Artist Drdha Vrata Gorrick reveals how to turn a drawing into a vessel for the divine. In conversation with Veda Studies’ Sophie French.

na ca rūpaṃ vinā dhyātuṃ kenapi śakyate ||
sarva rūpa nivṛttā hi buddhiḥ kutrāsya tiṣṭhati | nivṛttā glāyate buddhir nidrayā vā parīyate || tasmād vidvān upāsīta buddhyā sākaram eva tam | asti tasya parokṣaṃ tad iti kiṅcid anusmaret || sarvathā akāram uddiṣṭaṃ na parityajya paṇḍitaḥ ||

Vishnu Samhita 29:55 — 57

Translation of the above:

Without a form how can God be meditated upon? If he is completely formless, where will the mind fix itself? When there is nothing for the mind to attach itself to, it will slip away from meditation, or will glide into a state of slumber. Therefore the wise will meditate on some form, remembering however that it is an indirect method, a particularisation or indication of that which is completely formless. 

Devotion is to become that which the devotee is devoted to. In Sanātana Dharma, this devotion is Bhakti, an absolute immovable faith that the invocation of Brahman will take us to that infinite, unchangeable, eternal consciousness. The Hindu deities are all Brahman represented in a litany of forms just like the same Brahman is ever-present in each one of us even when duality makes us forget, even when we are at our worst, even when we are completely broken we are still that. 

When devotees of Sanātana Dharma call upon the name of God, they use the language of poetry (Veda), the grammar of dance (Bharatanatyam), and the imagination becomes a conduit to manifest the abstract Brahman through the art of Chitra (imagery and iconography) and Śilpa Śāstra (architecture and sculpture).

When my Veda teacher, Shantalaji introduced me to US-born artist and the founder of Divyakala, Drdha Vrata Gorrick, my first question to him was how to achieve Sarasvatī — she is the form of Brahman I’m devoted to and everything I imagine is her. Everything I write is for her. “We always start with the grid. The grid has to be precise and the most important part of the drawing is the centre line, the axis, because this gives symmetry and symmetry is an essential component of Indian classical art. So there is a lot of emphasis on the axis line and then we work out the different measurements and every devī and devata has different measurements and even within those measurements each of their different forms have different measurements. Like for Viṣṇu, all his āvatāras have unique scales. I was trained according to the rules of Śilpa Śāstra and the aesthetics of this system are quantitative — we follow the tālamāna system of measurement. Tāla can also mean to clap and a clap is a measurement used for music and dance as well. It’s all interconnected. In the case of drawing and sculpture, the tāla is measured from the wrist to the tip of the middle finger and the scale we use to draw or sculpt the deities varies from ekatāla to daśatāla and each tāla is subdivided into 12 aṅgulas (finger’s width). So these scales give us direction on size, scale and proportion. For example, Uttama (highest) daśatāla is usually the measurement we use for Brahmā, Viṣṇu and Śiva. In the case of Goddesses, like Sarasvatī  for example, or even Lakṣmī, and Pārvatī, we would use the madhyamatāla (medium) measurements and the adhamatāla (small) is used to depict vāhanas, dvārapālas, etc. Once I figure out the scale, the next thing I do is calculate that scale to fit the medium I am working with. So in my case, paper. It’s a relative measurement scale and it all sounds very complicated but once you apply and practise, it starts to make sense. The idea is that the artist has to maintain these proportions throughout the artwork. That’s what’s important. The Śāstras give instructions on how to divide the different parts of the body, the length, the width, the height and they are all so precise that there’s even descriptions of how long or short the fingernails are, how many eyelashes are on the eyes —  such is the level of detail. Then there are details about the deity’s attributes and ornamentation. So in the case of Sarasvatī, she has certain objects that she holds in her hands — the vīṇā  (to represent the arts), the script or scroll to represent Veda (she is the holder of Veda), the mālā (to represent meditation) and the ornamentation is where the artist gets some space to add our touch. This is where our artistry unites with the rules of the scriptures,” explains Drdha.

Drdha works on detailing Naṭarāja in Tāṇḍava Natyam. Music for video by Rahul Khirwadkar.


Theory is Practice, too

A few years ago, I had interviewed a shilpi (sculptor) and he had informed me about the dhyāna ślokas associated with sculpture. I only began to understand the value of scriptures after I started studying Veda recitation with Shantalaji. You cannot experience or understand without practice and reciting Veda is the only way to experience mantra and understand the subtle energy of sound that leads to silence. 

