Omar Khayyam, or Omar, the tent-maker, as the term ‘Khayyam’ literally means, said, ‘Enjoy wine and women and don’t be afraid, God has compassion’; and still more, ‘And, if the wine you drink and lips you press end in Nothing, all things end in nothing, then fancy, while thou art, thou art (even if you drink and make love), but what, thou shalt be Nothing, thou shalt not be less’, that is, ‘Nothing’ can not reduce into anything less. He said that the dust alike stopped the mouths of both, the sages and saints who discuss theology, and those who drink wine and press lips. He professed that the life’s tenure is brief and hence use it more and more in enjoying it : ‘And, as Cock crew, those who stood before the Tavern shouted “open the door ! you know how little time we have to stay, and once departed, may return no more”. Some discovered in Khayyam’s life-view pure hedonism, while others, a deep underlying mystique, the divine experience revealed through the ‘sensuous’. Hedonist or not, atheist or believer, and his statement has mystic dimensions or plain sensualism, the Rubayyat of Omar Khayyam bred strong imagery effectively reproducible on the canvas revealing mystique of flesh – the depth of the surface, and hence, the theme of many paintings, especially of post-miniature era.
The painting has been rendered pursuing the idiom of modern art as prevailed around 1880-1900 A.D., especially, as practiced by artists of Bengal who preferred treating realistically the persons, as also the themes, born of pure imagination, or those borrowed from other mediums, such as poetry. Even mythical beings or themes that they painted looked like things of the other day. With its bold imagery represented in unambiguous diction, Omar Khayyam’s poetry won greater favour of a number of modern painters, especially those from Bengal. This contemporary work seeking to continue the great tradition of combining the realistic technique with the imaginative theme, not necessarily based on this or that particular quatrain, represents Omar Khayyam’s broad life-view. Using the figures of a Sheikh-like looking passionate Arab clad in a blue gown and a turban dyed as in the colour of fire, and with a glass of wine in hand, each aspect endowed with an analogical breadth of meaning, and a semi-nude young beauteous woman wreathing around his figure with alike desire and heat of passion the painting reveals the same thirst or impatience for the life’s enjoyment as reveals Khayyam’s quatrain : “open the door ! you know how little time we have to stay, and once departed, may return no more”.
Apart this hedonistic visualization of Khayyam’s life-view, those who incline to descend below the surface in search of a deeper meaning, the ambience as the painting has conceived it : the columns and all things, the wine-jar, lyre, the lovers’ wears, and even the lovers, all melting into the blue lustre, and all forms, into fluid waves, affords them scope for discovering it. In the painting’s ambience they might discover the mystique of ‘nothingness’ that characterizes all ‘things’. Once the intoxication is on its peak, whether born of wine or of the mystic experience of transcendence, all things appear to be dissolving into the formless expanse, often perceived as the sky – the blue, that appears to be there but is a mere immeasurable delusive void that nothing except its nothingness defines and its own aura brightens.
This description by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr. Daljeet. Prof. Jain specializes on the aesthetics of literature and is the author of numerous books on Indian art and culture. Dr. Daljeet is the curator of the Miniature Painting Gallery, National Museum, New Delhi. They have both collaborated together on a number of books.