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A Young Thangka Painter Lost in the White Country: In Search of Self and Beyond

 Prachi Sahasrabudhe   

Storytelling is a ritualistic and performative act that allows people to communicate their emotions and the bigger truths of life through stories created by themselves and their ancestors.  People gather around a fire to unwind and play a game, and when they cannot see each other’s faces, the space transforms into a platform or confession chamber, where people can tell their stories, perhaps their own disguised as the stories of others. 

Stories come to Siddharth from such darkness, and he weaves them in with stories and dreams.  Sidharth’s narrative transports him to a new world where the pauper in him may become the king of a vast kingdom, the coward in him can win wars, and he can confess, cry, and expose his soul in front of others. Sidharth narrates the story of a robber who broke into a residence and stole gold money and priceless stones. The night guards apprehended and beat him, while the minister oversaw the kingdom’s affairs. When the guards brought the thief before the minister, they were astounded to see that he resembled the late king. The minister then devised a strategy to inform the people that the king had gone out in disguise and was now back in town. The burglar consented to play along and gradually gained kingly characteristics, even forgetting that he was the result of the minister’s cruel game.  

Sidharth describes himself as a thief who was fated to become a Buddhist monk in Dharamsala.  He had no idea he was going to become a Buddhist monk when he left Shobha Singh’s house to join the Lamas at the monastery. Sidharth began his career as a Thangka painter in  Dharamsala, a large format painting on cloth that mainly depicts the life of Buddha and many sub-tales in a particular narrative style with a major icon of Buddha in the centre of the pictorial surface. To become a Thangkas painter, one must devote several years of rigorous commitment and instruction. Thangka painting is a pure form of devotion for Tibetan Buddhist monks who have settled in India, illustrating the lives of Buddhas with natural hues. Sidharth was overjoyed to become a Thangka painter. For young Sidharth, painting Tangka was a pure form of commitment and attention. Years passed, and he learnt how to create natural hues from stones,  pebbles, leaves, and insects. Sidharth was instructed at the Buddhist monastery to ‘ask’ for colours from nature, which was a beautiful experience and a revelation.

Artist Siddharth Studio, https://www.youtube.com/

Sidharth’s ‘The Thousand Hands and Feet’ series philosophises on painting people who have had a lasting effect on him, symbolising the world’s thousand feet and thousand hands, the creator of multiplicity and the guardian of unity. He believes that a Buddha picture, or any iconic image, is the distilled and condensed powerful expression of a lengthy linguistic thought.  The everyday folks in his series also exhibit a variety, expressing his existence in many ways. 

Sidharth was initiated into devout Buddhism by Dorji, who tonsured his head and wrapped a  deep brown unstitched fabric around his torso. He was a rapid learner and eager student of  Buddhism’s different strands, including four types of Yoga: Nada yoga, Awloki yoga, Hatha yoga, and Tantra yoga. He became one of the few Lamas who completed the course without straying from Buddha’s eightfold specified routes. His life revolved around the Thangka paintings and his Buddhist studies and he believed that destiny had plans for him.

Shukraana, Natural pigment on handmade paper with gold leaf,42″ x 30″, 


Sidharth was studying different languages when he met Vivienne, a Swedish woman who had been asking Dorji to teach her Tantric Buddhism. When Dorji teasingly asked Siddharth to teach Vivienne, Sidharth was shocked and said he would only teach it to the woman who would be his wife. Despite this, Vivienne consented to marry Siddharth and they became man and woman. Dorji was still smiling and prohibited Sidharth’s presence as a married man in the monastery, so the couple had to leave the monastery. Sidharth instructed Vivienne and the course was finished satisfactorily. Later, Vivienne invited Sidharth to accompany her to  Sweden, and Sidharth agreed. They flew to Sweden. 

Sidharth peered down from his frozen window on his trip to Sweden and saw a sea of white clouds. He imagined a sea of clouds lighting a fire or a forest of jacaranda trees flowering unexpectedly due to the touch of a fairy. He longed to touch and feel the clouds since he had seen white clouds drifting low in the valleys of Dharamsala, changing colours between the hills beyond the little trees. His initial impression of Sweden was that it was white. Sidharth emerged from the airport, his eyes wide, and he beheld a piercing whiteness of snow. He shuddered, not from the cold, but from the existence he pictured in the country. Everything was white, from the trees to the houses to the roads, the birds to the automobiles and the people. Sidharth had seen many colours and tones of reds, blues, greens, and yellows, and it was a troubling sight.  

