Utpal Borpujari

July 12, 2009

K A Francis: Meditating on ‘Aum’

By Utpal Borpujari

His day job describes him as a senior journalist with leading Malayalam magazine Malayala Manorama Weekly, but Karathra Antony Francis has another identity that he would rather be identified more with – that of a painter specialising in Tantric themes and a researcher on the Vedic era sound “Om” or “Aum”. In fact, it is these twin passions that occupies much of Francis’ time, and the result have been some highly-interesting paintings, some of which were on view at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA) sometime back, and The Essence of Aum (Konark Publishers), a book that delves with what is considered in Hindu mythology as the first sound uttered during the creation on the Universe.

Francis, an award-winning artist, divides his free time between his two passions. But it is his recent book, based on years of study, that occupies his mind space currently. “I have studied this subject for the last 12 years. I have read many books and heard many gurus for this study.  Still my knowledge is limited and I could gather only a scoop of water from the vast ocean that is the study of Aum. I poured it on my forehead. For me, as a Christian this is my second baptism, and as a Tantric painter and a journalist it has been an investigative journey,” says Kottayam-based Francis.

It has been almost an obsessive pursuit for Francis as far as his study of Aum is concerned. And he offers his views on the subject, “We all know in the beginning there was sound. That is Aum. This is a pilgrimage in pursuit of the essence of Aum.  It echoes in every word that’s spoken in the world and not only in India – and in even every movement in the universe.  All sounds and movements start with ‘Aa’, move to ‘Uu’, and end in ‘Ma’.” In his book, says Francis, he is trying  to explain the spirit of the word, though “this is a difficult subject”. Francis says he read many books for his research, apart from listening to his gurus like Malliyoor Sankaran Naboodiri, the late G N Pillai and also Sri Sri Sri Ravisankar.

Om or Aum, he points out, is of paramount importance in Hinduism – “a sacred syllable representing Brahman, the impersonal Absolute of Hinduism — omnipotent, omnipresent, and the source of all manifest existence”. Referring to Kathopanishad and Mandukya Upanishad, Francis says Om is the eternal syllable representing the past, the present and the future in one sound. “Om is not a word but rather an intonation, which, like music, transcends the barriers of age, race, culture and even species,” he says. “During meditation, when we chant Om, we create within ourselves a vibration that attunes sympathy with the cosmic vibration and we start thinking universally,” he adds, going on to claim that the vibration produced by chanting of Om in the physical universe corresponds to the original vibration that first arose at the time of creation.

Quite naturally, the study of Aum is intrinsically linked to his other interest, that of Tantric paintings. As he says, “Tantra, in both Hinduism and Buddhism, is an esoteric tradition of ritual and yoga known for elaborate use of mantra, or symbolic speech, and mandala, or symbolic diagrams; and the importance of female deities, or Shakti. Tantric practices use both ritual and meditation to unify the devotee with the chosen deity. Tantric images have been appearing in Hindu Tantric texts since the 17th century. The goal of Tantra is to allow the practitioner to reach higher levels of consciousness, and finally enlightenment, through postures (asanas), gestures (mudras), mantras, breathing techniques, visualization, and codified meditation, necessary to reawaken the ‘kundalini’ energy,” he says.

As his paintings show, the images could be of a begging bowl, which in Buddhism signifies renunciation and surrender of ego and in Hinduism something carried by mendicants, or of “Vishnupadam” (Vishnu’s foot prints) which is advised to be kept in the prayer room in front of one’s house. His paintings of Tantric Chakras is a quest to understand the timeless wisdom of saints and mystics, says Francis. “The Chakras are sacred mystic figures in Tantra. They are powerful when drawn correctly and worshipped with piety. And this is not my personal opinion, but of those who have worshipped them,” he stresses. Among Francis’ other paintings are those depicting the Surya (the sun god), Vajra (depicting strength, beauty and power), Nagaloka (depicting procreative power) and the Mandala.

Francis says he has been studying Tantric art for nearly 40 years, starting with stints with gurus in Rishikesh and Haridwar.  But all said and done, he says that Tantric painting is not a creative work.  “We are narrating what the old masters have told us since ages about the Chakras in their original measurements,” says the painter who has won the gold medal for his work from the Kerala State Lalit Kala Academy.

(Published in Deccan Herald, www.deccanherald.com, www.deccanheraldepaper.com, 12-07-2009)

http://www.deccanherald.com/content/13160/meditating-aum.html

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