Artist of the Day | Astha Butail
Ever Lasting Day
HDF mdf board frames, archival paper with layered sheer muslin dhoti, thread, archival glue 300 x 300 cm
In the early 90s a huge wave of westernization engulfed urban India with the introduction of MTV and other American and European television programming. With the western ideas that cable television brought into the daily uptake of youngsters, tradition was shoved into the back of the closet for not being “cool” enough for urbane India . Festivals lost their inherent relevance and were looked forward to more because they were a day off from school or work. Astha reflects on her own childhood: being brought up in a large joint family she never paid any serious attention to the rituals and customs but just followed them out of respect for her elders. She remembers rushing out of a puja and rubbing off the tilak once she was out of sight.
During the ceremonies of her wedding she followed the orders of the pundit and she believed in the trueness of the hymns he recited without knowing what they meant. It is taken for granted that the pandit is very well-versed in scripture. This isn’t her experience alone but a universal one where the roots of culture are lost and meaningful social customs turn into monotonous rituals. Initially the stone was worshipped as a pindi or saligram but now it has converted into store bought idols. The present persists in distorting the ways of the past.
Having traveled extensively through Europe and other parts of the world over the past few years, Astha came across the pride with which people talked about their culture. Her own cultural pride in the history of her ancestors was lacking and this left her very perturbed. This began her journey into Vedic studies. Disheartened by the slow loss of cultural meanings and values in today’s India she questioned the modern formations of right and wrong and how truths had become secrets with hidden meaning. In her quest for lost knowledge she stumbled upon many spectacular metaphors, equations, and a complexity of thought where the heights and also the depths were explored. The myths and stories she uncovered filled her with awe at their ingenuity and creativity. The progression of ideals from the Vedic times to the present – how Rudra of the Vedas had become Shiva of the Puranic times, and their present significance in the formation of the future is something she is very challenged by. The multitude of characters in the Vedic texts – gods, demi-gods, kings and demons, defy all classification based on geographical and spatial terms, their characteristics and the lessons they teach us are pertinent even today.
In 2009 she decided to delve deeper into her customs to see why they originated and what their purpose was. Inspired by the depth of Indian customs and traditions she studied parts of the Rig Veda under the guidance of Sanskrit scholars from South India. She realized that Sanskrit was the link that could bridge the past and the present. So she still continues her study of Sanskrit whenever she has the time. She not only believes that Sanskrit is a medium to understanding our culture and traditions but that it also refines the reader. The literal meaning of the word Sanskrit is refinement. The Vedas were an oral tradition that later translated into written works but very few people today follow either of these paths to understanding ancient thought.
In finding meaning Astha Butail choose to express herself through various mediums of art that she learnt on her own. She traveled through Himachal Pradesh to discover the land where she was born and unravel the many mysteries of the “Dev Bhoomi”. In her journey she came across various ancient wisdoms and ideals that she interprets in the work she is busy creating.