By M.S.N Menon
Two streams of the Hindu civilisation ? one of the senses, the other of the mind; one of forms, the other of thoughts. That was how the Hindu civilisation grew from times long past.
One stream gave us music and dance, painting and sculpture, art and architecture. The other gave us thoughts ? religions and philosophies, sciences and literatures.
Thus did India go about the development of the senses (there were 64 kalas based on the senses) and the intellect in total freedom. Hence the unequalled richness and diversity of the Hindu civilisation.
The Semitic religions denied themselves with the pleasures of the senses ? of music and dance, painting and sculpture, arts and architecture. And they put a bridle on the intellect. Hence the utter poverty of their civilisations. More so of Islam.
It was anthropomorphism ? in how we attributed human characteristics to our gods ? which determined to a large extent the texture of the Hindu civilisation. It was because our gods had eyes to see that our painters painted. It was because our gods had ears to hear that our poets sang. And it was because our gods had feelings that our dancers danced before them. The purpose of Hindu art is sacramental. It is an accessory to worship.
There was only one way to please the deity conceived in human form and that was to create the most beautiful things for him to see (painting and sculptures), poetry and music for his ears, fragrance and flowers for smell, finest savouries for his palate and dance and drama for his feelings. And how else can you express your awe of his great majesty except by housing him in the most magnificent temples?
This is how our civilisation grew. And it was the intense desire to please a very human god, which led men to seek perfection in all that they did.
Thus, the entire Hindu civilisation is a feast of sounds and colours and tastes and sights and smells, of beautiful temples and sensuous pleasures.
Thus did we reach perfection in the dancing form of Shiva ? the Nataraja. The dancing Shiva is the most sublime artistic attempt to capture the mystery of the dynamic universe in form. It is the only symbol of its kind in the world.
If the Hindu mind revelled in the riotous feast of forms, it also went beyond form to the formless?to Brahmn, the Universal God without form. And while the common man worshipped his god of form, the rishi meditated on the formless God. That is how it has always been in Hinduism.
But man must go beyond the gratification of the senses. He must progress in the world of thought. This he cannot, says Sri Aurobindo, ?if we chain the spirit of some fixed mental idea of system of religious thought and declare all departures from that a peril and a disturbance.? The Hindu mind is neither chained to books nor to dogmas. And no ?departure? is a ?peril? to the Hindu mind.
To the Hindu, the image of the divine is not that of a ruler of the universe, who directs the world from above, as in the Semitic faiths, but of a principle that controls everything from within. The discovery of the atman (within) was a milestone in the Hindu quest. So was the discovery of heat, light, sound and motion in the atom.
If he were to define in one word the distinguishing feature of the Hindu character, says Max Mueller, he would put it as ?transcendence? ? a tendency to transcend the limits of empirical knowledge. Thus did the Hindu transcend the limits of knowle-dge, while others remained bound to their books. And, who but Shankara would have followed the logic of Monism to its inevitable conclusion ? to a God without form or attributes ? Nirakara, Nirguna?
There is a third stream ? imitation ? that contributes to human civilisation. Man imitated the warble of the birds, the prancing of the deer and the dancing of the peacock. To the Hindu, imitation of Nature was a tribute to the Creator. To the Semitic faiths, imitation is a sin. And yet the entire Chinese civilisation is based on the imitation of Nature!
It is by its art and literature that a society is judged by history. In his Lectures on the Philosophy of History, Hegel says: ?India is the land of dreams.? It had made its civilisation more creative than that of any other nation.