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This publication presents a selection of primitive and classical Himalayan
ritual objects that I have collected over the past 15 years.
(A4, 248 pages)
(Click on any cover photo to download an extract or the whole publication in pdf format)
Pour Pran Nath, émouvant chanteur classique du Nord de l’Inde,
l’âme d’un Raga vit entre les notes de musique qui le composent.
Dans l’Himalaya, il est fréquent que les sculpteurs révèlent
les masques plus qu’ils ne les créent.
L’amadouvier à la chair boursoufflée, la racine aux membres enlacés
ou la souche aux cernes ravinés sont perçus comme des masques
auto‑manifestés, les coups d’herminette ne structurent pas le masque,
ils offrent à son âme un espace dans lequel résider.
L’âme du masque est une essence que seul le plus fin des alambics
peut distiller.
Le sténopé, chambre noire filtrant lentement la lumière au travers
d’un trou d’aiguille, en est un beau spécimen.
Frédéric Rond, 2018
Far from the Himalayas, in Cuba, land of syncretism, where the Santeria (inherited
from the Yoruba tradition) survived behind the mask of Christianity, Saint Peter is
Ogun, powerful warrior, spirit of metal work and god of blacksmiths.
In Himachal Pradesh, it is often the suave Vishnu "the Saviour", the most consensual
divinity of the Hindu Trinity, who envelops archaic local beliefs: winter demons,
guardian spirits, forces of Nature and young village womenfolk of unrivalled beauty.
The fierier Shiva also steps in at times, in the form of a Trishul (trident), three
horizontal lines or a mantra on the forehead of certain masks. His name is also
associated to shamanism.
In 2009, while travelling in Chamba in the western part of Himachal Pradesh, I had
the chance to approach a group of people attending an interesting ritual in which
three shamans had fallen into a trance. When I asked several spectators what it was
all about, they answered in one voice that “these shamans were worshipping Shiva
and that they were going to bless the audience" (see photo on the opposite page).
This ritual primitive/classical duality provides a very special aura to Himachali masks.
Behind an often skilful sculpture, that collectors of rough primitive artefacts
occasionally consider as “Indian style”, lurks a very enigmatic presence, inherited
from the most ancient beliefs and combined with a harshness typical of the places in
which nature is at times your worst enemy and at times your best friend.
These masks are fascinating, their beauty is inhabited and their intentions are
inscrutable.
Les masques primitifs himalayens recèlent un mystérieux paradoxe: profondément
différents les uns des autres de par leurs formes et matières déclinées à l'infini, ils n'en
demeurent pas moins (presque) toujours identifiables.
Une première approche explicative consiste à reconnaître une provenance himalayenne
par exclusion de toutes les autres. Toutefois, au vu de la diversité du patrimoine mondial,
cette démarche semble vouée à un destin tragique.
La seconde, l'identification d'un style himalayen, paraît donc plus viable, reste encore à
découvrir un lien dans cette multitude d'individualités.
Puisque le chaînon manquant ne réside ni dans la forme ni dans la matière, la partie peut
sembler perdue tant que l'on ne s'est pas penché sur une carte du relief himalayen, cette
figuration d'un agrégat de boîtes d'oeufs retournées!
Ces masques on tous été conçus dans les innombrables creux, les multiples vallées de
cette topographie montagnarde. Des vallées souvent inhospitalières et isolées les unes
des autres par de longues journées de marche.
Un semblant de point commun se dessine donc, il s'agit de l'isolement géographique et,
par conséquence, culturel dans lequel ces masques ont été sculptés, loin de tous canons
esthétiques et religieux. Une multitude de tubes à essai maintenus dans les mêmes
conditions depuis la nuit des temps et dans lesquels on a laissé les sentiments humains
évoluer et s'exprimer au travers de la sculpture.
(On notera que le peu de richesses matérielles dont disposent les populations locales leur
interdit de vaincre ce relief séparateur par un quelconque subterfuge technologique
(télévision, Internet...)).
