The role of Indian literature and art is to purify the natural instincts of man and to raise him to a higher level
In the west, aesthetics as a branch of study emerged in the 18th century. Aesthetics for Greek is ‘saundarya anubhuti’ for India. Many western thinkers right from Plato characterise art as a form of neurosis. Famously Freud and Marx both share similarity when Freud says “Art is opium” and Marx says “Religion is opiate of the masses”. Freud called artistic creativity as liberating arrested desires. Friedrich Nietzsche also shared a similar view, by saying “Art is intoxication”. Aurobindo was highly critic of Freud for unduly giving importance to lower vasanas. He says, poet is a spiritual visionary and not a psychic personality: “Kavi kranta darshi”. It is the higher stage of anubhuti, and not the lower broken psychic stage.
Semitic thinkers mistook the emotional intensity of poet as losing balance and going in a psychic state. To distinguish it properly, a beautiful example will be, the creation of Valmiki’s Ramayana. The first couplet was flowing from the heart of Adi kavi while witnessing the incident of Krauncha Dvandva Viyoga. Can such an intense and creative emotion born out of compassion be stated as a psychic state?
Divine Disposition of Art
When St. Augustine says that the artist in man cannot be equal to God, Indians say perfection in art is bordering on God. Indian art is the transformation of divinity from inner space to the outer space. From there it again goes to the inner space of the sahridaya. In its pursuit, the artist enjoys supreme bliss, as also the audience who is literally entranced. Art inspires and elevates. Artist finds presence of divinity in natural beauty. He expresses the devotional feelings towards the Absolute, the yearning of the human soul for union with the Divine.
Vedic Nasadeeya had been the first ever aesthetic expression of human mind. The Indian literature like Vedas is generally known as anaadi because its origin is not known. It is also known as apourusheya which means beyond the capacity of human beings. Brahma who created the universe is believed to be the first artist.
Art is a part of artist’s spiritual pursuit. Arts are Yajnas done as a divine worship. Rigveda 10.114.06 says: yajnam vimaaya kavayo maneesha=Poets using their intelligence conduct Yajna.
Indians took art as a lifelong sadhana. Sadhana has to be distinguished from trading in art or commercial art. The artist is called Sadhaka, Mantrin or Yogin. Neelakanta Deekshitar says Indian art in its purest form is Yoga- Kaviraiva yogah.
For every carpenter, a goldsmith, a peasant or a painter there is a divine relationship between the creator and his product. Dr. Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy observed: “The conscious aim of Indian art is the intimation of Divinity.” Drama developed in India as a part of religious rituals. Agni Purana (Ch. 43) says, the sculptor is instructed to pray on the night before beginning his creative work: “O God of all Gods! teach me in dream how to carry out all the work I have in my mind”.
It is not modernism or post modernism, but higher art is required. Aurobindo’s theory of ‘Upari kavya meemamsa’ says art and poetry have to interact with Atma. Higher poem emerges from higher mind through dhyana (meditation).
Spiritual Dimension of Art
Westerners have seldom gone beyond the Semitic concept of religion and understood the higher nature of spirituality. Only if spirituality in Indian perspective is understood, can anyone understand Indian aesthetics.
Indian literary studies were developed as a part of the spiritual studies. The line of demarcation between aesthetics and spirituality is very thin. Indian art is the conscious expression of the spiritual ideas. Spiritual Poem is called mantra. The difference of Indian and Semitic perception of art has prompted Sister Nivedita to say (Complete works Vol.II p.218): “Had Niagara been situated on the Ganges, it is interesting to think how different would have been its valuation by humanity. Beauty of place translates itself to the Indian consciousness as God”s cry to the soul.” Indian aesthetics blossoms into a stage of spirituality.
Sangeeta Ratnakara says naada is Brahma (Naadabrahma). The famous music maestros in South India like Tyagaraja and Deekshitar considered Naada Upasana as a means to
Indian art does not reject the material world. It touches everything equally from materialistic to spiritual level. Definition of aesthetics according to Maha Kavi Magh in Shishupaala Vadha 4.17 is: Kshane kshane yannavathaa mupaithi Thadeva rupam ramaneeyathaayah =Aesthetics is what every moment appears to be fresh and new. This is the post modern spirit of Indians.
Where in Indian art, spiritual entities are shown as blatantly sensuous, Anand Coomaraswamy called it as “Sensuous immortals”.
‘Satyam, Shivam, Sundaram’
Indians have shown a magnificent blending of rationale along with spirituality and aesthetics. This is expressed in the triad principle of ‘Satyam, Shivam, Sundaram’ (Truth, Godliness and Beauty). Truth is divine, and Divine is beautiful. It can also be expressed as ‘Science, Ethics and Art’. They should not be compartmentalised differently, even though priorities can be different. Truth may be more important for a scientist while aesthetics may be central for an artist. It declares the close relationship of values and spirituality with aesthetics.
