The Samadhi Murals, Part 3: Secrets Revealed

In 1990 and 1991 Baba’s sister, Mani, put into play her long-held intention to restore the murals in the Samadhi. As Chairman of the Trust, Mani often said that though she didn’t know everything, she could usually find the right people who had the needed knowledge and skills. And so she assembled a team of dedicated Baba lovers to restore the paintings, in conjunction with restorative work and waterproofing done on the Samadhi exterior.

Painted by artist Helen Dahm under Baba’s direction in 1938, the murals had deteriorated considerably by the time Baba dropped His body and was interred in the Samadhi. In 1971 the Trust decided to have the paintings repainted to preserve them. Baba’s secretary Adi K. Irani engaged Baba photographer and artist Bhaiya Panday of Ahmednagar for the work. It is Panday’s repainted surface that pilgrims viewed for the next 19 years.

By 1990 the rock and plaster surfaces were again showing signs of deterioration. Though Mani appreciated the excellent job Bhaiya Panday had done single-handedly and with limited resources and experience, she felt Helen Dahm’s original artistry had been altered. So this time Mani had two goals in mind: to recapture the colors, lightness and style of Helen Dahm, and to preserve the walls against future damage.

Through careful study of photographs made before 1971, and by applying carefully researched methods of restoration and preservation, the team, headed by Rick Flinn and Dot Lesnik, were able to accomplish Mani’s goals, to the best of their collective ability!

For the most part the restorers painted over the Panday surface, but in some areas paint and plaster had to be gently removed. This process, combined with study of the old photographs, led to many corrections and even some new discoveries. Here is a peek at some of the secrets the Samadhi murals hold.

The sky on the left and right sides of the back wall show round sun or moon-like objects in Helen Dahm’s original. Panday had not included them, so they emerged anew in the Restoration.

(Photo 1968, from the Meherazad Archives)

A group of images we will not see again except in photographs and film footage are the paintings Helen did on the inside walls of the crypt where Baba’s body was laid. They are a lively collection of figures, including plants and animals.

But here’s the secret: a growth of pink roses on the back wall of the crypt turns out to be of the climbing variety. The rose vine climbs right out of Baba’s resting place, across the floor and up onto the wall behind, where we see the sweetest spray of buds and blossoms, like a little message of intimate beauty from Him.

Here is a sample of the change rendered in the 1990 restoration. This is a view of a section from Panday’s painted surface.

The same area is seen above after restoration. The figures are basically the same, but colors, hues, lightness of line, and sometimes facial expressions and other details are returned to a closer approximation of Helen Dahm’s work.

Here is an example of the heavy deterioration which occurred in the first 33 years. Panday himself photographed the whole interior before he began over-painting. There were also several other sources of early photographs used as a basis for the restoration work.

Many of us who helped with the project were inside the Samadhi for our first time with the doors closed. There we saw this sight which is rarely seen—the paintings on the back side of the doors. This is a view after restoration. White lilies are a signature motif found in Helen Dahm’s work. They are thought to represent purity and perfect love, in the union of God and man.

(Photo courtesy of MSI Collection. Photographer: Bhaiya Panday)

And here’s the best and most open secret: Baba Himself is in that Samadhi with us.

—Irene Holt, for Avatar Meher Baba Trust, 8 October 2015