[MOSA Italy] Indian Art Series – Giampaolo Tomassetti Text by Krishna Dharma [Sept 2015]


Download Indian Art Series – Mahabharata – .pdf (124 pages, 5 Mb).


MOSA purchased the Mahabharata collection by Jananjana Dasa before it miraculously found its way to the ground floor of the main building of Villa Vrindavan, where it is now permanently housed. The works seem to have been made for the walls of the renovated villa, without anyone having been conscious of how this match would take place. Maybe providence played a role. The whole collection perfectly fits in the spacious ground-floor rooms. when I walk through the rooms filled with Mahabharata scenes, I am mesmerized by the size of the paintings and the intensity of the anecdotes and stories they present. They carry us back to a time of great saintly warriors and sages.

This exhibit in Villa Vrindavan, just outside Florence, Italy, marks the opening of MOSA’s second branch (its original galleries are in Belgium). MOSA hopes to bring to this beautiful villa in Tuscany a variety of sacred art, including Vaishnava and hindu art. we are convinced that visitors will cherish their Villa Vrindavan experience: a blend of art, music, dance, spirituality, and amazing vegetarian cuisine.

MOSA renovated Villa Vrindavan’s main building to house a permanent collection of ISKCON art based on the great epics Mahabharata and ramayana and the famous Bhagavat Purana, sacred to all Vaishnavas. Also, MOSA renovated the Villa’s old chapel to house temporary exhibits of devotional and sacred art.

I wish to transform Villa Vrindavan into a spiritual experience whose beauty and message touches every visitor. May everyone’s heart become purified in this transcendental realm of spiritual devotion.

Some words of gratitude . . .

To the creator of this amazing collection and his friend who had the vision to carry it forward: Jananjana Dasa and Pandu Putra Dasa – thank you for sharing your passion, talent, vision, patience, tolerance, and joy . . .

To the leader who is slowly but surely putting Villa Vrindavan on the map of places to visit in Tuscany: Parabhakti Dasa – thank you for your determination and leadership skills . . .

To the devotees of Villa Vrindavan, who work hard to realize Srila Prabhupada’s dream of making ISKCON an exemplary spiritual institution that uplifts humanity – thank you for sacrificing your comfort and security for this higher goal.

Martin Gurvich, Director of MOSA


Lokesh_ChandraMahabharata is a radiant epic that builds on the intensity of the victory of truth over the force of malevolent power. It is the ensoulment of wisdom. An ancient Sanskrit dictum advises that we seek the plentitude of the eternal truths of the Vedas (sruti) in the values of the epics and Puranas (itihasa- puranabhyam srutim upabrinhayet). The epics ramayana and Mahabharata have both been ways of values, from royal courts to the humblest folk, in the charisma of their narrations and performances, in their depictions as murals and sculptures. This catalogue captures the horizons of sanctity in the charm of paintings.

The sound (sabda) of the epic becomes the form (rupa) depicted by brush. Vyasa’s words of imperative evoke the subtlety and richness of our souls. The Mahabharata has been rewritten in literary forms, e.g., in dialogue for performances. It has been painted and sculpted all over Asia, symbolic of the ethos and dynamism of a profound life. This catalogue depicts a modern rendering of its charm and grace, of the nature and nurture of the epic, such that the fratricidal conflict of the Pandavas and Kauravas leads us from the evils of greed to the great hidden values in our hearts.

The artist has made an endeavour to reconstitute us into devotion. These paintings are silent poetry, wherein the overflow of splendour awakens the inner being of humans. Their visual form is the unity of a vision (darsana) and experience (sadhana) that becomes a hymn of transcendence. here any abstract beyond form, or amurata, becomes an icon, or murti. The paintings of the ageless epic become the purity of moonlight, shedding lustre everywhere. These paintings have to be seen as visualisations of perennial social and spiritual values that seek investiture in the subtle and tender summons of life and the yonder universe. The form, or murta, draws humans to their depths, as it stirs the spirit as well as the eye.

The image of the feminine in the Mahabharata reaches the perfection of wisdom and the victory of truth in the person of Draupadi. She is unfettered, outspoken, and independent in the deconstruction of the social conditioning. She incarnates life, to quench the embers of the elders at the royal court of Duryodhana. She is beyond Yudhisthira, a creature of conventions. Yudhisthira stands for law and Draupadi for justice. The Mahabharata frees the victims of psychophysical complexes and leads them to their own transcendence. Draupadi is the serenity of the mind beyond the turbulence of life.

Yudisthira describes her oneiric, dreamlike beauty and yet pawns her, a victim of slumbering forces. As Karna informs her that Yudisthira has lost her to Duryodhana and that he will now take her to the court, she asks, “Can one who has lost himself pawn me? Can the dharma of social conventions be the dharma of supreme spontaneity?” Karna returns alone, and the royal elders fall silent. Duryodhana orders Duhshasana to bring her to the court. Draupadi wails as they attempt to forcibly disrobe her.


She invokes Lord Krishna, who provides her unending robes. The terror of social logic is replaced by germinative spiritual space. The Kurus are shipwrecked in the stormy sea of the gross world. She sidelines dharma-raja Yudhisthira for dharma Krishna, who steps in to eliminate the disintegrating forces.


This exhibition of paintings is the watershed of the here and now, in which the final word is that dharma emancipates our lives from being lacerated by the reign of hyper-materiality. here is the moment to create the pure, spiritual dynamism of life. Nothing remains neutral once it is allowed its depths. Sushma K. Bahl and Martin Gurvich lift the veil of fleeting transience and open the lotus of the mind. Our minds soak in our inner fields of dharma and ripen the fruits of enlightenment. This unique exhibition of the great epic represents victory over the insubstantialities of samsara, or repeated birth and death. My admiration goes to this life-giving vision, which flows our way from sublime centuries past.

