Navratri: Reddappa Naidu’s deities


Think meditation, think temple traditions, the power of the ritual, the understanding of a goddess being akin to a relic. Throw in the education of algebra and geometry and logic -you get the deeper sanctum of abstraction and then look at the goddess -you get the Deity series of a brilliant artist from South India belonging to the Madras School called Reddappa Naidu.

There is very little written on Reddappa the artist who decided to zone in on deities and create a stellar abstract series that echoed the voice of balance and harmony born of the inner spirit. The first time I saw Reddappa Naidu was at Taj Mahal Hotel in Mansingh Road in Delhi at a suite in which my cousin Nina Pillai was staying.

Tangible to intangible

This Deity image was of a Durga created with a darkened countenance but you could clearly make out her vahana the lion and the hands. Reddappa divides the space on the frame in order to create his own dynamics of transforming the tangible goddess into an intangible abstracted form that hints and whispers the esoteric elegance of the goddess.

Scholars state that tangible gods/goddesses are deities that can directly interact with devotees and can act more like individual characters in your setting. The repetition of the chant, the repetition of the image both become important characteristics in the moment of combustion. Reddappa uses the physical form to create his own island of transience. Its almost as if the Deity exists in her own space within the mantra of her own magic.

It is the many horizontal planes that fuse to become one that speaks to us about the ethos and the essence. Take Reddappa’s second deity image Goddess Invincible 1956, which was sold at Pundole’s as part of the Glenberra Museum Sale. This oil on canvas laid on board is yet another beauty. Interestingly Raddappa’s Deities were abstract but in a softly surreal way. Josef James in an essay states:

‘He is engaged with the concept of space. Reddappa Naidu in his ‘Deity’ pictures interprets space as that which is permeated by the presence of an anthropomorphic divinity… he has begun to see space as that which a live being is one with. This state of oneness has a perfectly spontaneous inner formation which provides the ground for all that is present and possible.’ (Joseph James, ‘Metaphysical Content in Recent Contemporary Indian Painting’, Lalit Kala Contemporary 12 & 13, April-September 1971, p. 31)

But these two Deities possess more than just a divine dignity, they have an established alignment, a passionately powerful personality, and other individualised character traits. This second work is embellished within the structural frame of a decorative arch as well as tiny mirror bits on the dress. Reddappa brings alive the seamless spirit that dwells between tangible and intangible shores. If the first image is a colourative contour with tiny triangles as an adoration of an aura the second is more solid colours of blue and scarlet.

Mystic and magical

Scholars state that inspiration for tangible gods derives from hero/heroine myths found throughout world history. In these stories, a hero (or a group of heroes) manages to defeat a great evil, survive a perilous journey, or learn some moral lesson through the aid and interference of gods. Indian mythology is as popular as Greco-Roman mythology, such as the legend of Hercules or the Iliad and Odyssey epics. In Indian mythology -the gods and goddesses of the pantheon, Durga takes on an evocative and motive saga in the battle between good and evil. Durga is worshipped particularly during the time of the Navratri festival and Reddappa’s Deity images brings Durga alive.

Reddappa also draws our attention to the

the fact that while science is an invention of the West, to the same extent that meditation traditions come out of East-mathematics is as old as the Vedas, as old as Indian history. And abstraction in art is born out of the mathematics of the mind. Reddappa suggests that there are many gods and goddesses but it is the spirit that sustains the power of manifestation of a goddess. It’s like the genre of birds or rocks or species.

There are different kinds but there is also a rock-like feature or a bird-like ascension or uplifting quality. In creating a Durga out of the contours of his own abstraction Reddappa plays with scattering as well as focus of contours and colours. He personifies symbolism onto tiny elements, he believes in imagined physical incantations and translates them into islands of spirituality. For him, his belief in the ritual of prayer and the goddess was an instrument for understanding and communicating abstraction. Then Durga is not a moral, not just a metaphysical being but an immortal, mystic, spiritual signature.

Reddappa connects Hinduism as a secular religion that emphasizes the connections between the unique nature of all things good and evil, gods and goddesses, contrasting paradoxes that unite the world rather than divide. When we study the abstraction in both these images and look at Durga’s darkened countenance and appreciate the abstraction we realise that the god-worship mindset is not orthodox, in fact, it is more adaptable and more amenable to the dictums of knowledge and modern-day standardization procedures. This is why the greatest scientists in the world have been believers of Durga too.

DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.

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