‘Darvesh’ : The S.L. Parasher sculpture inspired by an ancient Sufi dance

He raised his arm towards the sky to express emotion and achieve the wisdom and love of God.

The ‘Darvesh’ is a sculpture by eminent partition era artist and sculptor S.L. Parasher. Made in mulberry wood, it’s one of Parasher’s expressionist pieces and one of the masterpieces of the Government Museum and Art Gallery in Chandigarh.

sufi dervish sculpture SL Parasher
‘Darvish’ by S.L. Parasher. Mulberry wood.

What is a Darvesh?

Darveshes or dervishes are Sufis who have rejected the material world and have taken vows of poverty and austerity.

A GATHERING OF DERVISHES, Mughal India, Circa 1605 | Christies

The whirling dervish ceremonies that are so popular today were founded in the 12th c by the renowned Persian poet Jalaludin Rumi as a form of meditation. The dance is a traditional form of Sufi worship – a continuous twirling with one hand pointed towards the sky, reaching for the divine; the other hand pointed toward the ground. Even now, on Rumi’s birthday an Annual Whirling Dervish Festival is held in Konya, Turkey.

Sufi whirling dervish
Whirling Dervishes | Source: svklimkin

The whirling dervish ceremony blurs the line between dance, prayer and meditation. It also becomes a mode of self reflection. Perhaps this is what inspired S.L. Parasher to create the wooden masterpiece.

Darvesh : the sculpture by SL Parasher

For art historian Vrinda Agrawal, the sculpture of a dervish “represents the artist’s search for the transcendental. In his quest for the divine the dervish enters a trance like state – becoming a metaphor for the artist’s own practice that was deeply intuitive and guided by the flow of creative energy“.

The momentum in the lower part of the wood, arises in contrast to to the abbreviated legs to the vertical outstretched arms and an agonised elongated face like an African carving, imbued with passionate feeling for suffering man, almost a kind of Jesus on the Cross.

Pathway, volume 16 [ marg publications 1962]

In 1936 Parasher had joined the the Mayo School of Art in Lahore, later even becoming the Vice President of the college. Unfortunately, due to the partition he was forced to leave Lahore. His next job, a supervisor in a refugee camp in Ambala, exposed him to an atmosphere of separation, fear and anguish. It left a lasting impression on him and his work.

Initially, Parasher’s paintings were realistic depictions of daily life, but later he turned towards symbolism and spirituality for inspiration. “However, after his retirement from teaching he began experimentations with more mediums for his sculptures. Subject wise too he turned his gaze inwards, becoming more spiritual and introspective” writes Agrawal in a book about the masterpieces of the museum.  

Spiritualism in S.L. Parasher’s work

Many of his later sculptures followed this theme of spiritualism. The Darvesh is only one example. In another sculpture titled ‘Lonely Pilgrim’, Parasher honours the faith and true devotion towards Almighty. Other sculptures of the same theme include idols of deities like Vishnu and Ganesh from the Hindu pantheon.

lonely pilgrim statue sl parasher
Lonely Pilgrim by S.L. Parasher

Another observation is that Parasher has repeatedly drawn dancing figures and has shown people in celebration, a stark contrast from his partition work.

sl parasher sketches dancing

Parasher had an animistic spiritualism which saw the aura and spirit of everything. This belief flowed from his paintings and sculptures, giving his art an individualistic quality.

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