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Living with Art

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Le Sutra, which audaciously describes itself as the world’s first Indian art hotel, is a lesson in Indian philosophy, discovers Maria Louis after visiting the new Rajsik floor of the old Pali Hotel in Mumbai.

Earlier this year, a miniature replica of a meditating yogi was found squatting in our office, silently announcing the launch of the Sattvik floor of Le Sutra – the refurbished Pali Hotel in Bandra.

A quote from the Bhagvad Gita inscribed below read: “urdhva-mulam adhah-sakham” (meaning “the roots are above, the branches below”), This sculptural depiction of the concept of being desirous of rising in your level of consciousness was a fitting invitation to partake of the feast of art and craft laid out in a space designed to help visitors look upwards and inwards.

Art is what binds the three levels of Le Sutra (which translated from Sanskrit means “a rope or thread that holds things together”).

Launched with great fanfare through a series of events that introduced the concept via the support of celebrities such as artist Anjolie Ela Menon and dancer Mallika Sarabhai, not to mention international film director Baz Luhrman of Moulin Rouge fame who left his mark through a mural painted on the facade, this unique hotel piques the interest of visitors right at the entrance – where the lotus logo on the façade is created out of three metals: copper, gold and silver to symbolise the three gunas of tamas, rajas and sattva.

Drawing from a palette of philosophy, myth and history, the artists, designers, curators, philosophers and visualisers journeyed across time in search of the elusive “Indianness” that would set this hotel apart.

When we first heard that the new avatar of the three-level hotel from the Bajaj Hotels Group is based on the three gunas or human attributes, we were sceptical about how it would be translated into the design – until we stepped into the minimalistic rooms on the Sattvik floor, which represents the celestial, ethereal and spiritual nature of man.

According to Indian philosophy, the gunas are tendencies within people, nature and things that are essential to the evolution of consciousness: tamas, associated with excessiveness, self-indulgence and gratification – as seen in the colourful, opulent, intricate and erotic; rajas, the force that creates the desire to acquire things – represented in action that is vibrant, passionate, vivacious and stylish; and sattva, the aspiration for higher realms of balance, order and purity – as reflected in the ethereal and aesthetic look the Sattvik floor aspires to.

The rooms of each level of Le Sutra are based on characters (Ravan, Ashok, Buddha) or characteristics (sensuality, love, purification) inspired by Indian myth and philosophy. Every room is treated as a canvas where the story that forms the guest experience is told through art.

Level 3: Sattva
Prakriti Room: A representation of nature, it encompasses all that is material. The three gunas or qualities/attributes are a part of Prakriti – the feminine principle of existence. The observer is called Purush or the spirit of consciousness, and the observed is called Prakriti.

The room presents nature as it exists and super nature that one should aim for. While the painting depicts that a wise man abstracts himself from all that is a product of the three gunas, the teak root chair signifies that everything has an expiry date and reminds us of our mortality.

Nirvana Room: It portrays that we can face defeat, obstacles and temptations which work to bring us down to lower realms of existence.

Though the Buddha is portrayed as a character, the room is meant to symbolise the quality of being awakened. The fresco showcases Prince Siddharth’s journey towards becoming Gautam Buddha by illustrating his life as a wealthy prince and his four encounters: with the old, the sick, the dead and the monk.

The four torans of the Sanchi Stupa on the Stupa chair each represent love, peace, trust and courage – all very important attributes if one is to attain the Bodhisattva state of mind.

Shuddhi Room: Shuddhi in simple terms means cleansing. As a person conquers weakness, temptation and desires of the lower chakras, the kundalini or consciousness level rises. The mandu inlaid on the floor indicates an ancient water purification system, where water slowed down as it passed through rough stones – making it pure and clean.

This is a parallel for the mind having to attain tranquillity and advance towards a higher state of consciousness.

The painting talks about an ‘out-of-body experience’ where the kundalini has fully risen and the soul leaves from the Sahasra chakra, to be greeted by a devi/angel who gifts a lotus as a symbol of purity. The crow signifies death and the hour-glass shows that time is limited and relative.

The inspiration of the Yoga Danda chair comes from the yog dand, an ancient device designed by the yogis to harness the power of Yoga by the balancing of energy through corrective breathing techniques.

Mandala Room: Mandala is derived from the Sanskrit word manda meaning essence, and the suffix la which means container. So it means container of the essence of energy. The mandala represents wholeness and can be seen as a geometrical cosmic diagram which connects the finite to the infinite, the world that exists both beyond and within our mind.

The Shri Yantra, which is considered the greatest and the most auspicious of all yantras, displays the splendour of the male and female principles to manifest the root principles of life (tattvas).

The centre of this yantra is the bindu, which represents the union of the manifest and unmanifest worlds. It is surrounded by nine interlocking triangles – five representing the female principle and four representing the male principle. The Mandala chair shows a lotus in full bloom, symbolising enlightenment.

It depicts the thousand petal chakra or Sahasra chakra, which is the seat of control of cosmic energy linking the microcosm to the macrocosm.

Level 2: Rajas
Dyuutya Room: Gambling (dyoot) was the royal pastime of the kings of yore. The painting represents various elements of gambling: chess, cards, horses and elephants, while the Saap Seedi Chair is a depiction of the game of Snakes (saanp) and Ladders (seedhi).

Kathak Room: The word kathak comes from the Sanskrit word katha meaning story – so the ‘kathak’ is a storyteller. Patronised by the Kings of the Mughal era, this is the ancient art of storytelling through dance.

The artwork shows two dancers, male and female, with different hand postures and ghungroos or bells. The painting has a portrait of Wajid Ali Shah of Oudh – a connoisseur of Kathak. The Sarangi chair is a depiction of the Sarangi, a musical instrument carved out of a single block of red cedar and used as an accompaniment for the dance.

Shringar Room: Shringar is the art of adornment, romance and beauty. The painting showcases the different moods of a woman. The Peacock chair is a symbol of beauty and grace; while the peacock feather, which takes the form of an eye, represents knowledge. So, a complete woman has all three qualities: beauty, knowledge and grace.

Karna Room: Many believe that the true hero of the Mahabharata was Karna and not Arjun – as his valour, generosity, forgiveness, loyalty and hard work gave Karna his power. The painting shows the hero in the battlefield. The Wheel chair depicts Karna’s hand trying to pull out a chariot wheel from the mud during battle.

Now that the Rajsik floor has been unveiled and the top two levels of Le Sutra are ready for occupation, we must say we admire the detail and determination with which the design concept has been executed. The rooms may be small in size, but they are big on design. While there is scope for improvement in the quality of art in some rooms, this project is not just a pretentious bid to be different – but shows a commitment to the cause of promoting Indian art and culture.

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June 2020
10 Jun 2020