"Fables of a charmed fabulist"
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
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
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
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
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,
‘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 zen poet Basho
The passionate Sufi saint Bulley Shah
The Madhubani folk artist, Ganga Devi
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.