Jai Khanna’s miniature modern artworks are both surreal and spiritual, prompting the audience to introspect deeply. The artist shares his experiences with Jainism and the thoughts that inspired his last exhibit.
HELLO!: Your last exhibit ‘Inward Trail’ was at Bikaner House in Delhi a few months ago. Tell us what you had in mind when you planned the exhibition.
Jai Khanna: “I’m a staunch follower of Lord Krishna and didn’t know anything about Jainisim till three years ago. In 2019, I had a fascinating experience at Mount Kailash with Sadhguru. The visit gave me a different kind of energy to explore myself. Then in 2021, I had a show in Ahmedabad and got to visit Palitana, near Bhavnagar, one of the oldest and biggest Jain pilgrimages in the world. Here, too, the energy was different. I saw an image of Lord Krishna there that felt like it had some deeper meaning. That year, I began to visit many Jain temples, including Mount Girnar also in Gujarat. But it was the visit to Palitana that motivated me to work on this series. I don’t think anyone has worked on Jain art in great detail, even though the art form has been in existence since the 19th Century. My art is about storytelling and my dreams. This was very well received by the Jain community.”
H!: Can you tell us about the underlying philosophy that reflects in your paintings?
JK: “I practise Jainism and believe that anything is possible in life. If you see my collection, you’ll notice an entire section dedicated to serpents. At first, I was apprehensive about conceptualising this because I was scared of snakes. I had a dream where I saw a huge Sheshnag, along with a guru I later recognised as Lord Parshunath, the second last guru in Jainism. That was when I started creating various avatars of Sheshnag with Parshunath in my paintings. Now, 50 percent of my collection is dominated by snakes. So my journey from a fear of snakes to a love for them is so extraordinary.”
H!: You’ve said your paintings are inspired by your dreams, which often take you through deep jungles and mountains…
JK: “Since childhood, I was very close to Lord Krishna. Being born into a Punjabi family, I didn’t understand much about who he was, but I’d dream about him in different places like forests… Plus, I’ve been travelling since I was 16 to the wildest parts of India. So nature is an important aspect of my work. Even in this show, there are paintings that depict the 24 symbols of Jainism that revolve around nature.”
H!: Your art is both surreal and spiritual. How do you manage the contradictions?
JK: “This is how I live. At the age of 17, I had decided not to marry. Earlier, my family used to laugh at this, but they understand now. I’m thankful to my gurus and Sadhguru, who helped me understand who I am. For me, my art is completely spiritual. There are many months when I don’t work, but when I do, I work with energy. Krishna is a form of Srinathji, who is real to me. So for me, my art is a surreal representation of something spiritual.”
H!: People who have seen your art say they compel a lot of introspection. What kind of reactions have you received so far?
JK: “There were 150 people at the opening night; it was an overwhelming experience. They were the best names in the art world, and I got a lot of praise for the show. In fact, many turned up several times to see the exhibit. I’m so thankful for the appreciation.”
H!: What’s next on your plate?
JK: “I’ll be doing a show on Lord Krishna. I have three to four collections lined up. I’m thinking about celebrating the dark night when Lord Krishna lifted Mount Govardhan. I’ll be working on 24 paintings with a contemporary take on it, showing how he relieved the world of its problems. In 2025, I’ll be showcasing 8 to 10 larger-than-life paintings on Lord Shiva.”
This has been adapted for the web from a story originally published in the May-June 2023 issue of HELLO! India. Get our copy of the latest issue right here!