While I was traveling in India I in the late 1990’s I came across an amazing artist. Saroja Nagarathnam was a legendary artist from Chennai that created amazing portraits of divine Gods and Goddesses using 10,000’s of tiny mantras to color in the portraits. I had seen her works of Gandhi and Lord Ganesha and I had an idea to create one for Bhagavan Sathya Sai Baba.
India’s Calligraphers paint their artistic works with words, endowing images with sacred sound and significance. It’s an art married to discipline, and at its highest form transcends both A single work can take several years of 1–12 hour days, and not surprisingly there are few practitioners of this almost extinct craft. They use mantras and slokas as other would apply strokes of brush. The greatest one I found in the late 1990’s in a tiny second floor studio overlooking the bay of bengal. Her name was Saroja Narathnam.
She was an unassuming Madrasi woman which belie her exceptional skill and devotion. Every line and shade, every nuance of her art is created by patiently scribing, with an old fashioned quill pen and colored inks hundreds of thousands of sacred syllables, so miniscule they are barely visible to the unaided eye, yet fully legible with a magnifying glass. The mantra basis of her work makes it suitable for worship, just like a stone or bronze image.
They call it “Bija Mantra Art” –Part painting and part calligraphy, Its one of India’s unique contributions to Sacred expression, and it has precious few masters.
She had done many paintings of many deities including Ganesha, Gandhi, and Subramanuniyaswami. When I first approached her with my idea of a painting od Sri Sathya Sai Baba, she told me she first had to pray on it and ask her guru. Weeks later she came back to me that she had received the OK to proceed. Over the next year she created one of her largest masterpieces, measuring 4 feet by 5 feet. I wanted a little baby Krishna at the feet of Swami since that is my dearest deity in my heart and my name Kannan – is a name for Krishna in the south. The result was spectacular.
In the particular painting, the divine names and mantras and thier placements are as follows:
|Placements||Sacred Names and Mantras|
|Sai Baba and Padukas||Om sri Bhagahwan sathya Sai Babaya Namah|
|Baby Lord Krishna||Vasudeva|
|Sri Sathya Sai's Throne Floor and Hanging Carpet||Sathyam, Sivam, Sundaram|
|Background Wall||Om Sayeeshwaraya Vidmahe Sathya Devaya Demahe Thano Sarva Prachodyaath|