I asked Drdha about the dhyāna ślokas and was delighted to hear that he did study Sanskrit and knows the invocation prayers and also finds inspiration for every work he does from the dhyāna ślokas. “Most of the content in Indian traditional art forms are related to divinity. So it is important for the artist to have a connection to spirituality and the dhyāna ślokas help the artist to get into the right mood and frame of mind to create something sacred. These ślokas are a way to meditate upon the form we want to create and help us visualise the end result. They get you into the right vibration and then you bring this positive vibration to what you are creating. Traditional Indian art is an attempt to create something that is actually beyond our realm and the ślokas are like taking the blessings of the God or Goddess to allow me as a normal human being to bring divinity into what I create. It is almost like I am not the doer but a conduit through which the divine will express itself. So even before I draw or start a class with my students, we always pray and invoke Gaṇeśa and Sarasvatī. These prayers also create the humility to acknowledge that everything we create is empowered by God and the artist is just a tool in the whole process.”

A rendition of Gaṇeśa by Drdha.


The dhyāna ślokas are instructions for how to draw the deities and what each deity should look like. “Some deities have very specific attributes. For example, Viṣṇu wears the Śrīvatsa, which is very specific to him and you won’t find that on any other deity. The Śrīvatsa is a reference to his consort Lakṣmī and it also represents Māyā. Another example is Śiva as Ardhanārīśvara which represents masculine and feminine so this form of Śiva wears two types of earrings, one is feminine and one is masculine. You also have to consider if the deity is in standing or seated form — these positions, in some cases, are a reference to asanas. There are different forms of standing and sitting as well, for example, there is a form called bhaṅga for standing positions where the body is depicted like a curve that looks like the letter ‘S’. This shows movement and there are a variety of bhaṅgas and we have to use the correct bhaṅga for each deity so the details are endless. Every detail has a reason and meaning to it including the weapons and objects they hold and even their vāhanas have symbolic meaning nothing is random. So as an artist, I find it very interesting that in addition to the aesthetic value, there is also a spiritual value I can get insight into when I draw. I learn about the symbolism and the meaning behind each deity. So when I go to a temple for example, I recognise these details and that makes the experience so much more meaningful. I have to know all these details before I draw and these details become a template from where I can start and then I put it all together in a creative way in the best way that I can while staying within the boundaries of the proportions. That is a very important aspect to follow because those measurements are what give the art that sacred or divine quality. As I mentioned earlier, the artist can bring their individual touch through the design of the ornamentation. For example, the Hoysala sculptures they took ornamentation to a whole new level and that was also because they were using a very soft stone so they could push that material to its limit. On the other hand, the Pallavas and Cholas in the East Coast were using solid, hard granite so they focused more on the form of the body. So the material also dictates what the art will look like. I work with paper, so I have a lot more freedom than if I was working with wood or metal. Having said that, I have to consider whether my drawing will remain just a painting or will it be a design that will translate to a mūrti and if it is going to be a mūrti, what material will be used? Stone and wood have some limits in terms of weight distribution. For example, if the hands are too far away from the body, there is the risk of them breaking because of lack of support, so there is a lot an artist has to consider before starting work on any project,” says Drdha.

Drdha working on Tribhaṅga (an āvatāra of Kṛṣṇa). Kṛṣṇa is depicted in bhaṅga position (standing posture) where the body is depicted like a curve that looks like the letter ‘S’. You can see the Śrīvatsa on the top left just above his chest – this mark is exclusive to Viṣṇu āvatāras.


Drawing for Veda Studies  

A sneak-peek into Nitya Prārthanā and Nitya Dhyāna — compiled by the Founder of Veda Studies, Shantala Sriramaiah, designed by the Founder of Tacit Design, Sindhu Kulkarni, Artwork by the Founder of Divyakala, Drdha Vrata Gorrick and Published by the Founder of Indica, Sri Hari Kiran Vadlamaniji.


Veda Studies and Indica just launched two prayer books called Nitya Prārthanā and Nitya Dhyāna, and the artwork in these books has been illustrated by Drdha. Speaking of his collaboration with Veda Studies, Drdha says, “I first connected with Shantala through a friend. Shantala and I just happened to be living in Belgium and she was just 30 minutes from where I lived. So I connected with her and we even wanted to collaborate and at that time we were thinking I could do a workshop but I was in the process of moving to India with my wife and so the workshop never happened. But then she told me about these books and introduced me to Sindhu Kulkarni, the Founder of Tacit Design. Sindhu designed the books and I provided the art elements in terms of the icons used, the images of the devīs and devatas and I drew some maṇḍalas as well. I was also familiar with Indica, the publisher of the book because I had done an interview for one of their platforms a while ago and I love the work they do. I’m very excited to be a part of these books and I appreciate how all these people are working so hard to share this profound knowledge.” 

