Essay by Jyoti Murray as part of Contextualising Practice course.
This essay discusses my current practice that investigates the subtle body as a spiritual-physical system via the framework of Tantra Yoga and Hindu mythology. The inspiration that fuels my jewellery and object designs is the esoteric realms of spiritual awakening, ritual, and symbology. The subtle body is what animates us and sustains the physical body, and without it we would be a corpse. This enigmatic life force takes center stage as I attempt to make the invisible, visible while also examining the ancient practices of sacred art and goddess worship in an attempt to explain their various occult symbology.
The subtle body was visualised by the ancient adepts in Yoga through deep states of meditation. They identified an intricate network of pathways which transports prana, our vital energy that lays within the physical body and beyond it into our auric field. The Sanskrit name for these pathways is ‘nadis’ which translates to little rivers or streams. It is commonly agreed there are 72 000 nadis, an example of this can be seen in maps of the nadis, (link to image of maps of the nadis). They are transparent and run through all matter of our tissues (Saraswati 1984), three of these are supreme; Ida, Pingala and Shummna, which are located within the spinal column (Feuerstein 2000; Frawley 1994; Saraswati 1969). It is through the Shummna channel that the great goddess, another name for Kundalini, arises and pierces the chakras. The chakras are located from the base of the spine to the top of the head, and they are often depicted as a lotus flower with varying numbers of petals. Through austere practice and ritual one can stir and arouse the dormant energy of Kundalini which is described as a coiled snake at the base of the spine. Once awakened, Kundalini ascends to the crown of the head and the one thousand petaled lotus at the crown blossoms. This is described as blissfulness and a higher state of consciousness (Frawley 1994; Greenwell 1990). Included within the subtle body are the five koshas or sheaths these are annamaya kosha (physical/gross body) pranamaya kosha (energy/vital body), manomaya kosha (mind/ego), vijnanamaya kosha (higher mind/intellect) and lastly, anandamaya kosha (bliss body). It is worth mentioning them as it is within these layers of the individual that we carry propensities and karmic imprints from past lives that steer us in either a positive or negative direction consciously and unconsciously (Greenwell 1990). It is because of these limitations and blind spots within our personality that every effort is made to mitigate and transcend them summoning the aid of deity worship, ritual art and various other austere rites to dissipate as much karmic bondage during this lifetime (Frawley 2006; Kinsley 1997).
Ritual art and deity worship is complex and includes the use of mantras, objects and symbols used as part of daily meditation as reminders of the divine. One powerful tool that is commonplace in Hindu and Tantric households is the yantra. The yantra is mounted within a sacred place within the home, it is a visual tool made up of sacred geometry including specific colours corresponding to a specific god or goddess. It is used directly to guide the devotee during meditation with the supreme purpose of awakening consciousness (Jamme 2011). This repetition and regular interaction forms a symbiotic relationship, a transmission of kinds. This invisible exchange strengthens the charge between both, until they become one (Mookerjee 1998). Within my practice of making and creating I have been heavily influenced by yantras and the reoccurring symbols of the lotus petals and the inverted triangle that is strongly associated with goddess energies and spiritual awakening as seen in Transformation (Figure 1), (Kempton 2013; Kinsley 1997; Mookerjee 1998; Saraswati 1984). Part of my practice for Fine Art Studio 5 required us to make a book and make an entry for fourteen days with the theme of creative habit. I intuitively drew my own interpretation of the yantra and intentionally made it into a contemplative practice. Creative habit is the impetus and seed for my research project discussed here.
The lotus flower is a symbol that represents spiritual awakening, a magnificent flower that begins its life in dark waters and moves upwards towards the light. It’s blossoming on the surface of the water without a speck of mud symbolizes the seed of potential within each person regardless of an individual’s circumstances. Just as the lotus is rooted in mud we can harness our challenges, converting them into a type of compost that will transmute us into a radiant and enlightened being (Mookerjee 1998). Goddess Lakshmi is closely associated with this flower, she offers boons for prosperity, love, homelife and radiates beauty (Kempton 2013). This motif of the lotus flower is important to me and continues to reoccur. With respect for its meaning and this long-standing connection to Eastern religions I have been searching for a way to incorporate it into my jewellery in a considerate, contemporary, and reverent way.
