Contemporary artist Manish Soni employs the style of sixteenth-century Mughal miniatures to plant Jesus deep in the artistic tradition of the Indian subcontinent. This triptych is part of Soni’s project the Issanama, ‘the Epic of Jesus’, which aims visually to translate stories from the life of Christ into the cultural milieu of northern India.
An ambitious undertaking, the Issanama presents Christ’s story as relevant to all cultures and at home in any age. The use of rich colours and detailing, characteristic of imperial Mughal style, give the triptych an air of authority. Jesus is depicted as physically larger than other characters, highlighting his central role in the drama, and his divine status.
The triptych presents three scenes. At left, Jesus stands on shore surrounded by the crowd, preparing to depart by rowboat for a larger sailing vessel beyond. Similar to the imperial court, onlookers boast rich garments and rest under colourful tents. In contrast, Jesus stands in a simple robe, distinctive Mughal patka sash tied at his waist, with a cloak (rather than a turban) draped over his head. Jesus looks at the people, while gesturing towards the sea—inviting his disciples towards the waves.
At centre, Jesus sleeps in a crimson blanket as violent black waves toss the boat. Ten disciples struggle in the vessel. One is thrown overboard as another tries to hold him fast. One disciple surveys the sea from the mast. Only a single disciple goes to Jesus, prodding him.
The tempest is driven by a demonic figure, seen behind Jesus in the upper left. With two wide eyes, a human nose, and fanged mouth, Satan hopes to consume the boat and all inside.
At right, Jesus stands with hand raised, blessing the now pacific sea. The waves recede. In top left, the demon is reduced to a small, smiling horned creature. Soni reveals the storm as demonic, testing the faith of the disciples—yet Christ reigns, even over demons. Jesus dwarfs his disciples, who are seen exhausted, relieved, full of wonder. ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him? (Mark 4:41).
23 And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. 24And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. 25And they went and woke him, saying, “Save, Lord; we are perishing.” 26And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O men of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm. 27And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?”
35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. 37And a great storm of wind arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. 38But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care if we perish?” 39And he awoke and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. 40He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” 41And they were filled with awe, and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?”
22 One day he got into a boat with his disciples, and he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side of the lake.” So they set out, 23and as they sailed he fell asleep. And a storm of wind came down on the lake, and they were filling with water, and were in danger. 24And they went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and the raging waves; and they ceased, and there was a calm. 25He said to them, “Where is your faith?” And they were afraid, and they marveled, saying to one another, “Who then is this, that he commands even wind and water, and they obey him?”