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Annapurna Dasi’s “Illuminations from the Ramayana” Exhibit Debuts at MOSA
By Tattvavit Das   |  Jun 06, 2024

On May 25, 2024, a new exhibition featuring the paintings of Annapurna Dasi (Anna Johansson) opened at the Museum of Sacred Art (MOSA) in Radhadesh, Belgium. Titled “Illuminations from the Ramayana,” it will be on display for one year and showcase more than 350 of her pencil-and-ink and water-color paintings. 

Originally from Sweden, Annapurna Dasi has spent the last 25 years creating the artwork, mainly for the award-winning trilogy “Sita’s Fire,” written by her daughter, Vrinda Sheth. This mother-daughter collaboration on the trilogy began when Vrinda was nineteen, about to leave Sweden to study Bharat Natyam dancing in Chennai, India. In India, Advaita Chandra Dasa, the director of Torchlight Publishing, greatly encouraged Vrinda, and their first book appeared in 2012. 

Annapurna’s inner vision to illustrate the Ramayana appeared in her heart when she lived at ISKCON’s eco-village in Almviks Gard, Sweden. It grew and coincided with the inner healing of her anxiety and depression.

Annapurna’s passion for book illustration was inspired by European and American artists who were active in “the golden age of illustration,” 1880–1920: Arthur Rachman, Edmund Dulac, and Warwick Goble. During that time, new printing techniques (such as the half-tone process) and cheaper paper production coincided with railways shipping books and magazines. 

Alone in her studio, Annapurna spent many hours collecting online images of action scenes, buildings, animals, weapons, fauna, and more. To her, visual art was a meaningful, important way to share the deep wisdom of the Ramayana. 

In her talk during the opening, she said she appreciated MOSA’s encouragement and support. MOSA co-published with Niyogi Books from India a thick, hardcover catalog of her work called “Illuminations from the Ramayana” and a thinner paperback volume that Annapurna compiled years ago to accompany the trilogy, “The Art of Sita’s Fire, A Mindful Meditation.” The meditation book combines paragraphs of the text with matching paintings.

Shri Saurabh Kumar, the Indian Ambassador to Belgium, was the special guest at the inspiring opening. He arrived in the country in February 2024, and Mahaprabhu Dasa, the Director of MOSA and ISKCON Communications Europe was one of the first visitors to invite him to a program. Before the official MOSA opening, Mr. Kumar and his wife, Smriti Srivastav, attended the afternoon arati in the temple and saw two girls perform a short Bharatnatyam dance from the Ramayana. 

After visiting the two MOSA galleries, the Ambassador was invited onstage before a program of cultural entertainment. He told the audience that the Ramayana helped the Indian diaspora: It kept Indians together, both when they gathered to read it and when they worked to build infrastructures and educational programs in their communities in foreign countries. 

Garuda Dasa (Dr. Graham M. Schweig), Professor of Philosophy and Religion and Director of Studies in Religion at Christopher Newport University in Virginia, spoke next. He praised Annapurna and Vrinda for their mother-daughter collaboration. Garuda Dasa authored “The Unending Gifts of the Ramayana,” a scholarly introduction to the exhibition catalog. (Molly Kaushal, another professor and the Director of the Centre for Heritage Management at Ahmedabad University, also wrote an essay for the catalog.)

Following Garuda’s remarks, ladies and girls from the Indian community of Antwerp performed Bharatnatyam dances. Then Vrinda and her husband, Visvambhar Sheth, led a group of musicians in music and dance. And, finally, a drama of the Ramayana was movingly enacted by the Swiss ensemble Mangala, assisted by a few Radhadesh devotees in nonspeaking roles, under the direction of Gaura-lila Dasa, who also played Dasarath. After the play, the main actors returned to the stage, one at a time, to explain something meaningful about the characters they played. 

When asked about future projects, Annapurna said, “Another project may be a follow-up to ‘The Art of Sita’s Fire.’ I have hundreds of sketches, and I may make a book from them.” Additionally, she mentioned the possibility of a book of her Krishna artwork intended to inspire devotees. 

To learn more about Annapurna Dasi’s upcoming projects or to order books, please visit her website (its online store reopens on July 20, 2024), the Sita’s Fire website, and follow her on Facebook and Instagram

To learn more about MOSA and other upcoming exhibits or initiatives, please visit its website. A gallery of photos and videos from the “Illuminations from the Ramayana” exhibit can be found here. Photo credit: Gert Eelen, Amanina Photography.

This event was part of a whole four-day conference held by ISKCON Communications Europe, which is described here.


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