Soul Birds Take Flight
This article was originally published by an art magazine in New Zealand. The art reviewer that came to visit our exhibition of Sri Chinmoy's artwork and music was very taken with the beauty and serenity of the gallery.
The bright blue door that I had been given directions to in Central Auckland had only a simple gold sign on the door – Jharna Kala Gallery – and I opened it and climbed the two flights of stairs to this latest and most unusual of Auckland's many galleries. Artist Barnaby McBryde had described the paintings and drawings I was about to view as "a mammoth and magnificent accomplishment for world harmony" and I was intrigued!
Upstairs I stepped into a large, brightly lit room – varnished wooden floors, the gentle sounds of a flute and on the pale blue walls one of the most extraordinary collections of artwork I had ever seen. These were a selection of avian images from the pen of mystic artist and recent New Zealand visitor Sri Chinmoy, whose huge legacy of many thousand acrylic paintings and – brace yourselves – several million pen and ink bird sketches forms one of the most prolific and monumental achievements in modern art.
"Jharna Kala," my host explained, "means 'fountain art' in Bengali – a spontaneous creative flow arising out of an inner stillness." I was reminded of the 'no-mind' meditative brush strokes of the Zen monk calligraphers, the moment of insight and inspiration rapidly captured and never retouched. On the gallery walls a selection of some 10,000 of Sri Chinmoy's charming bird sketches were arrayed – some in flight, some in repose – each depicting the imagery and choreography of the human soul. They ranged in size from tiny miniatures, materialising on the page with a calm lyrical sweep of the pen, to large canvases rich with bright vibrant colours. The ink strokes were those of a master hand, deftly captured soul birds each with its own personality, hovering alone or in harmonious groups in an inner sky.
For centuries, I was told, the bird image has appeared in both eastern and western art as a symbol of the flight towards liberation, happiness and freedom that lies at the heart of human life. Quotations from Sri Chinmoy's own comments on his art reinforced this perception:
"Birds have a very special significance; they embody freedom. We see a bird flying in the sky, and it reminds us of our own inner freedom. Inside each of us there is an inner existence we call the soul. The soul, like a bird, flies in the sky of Infinity. The birds we see flying in the sky remind us of our own soul-bird flying in the sky of Infinity. While looking at the birds, feel that you yourself are a bird; you are your soul-bird flying in the sky of infinite light, infinite peace and infinite bliss."
Sri Chinmoy's vast body of creative works is unified by an underlying spiritual theme; the artist believes it is the blossoming of our spirituality and the oneness-wisdom-goodness of the human heart that hold the keys to a better, brighter future for all mankind.
At the end of my slow perambulation around the gallery I am beginning to feel a smile on my face and can feel unmistakably that I have been touched and charmed by this mystical inner universe, where avian landscapes so perfectly capture the soul's inner freedom and joy. This exhibition is truly delightful and moves the very heart with its simplicity, joyfulness and beauty.
At the door I read through a comment sheet from others who – in other such galleries both around New Zealand and on six continents – have shared this same experience. There are inspired remarks from two of our former Prime Ministers, a handful of city mayors, several sports celebrities and a raft of global leaders and statesmen. Clearly Sri Chinmoy's art has touched a universal chord.
Leaving, I pause to read a last comment from this most humble of artists, Sri Chinmoy himself:
"These birds will be able to offer happiness to each and every human being – conscious happiness, illumining happiness and fulfilling happiness. The joy, the ecstasy, the delight they have and they are have a free access to each and every human being's heart."