In my drawing titled Transformation (Figure 1) the feminine form is both in bondage and liberated. A snake like arm entwines her waist and at the same level a lotus flower has sprouted from her navel. Both snake and the lotus are symbols of growth and change, like the well-used metaphor of a caterpillar within its cocoon dissolving into a near death formless, soupy substance to reemerged as a butterfly. I liken this to the similar process towards spiritual awakening and the cosmic cycle of life; birth, sustaining and death. From the micro to the macro everything is in constant flux and we must learn to surrender to what is beyond our control and allow these challenges to permeate and fortify us, despite it feeling painful and gritty at the time. These universal challenges affect each person at different stages throughout life. The desire is to celebrate these transitions and provide a conversation in my jewellery where the materials used encourage the viewer to read the works in a deeper way.
As I further pursued the theme of change and growth, I become interested in the process of ecdysis when a snake sheds its skin. Shimmer, (Figure 2) is my interpretation of this; a celebration of this change and the discomfort that happens when we extend ourselves. We can feel raw and vulnerable through that process, as I imagine a snake does after it reveals a tender new layer of flesh that will need to acclimatise. We need the capacity to have strong faith, and lean towards something challenging – this is using the mud as compost to enrich us. It is at these times we can reach for a tool that emboldens, superpowers and defends one from unfavorable circumstances such as the talisman. The talisman has a specific purpose to act as a protector, opposed to that of an amulet or charm that is carried and used to attract positive qualities and boons (Paine 2004). Shimmer (Figure 2) is that little piece of armor to wear over the heart, to cultivate an openness to life and courage.
The delicate and ephemeral nature of the nadis is at the core of my research archive and is titled Narratives of the Subtle Body. Through a range of materials, I have been looking at how to represent the invisible nadis and chakras. Mind mapping helped me locate some key themes to integrate including, movement, luminosity, flow, and transparency. I came across an interesting connection to the nadis via Svoboda (2022). He tells the story of Lord Krishna who is one of the most revered gods in India. Krishna is often depicted with ‘gopis’, his milk maidens, who are devoted to him eternally. This esoteric meaning comes back to the subtle body and the awakening of Kundalini which informs my work. Krishna is the soul located at the third eye, the space between the eyebrows and the milk maids are the nadis. In Hindu mythology Krishna is said to disappear and abandon his devotees so that they maintain a supreme longing for him, to always seek him out and continue the journey of transcendence and spiritual awakening (Mookerjee 1998).
Inspired by this story of Krishna and his milkmaids, I wanted to demonstrate their mutual and eternal bond and further explore representing the nadis. Figure 3 shows a collection of samples whereby I have tested a range of materials inserted into clear tubing. The tubing material reflects a pathway and conduit that is filled with another material. A chain is repetitive, interlocking and worn around the neck. The region of the neck is associated with speech and the use of divine words which activates the Kundalini energy (Svoboda 1993). In the process of making a chain, the experience can be transformative and become both a meditative and ritualistic practice. Neckpiece #1 (Figure 4) is comprised of a transparent heat shrunk tubing filled with a lustrous silver yarn. This neckpiece is extremely lightweight and communicates a celestial quality. Sterling silver links are disguised amongst the tubing which elevates its value and adds further meaning for me about the material world. It speaks to what we see and how we view the world and is an exemplar to remind us that it is often a restricted perspective. Similarly, this piece invites you to take a deeper more insightful look to see past the mundane shrink tube and see the beauty within. Through this act of making a chain you can express the interconnectedness of the nadis and the bondage of devotion. Conceptually it suggests that the chain is of a continuous nature and could go on forever. Vanamali (2013) emphasis that we are linked with every other living organism and by developing benevolent qualities and helping each other, acting for the common good we are paying off karmic debt, everything is connected.
In the chapter titled The Transcendent Body, Holcomb (2018) describes a treasure of precious gems, diamonds and an array of gold jewellery all donated as offerings to the bronze images of Shiva and his consort Parvati that are housed within the Chola royal temple in Tanjavur, India by their devotees. The continuous presence of these offerings gives physical purpose to the metaphysical. This unshakable belief in the gods and goddess is real and meaningful and situates these gods and goddess as having a place within the material world of the devotee. It further demonstrates the goal and aspiration for spiritual advancement via tending to the invisible and unseen.
To conclude, my endeavor is to further understand the many intricate nuances in Indian religious philosophy and use that to better inform my artistic oeuvre. Jewellery is more than adornment and a symbol of status, and my practice investigates ways to communicate something that is challenging to comprehend and present a visual representation of the subtle body for contemplation. Just like the close collaboration of Krishna and his gopis, Mookerjee explains that through ritual acts one is continually recharging with their primary deities’ powers. Their unwavering attention, the accumulative effort of regular worship, piece by piece will merge and transform the understanding, removing the metaphorical dust of what is skin deep, to reveal the true nature of that which is the supreme.
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