Plato accused poets as liars. But Vedic Rishis and poets were committed to truth: Kavayah satya shrutah
Rajasekhara said there is nothing called untruth in poem even though there may be exaggeration and glorifying.
Indian artists do not give importance to the Hellenised conception of strict rational beauty. Instead roopeshu lakshmi or the auspicious (Divine) beauty is ideal. Indian artists express it as “lavanya” or the real beauty.
Rasa (Aesthetic delight) is Brahmananda
Many had characterised Rasa theory as the height of Indian aesthetics. The Italian Sanskrit scholar Raniero Gnoli who is well known in Indology and Oriental Studies says, India’s greatest contribution to the study of world art is the Rasa theory of Ananda Vardhana. Rasa is the aesthetic delight created in the spectator. Viswanathan says, the definition of poem itself is Rasa: Vakyam rasaatmakam kaavyam =A sentence which is full of rasa is called poem.
In western literature, the joy we get from a literature is immediate and finite; while in Indian literature it has to be eternal and infinite. Bhattanayaka says, when literature transcends space and time, then the enjoyment increases. Rasa is developed in the background of spirituality in aesthetics. Rasa is a continuous spark of divine bliss or absolute beauty.
Bhattanayaka, Abhinava Gupta, Mammata etc. say rasa is synonym to Brahmaananda. Taitthiriya Upanishad 2.7 says rasa is considered the divine: Raso vai sah Rasam hyevaayam labdhva anandee bhavati =Rasa is that i.e. Brahma itself. Getting this blissful rasa, everyone enjoys ananda.
Rasa is spiritual Ananda. When rasa is enjoyed, the rajas and tamas gunas will be removed and satvika guna alone comes to prominence; and thus Ananda is manifested. It is also the yogaanubhuti or mystic ecstasy which the poetic mind obtains while realising the chaitanya of God. Rasa, rasavant and rasika are the three aspects of Indian aesthetics. The four basics of Indian art are Rasa, beauty, ananda, Alankara. The four are considered synonyms of Brahma. In poem words have importance, meaning has more importance, vyangya meaning is still more important and most important is rasa.
Bhava of a poem is known as Rasa. Bharata goes further deep to distinguish different types of bhava in Rasa Sutra of Natyasastra: Vibhava Anubhava Vyabhichari Samyogat Rasa Nishpattih =Combination of Vibhava (cause of emotions) Anubhava (consequent emotions) and Vyabhichari bhava (transitory emotions) gives rise to real rasa.
Anandavardhan and Abhinava gupta say that bhava meaning is more heartening than mere meaning. Bhava and rasa touch the heart. Rigveda 4.3.16 says: Kavaye nivachanaani
Ninyaani vachaamsi =Poet receives secret words in its
Realistic art was born in Italy during the renaissance period. In realistic art material objects found by the senses are given importance. Advancement of science and materialism gave strength to it. It runs after animal consciousness and sensual pleasures. Such pleasure is only transient as distinguished from Indian concept of rasa.
Social Vision of Artist
The role of India literature and art is to purify the natural instincts of man and to raise him to a higher level. Dhvanyaalokam 3rd udyotham says, art forms like drama is meant to give moral direction to people. Rishis have presented them for the benefit of the people. Gandhiji wanted art and literature that can communicate with the masses.
On social vision of poet, Ananadavardhana in Dhvanyaloka 3.42 says: Shringaarichet kavih kaavye jaatam rasamayam jagatsa eva veetaragascheneerasam sarvamevetat Bhaavaanachettanaanapi
chetanavacchetanaanachetanavat Vyvahaarayati yatheshtam sukavih kaavye svatantrataya=If the poet intents to arouse erotic sentiments in his poem, the world will be filled with that type of sentiment. But if he avoids such emotions in his poem, the world too will be void of such sentiments.
Art for Art’s Sake or for Life’s Sake?
Pure art is a movement, raising the slogan “Art for art’s sake”. Those who stood for art for art’s sake include Immanuel Kant, Théophile Gautier (1811–1872), James McNeill Whistler, Oscar Wilde etc., whereas those who stood for values include John Ruskin, Tolstoy etc. Marxists opposed the absolute and abstract aesthetics of Kant which bases on the approach of ‘art for art’s sake’. In its place they projected historical and materialistic needs.
But Indian art is a combination of artistic values as well as values in art. When westerners discussed about ‘art for art’s sake’, Indians said ‘art is for life’s sake’ or to be more precise, ‘art is life itself’. Indians recognise a vision and mission for life. Art is to suppliment it. Indian art is part and parcel of general life and culture. Dr. Giriraj Shah wrote in ‘Glimpses of Indian Culture’ p. 108: “Art for an Indian is life, as it is interpreted by religion and philosophy. Art for art”s sake is consequently unknown.”
