Manjit Bawa was an incredibly devout individual though did not subscribe solely to a single doctrine; rather he pulled devotional practices and traditions from Sufism, Hinduism, Zen Buddhism, and used them all to portray the importance of spirituality in his life and works. “I’ve been reading Sufi poetry specially. For ten years, I would regularly read the Puranas and the Vedas. I stayed at ashrams as a student and talked to scholars. The Vishnu Purana, the Shiva Purana, the Mahabharata… there’s a lot of imagination there. Gradually, it affects your mind.” (A. De, ‘Art is an Attitude’, Manjit Bawa, Dr. Sudhakar Sharma, New Delhi, 2010, p. 55)
During a tour of Southern India when Bawa was exhibiting with Sakshi Gallery in Chennai, he visited the historic sites of Hampi, Halebid and Belur. At Swamimallai, he photographed his traveling companion, Art historian and curator Ina Puri, performing yoga. Using these images as inspiration and Puri as his muse, Bawa painted a female in the midst of yogic practice by depicting a sole figure, sitting cross-legged, with her head tilted slightly downward and her hands resting on her knees, in a sense as a representation for the feminine divine.
This painting of the female yogi almost serves as a companion work to a 2004 Self-Portrait painted around the same time. Here it is Bawa himself who is cast in the pose of a holy figure against a red background in complementary hues with a similar treatment of the folds in the robes and a mirrored pose with a side-long glance. These two works are notable as idealized portraits that are rare in Manjit Bawa’s oeuvre but with the figures enveloped in a field of block color that renders them above the concerns and boundaries of time and space and makes these works timeless. Manjit Bawa lived with this work in his personal quarters until his death in 2008.