Rohit Arya on The Sacred India Tarot, its design and the psychic danger of creating such a Power

In the History of Tarot only two people, Juliet Sharman Burke and I, Rohit Arya have created a Tarot deck with such special parameters. It was a highly creative, and  psychically, dangerous venture. An extract from The Sacred India Tarot Guidebook elucidates the process.

People in India do not understand the Tarot very well; it is too much work! Tarot exists currently as an agreeable variant on the old Hindu science of astrology or Jyothisha and it is in Jyothisha terms of discourse that most practitioners engage with it when they take it seriously. Since the percentage of kooks, overexcited and overenthusiastic New-Agers remains normal in India as the rest of the world, and they drive, with Jyothisha support, whatever interest is there in Tarot, it will be quite a while before serious interest is taken in the subject on its own terms. Given that both playing cards and gypsies originated in India, I am waiting for a similar claim where the Tarot is concerned. The previous sentence may even become the origin point for what will soon be a common notion in India. It is a depressing or hilarious thought; I am not quite sure which as yet.

My approach was to demonstrate the Universality of the Tarot Structure and how it is applicable in differing cultural contexts, because the underlying skeleton is the common psychological and spiritual heritage of Homo sapiens sapiens. Okay, call it Collective Unconscious and be done with it! The myths may differ superficially, or even dramatically, but if they are genuine myths they will always have relevance for, and resonance with, the Tarot.  Juliet Sharman Burke had previously done with Greek mythology what I have now done with Indian myth, found the co-relations in each suit to a story arc that fitted perfectly into the unfolding of both the inherent structure as well as individual meanings of each card in the suit.  This is, in a sense very difficult, which is probably why we are the only two people to attempt a Tarot pack with such parameters. You need a story that will hold up, {where authentic Tarot meanings are concerned, rather than making up your own, in which case it is somewhat easier} for 14 cards. The court cards have to be organically connected to the story playing out in the suit and each card in the suit has to naturally reflect a point in the original myth which is relevant to Tarot meaning and does not involve twisting up timeline sequences. It is an astonishing achievement in that sense; the very fact that there are only two of us who have successfully attempted it is enough proof of its extraordinary difficulty. Perhaps it will be different in future.

In another sense Sharman Burke and Yours Truly probably did not find it that difficult as we understand both Tarot and mythic structures. Then it was a matter of merely sifting through the vast resources of story until we found the authentic fit. The Major Arcana is actually easier in this respect as each card can stand alone and is not prisoner to narrative sequence. When we are dealing with the mythology of India, everybody here knows the stories more or less in the correct order and any attempts to jiggle things round for convenience would have been instantly spotted. Isolating the thread of Bheesma from within the Mahabharatham was probably the most difficult; the swords {arrows} are notoriously a headache and I suffered fully till I found it. The Buddha story was never in doubt; it practically selected itself for discs. The wands {staves} were somewhat of a trouble till I realized that the entire Ramayana is not required. So the three major story arcs of India were covered, the two epics and the life of Buddha. A poem for the cups {lotuses} would have been ideal as ancient Indian literature is primarily in verse. I had almost settled on Nala- Damayanthi from the Mahabharatham or Kalidasa’s play on Shakuntala and Dushyantha, when I had a brainwave and realized that the story of Shiva and Parvati was much more significant to India and packed more spiritual wallop as a choice for the lotuses.

Then I only had to wait for Jane to illustrate the cards before I could get down to writing them. That however is another story.  So I stress again – while the Sacred India Tarot does bring a meeting of minds between the yogic myths of India and the great Western Mystery of the Tarot, it is not part of the Great Python instinct.This was consciously and deliberately done, at least to begin with, and the karma is all mine.  Most Tarot packs and books have been based on European cultural imperatives, as they should be, even if they contain multicultural perspectives. This is perhaps the first time a person engaged with Tarot in terms of another culture, instead of reaching out from within the norms and parameters of the origin culture. For all the Egyptian and Norse and South Sea Islander and South American et al variations of Tarot packs were created by people within the European cultural inheritance. I was looking in from the outside.

The immensity of the endeavour was not clear at first and perhaps it was well, it could have led to hubris or paralysis. To have to take within a transforming alien energy {geographically, not mythically} and find resonances within my context, find the core of universal value and then translate it into a particular cultural sphere was difficult enough. Simultaneously I had to interpret and transmute the sympathetic harmonious vibrations of yoga spirituality into Tarot terms. This was a dangerous endeavour in psychic terms as there is no innate defence of familiarity and place, no historical, cultural or psychological immunities in engaging with such a foreign power. When I finally comprehended the sheer psychological peril in which I stood, I was glad this knowledge was not vouchsafed to me earlier. A complete mental breakdown was possible and only the fact that the Sacred India Tarot was working itself out through me seems to have saved me from catastrophe – though there was enough psychodrama and trauma to satisfy the most masochistic.

In Norse mythology, Wotan or Odin, the All-Father, inventor of the runes, had to give an eye as payment for drinking from the well of wisdom. This myth demonstrates the necessary price to pay for gaining single pointed vision, transformative wisdom, but had it been known that a Hanging Man scenario would play out for years the work may never have begun! Every single card left its imprint upon me, forced me to experience it, to assimilate it. This was unimaginably painful. But as was said in The Tempest, “There, sir, stop. Let us not burden our remembrances with a heaviness that’s gone.” It was also transporting, for the high points are to breathe elation. Without knowing it the organism had embarked upon tapasya, the searing fires of transformative experience that provide maturity, insight and wisdom. At the beginning I thought I was writing the book; by the end the book was communicating aspects of consciousness that had never been clearly articulated before. The first transformation of consciousness the Sacred India Tarot accomplished was of its author!
To accomplish this work is to have suffered much and lost even more. It is not a plea for sympathy; I do not regret anything. For the pain and suffering is transient; the work will endure.

More Information about the sacred India Tarot can be found at

Rohit Arya is an Author, Yogi and Polymath. He has written the first book on Vaastu to be published in the West, {translated into five languages} the first book on tarot to be published in India, co-authored a book on fire sacrifice, and is the creator of The Sacred India Tarot {82 card deck and book}. He has also written A Gathering of Gods. He is the Editor of The Leadership Review, a corporate trainer, as well as an arts critic and cultural commentator. Rohit is also a Lineage Master in the Eight Spiritual Breaths system of Yoga

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