Sunday, May 4, 2008

Radhika Priya

As I may have mentioned already, one of the features of staying in an ashram, really any ashram I guess, is that many interesting people tend to pass through. Even though this is now the slow season, as it is too hot for comfortable travel, it is still true. Another interesting feature here has been, I may add, meeting devotees who have somehow washed up on the shore of yoga and meditation, for whatever reason that may be.

Radhika Priya, in this picture with me and Vachanananda Swamiji, has been here for several weeks now, conducting her painting meditation workshops, about which I will say something below. She is from Budapest, Hungary, but escaped Communism in 1980, when she saw that any spiritual aspirations she might have would only be stifled in the "dialectically materialistic" world of Communist Hungary. Since she knew French, she went to Paris where she encountered Iskcon devotees on the day of her arrival and soon became a devotee herself.

Although she was already an artist, she was naturally coopted into book distribution and served in that respect until 1987. Her Iskcon name was Rasa-graha Dasi. When Bhagavan's star supernova'd, she left Iskcon and came to India and spent some time in Nabadwip with Sridhar Maharaj, where she received the Radhika Priya name. Her son Tibor also got initiated as Tirtheshwar Das. Somewhere in there she also did some work with Yogeshwar for his Iskcon children's publishing concern, Bala Books.

After this, Radhika went to pursue her artistic interests in Udaipur, which is the current center of Indian sacred or mystic art. She lived there for 10 years, taking initiation in the Vallabha sampradaya as a devotee of the nearby Nathdwar temple, where she studied traditional techniques as practiced there. Her art is in permanent exhibition in West Zone Cultural Center in Udaipur and some of her paintings are with the Indira Gandhi National Art Center collection in Delhi and the Maharaj of Kankroli in Baroda.

She has published several books of her art, of which possibly the most important is the Madhurashtakam, a meditation on each word of Vallabhacharya's famous poem. She also did a series of paintings on the Ramayana, based on the seven chapters of Tulsi Das's Ram Charit Manas, which has been published in Hungary.

A recent book of Hungarian folk legends has been illuminated by her paintings, and it is really this newer work, which is a mixture of Indian and European sentiments into a more nuanced and yet still fairy-like other-worldly quality, that I like best. Unfortunately, the book cover shown here gives only a bare hint of what is inside.

Over the past several years, Radhika has been having a great deal of success holding workshops in a kind of "Vedic Art," in which people come and color and decorate pre-prepared yantra designs of the seven chakras. This is accompanied by lessons on the Sanskrit alphabet, particularly the matrikas, which are generally used in tantrika meditation. This appears to be quite a popular activity--the students are encouraged to repeat the particular bija mantra associated with the chakra as they paint the yantra with the appropriate colors. It is called "guided meditative creativity." A check on the Internet shows that this has become a relatively popular yoga-related activity around Europe and America with several people conducting workshops of this type. She will giving workshops in Firenze (Italy), Lausanne (Switzerland), Paris (France) and Glastonbury (U.K.), over the coming months. [If anyone is interested, contact her at this address.]

Radhika's website is currently down, but I give the URL anyway and maybe it will be up soon and many of these paintings will be visible there. We are thinking of collaborating on some projects in the future, as I have a number of translations that are looking for illustrations. So, the Lord willing, this will move ahead in the coming year.

She is good friends with Baijnath Aryan, curator of the Museum of Folk and Tribal Art in Gurgaon whom I met through her. She also visited Thailand, Singapore and Bali to learn other aspects of Asian art.

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