Monday, September 21, 2020







It was N S Bendre, the doyen of modern art in India who took G R Santosh under his tutelage when he arrived at Baroda in 1954 on a scholarship granted by the J&K government. It was Bendre’s teaching that exposed young Santosh to many forms and genres of modern art including cubism, surrealism and abstractions. At Baroda, Santosh also learnt the technique of colour application to create luminosity on canvas. Starting his journey with a deep fascination for Cezanne and the Cubist treatment of his canvases, Santosh did some wonderful landscapes, portraits, ink sketches, pencil sketches, pure abstracts and figurative abstracts. He also drew many impressive portraits, especially of poet Dina Nath Nadim, artist Triloke Kaul, Sharon Lowen ( Odissi dancer from the US) and Yashorajya Lakshmi (wife of Dr Karan Singh). He also drew some self-portraits in the moulds of Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali. However deep inside his heart, a yearning had already taken birth to arrive at something that was rooted in his land. Some fringe elements of this yearning can be seen in some sketches or paintings of his early period.


Suddenly, something strange happened in his life. A visit to the holy Amaranth cave of Lord Shiva in 1964 was a great turning point in his art. Santosh describes this spiritual experience as under:-


 “I was overwhelmed by a joy that I cannot describe in words. I wished I had wings so that I could soar like a bird all around and absorb all this purity in me, to wash away all the stains of my inner self. I felt that the Supreme Lord, in the form of Shiva, was divulging his ever-benevolent presence there. The next night was spent surrounded by the mystique of the full moon over Panchtarni, the meadow of five shimmering rivulets. And finally, the cave revealing the majestic crystal white ice Shivaling. That was spectacular. The fluorescent light emitting from it was heavenly...... After I returned from the Amarnath Yatra, a distinct change came in me.”

( Source: ‘ A Monograph on Writer, Poet and Painter, Ghulam Rasool Santosh’ by Padamshri Pran Kishore Kaul published by Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi )


After he visited Amarnath Shrine, Santosh did some serious work on Swayambhoo Sri-Yantra that he found on ancient Shila inside Chakreshwari Shrine at Hari Parbat, Srinagar. He learnt the Sharda script and kept visiting Shaivacharya Swami Lakshman Joo and Prof T N Ganju to study some ancient scriptures, Shaiv Darshana and Rishi Vasugupta’s Shiv-Sutras. In his monograph on the artist, Padamshri Pran Kishore Kaul writes that during this period, Santosh practised meditation, took Deeksha from his spiritual Guru and got engrossed in creating a world in which one sees, through line and colour, the countless manifestations of Supreme Spirit embodied in the union of Shiva and Shakti. This was the period when Santosh moved permanently to geometric forms of the ancient Indic civilization and became synonymous with the school that came to be known as "Neo-Tantra". And from 1964, we find 'Sacred Geometry ' appearing in his work.




The terror unleashed by the Chinese communist authorities upon Tibetans in 1959, which drove the Dalai Lama and other religious leaders into exile in India and the west, provided the world with first-time access to the mysterious traditions of Tibetan Buddhism, paintings and sculptures. The sacred paintings and metal sculptures that the fleeing Tibetan refugees brought with them had esoteric symbols and elements of Tantra. Later, the Tantric teachings of Tibetan Buddhists in exile found a receptive audience among the avant-garde artists from the western world, many of whom already had long-standing interests in Hinduism, Zen Buddhism and other Asian spiritual and philosophical traditions and beliefs. The western world identified this new tradition with Sexual liberation, mysticism and countercultural movement. The western world tried to use Tantric art to fill the spiritual and cultural vacuum created by world wars, machines and runaway technology. The post-war American painters Ad Reinhardt, Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns have referred to their indebtedness to the universal and timeless aesthetic of Tantric Art.

In her article on Neo-Tantrism, cultural journalist, Rebecca M. Brown wrote that "the ‘Neo-Tantric’ art movement looked to Buddhist and Hindu Tantrism for its esoteric, abstract symbols and re-made this Tantric language into contemporary Indian Modernism. Neo-Tantrism appealed not only to Indian contemporaries but also to western audiences, as it represented an ‘authentic’ art form that escaped purely formalistic aspects of 1960s western art."




