The Tamala trees are clothed in the newly sprouted tender
Leaves emitting the sweet smell of musk.
The spread of golden-colored kinshuka flowers gives the
The impression that they are the radiance from the nails of Cupid who pierces the
Heart of young men – Gita Govinda
The epic 12th Century Gita Govinda poem by poet Jaidev was set in the season of Basant, the description of which expands to arrest the ethos of the season, “The southern wind vacillated a young creeper with blossom buds of mangoes, which appeared as if bent, like the practising dancers’ gesticulations which exhilarated the minds of even those who had overcome feud and the mischief of Cupid.”
A season of hope, love, and renewal, it echoes in the sensuous voice of late Girija Devi, “Basant ritu aayee…” O the spring has come, the gardens in bloom and flowers courted by bees. Basant or Vasant festival is associated with the Goddess of learning, the colours it represents are bright yellow and white and nature is on the threshold of maturing. These portrayals rooted in tradition led to investigate the manner in which metaphysical patterns evolve to create a drama of image making and manifest in creative processes located in contemporary time and space.
Rajeev Sethi, the iconic Indian scenographer says, “The inherent essence of Basant as a design concept is that of renewal applicable at any time. It is an idea which is both timeless and spaceless. I can imagine the colour yellow as the first ray of the sun after the long darkness. I fantasy the swaying mustard fields from where the green parrots fly out. Basant is a twinkle in the eye, figures of women weaving their way in those fields wearing diaphanous muslin dupattas flying to capture the ephemeral quality of the sandalwood winds. O Basant! an allegory of renewal and of hope.”
Residing in the beautiful but heavily polluted city of Delhi, contemporary artist Jayasri Burman as a concerned citizen associates Basant with the sentiment of hope. “I aspire to capture on my canvas the expectant pause that bursts into colours, to freeze the excited chirps of the birds that appear sweeter; my brush charting swirls that hold the path of romance in the air and the fragrance of flowers. Inspired, I will dabble my brush with generous tints of yellow and green and start with fresh blue skies. Thereafter, the characters of my story will keep joining the canvas to celebrate.” She recalls a verse from the Guru Granth Sahab – ‘All creation by devotion to the Lord is in bloom.’
For Arpana Caur, Basant is a splash in bright yellow amidst which are painted several intoxicated dancing dervishes who seem to move with renewed determination, exploring the expanse of the divine. She says, “Basant is renewal and rejoicing in God – He is the wonder of wonders, he who has seen Him alone knows the ‘rasa’.”
Season of threshold
The seeds lie in wait in winter and in Basant they burst to life an image perceived as a metaphor of a threshold. The entanglement of nature secretly begins to respond to fresh perspectives charting the rite of passage. Dancer Arupa Lahiry responds, “For me, Basant brings images of the first flush of sexuality on an adolescent girl’s body. I remember Tagore’s letter to Lady Ranu where he compared her half-girl, half-woman body to that of a tender fruit not yet fully ripe. The girl’s first menstruation cycle is like that blossoming “Polash” tree – crimson, vibrant and tender. The child-woman’s body shivers like the petals of a flower on which the bee descends for its sweet nectar. Basant is a season of joy where everything is fresh and new. Taking from my language of Bharatanatyam, I will want to present a composition called Alarippu (the flowering bud), the first piece in a traditional Bharatanatyam performance where the dance is just beginning to unfold, the mnemonic syllables or the shollukattus are naive, devoid of complexities soon to follow. Basant, for the student in me, stands with a fresh notebook, to record a time of hope and abundance and to write new poetry.”
Envisaging Basant, Kathak dancer Sangita Chatterjee responds, “Winter is a state of churning and meditative brought out by use of sitar where the rumbling tempo is produced in jor followed by jhala, a technical piece having no percussion but are rhythmically designed melodic techniques. Basant, in contrast, communicates flight. I can visualise the sounds echoing in my body, churning gradually to reach a point where spring emerges and the flight begins. I transcend to the space of Basant using the nine-beat rhythmic cycle tala Basant. Interestingly, the pattern of the cycle incorporates a saavaari, a rhythmic set of beats woven to depict as if the performer mounts on the rhythmic flow and is set to soar. I imagine with new eyes and awareness the world around captured in an ancient musical genre Dhrupad – Naval Basant, naval Brindavan, naval Kanha (the Basant offers novelty, where Krishna the eternal soul opens new paths of consciousness represented by the forests in Brindavan ).”
Her expression recalls the 20th Century Dutch painter Piet Mondrain who wrote that ‘the man of light will conquer the night.’
Master sculptor Sudarshan Sahu says, “For Basant, I will use the supreme Tenali stone, and will create the beautiful Damayanti decked with ornaments of flowers of spring, champa (frangipani), chameli (jasmine). She will be seen roaming in her lighted garden where the golden hamsa (swan) as the messenger of Nala, her love, speaks to her giving her hope to unite with him.” The love story of King Nala and princess Damayanti from the Mahabharat was a theme chosen by Sriharsa (12th Century) for his poetic work Naisadhacarita. All 47 painted folios on the subject are in the collection of Amar Mahal in Jammu.
A group of people in a village in Madhya Ptradesh dress in yellow attire and coloured headdress. They beat drums and celebrate Chaitra, the spring festival, swarms of green parrots fly out from a tree and painter Vijay Shyam Gond says, “The spring creeps slowly, our eyes follow the rhythms of nature as crops ripen, soon we will collect the crop and beginning now we perform the dance of renewal the Karma and the Sail. We offer seven leaves of seven trees representing seven nature goddesses in anticipation of prosperity to our community deity Bada Dev.” Painter Ramesh Bariya from the Bhil community in Madhya Pradesh expresses, “In the Bhagoria Spring Festival, we worship ghoda (horse) Dev. Traditionally, our paintings are made of dots which were painted with yellow turmeric symbolising fertility, and new beginnings.”
Mithila painter Gabita Devi, says, “Nature is the great teacher. It is in spring that the trees shed their leaves, our elders say, ‘Patton se seekho’ learn from the leaves. They fall, making way for new tender leaves kindling hope for a new world to emerge.”
Basant generates an energy of hope and change in the present day Indian artist; whose imagination is fed by the traditional landscape fired to recreate, renew, and re-imagine the contemporary canvas of creativity. The image-making is ignited with illuminated energy, the artistic cartography takes flight moving from one genre of art reflecting what Roger Lipsey in his book, “The Spirituality in 20th Century Art” expresses, “The artist-meta physician, (becomes) a seeker honouring both Nature and something more than nature.”