Sushma_parthiv_B4A series of colourful, creative compositions, inspired by India’s Vedic culture, adorning the galleries at Villa Vrindavan, a sixteenth-century mansion in Italy, offers visitors a sublime experience. The painted expressions on display entail stories, symbols, and semblances derived from the ancient Sanskrit epic Mahabharata. Lined with European and Italian Renaissance influences, together with Indian decorative elements and a spiritual ethos, the elaborately drawn and brightly coloured suite articulates the great heroic epic, which is essentially about dharma (moral law). It traverses the struggle for sovereignty between two groups of cousins: the Kauravas (the sons of Dhritarashtra, a descendant of Kuru) and the Pandavas (the sons of Pandu, also Kuru’s descendant). The intrigues, struggles, and morals underlined in the spiritual narrative are replayed in amazing dramatic imagery.


Giampaolo Tomassetti, or Jnananjana Dasa, was born on March 8, 1955, in Terni, Italy. From 1980 to 1987, he was a founding member of the International Vedic Art Academy, located at Villa Vrindavan in Italy. A number of his paintings appear in books published by the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust. he has held about thirty exhibitions all around Italy. One of his great loves is painting frescoes and walls. he worked on the Mahabharata project for the last twelve years in Città di Castello, Perugia, Italy. His father was an authoritative figure, who worked as a policeman, and his soft-hearted mother was a talented seamstress with a taste for design. Young Tomassetti left home to live on his own while still in his teens, after his handicapped brother and then his mother died in quick succession.

A couple of years of studying philosophy at a university left him looking within. he felt something was missing and wondered who he was. This inner quest, followed by an encounter with members of the rolling Stones after their concert in Germany, led him onto an artistic psychedelic path. he turned to Oriental philosophy and Indian spirituality and joined The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) in the nineteen seventies. Marriage to another devotee when just twenty required him to earn a living by working as an administrator in a school for a couple of years. But he was more interested in art, and he drew and painted pictures whenever he had some time. It was with encouragement from some American artists who were Krishna devotees that he took to art full-time, as a passion and a profession.

he took art classes and learned to draw, made paintings and murals, produced crafts in clay and wood, worked on frescos, did design graphics, and restored old buildings, learning on the job. “It was all very idealistic and spiritual,” recalls the artist. By this time he was known by his spiritual name, Jnananjana Dasa. he worked relentlessly with other devotees to raise one and a half million euros to buy a heritage building that they later named Villa Vrindavan. (It houses the art gallery for this show.) There the artists founded the International Vedic Art Academy. An American couple, ram Dasa (Kevin Yee) and Dhriti Dasi (Miriam Briks), helped him refine his form. Formal training at an art academy in Florence, which followed, empowered him with theoretical knowledge and the skills to draw anatomy.

The artist took a trip to India in 1981. Traveling for three months there “was an enriching experience, which offered me an opportunity to see and take part in India’s spiritual traditions and art practices,” says the artist. The western training had given Jnananjana a sound grounding in realism. It taught him how to use transparent and opaque colours and how to draw landscapes and portraits. The Indian experience enabled him to add decorative elements The outcome is reflected in the magnificent series that features episodes of the Mahabharata on an expansive scale. There are twenty-three large paintings in the collection, which visualise scenes of the Mahabharata.

krishna dharmaKrishna Dharma lives in England with his wife, Cintamani, and three children: Madhva, Radhika, and Janaki. he is the author of a number of English retellings of ancient Indian classics, including Mahabharata, Ramayana, and Panchatantra. he is also a regular guest broadcaster on the BBC’s Pause For Thought. he writes many articles on current events from the Vedic perspective, as a student of his Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the Founder-Acharya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. Prabhupada is the author of acclaimed English translations of and commentaries on the Bhagavad-gita, Srimad Bhagavatam, and Sri Caitanya-caritamrta. Krishna Dharma’s aim is to make these teachings accessible and relevant to today’s world. his motto is “Spiritual Solutions for Material Problems,” which sums up his mission of addressing the multitude of society’s problems with the profound teachings of ancient sages.

sushmabahlSushma K. Bahl (Delhi) is the author of 5000 Years of Indian Art and former head of Arts & Culture for the British Council India. She is also an independent arts adviser, writer and curator and organizes festivals and cultural projects internationally. Sushma was involved with the Triennale-India (guest director), Bharat rang Mahotsav (project consultant), Asian Art Biennale-Bangladesh (jury member) and ASEAN artists’ residency & exhibition-India (curator). The art exhibition ways of Seeing she curated won the IhC Art India Award.



LokeshChandraProf. Lokesh Chandra was born in India in 1927 at Ambala, Haryana, in an illustrious family of educators. he is the honorary Director of the International Academy of Indian Culture. Previously he was Chairman of the Indian Council for historical research and the Vice-President of the Indian Council for Cultural relations. he was a Member of Parliament (rajya Sabha) for two terms (1974-80 and 1980-86). In 2006 the Government of India gave him the Padma Bhushan award, one of the most prestigious civilian honours, for his contributions to academic life and public discourse. he has 596 works and text editions to his credit. Among them are classics like the Tibetan-Sanskrit Dictionary, Materials for a history of Tibetan Literature, Buddhist Iconography of Tibet, and his Dictionary of Buddhist Art in fifteen volumes. he now is writing on the cultural exchanges of the last two millenia between India and China. he has traveled widely in Europe, Asia, and Russia.

Editing: Tom J. Guild

Design: Phele Mdabe

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