In India, it was Dr L P Sihare, the then Director General of the National Gallery of Modern Art who coined the word ‘Neo –Tantra’ to describe the work of some artists who were inspired by the sacred geometry of Tantra and used it on canvas. And KCS Paniker ( 1911-1977 ) was probably the first artist to use these symbols, forms and elements in his work “ Words and Symbols “ that he exhibited. S H Raza (1922-2016 ), the doyen of modern art was also fascinated by Tantric symbols and forms and so were G R Santosh (1929-1997 ), Biren De ( 1926-2011), Sohan Qadri ( 1932-2011 ), Mahirwan Mamtani ( born 1935 ) and many more. Raza, Santosh and Sohan Qadri moved to this elite group in the sixties of the last century. These artists represented a movement that began in the 1960s in which a new turn towards finding a universal visual language arose in modernist Indian art through an engagement with the geometric abstraction of Tantric Yantras and Mandalas.


What sets G R Santosh apart from others in the Neo-Tantra tribe is the overwhelming influence of Kashmir’s rich Shaiv Darshana or Shaivism on his work. This influence makes him unique and the foremost artist of this genre. Quite often he comes up with an abstract human figure that is central to many of his paintings done in Neo-Tantra style. This figure may appear like Yogi in deep meditation. It may look like an abstracted Ardhnarishwara representing the union of male and female energies or what is generally known as Purusha and Prakriti or Shiva and Shakti. There are intricate geometrical formations surrounding this torso in Samadhi or Padamasana. The divine colours that illuminate his canvases, leave a soothing visual impact. His paintings done in the Neo-Tantra genre are deeply rooted in the indigenous identity while simultaneously appearing like modern abstractions. 


Inspired by some deeply personal and spiritual vision, Santosh’s art appears to represent evocative responses to an inner transformation. His Neo–Tantric art is also an attempt to illuminate the link between an individual and the Brahmanda ( Universe ). Looking at the meditative art of G R Santosh, a serious viewer is inspired to introspect upon his place in this Brahmanda or cosmos. He becomes doubly sure that he is a part of it and can’t act, think and live in isolation. He may accept the idea of everything being premeditated or a quest may drive him to look for something that may have been left out.

About the Neo-Tantric art of G R Santosh, Shantiveer Kaul writes this:- 


“ Viewed from a certain perspective most of Santosh’s Neo-Tantric paintings look like stylised portraits of the female form, seated in Padmasana ( the lotus position ). This is no mere coincidence. There is a definite suggestion of the female torso in the placement of geometric elements within the composition. This stylisation is symptomatic of the devotion of Santosh to Shakti, the Divine Mother. Santosh wrote Shakti Vichara in 1980, a long poem in the hallowed tradition of the epic Bhavani Sahasranama, dwelling exclusively on Shakti in her various manifestations.”

                                                  ( Source: ‘The art of G R Santosh ‘ by Shantiveer Kaul )




Created in luminous colours that are radiant and unique, the paintings of G R Santosh have Bindus, triangles, circles /Mandalas, squares, semicircles, oval shapes, hexagons, Yantras, Lotus flowers and other geometrical formations surrounding a torso in Samadhi or Padamasana with waves of clouds. What do the geometrical formations in his art represent? Let us examine some features of his Tantric geometry.


A Bindu is the centre of the Brahmanda or the cosmos. In Tantra, it is symbolic of both Shiva and Shakti. A Bindu is the source of creation. According to Tantra, all creation is preceded by Bindu, the focal tension which becomes the centre of everything.

A circle represents the Brahmanda or the cosmos. This circle can be referred to as both Prakriti, or nature, and the Brahmanda, the circular world of the Brahman ( ultimate reality ). The circle also refers to the horizon or the world we live in. A circle is a symbol of a deeper connection of the self with the universe.

A triangle with an apex upward is Purusha or male or Shiva. A triangle with an apex down facing the earth is Prakriti or female or Shakti. A Kali Yantra, for example, shows only downward pointing triangles, because, in Kali worship, nature is the ultimate reality before which man has to surrender. Shiva Yantra shows only an upward-pointing triangle. In a Sri-Yantra, there are four upward triangles but five downward triangles. Five represent Shakti or female strength and point down while four point up and signify Shiva or male strength.

A square represents the space charged with spiritual energy. The outside of a Yantra often includes a square representing the four cardinal directions with doors to each of them or four gates, one in each of the cardinal directions. They are known as cosmic doors because it is through these gates that the aspirant symbolically enters the Yantra. The square can represent basics, structure and balance. It can represent the four main directions; north, east, south, and west. The intersecting squares create Ashta-Kona or eight corners, the eight-petal lotus. The eight-petal square around one circle and within another circle is one more common feature of all Yantras. Sometimes the Brahmanda( cosmos, is also represented by drawing a square in a circle.