Sidharth was sixteen years old and experiencing severe mental turmoil. When he looked at the whiteness through a cab, he thought he would never see another colour in his life. His memories of India came flooding back to him, filling him with nostalgia and melancholy. He was not a  patriot, nor does he have a strong personal attachment to any country, but he belongs to this place, India, culturally, biologically, emotionally, and intellectually. His travels have taught him to be in one place and everywhere at the same time, as well as to belong everywhere. He is the son of mother earth and a member of the Earth elements.  

While in Sweden, he realised he had universal ties and desired to fit in. Despite his Buddhist  Lama initiation, he realised he had worldly ties and desired to belong. Vivienne let him do anything he pleased, and he realised that if he had eyes and a mind to look, he could see the hues of life even amid this immense sea of whiteness. This was a surprise for him since he saw it was his cultural preoccupation that caused him to consider the prevailing white as the only uninteresting hue he could ever encounter in this nation. He was now seeing different hues through it. Sidharth won many friends there as a sensitive artist and sincere vocalist, including regular people, artists, authors, singers, and actors.

Artist Siddharth Studio, https://www.youtube.com/ 

Sidharth is a sensitive artist and an authentic vocalist who enjoys reacting to sights and noises.  His time in Sweden taught him to see people differently and to tolerate the differences of others. Sidharth is frequently regarded as a spiritual artist who visited Buddhist temples and created figures with Buddha-like eyes. He is not well-known in the art world, but he is well-known in other sectors such as literature, music, dance, and cinema because he is a keen listener,  storyteller, eager student of languages, and mythology researcher. He is not well-known in the art world, but he is well-known in other sectors such as literature, music, dance, and cinema because he is a keen listener, storyteller, eager student of languages, and mythology researcher.  

Sidharth’s studio in Sukhdev Vihar is open to visiting authors and writers. He recalls one instance of lifetime connections in 1994 when he was exhibiting paintings and a large installation at the Sridharani Gallery in New Delhi. When a middle-aged white lady asked if she may have a certain drawing, Sidharth refused to take payment and gifted the lady artwork. Co-incidentally, He visited France soon. He was with an Indian artist friend and he requested him to assist him in making a call to a French lady whom he had met earlier in Delhi.  Apparently, she was from one of Paris’ wealthiest families. The lady was delighted to hear  Siddharth’s voice and sent her personal car to pick up Sidharth and his friend. She is still a big collector of Sidharth’s works, and the piece he gave her in Delhi still has a prominent place in her home display. 

Sidharth had turned Catholic to become a resident of Sweden, and as he visited the famous mud church of St. Birgitta, the nuns in the Church knew him well. Sidharth felt his mother’s presence in the Madonna statue and sang a passage from the Guru Granth Sahib in Saraiki, and the priestess saw him singing. He was singing about his mother, all the mothers in the world, and their lost kids. With the nun’s help, Sidharth learnt to play the pipe organ and composed his own lyrics and sang them out in the village church. Sidharth was singing and grieving at church one day when Vivienne appeared behind him. She knew he used to attend church and sing, but she did not want to bother him. Vivienne was sympathetic and smart enough to recognise the situation when Sidharth yelled out that he was dying. Sidharth died right there and there, and the guy who slumped at the feet of the Madonna statue was one Sidharth, and the man who arose from there was another Sidharth. Sidharth felt light and knew his nest was calling him back, and Vivienne was assisting with that death and rebirth. He was not abandoning Vivienne or Sweden; he was returning to his nest, and the entire world was his nest now. 


  • ML, Johnny, “The circle of Light – Life and times of Siddharth,” Chennai, Prakrit Arts  pvt.ltd., p.p. 16 to 30.  

ML, Johnny, ‘By all means necessary,’July 2011, JohnyML. blogspot.com. https://www.gallerienvya.com/artist/sidharth/

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