Upon checking my email during a welcome pause (art overload!) halfway through the epic show at the Met “Wonder of the Age: Master Painters of India, 1100 – 1900” I learned from my friend Susannah that this week marked 10 years of dedicated study with our favorite teacher of tantric yoga, Douglas Brooks. She reflected on it so beautifully. Thank goodness I have clever women in my life reminding me of important anniversaries. Do my wife and I count our elopement in Las Vegas at a drive-thru wedding chapel – or the private ceremony officiated by Douglas a few weeks later – as our wedding anniversary? Lucky for me it’s NEVER NOT a question. (That is to say… Always.) And so I start to pay attention to the dates well in advance.
Now this show at the Met was huge. And the works of art small. Any show where you get a magnifying glass with the audio tour is gonna be a compelling commitment. Towards the end of my experience it was all starting to wear on me. Another vision of Vishnu. Ho hum.
Then in one of the last galleries I saw the image above, “Shiva Descending Mount Kailash.” ca. 1800, attributed to Khushala. Shazaam. Wide awake. Mesmerized. Drawn in to this miniature world in ways that I hadn’t yet experienced with any other piece in the exhibit. The artist is from a long family line of great painters. His generation captured “masterly detail, dreamy lyricism and raw emotion” better than anyone according to the gallery guide.
Who are these strange celestial beings leading the way? Half men, half beast. Seeing them in person, they literally seemed to sing from the canvas. Actually, I did hear singing. Another moment of unexpected and wonderful insanity in the life of a yogi. Dreamlike lyricism indeed!
Thus enraptured, I observed Shiva, here as a very pale, ethereal and tender fellow. And I realized that this is a night scene. Forget Radha and Krishna in the luscious flowered forests by day, this couple clearly create magic by moonlight. Though impossible to see in this small image I lifted from the Met website, Parvati is done up in fine, luxurious detail: makeup, nail polish, furs. The fetching little leopard skin hat with orange tassels reminded me of the well-groomed ladies in head to toe mink one sees on the crosstown bus along 57th street in the winter here in New York City. Here is a lady who belongs in fur pelts as her birthright.
They just look so comfortable in their roles, leading a motley caravan of strange and extraordinary beings down the mountain. Though the central and largest figure is a man honoring them with a humble bow to their feet, the experience of seeing this picture live doesn’t create any clear focus on him. It’s almost instead like he’s a quiet void in the middle of the work. The artist is saying, sure, you can do that (Shiva and Parvati’s expression toward him are more bemused than anything) but truly, it’s more fun to participate in this circus with eyes wide open. I for one wanted to get into the conga line in the foreground.
If YOU want to join the conga line with me, and enter a richly beautiful lineage of yoga, join me for my Tantric Yoga Vision Quest. We’re gonna have an amazing time. The gods of yoga welcome you to see all the world as art when you learn to see the world through their eyes.
PS – A WASH is a White Anglo Saxon Hindu. “We’re a happy little cult.”