vision and in an androgynous form, the artist’s work evokes the spiritual. As extolled in Sikh, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Sufi and all other sacred texts it attempts to awaken the soul. There are celestial creatures in flying postures, with embedded images of nature, its flora and fauna in one form or another created with organic material. Meditative in spirit his oeuvre is pleasing and festive in a mix of earthy and bright hues. It is joyous even in its subtle forms and softer tones represented in a cohabitation of movement and stillness. The layered imagery is heightened with fine lines and scrapings in variable transparency and textures highlighting its links with folk and classical culture and traditional techniques in synergy with changing times. Though love is omnipresent in his oeuvre, there is no explicit expression of sexuality or man-woman sagas of love.

The most distinct feature of Sidharth’s artistic oeuvre is his figuration. Often lonesome and poignant, more universal and not culture specific, it is personified in a sphinx like androgynous form, dressed in long flowing robes, always nose less as is often the case with ancient statues due to ravages of time or human vandalism. Oval shaped face with beautiful lips and large dove like eyes, half open or closed, it adorns a silent look as if in dhyan mudra. Sitting or reclining or standing his figure set amidst nature comes as an assimilation of male and female, orient and west, sensitive and beautiful but not erotic. There are glimpses of Nanak or Christ or Buddha or a saint may be Sufi, Chinese or Japanese or possibly Madonna in a profile that reflects a peace of mind, timelessness, sublimation of the ego and a touch of the Tantric perhaps Ardh Narishwar. Placed amidst trees under the open sky it appears devoid of any past or future, pain or joy. Nothingness pervades the mood as the pristine simplicity and beauty of the form endows it with a Zen and weight-less, lyrical and spiritual, tender and vulnerable appearance and spirit.

Sidharth’s palette for which he searches far and wide, collecting natural pigments to make his own organic colours with minerals, vegetables, flowers, barks, fruits, plants, clay, chalk mitti and stones; is another distinguishing feature of his art. His palette in smooth silken brush strokes flows in a rhythm, like variations of a song or a rainbow, as composite creatures belonging to another outer world of his imagination emerge or hide through contours of the landscape of his canvases. Washing, grinding and mixing his organic finds painstakingly and lovingly, he toils to get the choicest colours and shades that befit his concept and imagery for each painting. His black comes from Petra rocks or lamp black, crimson from pomegranate seeds, blue and green is extracted from Indigo, mustard is used for his yellow while it is also extracted from urine of cows fed on mango leaves, orange from Mansal rock in Orissa, kirmach from Rajasthan while dusty and browns from iron oxides. Lapis Lazuli, Emerald and Turquoise stone are grinded to enrich the palette. There is also a liberal use of gold in his work that comes from Germany, Austria and Sweden, while a particular shade of green he gets from Tibet.

Besides the use of natural bounty, it is his ability to adapt traditional materials, methods and tools and re-work proven folk techniques of murals, thangka and miniature paintings to suit his contemporary style, that give his art its special appeal. He creates his own handmade ‘Wasli’ paper and canvas. Jute is soaked for weeks, then mashed and mixed with rice water spread on chhajli (sieve) before it is beaten into thin sheets and then layers are added to give it a desired thickness. The resulting paper is not only acid free but it also remains in tact for long period with no fading or dis-colouring. For binding he applies vegetable glues, gum Arabic and Neem seeds or juice of Bel tree that also work as preservatives. Chalk mixed in distilled water on handmade paper with a paste of ground stone, adds a jewel like embellishment and a distinct hue to his work with its special appeal and a personal touch that also retains a freshness and brilliance, meticulously matching the mood and mystique of the season or issue or story.

The artist is an engaging story teller and each of his creations is immersed in layered and folded narratives that try to evoke a long forgotten moment/memory or present a thought or an idea or bring up an issue confronting the individual or society. Each form or colour in his imagery has a story to tell and Kahania or baatan as he calls them reverberate through all his work. His motifs, metaphors and markings alongside the calligraphic writing, flora and fauna rotate around srishti and a play of the five elements or Panchtatva. Deeply rooted in its philosophical strand, the intrinsic merit of his narrative art comes from the heart. It brings forth contemporary concerns around human emotions and environment but sans any expression of alienation, imitation or malice.

Sidharth’s awareness of the global scene and his technology savvy streak also get reflected in his art. With his indefatigable versatility he dabbles with equal élan and interest in visual and performing arts and continues to experiment and search for more. His multi disciplinary open minded assimilatory approach involves using a range of media- painting, calligraphic inscriptions, gouache, drawings sculpture, installations, painted scrolls, design, architecture, literature, music, films and new media. It is his holistic integration of various styles, media and influences that churn out his unique form and oeuvre. This mix of styles and influences though occasionally criticized, in fact manifests his versatility and mature appreciation of each medium. The dynamics of human mind and natural phenomena that he has encountered and experienced in personal life, his studies and research over the years have all impacted on his art.

The born again persona

Winding back to the very beginning of the born again artist we encounter Sidharth nee Harjinder Singh nick named Cuckoo, a little boy born to a frail mother Rukmani Bibi and burly ghursaz father Jagtar Singh who worked for the local landlord. The middle one amongst six kids in a Sikh family of Gurbani singers with meager resources but strong cultural roots, he grew up in the interiors of rustic Punjab at Bassian pind near Barnala. With no schooling he led a carefree life listening to the melodious singing of Kabir, Nanak and Baba Farid’s religious songs. He loved helping his mother tend the animals and make papier mache toys and dolls for which they collected natural pigments from Sutluj and Bias river beds and the fields around. Sidharth and his siblings saw very little of their father who was often away traveling for his landlord master from one village to another.

The young lad apprenticed with several masters including Tara Mistry, from whom he learnt white washing, preparing and colouring walls, painting frescos and murals, working on bill boards and decorating doors and havelis. Wanting to expand his horizon, at 14, he left home and landed at Andretta in Kangra where he worked as an assistant to Sardar Shobha Singh learning portraiture and drawing. A subsequent chance visit to Mcleodgunj in Dharamshala saw him give up his Sikh identity and turn a Buddhist lama, living the life of a monk at Namgyal monastery, practicing meditation and learning Thangka painting. It was here that he was rechristened as Sidharth. Life took another U-turn for the wanderer when the restless soul in him decided to give it all up and return to his roots in the village. But rejected by the family, he found himself on the road once again that took him to Chandigarh. Given his resilient spirit and his quest for learning he joined the art college there for some formal training and gain respectability. In fact this hard working and passionate artist’s adventures also include a short lived experience in Sweden where he came face to face with western art and learnt glassblowing technique, before shifting his base back to India.

A chance assignment to design a house in Gaziabad near Delhi resulted in the homeless artist getting formally adopted by late Ram Kishen Das Bajaj and his family, moving into the very house he was designing for them. A period at Garhi Artists’ Studios in the city of working in lithography and etching was followed by a difficult phase of struggle at personal and professional levels. But given Sidharth’s ability to survive against odds and his commitment to art, he managed to emerge a winner. With a series of exhibitions to his credit and finally his marriage to Devangi and their life together now with young daughter Gaurja- it has been an incessant struggle at various levels for this born again artist and adventurous persona, before he could find a place for himself under the sun.

The maverick artist’s stints as a visualizer with an ad agency, then learning about miniature tradition in Rajasthan, craft techniques including paper making at the Crafts Museum, designing houses, studying and filming Indian classical and temple architecture, composing music- all manifest his commitment to art and survival instinct that make him a multi talented and born again artist. The large and impressive repertoire of drawings, paintings and now some amazing life size sculptures of birds and cows in fibre glass as well as his new media work in film and music shows a maturity of the prolific artist’s vision and the depth of his symbolic and allegorical visual language. Sidharth likes to chant and sing aloud while painting, which for him is a ritual and a meditative act. A master of many languages and scripts- Persian, Pali, Sanskrit, Swahili, Tibetan and Gurmukhi besides English and Hindi, he has also learnt calligraphy and studied astronomy and the solar system besides folk memory and tales. The strength of his work comes from his mastery of the philosophy, aesthetics and techniques of oriental art which he is able to assimilate comfortably with a contemporary sensibility and awareness and his versatile handling of various materials and matrix.

For some one who learnt to read and write at a much later stage in life, his in-depth research into Ayurvedic tradition, classical scriptures, studies of plants and insects, traditional methods of colour making seem very remarkable. It is his learning from life and self study of various philosophies and techniques that have sharpened his mind and helped shape his art. The artist and his art were the subject of an informal discussion that took place recently at the ArtsI Gallery when its dynamic director Mukesh Panika together with writer Namita Gokhle and I met up with Sidharth in the presence of a Darirc film unit and Manoj Tripathi Editor of the Creative Mind when the multi talented artist sang for us and talked about his work being incomplete without a number of other mediums, “Stories, poetry, music- all contribute to my aesthetics”. Admiring the neutrality and malleability of the gallery space, we discussed the importance of the vernacular. Also the need for an assimilation of the folk and classical with modern, a current running through much of Sidharth’s own creative out pouring.

The checkered life and predilections of this self taught highly driven artist, thinker, musician and kind hearted persona- born and reborn – from a vagabond to a Buddhist monk and finally an artist of international repute- seem to have influenced the metaphors of his art and shape his aesthetics that resurrect his amazingly varied personal experiences, his intuitive and humanist fortitude and spiritual bent of mind, crisscrossing many interesting turns and twists. As Sidharth’s insatiable thirst for learning and exploring continues to refine his form and technique, his art with its subtle quality, unique style, vocabulary and vision that echoes a Zen spirit, innocence, beauty and naïve romanticism will hopefully continue to augment its universal appeal.

(Ms. Sushma K Bahl MBE is an independent arts consultant, writer and curator of cultural projects based in Delhi. A trustee and advisory panel member of select few cultural and educational institutions in India and abroad, she headed the Arts and Culture Department for British Council India until 2003, was Guest Director for XI Triennale-India 2005 and has curated several seminal exhibitions on contemporary Indian art and authored/edited a selection of art books/catalogues.)

Ms. Shailja Vohora

Sidharth’s work is remarkably contemporary, yet inspired by centuries-old traditions. The use of natural dyes and colours are key to his art. His forms are derived from traditional sculpture and are very Indian in their essence.

He instinctively takes from the past, but refreshes his imagery with his own experiences and feelings. Sidharth is one of India’s most influential contemporary artists with an invaluable knowledge of producing traditional pigments as well as modern paints.

He is known for his use of vibrant natural colours, which he produces himself from various vegetable and mineral pigments. Sidharth uses pure natural mineral pigments, which can be found in soft stone or in clay. They are ground, washed and dried to make a powder pigment. He also produces vegetable dyes from extracts of roots, stems, barks, leaves, fruits, nuts and shoots of different plants, trees and shrubs. In total he has discovered over 150 dyes in the last ten years, and can create over 600 different hues and shades by mixing them with each other or with water. To fix the paint he uses an overcoat of linseed oil and paints it over with egg tempera, which is later glazed with a melamine coating.

In Sidharth’s own words: “Every painting has its own life, its own world like an individual, colours talk to me and they appear with different forms, they bring other elements to tell a story which then evolves into a painting! Colours have their own characteristics, landscapes and culture. One understands their history and symbols better when one knows their origins and source. Colours have a psychological impact on every individual in a different manner according to their geographical situation of culture and nature. Every individual is free to interpret a painting the way that painting talks to them.”

This is his first London show where he explores some familiar and some new territories. The five elements or ‘Panch-Tatvas’ are the inspiration,a thread that links the paintings on show with each other and with the artist’s intense and diverse experiences.

