Bindu-Bindi-Nukta: The Infinite in the Finite
Author: Jasleen Dhamija
Originally published in NuktaArt, Vol 1, Two, October 2006
Cover Design: Sabiha Mohammad Imani
Source of inspiration: Painting by Sumaya Durrani and images taken from Karkhana
The simplest of all creative expressions is the most complex. Visualize a wide open surface and in its very center, a drop, a bindu, a nukta, a dot. It draws the eyes, it draws the whole being and absorbs us and suddenly that still center begins to pulsate and the duality of its form emerges and we are drawn into the very depth of our own being, until we are one with the universe. Bindu, if taken literally would mean a drop, a point, the core of a circle. In fact in the Vedic literature it has multiple meanings: It is the ‘bija‘, seed also seen as ‘sristibija‘, the seed of creation. It is seen also as pure illumination, which emerges from the sun, the moon and the fire. It is also seen as connected with the word ‘bid‘, to split, to cleave, to pierce and thus associated with ‘shunya‘.
It is this Bindu in the Tantric cosmogony, which believes that the cosmos expanded from a center point “Bindu through radiating vibrations” which “has astonishing affinity with the cosmogony of Modern Science”, where the universe was condensed into the primordial atom, which when it exploded released its energy, expanding to unfold the universe and thus space and the Nada, the radiant energy.
The ‘al-nuqtah’, the ‘point’ has also a very important aspect in Sufi tradition. Kamal-al-Din Husayan Kashifi (15th century) relates the letter ‘noon’ to the first letter for light – ‘al nur’, for according to the Hadith the first creation of God was light. The curved letter ‘noon’, with a Nukta enclosed in the space, is seen as the very center of the universe. It is the ‘nafasal-rahman’, which created the universe.
The Bindu, the Nukta, can be representative of the still center, but it is also a drop, which ripples outwards in expanding circles until it reaches the very edge and then spirals back to the primordial still center, a continuous cycle of expansion and contraction. This also gave rise to the spiral when the whirling circles split and created spiraling branches, which represented the energy of the sun. Shaikh Saib al-Din Suhrawardi, the great calligrapher, a master of illumination, in one of his prayers says: “Oh Master of the Supreme Circle from which issues all circles, with which terminate all lines and from which is manifested to the first point, which also symbolizes the Divine Essence”.
The center, the expanding circle, the swirl, is a part of the primordial supra-consciousness. It is also seen in many origin myths as the Golden Egg, or Hiranya – Garbha. The Bindu, the Nukta, is thus embedded in the very core of man’s being and finds its way into the earliest representations as the dot, as the swirl and as the ever expanding circle, which is the Reality which is succinctly expressed in ‘tat tvam asi’- Thou art That.
These symbols find their expression not only in ritual observation, but also in the everyday life. The creation of the powerful Shri Yantra, which creates the presence of ‘purusha’ and ‘prakriti’, is by intertwining of the two triangles. The triangle of the ‘purusha’ rests on its apex and ‘prakriti’ cuts through the triangle, making a six-pointed star with the Bindu in the center.
The first sound, which emerges is of “Aum”. The bindu, of the Aum is the very core of all rituals. Aum is the ‘bija-mantra’, the seed annunciation. The anointing of the forehead with the ’tilak’, ‘tika’, ‘bindi’ placed at the center of the forehead, the seat of one of the most important ‘chakras’, the Ajana-chakra, as a part of the daily ritual of prayer, as well as the adornment of every married Hindu woman. Using her third finger, she places the vermilion dot on her forehead, anointing unconsciously the area that is seen as that of the hidden third eye, the seat of Ajana Chakra, which rests on the lobe of the brain, which is associated with mystical thought. The eyes look at the mirror image of the Bindi, the finger completes a complete circuit of the connection between the inner and outer being and the eyes emphasize this subtle, ‘sukhsham’, connection.
The sacredness of the imagery finds its way in folk arts, as well as in the contemporary expression. The circle becomes a sacred expression in practically all cultures where it is created in a massive circular movement, the ‘gher’, the circular surround, which is one of the most powerful dance forms of the Rathwas and Bilalas of Central India, when they perform the ‘gher’ by converging on the sacred site of a township and dancing around it. The entire space vibrates with the rhythm of their bodies, the echoing beat of the large drums and the haunting notes of thousands of reed flutes. The Maha Ras, the Ras Mandala, danced during the Budha Purnima or, Nava Ratras, the nine nights celebrating the mother goddess’s presence on this earth. The circular dance of the followers of Jalaluddin Rumi, who go into a state of ‘Hal’, of ecstasy. Or the circular dance of the Maldharis, who call out “Ya Ali, Ya Hou, Al Haq”, as they stamp their feet and sticks. Then there is the circular dance of the men in Central Asia, as well as of the Cossacks. In the western world there is the Maypole. Practically all cultures echo the deep significance of the circular movement.
Textiles have been closely linked with ritual forms, one of the most powerful patterns, which are created, are the dotted Bandhani, the tie & dye, an essential part of the wedding dress, which is created for the use of women for all auspicious occasions and rites of passage. The dotted pattern is also found in the early printed fabrics, which were exported from Gujarat throughout the world from ancient times.
It is also the important focal point of all the painted ‘yantras’ used for meditation. It plays an important part in the creation of the ‘aripana’ and ‘kolam’ patterns. The dot is used to create the basic magical form, which is joined together by linear patterns, to protect the household. An act, which is enacted every morning by the lady of the household.
Contemporary artists, foremost of them being S.L. Parashar, Sayed Haider Raza, Prafulla Mohanti, Santosh and Biren De have been inspired by the Tantric cosmogony. Parashar, who was the Principal of Mayo College in Lahore, and later in Shimla and Chandigarh after the partition of the country, was greatly influenced by his literary background, his knowledge of the Vedic traditions, as well as the Sufi poetry of Punjab and Sindh. In fact, possibly because he had not been trained in the rigid art school system, but studied art with well-known masters in their studio who were possibly responsible for his seeking inspiration in the esoteric Tantric philosophy and the powerful ‘yantras’. Raza has equated the Bindu or the Nukta with the Sun, and one of his most extraordinary paintings is of a series of circles, which expand and move inward. Prafulla Mohanti also delves into the deep significance of the expansion of the Bindu. He sees it as the Sun, he sees it as the Eye, which radiates outwards and also draws inwards, containing the universe in the still center, while Biren De with his dark luminous brooding colors, radiates ‘shakti’ – the power of the mother goddess – and the lotus with bursting seeds.
The Bindu, the Nukta, punctuate the rhythm of our life, which is lived at so many different levels. It is like the simple act of placing the Bindi on our forehead. The obvious meaning is that the woman is not a widow, which for the Hindu woman was a form of living death, a perpetual ‘sati’, for she was not to be seen, not to be heard, even her shadow was inauspicious and impure. It was also associated with the anointing of the ‘ishta dev’, the family deity, after the morning ritual of prayer – the ‘puja’ – and the drawing of the radiance of the prayer to oneself. It is the secret ritual when the young virgin’s first menstrual flow is secretly dotted with the five tips of the fingers of the right hand. It is also the creation of the Naga Dev on Naga Panchami, the day of the worship of the coiled power of the Naga, which is created by pressing the three central finger tips dipped into a black liquid, thus creating the three ‘nagas’. They not only represent fecundity, but also the power of the nether world. The Bindu is the focal point of Mandala for meditation. It is the Surya, which is often represented by the lotus. It is the ‘rasa mandala’, which recreates the diurnal rhythms and which synchronizes with the expanding power of the supra-consciousness.