Pure art arose as a strong reaction when artistic values were forgotten in the name of moral values in art. In Surrealism whatever comes to the mind of the artist is shown in his work without any systematic presentation or logic.
Art to Reflect Higher Culture
These days, Music, Dance etc. are termed as cultural events. It is a Semitic idea where the entertainment aspect alone is considered and the real cultural value ignored. It would lead to social degeneration. Mere music and dance by themselves do not constitute culture. Samskriti or culture of a people is reflected in the level of behaviour, common language, history, literature, art, architecture, ceremonies, sacraments, rites and rituals. For us art is related to culture and not the reverse:
Kala Samskrithi Lakshanam = Art characterises culture.
Our shastras say, nritya (dance), geeta (music), and vadya (instruments) are useful only if used with the definite purpose of imparting samskars. Indian literature is full of characters who are embodiments of different values. Art caters to the cultural needs of the particular time and the particular society.
Rajasekharan says the poet should be a person of good character. Poem will be according to the character of the poet. Ananda Vardhan and Abhinava Gupta says, “maa nishada” came out of the lips of Valmiki spontaneously on seeing the tragic fate of the two love birds. It was due to his compassionate mindset. “Maa nishaada” is the earliest clarion call of Aadi Kavi against violence. It displays the social commitment of the poet.
Excess materialism, excess sexuality, selfish interests, aversion towards values, uncertainty in human relations, loose family structure, market or commercial culture etc. find prominence in Semitic art and literature.
In contrast, Indian artists were not slaves to senses. Western literature is of no comparison to Indian literature like Ramayana in educating the people. The lower art records that which is seen by the senses. Kuntaka calls bad poem as ‘akavitha’. If bad, it ceases to be poem. Utthama art has to display higher culture. Poems for poem sake or with play of language alone are known as adhama kavya (poems of low quality).
Authors of many artistic creations found in India remain anonymous. ‘Malati Madhavam’ (1.6) of Bhavabhuti says poet has no hesitation to say that in future also someone with the same quality will be born:
Ulpasya te tu mama kopi samaana dharma Kaalohyayam niravadhirvipulaa cha pridhvee =Someone having qualities equal to those of mine will definitely be born in future; because time is eternal and earth is very wide.
This is in contrast with self obsession or ‘Narcissism’ which do not allow the western artist to identify himself completely with anything outside himself.
Concept of Pratibha (Talent)
Divine grace enters human beings in the form of pratibha. Dhvanyaalokam says Pratibha is divine:
Thaam vande pratibhaam shivaam Vagdevi (Goddess of literature) in Rigveda 10.125.5 says: Yam kaamaye tam tamugram krinomi Tam brahmaanam tamrishim tam sumedhaam = Divine Vagdevi says, the person whom I love, I will make him brilliant, scholar and intellectual.
Bhattta Tauta says Poetry originates from pratibha and science from Prajna. Bhavana is only a medium of the inner soul for its outer expression. Bhartru Hari says pratibha is there not only in humans, but also in birds and animals in nature. Birds building their nests and cuckoo singing song are due to pratibha.
Aadi kavi Valmiki, Vyasa and Kalidasa are the greatest writers who have no parallels in the west. Anyone who has read and really understood each and every syllable in Shakuntalam can at the most say, Shakespeare is the Kalidasa of the west. It is like saying Machiavelli is the Chanakya of the west or Napoleon is the Samudragupta of Europe or Hercules is the Bhima of Greek. Bharata is a greater philosopher of drama than Aristotle or Plato. Many western scholars who have tried to convey Indian ideas have used poor and faulty English equivalents of Sanskrit words. They could not realise the greatness of poets like Kalidasa as they had poor understanding about Sanskrit. Had Shakespeare known Sanskrit and read plays like Sakuntalam, he would have taken his talents to a supreme level. Because of this problem, greatness of Sanskrit authors and poets are not properly introduced outside India. At the same time even in India, Shakespeare is a much better known and quoted poet than Kalidasa due to the thrust on Western education.
Dispute on Form and Content
Indian artists give significance to a combination of content and form of the literary creation. Sahitya is defined as: Sahitayor bhaavah sahityam = Literature is the beautiful blending of words and meaning.
Bhamaha, Rudrata, Mammata, Hemachandra, Vagbhata, Kuntaka all said, poetry is word and meaning together:
Sabda Arthau Sahitau Kavyam
Unlike the Western conception that rests on structural and content aspects of art, in India form and content, aesthetics and social message, material and spiritual aspects social art and temple art are beautifully blended in the same work. No conflict or dichotomy of these aspects is contemplated in the world of art and literature. Thus we have the integral concept in art. That does not deny the freedom of authors to give thrust either to form or content, without neglecting the other.
