‘Brahma Dreaming’, a Book on Stories from Hindu Religious History

Brahma Dreaming is master storyteller John Jackson’s latest collaboration with the acclaimed artist, Daniela Jaglenka Terrazzini. John’s intriguing versions of the tales of the Hindus’ great gods are graced by Daniela’s brilliantly reimagined illustrations of the deities, each a masterpiece of detail and drama, reminiscent of Dulac and Rackham,
and the glorious ‘Golden Age’.

These are the tales of the Trimurti – the Hindu trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva – and Brahma Dreaming is divided into three sections representing their continuous forces of creation, preservation and destruction.

The work begins with Lord Brahma dreaming the universe into being and from there unfolds an enthralling collection of interconnected tales that span the entire spectrum of human experience, dark illusions and earthly temptations. Here are brave princes, divine divas and demon kings, family feuds and epic battles, burning loves and lies, tragic deaths and glorious rebirths. There are tales about dancing elephants, peacock warriors and monkey armies, all retold by John Jackson with great character, warmth and wit.

These tales originated as early as the first century in sacred texts and in the heroic epics that make up the mythology of Hinduism. Over thousands of years, they have been told in different ways in different regions, and have changed with place and time.

Author John Jackson, a keen student of world religions, says that Brahma Dreaming is a continuation of this classical Indian storytelling tradition. ‘Hindu stories are part of a living tradition. I have done what writers have been doing for thousands of years before me by reinterpreting these tales for the present day. I am just part of this continuum,’ he said.

John Jackson, 84, is a polymath. He is an established author, lawyer, businessman and political and constitutional campaigner, and is probably best known as a founder of the Countryside Alliance.

Just as most of the myths occur in several different versions, the gods and goddesses themselves have many manifestations. They have appeared in a mind-boggling diversity of forms, shapes and media over the millennia but in Brahma Dreaming they are not transformed so much as transmogrified. Not here the candy-coloured appearances, multiple heads or limbs, bejewelled and bedecked in paisley-patterned saris or peacock feathers, flowering lotuses and flaming tongues, which are more often than not, these days, the stuff of comic book material.

Page 1 – Legends from Hindu Mythology – Indian Mythology Meets ‘Golden Age’ Grandeur in New Collectable from JJ Books MeDIA ReLeASeThe illustrator, Daniela Jaglenka Terrazzini, extensively researched past artistic and literary representations of the deities and while her illustrations are consistent with ancient descriptions of them, she says she ‘never felt bound to take inspiration from the way the stories had been traditionally depicted.’

For Daniela, an Italian who studied fine art painting in Milan, and later photography in London, Brahma Dreaming was always going to be illustrated in simple black on white. She has hand drawn in black ink over fifty fonts and intricate images here, a mesmerising meld of technique and style. Her illustrations are rich in detail and references to art history, and are full of vividly imaginative metalevels. ‘The black and white is very much part of the story, the characters and their emotions. Using pen and brush and ink allowed me to work with greater precision and depth, and to serve the mood of the story better than I could have done using other media. The lack of colour allowed me to focus more on the atmosphere and light of each scene, and to add my own human dimension to the stories,’ Ms Terrazzini said.

Daniela said she was particularly inspired by Jackson’s description of the legendary love story between Sati and Shiva. As Brahma’s granddaughter, Sati, a shy, young girl, can have her choice of any god to marry but defies her father to marry the fearsome Lord of Destruction, naked except for a tiger skin, a cobra knotted at his waist and a necklace of charred skulls. ‘I find their relationship fascinating. Sati is a very simple girl, described as “meek and mouse-like” and Shiva is described as a dark figure with matted hair and the “smell of burning bodies on his breath.” I wanted to capture the moment when, in spite of all the obstacles, these two opposites find each other. I wanted to show their love but in Sati there is also a kind of satisfaction that she has achieved the object of her desire,’ she said.

Brahma Dreaming has been crafted using the same methods and attention to detail used to create the earliest illustrated gift books from the turn of the twentieth century and the result is itself a work of art. With a distinctive black dust jacket, Brahma Dreaming is finished in black laminate with orange varnish details. Underneath the black cloth cover is a fully illustrated front and back with foil stamping and debossing, also in black and orange. It features elaborate endpapers and is completed with a tangerine ribbon marker. In 2011, the pair released Tales for Great Grandchildren, a children’s collection of folk and fairy tales from India and Nepal, the first edition
of which has almost sold out. Brahma Dreaming is their most ambitious project to date and John Jackson is ‘thrilled and delighted’ with their achievement.

‘So much careful and creative craftsmanship has gone into its construction and Daniela has given us something stunning to study and cherish on every page. It is a wonderful work of her art,’ he said. Mr Jackson says that despite their supernatural powers these characters are recognisably human in the way they interact with humanity and with each
other, and how they respond to the situations in which they find themselves. ‘We can learn a lot about human behaviour through reading and listening to myths. They remind us that we are not that different from the divine. Sometimes we are fearful but sometimes we are courageous. We can be selfish at times and, at others, generous. We might know what is right, but sometimes we want to explore our own appetites. Just like these characters, these are the battles we face every day,’ he said.

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