Calming the Storm (Triptych), from Sarmaya commission Issanama by Paul Abraham in collaboration with Manish Soni

Paul Abraham in collaboration with Manish Soni

Calming the Storm (Triptych), from Sarmaya commission Issanama, 2017–18, Opaque watercolour and natural pigments on hand-made paper, Each sheet: 615 x 505 mm, Sarmaya Arts Foundation, Mumbai, 2018.33.8; 2018.33.9; 2018.33.10, © Sarmaya Arts Foundation

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Rebuking the Demon

Commentary by

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).

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