Critic Vs Sahridaya
Sahridaya (audience) is the centre of Indian art. Enjoying art also is a sort of spiritual practice. Art should share experience of spiritual ecstasy to both artist and the audience. The self experience is shared by the Mystic poet or artist through symbols or otherwise to his audience. It is the concept of Sahridaya that makes Indian drama beautiful. Nowhere in the history of art in the Western world, has the role of audience been discussed as in Indian art. The negative term Critic in west is known positively as Sahridaya (good hearted) in India. Goethe cried against critics: “Kill the dog, he is a reviewer (critic)!” Abhinava Gupta praises the mutuality of poetics and sahridayatva. A prekshaka, rasika or samajika has been ideally named as Sahridaya in Sanskrit poetics. Sahridaya is also meant as samana hridaya or equal hearted with the artist or creator, except the quality of pratibha. Bharata notes that success of an art is a combination of two kinds (27.2): divine (daivee) and human (manushee) appreciation. Ancient Indian wisdom warned that “The man who knows nothing of music, literature, or art is no better than a beast.”
Music is considered one that consoles: Samam santvanam, even animals and infants enjoy music. :
Pasurveti, shishurveti, veti gaana rasam phaneeh
=animal, infant and snake also enjoy the rasa of music. Bharata in Natya Sashtra (26.120-121) considers the people to be the ultimate authority on drama. Kalidasa says about ‘box office’ success in Abhijnaana Shakuntala 1.2:
aa paritoshaad vidushaa na saadhu
manye prayogavijnaanam = Until the expert audience testify, I do not deem the drama a success.
Poet should fear the sahridaya: Kaavyajna dandaad bibhimasthu kaamam
Hence the responsibility consciousness of artist increases. Lighted lamp in the Indian stage is a symbol of spirituality and sahridaya. A famous stage artist Mani Madhava Chakyar of Kerala said: “I am acting to this lighted lamp”. Thus, art is never a selfish or subjective expression of the artist as many may argue in the west.
Audience participation is a system that was not known to Europe till 20th century. But in all the temple arts it was common in India in the past. For e.g. killing of Darika by Kali in an art form called “Mudiyettu” in Kerala. In this art form, people get divided and array on both sides in the war and have participatory enjoyment of the art form.
More than five thousand years of history of Indians says, there have never been any intolerance shown to art. Agni Purana, quoted in Dhvanyaloka (3.42) of Ananda Vardhana says, in the boundless realm of poetry, the poet alone is the emperor: “Kavireva Prajapati”. According to his wishes will this world revolve.
Artist is given utmost freedom. He is free to create according to his pratibha. This does not mean that the artist should follow his self satisfaction only; because Sahriday may reject him. Ananadavardhana declares the unlimited freedom and position enjoyed by the Indian poet: Sarva nibandhana harana saahasam
Neelakanta Deekshitar says: Ullanghya thanthraanthara sampradaayaa
Nal prekshanaa jagadanyadanyad
Kasmaad bibheemah kavayo bhavaamah =Whom should the poets fear, who circumvent all other laws, sciences and creations? So poet is completely free in his endless world of creation.
The Beauty and Charm of Diversity
Diversity is the beauty of nature. Unity of diverse forms is a quality of Indian art. All expressions should have diversity in form and unity in bhava. Ananda K. Coomaraswamy says that, in all Indian art there is a unity that underlies all its bewildering variety. Art pervades every facet of Indian life. Endless are the ‘Shiv Leelas’ or the wonderful pretensions of Lord Shiva. Regarding pre- British India, Will Durant says: “Probably no other Nation known to us has ever had so exuberant a variety of arts.”
There is a general rhythm of nature which expresses itself. The universal movement is in Chhandas or Vedic meter or rhythm. Vedas says, ‘chhando mayam jagat’. Right from growth of plants up to movement of stars there is a certain rhythm. Vedic “Ritam” also convey the same idea. Maharshi Kapila said, nature which is in constant change is in constant dance. This Cosmic Dance is gracefully symbolised in ‘Nataraja’ (King of Dance). Shiva is the master who is supposed to have taught ‘Naatya Shaastra’ to Bharat Muni.
Thus Art and literature need to have an Indian orientation if it has to give light to the whole world. The present discussions on issues related to art never reflect Indian ideas; whereas they disseminate the Semitic pathogens. There are many such alarming examples around us. Hence deep studies are required on the greater vision that we get from Indian literatures vis-à-vis its western counterparts. That will revolutionise the aesthetic explorations across the globe.
(The writer is National President of Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh)