Studios of Devotion – A short film

At the heart of every story is a question or series of questions – the roll of any process be it film making painting or any other art a form is to unravel what these question are.
In our film – one that looks at the practice of devotional art in India – in the 21st century ‘questions’: What is sacred art, What is devotional art (is there a difference?) – can either be practiced within ‘our time’?

Traditionally, devotional and sacred art are by definition ‘timeless’, both as principals exist outside and therefore, not constrained by, the ‘times’ or world we live in. It suggest that our world is ‘actual’ not the ‘real’. Our current ‘state’ – is but ‘Maya’ – illusion – a mere reflection of a true reality that is veiled behind the mundane world we live in. As is taught within the Bhakti tradition of north India – enlightenment and ones true realization is sort through ones work – devotion / seva (or service), be it painter, poet, carpenter, one simply does the work as a form of devotion – often this entails making something beautiful. The means becomes the end in itself – for in our ‘actual’ world we habitually question beauty – we are told this in every sphere of life – however perhaps beauty is the answer, not the question.

So exactly how do Indian artists/craftsman negotiate this today within their devotional and sacred art practices? Not to mention their daily lives. Given the immense change that India is undergoing as it hurtles into the 21st century. India is now one of the fastest growing economies in the world. One would think opportunities abound as patronage shifts from temple and state to the middle class homes of metro centre India – Mumbai, Chennai, Delhi, Bangalore and Kolkota – how does this effect what is made and why?

This films looks inside the world of the devotional art to see how individual artist continue to practice, against this ever-changing backdrop of modern India. Our journey begins with real ‘backdrops’ or ‘Pichhavais’ the Hindi term used to describe the large cloth painting that adorn the shrine of Krishna in the temple town of Nathadwara Rajasthan. And what we discover may well surprise – after all how can we reach beyond the veil ‘maya’ unless we engage with the world around us – the ordinary and the mundane – for a ‘devotional artist’ the struggle to get from one to the other is the very essence of their work – their ‘sadhana’ – their spiritual practice.

Dr Desmond Lazaro
Pondicherry, February, 2012©