Jyoti Sahi

Jyoti Sahi is the most important Catholic Christian artist alive today and has been called ‘the theologian with the brush’1. In addition to writing three books on art, theology, and culture, his prodigious oeuvre includes painting, carving, wood-block printing, and architecture, having also designed numerous chapels and churches. He lives with his wife Jane and four of their five adult children in and around Silvepura Village, near Bangalore, where he founded an Art Ashram in 1972 and Jane runs an experimental school. Jyoti has also taught at the Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology since 1979.


My purpose through my art is to share my Faith with people of other Faiths. Though I have been clear that for me, personally, my belief in Jesus and his Gospel has been central, this has not stopped me from respecting, and wanting to understand other religious traditions. I think my Mission has been to try and make Christians more open and understanding of other Faiths.

Too often Christians live on a kind of island, where they do not recognize the wisdom and spiritual insights that are also to be found in other Faith systems. Christianity is one Faith among many Faiths, which express the search for human beings through the centuries, and indeed the millennia, for an understanding of the Divine. God has been revealing the Divine Truth to people of Good Faith right from the dawn of human consciousness. We do believe that Christianity has a unique and very special revelation to offer. But this does not mean that there is no revelation outside the Church–or no salvation for that matter. This has been the basis for my art.

Sahi’s work can be divided into two general phases, the first focused on inculturation and sanskritisation, drawing on Hindu and Buddhist symbols to convey Christian thought, and a second, starting in 1982, which drew on the traditions and experiences of Tribals and Dalits.

Christ as a Lifetree – Hope for All
Paint on Cloth – Misereor Hunger Veil, © Jyoti Sahi 2014

Here Christ is ‘the Lord of the dance’ and the cross a mango tree. Among many symbols used here, Sahi employs the urn as eternal life and the lotus as resurrection. The three nails as the “three eyes of Shiva” pierce reality and looking beyond it. The bee, a symbol of thirst in Indian poetry, refers to Christ’s thirst and, in its relationship to the flowers of the mango tree, a picture of the heavenly Jerusalem (Rev 21:2-5).

Jesus washing the Feet of Peter
Jesuit institute in Pune © Jyoti Sahi 2014

Here the pipal leaf, a symbol of enlightenment in Buddhism, is used to highlight the significance of Jesus’ enactment during the last supper.

Dalit Madonna
Jesuit institute in Pune © Jyoti Sahi 2014

In an Indian folk tradition the grinding stone used to prepare the house-hold meal is called the “mother stone” with the smaller stone in its hollow center called the “baby stone”. Together Mother and Baby at Bethlehem (which means the “house of bread”) represent the source of life for the whole community.

Mary with Jesus,
(Triptych), Lutheran Theological College in Ranchi, © Jyoti Sahi 2014

Jesus the Good Shepherd,
(Triptych), Lutheran Theological College in Ranchi, © Jyoti Sahi 2014

Prophetic Dancer-Drummer
(Triptych), Lutheran Theological College in Ranchi, © Jyoti Sahi 2014

This triptych was made for a college chapel in Ranchi. Mary is shown as an Adivasi woman typical of the Chotanagpur area. The three pots with a plant is a symbol of abundance in Jharkhand. Christ’s birth is celebrated with chicken and fish, and the hanging drum is ready to spread the good news.

As the Good Shepherd, a dark tribal Jesus sits with one leg extended, as if in dance. In the background is the shepherd’s helper, bare-chested with Gandhi cap and stick.

As the dancer and drummer, Christ connects to the heart of Adivasi and Dalit culture. More than entertainment, dancing for Adivasis is the breath of life, and being made from the skin of dead animals, drumming central to the Dalit experience.  Here the drum symbolizes the entire creation, everything around the drummer coming alive to its rhythms.

Sharing – To Feed the Hungry

Mission Procura of the Jesuits, Nurnberg, Weltweit Weihnachten, 1993
© Jyoti Sahi 2014

Christ is breaking the bread, but the image of Jesus is enclosed within two offering hands which create a frame for the image. The offering, or praying hands, are those of the worshiper who in the act of remembering Jesus participates in his act of breaking the bread.

Source: Amaladass & Loewner, Christian Themes in Indian Art (Manohar Publishers, 2012), and email correspondence with the artist.

1. Anand Amaladass SJ & Gudrun Loewner, Christian Themes in Indian Art (New Delhi: Manohar Publishers, 2012), p.268

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