Interview: master artist V.V. Sapar discussing his 21 Taras project for Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche — art as a spiritual practice
V.V. Sapar’s work is well known to many Tibetan Buddhist and Vajrayana practitioners. His series of 21 Taras, according to the rare Surya Gupta tradition, was commissioned by Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche (and is now freely available, thanks to Rinpoche’s generosity, for download, see link below.)
V.V. Sapar developed his interest in art early in life — “and since then I am worshipping and trying to master this art of colours to make my life worthwhile.”
[Don’t miss the story of his working experience with Dzongsar Rinpoche below. Also, don’t miss the video of Rinpoche chanting the Praise to 21 Taras in Tibetan with the V.V. Sapar images, also below.]
His inspiring and very dramatic artwork make it clear that V.V. Sapar is called to tell spiritual stories through his canvas — to “create spiritual paintings in an artistic and dramatic way while simultaneously giving them a touch of reality.”
I sought out the artist behind the stunning master canvases I had seen on the Homage to Tara page on the Khyentse Foundation website. V.V. Sapar is famous for his artwork, which is featured in galleries and museums. On his website [found here>>], he quotes Picasso as a “vision statement”:
He wrote: “Every child is an artist, the problem is staying an artist when you grow up,” said the great Pablo Picasso. And I think I managed to do that. I am V. V. Sapar, a fine artist from India-Maharashtra. I speak through my colours, and tell stories through my canvas.”
V.V. Sapar is very eloquent, not only via his brush, but in his speech. Here is our interview with V.V. Sapar. [His short bio is at the end.]
BW: Your art style is very striking and masterful. From my amateur perspective, a blend of classical spiritual art in the grand style, with the flair of “realism” and a lot of drama. What is your main inspiration?
Most of the work that has been done on these subjects till date is mostly in a mysterious way and a bit complex. When I started to paint on these subjects my main motive was to simplify these topics and make them reach to a larger scale of audience while maintaining the artistic touch. To generate a large audience for Indian culture, History and Spirituality has always been the main Inspiration behind my work.
BW: Do you see your art as a form of personal spiritual practice?
An artist cannot portray something he doesn’t feel. I have worked for a variety of spiritual organizations globally. Every-time the process of painting starts from understanding the history or the stories of the deities that I am going to portray. Then I visualize the paintings in my mind, and every-time I go through this process I have some spiritual realizations, chantings of those deities which ultimately help me while working on the canvas.
BW: Your Taramata (Mother Tara) series is, from a Vajrayana Buddhist perspective, very precious — the Taras from the Surya Gupta tradition, complete with all the symbols. I see this was a project commissioned by Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche. The Khyentse Foundation are kindly making the high resolution images available for download for students and Buddhists, which is wonderful Dharma generosity.
BW: Can you tell us the story of the Dzognsar Rinpoche commission?
Taramata is one of the series’ of paintings I hold very dear to me. And yes it is indeed very generous of Khyentse Foundation to make those images available for Students and Buddhists.
Dzongsar Rinpoche chanting Praises to 21 Taras in Tibetan with V.V. Sapar’s beautiful paintings:
BW: Since Tara and Dzongsar Rinpoche are very popular, any anecdotes are wonderful. Was this a difficult project? How did it evolve? How long would it take to do each detailed painting?
Indeed, the project was very challenging, and I do have some very fond memories of it. Dzongsar Rinpoche had invited me to his monastery located at a very beautiful town called Bir, in Himachal Pradesh, India. The town is surrounded by immaculate and surreal beauty and is situated in the lap of nature. At such a beautiful location, and in that divine atmosphere of monastery Dzongsar Rinpoche explained each of the 21 Taramatas in detail. While he was explaining I simultaneously made pencil sketches of each Taramata based on his explanation at that very moment. I think all these things collectively helped me to get these beautiful results. I made the detailed paintings back at my studio once I returned and it took me approximately 15-20 days to complete each painting.
Inset: From the “Digital Altar to Tara” page [where these 21 Tara’s images are available for free download], Dzongsar Rinpoche describes Tara:
“All the buddhas and bodhisattvas are in essence the same. Buddhas transcend all kinds of shape, color, form, and labels like gender. Likewise Tara comes in many manifestations. Tara is ultimately none other than the nature of your own mind. She is not really a he or a she or green or white. She doesn’t necessarily have many hands or two hands. But since we are so deluded, we can only understand through references like numbers, colors, shape, tangible things, which is why we have Aryatara and the other 21 manifestations. These are the principle mandala of the puja we are doing this time.”