Les masques primitifs himalayens, primitifs au plus haut point, se reconnaissent à leur
profonde humanité, presque archaïque, exprimée sans filtre d'aucune sorte.
Leur proximité avec leurs homologues en pierre datés du Néolithique et excavés en
l'actuelle Israël est frappante, comme si le temps s'était figé dans les vallées les plus
reculées des Himalayas.
Loin de l'intellect, ces objets sont générateurs d'émotions, ils frappent au coeur avant
même que la pensée n'ait pu monter sa garde.
Ils ont cela de commun avec certaines démarches artistiques contemporaines, qu'ils ne
sont pas liés à un contexte. Ils touchent à l'universel et peuvent donner toute leur mesure
où qu'ils soient exposés.
Parce qu'on en sait encore peu à leur sujet et parce qu'ils sont très peu stéréotypés,
contempler chacun de ces masques primitifs himalayens constitue une rencontre avec
l'inconnu, rencontre souvent bouleversante et menant au désir de faire plus ample
connaissance avec son vis-à-vis.
The Sanskrit word bhuta, meaning “passed away” or “spirit”, refers to the
ancestral cult which is still actively practiced in the Tulu Nadu region (South
coastal Karnataka, India).
In contrast to religions in which unanimated idols are worshipped, bhuta
ceremonies or bhuta kola are characterized by the interaction between the
audience and the oracle who receives the invoked spirit.
Through the voice of this oracle, the bhuta answers practical questions, solves
quarrels and thus acts as a judge whose word cannot be discussed.
The bhuta kola usually take place once a year, the date
depending on some astrological calculations and sometimes
on the need to quickly solve some local problems.
They are sponsored by upper-class families, usually
hailing from the Bunt community (erstwhile nobility, belonging
to the Hindu caste of warriors (Kshatriya)) who
organize the functions lasting several nights and provide
the ritual objects (metal masks and ornaments that will
be kept in sthaana (“shrines”) after the ceremony) and
offerings (fruits, animals for sacrifices…).
To prove to his audience that he is no more human but
a corporal envelope hosting the bhuta, the diviner has
to perform vigorous dances despite the fact that he is
wearing some extremely heavy metal adornments (belt,
mask, ankle bells, sometimes a plastron…).
Like in the Muria tribe of Bastar where, during religious ceremonies the oracle,
a young girl, has to sit on a swing interspersed with erected sharp nails, the
bhuta oracle is also sometimes subject to corporal hardship (lifted up with
hooks stuck into his flesh) to show that, in his trance, he has become divine and
thus gained superhuman power.
Phulkari, a rural tradition of handmade embroidery, literally meaning " flower work ", was perpetuated
by the women of Punjab (North-west India & Pakistan) during the 19th century and till the beginning of
the 20th century.
Even though the textile industry today, is imitating this art with the help of machines, phulkari work has
almost disappeared in its original form, due to the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947, which had a
dramatic impact on the divided Punjab, as well as the obvious socio-economical reasons (schooling,
lack of interest for manual work, profitability, industrialization...).
Probably brought to the Indian Subcontinent by the migrant Jat people of Central Asia in ancient
times, phulkari was a part of every important moment of local life (weddings, birth, religious
functions...).
Generally fabricated by a family for its own use, the fact of having completed a phulkari signified an
important step for a girl on her way to becoming a woman.
Techniques and patterns were not documented but transmitted by word of mouth. Hence, each
regional group was identifiable by its unique embroidery work.
The word phulkari usually indicates the shawl that was loomed and embroidered to cover women's
heads or to be displayed in a gurudwara (Sikh temple).
This tradition was often associated with the Sikh heritage but as it was also shared with Hindus and
Muslims, it happens to be more geographically specific than religiously specific.
PHULKARI
(French)
PHULKARI
(English)
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