Yoga guru Bharat Thakur opens up about his passion for sketching, painting and sculpting in a freewheeling chat with Shrabasti Mallik
A vibrant life-size portrait of Frida Kahlo sits on a white wall in front of me. On my left is an abstract canvas splashed with cobalt blue, raven black and canary yellow. I am waiting to meet acclaimed yoga guru Bharat Thakur at his New Delhi home. As I revise my notes, my eyes keep going back to the painting of Kahlo. Something seems different. The unibrow, the signature flowers – every detail is on point, yet the painting doesn’t resemble the Mexican artist. Then realisation strikes. It’s that of actor Bhumika Chawla, Thakur’s wife!
“You seem to have identified her. You see, she is my muse,” my thoughts are interrupted by Thakur, as he walks into the room. “She is the subject of several of my works,” says the yoga teacher, who has been instrumental in popularising the traditional Indian science in the West. Today, however, we are to discuss the artist in him.
He might be renowned as one of India’s most popular yoga gurus but deep down he is also an artist – a facet that has only recently come to light. “Art is ingrained in me. Everything I do is, in some way or the other, related to art,” says Thakur, who conceptualised and popularised Artistic Yoga, an evolved form of the traditional practice over two decades ago.
Thakur’s association with art is not new. It started during his childhood that he spent in the Himalayas with his family’s spiritual guru learning yoga. “I lived in the Himalayas till the age of 17 and the natural beauty of my surroundings and also the harshness inspired me. I would use the snow-covered slopes as my canvas and I would make colours from flowers and other natural ingredients to paint them,” he adds. But looking at his artworks – confident strokes, bold lines and a larger-than-life depiction of subjects – it is hard to believe that he never had any formal training in art. Although he was passionate about art, he became serious about it only when he was pursuing his masters and later his doctorate degree at Gwalior’s Lakshmibai National Institute of Physical Education.
Although Thakur has been painting for a long time, it was only last year that he held his first showcase. The canvases exhibited depicted sadhus (holy men) in various forms – with jata (dreadlocks), wearing a rudraksha mala (a seed traditionally used as a prayer bead in Hinduism) and one carrying a trishul (Lord Shiva’s trident). “These paintings are a tribute to the sadhus I was surrounded by while growing up. And in a way it is also an ode to my own experience of the layers of cosmos stretching to the realm of the uncontained,” says the artist, who works with a wide variety of media for his works. In fact, he prefers to make miniature versions of his artworks – both paintings and sculptures – before working on the final one. He has been showcasing his canvases around the world, including Dubai and London.
Ask him about the artists who have influenced him and he is quick to answer: “Paul Cezzane and Michelangelo. I admire Pablo Picasso’s flair and Claude Monet’s use of colours. I also like the works of Lucian Freud, Wassily Kandinsky, Francis Bacon, Vasudeo S Gaitonde, SH Raza and Raja Ravi Verma,” he explains, adding, “and then, there is always my wife to turn to for inspiration!”