A rectangle is very important in the ancient Shilpashastra (iconography). A worship place has an Antarala or vestibule that is always rectangular. This is the foundation of the temple architecture or the space leading to the inner sanctum sanctorum. It is the first spot of Dhyan Yoga or the first place for a serious worshipper to arrive at.

An oval shape ( Sanskrit Andam or egg or symbol of fertility and creation ) symbolises fertility, creation and the genesis of life. According to the Chandogya Upanishad (3:19), in the beginning, there was nothing when the primal egg (Andam) manifested. The Vedas declare that creation began with the appearance of a golden cosmic egg (Hiranyagarbha) in the ocean of life (Prana). Symbolically, the egg constitutes the womb of the universe from which everything originates.

A Hexagon is created when two triangles penetrate each other. It symbolises the fusion of polarities, the union of Shiva and Shakti or male and female. This union is the cause of the manifested universe. As the hexagon is found throughout nature, organized religions insist it is a symbol of harmony and balance.

The lotus flower is also visible in many Neo-Tantric paintings of G. R. Santosh. Though the lotus is associated with Brahma, Vishnu and Lakshmi, in Tantra, the lotus is a symbol of the expanding consciousness. This expansion ultimately dispels the dark clouds of ignorance and brings light and radiance. The lotus flower represents the highest level of consciousness in search of enlightenment and purity. Padmasana (the lotus position) is assumed by those determined to reach for the ultimate highest level of consciousness which can be found in the lotus chakra at the top of the head. It is also the normal pedestal for divine figures in Buddhist and Hindu art.

The Cloud patterns or wave patterns in the Neo-Tantric art of G R Santosh may represent Param-Gyana ( supreme knowledge ). These cloud patterns are also seen in the 'Buddhist Thangka Art'. It is found throughout Buddhist imagery or from Thangka to wall paintings /murals in monasteries’.The Param- Gyana clouds are intensely visible in the upper part (mind) of Santosh’s paintings when an abstract image is shown in Padmasana. In some paintings of Santosh, these clouds also move like waves near the Chakras of an abstracted human figure in deep meditation. 

Apart from geometry, Santosh also uses luminous and radiant colours to represent his Tantric imagery on the canvas. The colours used by Santosh are like Mantras that have their interpretations. Red or the colour of Shakti, is also the colour of sacred Agni (fire). In Tantra, it is oriented towards the ecstatic experience of the divine union of the male and female principle. Similarly green symbolises life and happiness. The white colour symbolises peace, truth and purity while the blue colour represents vastness and depth like the blue sky and the blue ocean. In Tantric art, white colour is also used to describe a spiritual path which incorporates meditation, breath work, sounds, and postures. The colours perceived by the human eye result from a very narrow range of light waves. The entire scale of light's radiant energy is not visible as colour. In tantric thought, a wider concept of colour also exists in which every vibrating sound has a certain colour. 

Apart from painting, Santosh wrote short stories, operas, dramas and poems. If his paintings represent spiritual verses on canvas, his poems also represent canvases in spirituality. Invoking Shakti, the supreme power that keeps everything in constant motion, evolving and destroying, Santosh muses:-


“Light manifest, truth revealed O Shakti,

 You are the axis of time and space,

 You are the infinite revealed in me,

 You are the field of love and action,

 Consuming universe back unto you.

 Every flowing stream of nectar,

 You are dispelling darkness in me.

 Every spreading primaeval sound,

 You are my mother; 

 you are Bhawani, O Shakti.”

                                  ( Translation from Kashmiri by Padamshri Pran Kishore Kaul )



                            ( G R Santosh with Germany based artist Mahirwan Mamtani )

( G R Santosh)

 Apart from many honours that came his way, the Government of India awarded him a Padamshri in 1977. In 1979, he won the prestigious Sahitya Akademi Award for his Kashmiri poetic collection ‘Besukh Rooh’. There is hardly any art gallery in the country that does not own his work. His work is also on display in many art galleries across the world. It is also auctioned by reputed art auctioneers the world over.

On his death, Shanti Dave, his friend and well-known painter said , “I have lost a brother. He kept on painting till his last. It was because of his courage that he alone took Tantric art to its pinnacle.”




( Avtar Mota )

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