BW: On your Taramata web page, the first 21 images are the Suryagupta 21 Taras, the next two in the gallery are also Tara, but not labeled. With the musical instrument is that Sarasvati? (Who in some traditions is an aspect of Tara.) Is the other one a Tara on a throne?
Yes, you guessed it right, the one with the musical instrument (which is Veena) is Saraswati also known as the Goddess of Wisdom. The One on the throne is Green Taramata.
BW: Are there any events from your events photos you’d like to highlight as anecdotal?
I would like to mention about an event that happened in Mumbai where I could showcase my work along with The Personalities like the Bollywood actress Ms. Hema Malini, and The legendary singer Mr. Jagjit Singh. Ms. Malini’s dance, Mr. Singh’s Bhajans and Exhibition of my paintings was the overall theme of the program. It was covered by the media as well and was appreciated by people. The first few photographs in the About Me section of my website are of the same event.
BW: Can you highlight a particularly complicated project and walk us through your process?
All of your master work projects look impressive, complicated and symbolically rich — and therefore, quite challenging! For example, do these wonderful images develop through inspired visualization, or do carefully plan, consult and paint in stages?
Thank you very much for the compliments. All my projects till date have been for major International Spiritual Organizations, Hence each and every one of them was equally challenging. I have tried and given my best for every single one of them. About the process, for me it is the perfect blend of both the Visualisation and the planning. They have to go hand in hand for the desired results and one is always incomplete without the other.
BW: I’m personally curious about slide 2 on your home page slider?
The second slide is a story of Upasaka Dharmatala.
[Inset: story of Upasaka Dharmatala below.]
BW: One very striking image (slide 7 on your home page) appeared very visionary, shows a lotus transforming into hands (like mudras) and four feet in the sundisc at the centre.
Could you explain the significance of this image? (It’s in your Divine Mystical section.)
The painting in the slide 7 represents the love for One’s Parents. The 4 footprints in the middle represent the footprints of Parents and the Hands that form the lotus give the message that we should make their lives worthwhile and strengthen our bonds by our achievements and our love for them.
BW: What’s next for you? What’s the next big project?
I am working on a huge project since last six years having a large number of paintings. It will be available in a huge gallery in Mumbai in coming years. I cannot reveal further details as they are still confidential.
BW: Do you take commissions, sell through galleries, or sell prints — or all of these?
(For instance, a lot of our readers would probably like to buy prints of the 21 Taras if you have those available.)
All of these. Prints of each and every painting of mine are available. [Contact form on website.]
Story of Upasaka Dharmatala
[From source Rigpa Shegdra]
“Upasaka Dharmatala (Skt. Upāsaka Dharmatāla; Tib. དགེ་བསྙེན་དྷརྨ་ཏ་ལ་, Gényen Dharmatala, Wyl. dge bsnyen d+harma ta la ) — a patron of the Dharma, attendant of the Sixteen Arhats and a manifestation of Avalokiteshvara.
After the Buddha’s parinirvana he consoled the lay followers and patrons of the Buddha assuring them the Dharma would be preserved and encouraging them to strive for the highest perfection.
He has great wisdom, spiritual powers and skills; greatly learned he carries the scriptures on his back. He carries a fly whisk and a water flask symbolizing his service to the arhats. He has a tiger at his side, to protect the Sixteen Arhats from dangerous animals.
Every day he turns to Buddha Amitabha for guidance.”
Artist Bio: V.V. Sapar
V.V. Sapar developed his interest in art early in life — “and since then I am worshippng and trying to master this art of colours to make my life worthwhile.” He holds a B.F.A. Fine Art degree from J.J. School of Art in Mumbai.
He has clients around the world, many of them spiritual organizations attracted to his grand visionary style.
He works in oil, poster, water colours and dry mediums, and focuses mostly on Indian culture, spirituality and the history of ancient India — trying to “create spiritual paintings in an artistic and dramatic way while simultaneously giving them a touch of reality.”
He is exchibited in several major galleries.
The Homage to Tara page of Khyentse Foundation featuring the 21 Tara images:
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Author | Buddha Weekly
Lee Kane is the editor of Buddha Weekly, since 2007. His main focuses as a writer are mindfulness techniques, meditation, Dharma and Sutra commentaries, Buddhist practices, international perspectives and traditions, Vajrayana, Mahayana, Zen. He also covers various events.
Lee also contributes as a writer to various other online magazines and blogs.