The Buddhas reappear as they have for several years in his work, but this time there is a more detailed almost Klimt-like rendering. ‘Whisper of the Storm’ represents the air element. The falling autumn leaves blow across the painting and giving it movement while the figure of the standing Buddha is reminiscent of the early Gupta period sculptures with its broad shoulders, half-closed lotus eyes. The meditative stillness of the Buddha juxtaposed against the detailed calligraphy of the background reflects the clutter of our modern world.

The smouldering embers of the ‘American Buddha’ brings together many elements of his previous works in a vibrant and exciting image. The blues and greys reflect the steel of modernity, with its complex multi- layered filigree of the elements. The bright, fiery banners, jewel-like flags and trumpets express the excitement of the city and amongst it all, the Buddha stands serene and calm, blessing us with his hands raised in the ‘Abhay Mudra’ gesture.

His hopscotch series and abstract hills come together beautifully in the image of ‘Ananda’ (Eternal Bliss). The young girl with her arms outstretched feeding the doves, emerges from a landscape of hills, totally encompasses the element of the earth. The magnificent deep shades of reds, yellow ochres and greens echo the vibrant Indian landscape.

‘Gagan mein Thaal – the Cosmic Dance’ with its graceful movement evokes the power and the playfulness of Shiva. The planets being juggled in space seem to represent the constant change of human emotions and the ebbing and flowing of life. His vibrant blues and greens of earlier works have now acquired a soothing note.

‘On the Ocean of Time’ is a complex work and marks the beginning of a new period in the artist’s repertoire. He derives his inspiration from traditional Indian miniature painting, but shapes it in a form that is uniquely his. His narrative exists on several planes in this particular work. The viewer is invited to journey with the travellers into a magical, mystical world, which exists within and without. Time seems to stand still and yet it is in constant flow like the ocean, which can appear still on the surface, but is brimming with life. The multiple layers of the image represent the pools of time formed when a pebble is flung into water. His love affair with turquoise, ultramarine and indigo of his earlier works are combined with warm earth tones to create a totally new experience that bring together all the five elements in a harmonious composition.

With Sidharth past, present and future coexist. He experiments with forms, images and textures old and new to tell his story, which is often closely linked to classical Indian literature, folk ballads, mythology, music and poetry.

His journey into mysticism began from early childhood. Zen, Sufism, Osho, Guru Granth Sahib, Tibetan Buddhism are the many facets of religious thought that have influenced him.

There is a very strong spiritual core, which is part of the fabric of his being and is reflected in all his paintings.

His work is sophisticated, yet intense …a rare cross-cultural success. Each painting has a very personal, spiritual experience for the viewer, which the artist hopes will lead you to your universal understanding of human culture.

Ms. Namita Gokhale

Sidharth’s paintings are surrounded by a subtle quality of silence. They communicate quietude and a sense of hard won peace. The artless harmony of his canvases is based on a subtle interrogation and interpretation of the color palette. The pigments themselves are picked and chosen from the most unlikely sources – black of rocks from Petra, crimson from the life blood of pomegranate seeds, blue, green and umber hues extracted from Indigo, Sienna from Katha, Indian Katechu. Pure natural mineral and vegetable dyes are ground, washed, processed to yield the essence of their hue and color. Painting for Sidharth is not a mechanical process of assembling and producing images, but a sacrament to give form and shape to spiritual yearning. Each painting becomes thus an act of meditation, a communication of grace.

The name, ‘Siddharth’ means, literally, ‘the accomplished one’. It is an attribute of the Buddha, a twice-born name wrested from circumstances. Sidharth is an artist in every mirror and aspect of his life. The metaphors and symbols which inform his paintings are retrieved and resurrected from the process of living, deconstructed from the seamless surrender of his extraordinary individual life-script.

Consider this. Born Harjinder Singh , in the year 1956, in Raikot, Punjab, in a Sikh family stretched for resources. His mother was a Gurbani singer, a creative if unrecognized artist in her own right. Sidharth writes evocatively of his mother wrapping cotton swabs around twigs to make a brush, painting on the terracotta bowls she had crafted. As a young boy, he learned the skilled art of creating murals and friezes from Tara Mistry, a skilled mason and master craftsmen of the area. Punjab is a land resonant with beauty, and one can imagine the colors of earth and sky and gold seep into the reworked surfaces of proud Haveli walls. He describes the procession of paintings over the walls, the roof, and every available surface. As an artist, he was heir to an intangible heritage of great antiquity, already accumulating a mastery over making color, assembling spatial harmony, creating and blending mass, color and form.

After some years, the adolescent Harjinder graduated from interning with the itinerant fakir painters of Raikot . He apprenticed now at the Andretta studio of Sardar Sobha Singh, celebrated painter and water colorist. Sardar Sobha Singh was skilled in western classical technique, and his iconic portraits of the Sikh gurus dominated have dominated the public imagination for generations. Harjinder’s new mentor lived not far from the Dalai Lama’s headquarters in Mcleodgunj, Dharamsala. This was the route the fates employed to transport the younthful Sikh painter-apprentice to the famous and revered Namgyal Monastery nearby.

It was here, in the tranquil environs of the lower Himalayas, that Harjinder became Sidharth, the realized one. At Namgyal, the acolyte trained in the esoteric art of Tankha painting. He learnt to mix color, to give line and shape to the unknowable, to think and dream of the Bodhisatva. To visualize Tara, to conceive Bhairavi, to paint the eye of the living Buddha and move in that moment from art to consecration.

Painting a Tankha is considered a realized form of intense Tantric meditation. ………………(Swedish girl) was another acolyte at the Namgyal monastery. The way of Tantra, the left handed path, invokes both yoga and bhoga, sacrifice and engagement. Together with …………., whom he decided to marry, Sidharth chose the way of the world. Together, they left the monastery and entered the real-unreal world.

At this point, Sidharth was only eighteen, his young wife perhaps twenty. He spoke no English or Swedish, she spoke no Punjabi. Yet Sidharth was, is, a garrulous man, the gift of speech and song and laughter comes to him easily and naturally. The couple left for Oreforsh, in Sweden, where ………………ran a gallery of contemporary art. (Ingrid?) lived with her mother , her cat Muller, and now with her new husband, the handsome Sikh turned Tibetan lama. In the brief summer months the Aurora Borealis can be seen from Oreforsh, and thousands of young people, artists and poets, converge there annually to celebrate the Northern Lights. For the boy from the Punjab, the land of the five rivers, and of the twelve seasons, this startling dichotomy of light and dark, winter and summer, provoked him to study and explore the secret patterns of nature’s nurturing. He studied the art of glassblowing , and familiarized himself with the idiom, metaphor and daily life of the western world.

But Sidharth’s homeland pulled him back, and his mother tongue, and the memory of his mother. He returned to his native village of Raikot. but was treated with hostility, suspicion and ridicule. His mother had died, there was nothing to hold Sidharth to his birthspot, and he moved on again, this time to Chandigarh, the new capital city of Punjab, so brilliantly conceived by Le Corbuseir. The strange fates that controlled his destiny now enrolled him in the College of Art. Here, his grounding in the traditional skills of the muralist and the monastic Tankha painters was supplemented by the technical and theoretical training in Fine Arts.

This then is the matrix of experiential training that has contributed to the unique style, imagery and subtext of Sidharth’s joyously silent vocabulary. The almost allegorical nature of his extraordinary life-story corroborates his technique and vision as a painter.

There are some primary metaphors that he continues to employ in his work. They are all drawn from the earth, and invoke her supremacy. Sidharth’s paintings are dominated by images of nature, her nurturing, her secrets, her paradoxes. Nature, the earth, Shristi, are personified in a sphinx like presence, silent eyes and a secretive half-smile, and a mask like reticence about the reality of the human nose.

Why no nose, I asked Sidharth, why this inscrutable sameness in facial characteristic? To which this large, friendly, gregarious man, (himself the bearer of a large happy nose) replied that the organ through which we breathe in and breathe out is but the visible symbol of our individual ego. Relinquishing the nose was a step towards the sublimation of the ego, sacrificing the nose is abnegating the self.

Philosophy comes easily to Sidharth. He was born into a religious Sikh family, in a Punjabi culture that had absorbed and internalized the deepest strains of Sufi mystic thought. At the Namgyal monastery, he was initiated into the rigorous mental, intellectual and physical discipline of the Tantric Buddhist school. In quick and unnerving sequence, he had intimately known the alternative lifestyle of European artistic circles through his time in Sweden. He fits in everywhere, belongs nowhere, and has graduated with honors from the school of life.

Symbols and metaphors are not overt presences in Sidharth’s works. They are markers, secret codes, private games, inner unravellings. The process of gestation, growth, nurturing, fructifying, and decay marks the movement of his paintings. Nature herself is sometimes a woman, often a tree, a bird, the earth. Like his birth mother, she is always strong, self-possessed, the constant conduit of grace.

The esoteric tantric discipline of Hindu and Buddhist thought attaches strong mystical and psychic significance to colors in relation to the chakras of the human body. Sidharth too believes in the power of color, and distrusts the dissociation from source materials of a consumerist society. ‘I have to search for my own colors, understand their origin, know the process of their manufacture. I have to establish intimacy and contact with my primary material’ he explains.

‘The computer screen contains a graded palette of synthetic color tones. This scientific arrangement is tremendously practical for the artist. I too have arranged my tools and materials, the paints I have created, in graded arrangements from one to ten. I use age old techniques of grinding paints , mineral, clays, vegetable colors, and traditional glues to bind them. Vegetation, water, earth and sky meet in my materials.

‘I remember my days at the Namgyal monastery. Lama Guru is grinding colors, roatating the pestle in the mortar, praying aloud.

‘Om mani Padme Hum !’
Mixing water, ‘Om Mani Padme Hum!’
Adding the gum ‘Om Mani Padme Hum!’
Affectionately taking colors in hand, looking at them with shining eyes. ‘Om Mani Padme Hum!’
Drawing a line on the surface. ‘Om Mani Padme Hum!’

In another context, Sidharth quotes the influences in his peripatetic career. They are, as might be expected, rather varied. To cite a few:

The Buddha
The zen poet Basho
The passionate Sufi saint Bulley Shah
The Madhubani folk artist, Ganga Devi
William Blake
Kahlil Gibran
Paul Klee
The classical Indian painter, Binode Behari Mukerjee

The Panchtatva, the five elements, are another primary motif of Sidharth’s work His passionate involvement with his base materials demands interaction with the elemental forms of colors, as does the use of handmade ‘Wasli’ paper from Sanganer in Rajasthan. The paintings created with this rooted-in-the-source methodology are not artifacts but homages to their own beginnings.

Currently, the recurrent theme and thread in Sidharth’s work is that of the ‘Baramasa.’ The twelve months, or the ‘RituSamhar’, the ‘Procession of Seasons’, are an ancient obsession with Indian writers , poets, and musicians. Each season in nature corresponds with the passages of the life cycle and human consciousness. In the …………….century, Kalidasa used it for his Sanskrit poems, ………….Jayadeva for the ‘Geet Govinda’. The Baramasa also remains an integral part of the folk and tribal consciousness of the Indian subcontinent. Sidharth knows the Indian seasons, he has caressed and suffered them in all their variety, the joy of Margasheesha, the awakening consciousness of Chaitra, the fury of the replenishing monsoon in the month of Ashadh. He has also applied painstaking and assiduous research to the subject, in the process resurrecting folklore from obscurity and possible oblivion. He brings tenderness to his Baramasa paintings, and an exquisite sense of detail, of authenticity that begins at the very base, with the materials garnered from the bounty of the seasons themselves.

Like the Baramasa, the cycle of seasons, Sidharth too is approaching the full joys of his maturity as a painter. The fruits of success, of fame and recognition, are within reach, waiting only to be plucked. Yet , as an artist, he is still, as always, searching.