The Making of an Artist

Drdha with his teacher Sri G. Thirugnanam


To become a conduit for the divine through art takes time and this time is measured in lifetimes. Drdha’s journey began when was very young and he was lucky to be born to parents who recognised and encouraged his talent. He began his education in Western art and was always inclined to classical art forms that have a measured aesthetic. In his teens, he was mentored by an architect who he travelled with to India and that’s when he started to hone his skill in classical Indian art. This journey has been ongoing for decades and during one of his travels to South India, he found his teacher in Mahabalipuram, a town in Tamil Nadu. “I had never heard of this place before but when I went there, I was surrounded by all this ancient art like cave temples and it was all so inspiring and I was convinced that this is what I want to learn. I went to the local arts college and they directed me to my teacher, Sri G. Thirugnanam. He had already retired from teaching but accepted me as a student and that’s when I really learned Indian iconography, iconometry the measurements, the proportions and I spent a few years learning various mediums. My teacher would take me to all these temples and explain how they were built and I was exposed to the history of different art schools and systems in South India. A major part of my studies was to understand how these art forms are connected to temples. I also started taking Sanskrit classes to learn how to read and write Devanāgarī. My teacher also recommended that I learn a little bit of sculpting so I have experience in three-dimensional mediums as well. I met stone carvers, wood carvers and it was very labour-intensive work and I was living in austere conditions but I didn’t care because I just wanted to learn as much as I could. I learnt wax modelling which is the first process of metal casting and learning to sculpt in wax offered a lot more flexibility than stone or wood because with the latter if you do one thing wrong the stone can break. My teacher took me to music concerts as well and I enjoyed Carnatic music. All these traditional art forms are so connected.”

Drdha works on a wax model before metal casting.


After spending around five years studying, Drdha spent some time at a farm in Karnataka where he met his wife and they moved back to the West where he worked in Graphic Design for a while but calls those years the darkest time of his life. When COVID hit, Drdha and his wife made the decision to move back to India and they settled in Udupi where he now works and teaches. “Teaching happened by chance when someone asked me to create a curriculum and teach weekly classes. So that is how I got into teaching and that worked out well. I also get requests now for design projects and it took time, but I am doing what I love,” says Drdha.

Drdha during his educational travels.


I asked him what it takes to become so dedicated to what you love. In this materialistic world, pursuing art, that too, traditional art forms, is a daunting ambition. Drdha’s advice to aspiring students is, “These traditional art forms are under threat because I think for generations, parents have discouraged potential artists from pursuing this path. It is a difficult journey but if a child shows talent, I think it is important for the parents to nurture that talent. I also tell students who are confused to always have an alternative plan so you have something to fall back on. But if you have talent for art whether it is dance, music or painting, pursue your talent and give it a chance. For me, what I do is therapeutic and meditative. We’re living in trying times and everytime I feel a psychological or emotional problem, I go to my room, sit down with my pencil and start drawing. I am immediately in another world. In India, I feel this is a tradition because art is a form of worship. Every festival in India is celebrated with music, with dance and with art (rangolis). I think ancient India figured out this meditative effect that art has on a person and that’s why art is such a big part of Indian culture all Indian classical art is elevated as an offering to God.” 

I know what Drdha means about using art to heal and to be present. When I write poetry, the only thing that becomes real are my words. How I choose to shape the poem, which metre I choose to write in and every part of the intellect becomes absorbed in that process. There is no place in the intellect for memories from the past or imagining the future, only the present is relevant and the present is always without burden because it exists fleetingly. This feeling of removing oneself from time and memory allows the intellect to feel presence without any identification of the conditioned self. You only exist with your art and that union is very similar to how we feel when we recite Veda. All the Indriya-s are absorbed in the mantra and that sound becomes the only reality. Even after reciting, you will hear the mantras in your head and that becomes ingrained in your consciousness it cleans the mind and purifies the intellect and only a clean mind and pure intellect is fit for meditation. The poetry of the Veda is made up of sounds that were revealed to Ṛṣi-s and Ṛṣikā-s (seers) in deep states of meditation. They were designed for transcendence and like all art forms, reciting the poetry of Veda makes life better and as a bonus, it can enable transcendence, too. All it takes is Śraddhā, practice and time (measured in lifetimes). We’re all so blessed to have been touched by Veda in this lifetime. Om. 

For further information on Drdha’s work and to join his classes, you can access his website at Divyakala.