Tantric Painting

Its Long Relationship with Palmistry

5000 years ago, when somebody went to a palmist in Khajuharo, Gujrat, or Lothal, according to Shyan Lal, who was called into his brother’s shop to interpret some art, the palmist would see what was wrong with somebody’s chakrahs, and then get in touch with a tantric painter. He or she (I forgot to ask about the gender involved) would order a remedy—a colorfully painted tantric image replete with the right symbols to adjust the person’s energy, covered as well with a mantra, and a yantra. The mantra would be in Sanskrit, giving the person the right sound for attunement. The yantra, painted up in the left hand corner in what looks like a Jewish star, would be derived from astrology based on numbers of the person’s birth.

You can buy some of these still in shops in the main drag in Khajuharo today, if you happen to be in town to look at the yogini temples. The statues have been looted by Muslims or moved several provinces away to be saved, by past kings. But the stalls, and the shrine to Kali is still there. You can still see the temples to Lakshmi and Shiva as well as a really neat Mother Goddess rescued from the Jain temple in a museum in the vicinity. Devotees still offer burnt coconut to Kali in the empty stall.

Batya Weinbaum

One of the shops has a young artist who paints some of these himself. Although, when pressed, he has no idea what he is painting. Shyan says the young painter is copying designs his father is copying, from copies of these remedies made at least a thousand years ago. Palmists would give these to clients, the books say, who would meditate on them at least five minutes a day when they woke up, for maybe a year.

The one Shyan came in to explain, and then sell to me from his brother’s shop, had a conch in the middle of the palm, which meant the palmist had recommended that the client needed purification. The conch was in the middle of the destiny line area, directly above a temple which the palmist had thought it the destiny of the client to attend. To the right was a sack of arrows so the client could ward off evil, signifying the reincarnation of Vishnu as Rama, giving the client the power of the god. And, on the left, stood a club from Hanaman, equipping the client to break curses of evil. Above this whole conglomeration was a plow, a symbol of fertility. This meant, Shyan explained, that the client had to ward off all this evil, and then purify, in order to be fertile in the end. Shyan has been reading palms for two years now himself.

Two shops down, images of soles of feet were also being sold, painted by the younger artist. These likewise had originally been made as prescriptions to change the luck and energy of the client. The feet were filled with symbols placed in strategic locations, such as a necklace of Shiva, symbolizing devotion, in the center of the foot; an ax to break bad patterns; and a flame signifying light and energy coming into each big toe. There was a flag positioned to help bring in the energy of the wind, a fish to bring in water, a conch to bring in purification, an eye to bring in knowledge. Chains, such as a ring under a toe, would indicate a path

These were sold for a higher price since the art was more intricate and unusual. Since I do feet readings now, I bought a few of these to put up to attract customers to my booth as well. I was so interested in the art, at the first shop and for the first few paintings, that I didn’t even bargain. For the paintings done on postcards, however, I got the price down. Perhaps a few of my customers will purchase some of these and take home the ancient palmistry remedies to meditate on to change the luck of their lives.


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