‘Classical Indian Dance in Literature and the Arts” by Kapila Vatsyayan was the first definitive work on the integral interrelationship of the Indian Arts. A companion volume with particular reference to painting was promised. The present study reconstructs the history of movement through the evidence of the pictorial arts: it encompasses a vast canvas in space and time, from Himachal to Kerala, Gujarat to Assam, from the prehistoric caves to the 19th century. It focuses attention on the interdependence of the two arts, thus providing a new basis for investigating both the evolution of Indian dance styles as also the formal aspects of Indian painting. The study is based on textual, literary and chronicle evidence and is supported by coloured and black and white illustrations of many new discoveries. The study is characteristic of the author’s internationally acknowledged ability to meaningfully relate theory and practice, regional variations, disciplines and artistic manifestations.
Kapila Vatsyayan. artist, scholar, administrator, recipient of the Jawaharlal Nehru Fellowship, Fellow of the Sangeet Natak Akademi and presently its Vice-Chairman, is today acclaimed as an outstanding authority on Indian Dance who has achieved the baffling task of presenting a comprehensive analytical and objective study of the art in relation to history literature, sculpture, painting and music.
Her greatest advantage is the ability to live her subject from the inside on account of her long and sustained training in both theory and practice. Student of the late Dr. Vasudev Saran Agrawala, disciple of leading artists such as Achchan Maharaj, Amobi Singh and Juana de Laban, she is singularly equipped for presenting an integrated view of the artistic traditions.
At home in many languages and literatures both Western and Indian, she has been responsible for evolving conceptual models and inter-disciplinary methodologies for a systematic study of the interdependence of Indian artistic traditions. Author of eight books and over one hundred research papers, she has been the leader of many Indian delegations to conferences in India and abroad. She served as the Joint Secretary of the XXVI International Congress of Orientalists. She has taught at the University of Delhi and has been a Visiting Professor at the University of Philadelphia.
Twenty Five Years ago when I wrote Classical Indian Dance in Literature and the Arts, although I had written a chapter on painting and dance, I was strongly advised not to use it in the final publication. Between the actual writing of the book and its publication there was a gap of nearly ten sears, and all these years I continued to have doubts regarding the advice. Yet, neither the first nor the second edition of the book did include the original chapter. This caused frustration and elicited criticisms from some of my readers. Now I realise that those years of doubts and regrets were beneficial in many ways.
Twenty-five years ago, or even fifteen years ago, the material available for such a study was scanty. During these years, however, discoveries of many mural and miniature paintings, and new researches and publications in the field have provided us with materials for a more systematic and comprehensive history of Indian painting. Today5 we know that the history of Indian painting is as complex as that of Indian literature, architecture and sculpture.
Since the new findings have been impressively extensive, a close study of the new data was necessary for the study of the theatre arts. Consequently, the original chapter of the earlier work could no longer suffice. It demanded a deeper probe. Hence this book.
Also, the period limitation of the earlier work could not be followed in respect of Indian painting. The evidence in the pictorial arts ranged from protohistorical cave paintings and pottery to the 19th century Company School. Only this span could present a panoramic view of the development of the theatre arts as reflected in Indian painting. Therefore, it was no longer possible to confine the study to the period between the 2nd century B.C. and the 11th century A.D. as in the case of Indian sculpture and Sanskrit literature. Besides, the study could not be limited to what is commonly termed as ‘classical dance’. It had to take cognisance of many genres of the performing arts.
Although the present work is a continuation of the theme of the interrelationship of the Indian arts with dance as the central axis, in approach and methodology it moves somewhat more freely in space and time. The materials for this have been slowly gathered over sears, and range from the new finds of Bhimbetka, the pottery designs of Navadatoli to the murals of Bagh, Sittanavasal, Brhadesvara, Leepakshi and Chidambaram. The scope has been extended to include materials of all regional schools—mural and miniature—from Gujarat to Assam, from Himachal to Kerala. Special attention has been focused on the evidence in Moghul painting. Some of the materials, specially from some Moghul and Jaina illuminated manuscripts, and the murals of Kerala, are being published for the first time. Understandably, a few motifs and themes have been selected to pinpoint the nature of similarity and differentiation. This is particularly apparent in the case of the Gita-Govinda illustrations, a subject on which many independent volumes have since appeared.
Through these materials, it has been possible to identify the distinctive regional variations in the development of movement techniques, particularly in the post-l3th century, and the nature of interaction in theme, style and costume between temple, court and popular arts. Although a study which encompasses such a vast span of time and space cannot hope to be comprehensive in nature; perhaps the contours of the intra-regional and intra-level interactions will indicate the need for further in-depth studies. Indeed, the material collected could have been spread over four volumes, instead of the volume now before the readers.
As a natural corollary I wish I had examined the vast body of literary evidence extant in the regional Indian languages roughly in the period from the 11th to the 19th century. I am also aware that an examination of inscriptional, numismatic and chronicle evidences would constitute the basis for a fuller social and cultural history of dance and drama. All this, however, could not be undertaken here for two reasons. Firstly, a substantial part of this has already been covered in Traditional Indian Theatre—The Multiple Streams (published by the National Book Trust). Secondly, a comprehensive correlation of the textual and the pictorial evidence would require a team work of historians, archaeologists, anthropologists and literary historians of many Indian languages and dialects. Then only could a true history of the plural and concurrent developments of Indian music, dance and drama be reconstructed in its totality of themes, dramatic and lyrical materials, musical scores, social and cultural milieu, political patronage and community participation.
In this volume I have attempted an analysis of the technical aspects of dance through the pictorial evidence, instead of reconstructing its extensive socio-cultural, historical and literary background. I hope that this will supplement the knowledge already gathered from an examination of literary and sculptural source materials from the 2nd century B.C. to the 13th century AD.
It will perhaps also convince the readers that a study of the traditions of Indian painting is an imperative for a better comprehension of Indian dance and theatre. It will also further strengthen the view that the Indian artistic traditions manifest an organic cohesive vision where each art is enmeshed with the other on levels of content, form and technique. It may oblige critics to identify the important role of theatre and dance in the evolution of pictorial schools in the period between the 11th and the 19th centuries. Many knotty stylistic problems may perhaps be resolved if miniature painting is viewed as a limb of the many-branched tree of the Indian arts, where the theatrical experience was in no Small measure a determinant of the visual formal elements. In trying to identify the manner in which the theatre arts or dance influenced pictorial expression, I have attempted to critically examine only one level of this complex integrated system. There is a vast scope for further investigation. If this framework is accepted then it may be necessary to review the approach to miniature Indian paintings which have so far been judged as either illustrations of literary texts or as purely formal visual designs. I have, in contrast, attempted to draw the readers’ attention to both the areas of interdependence and of autonomy in the Indian arts and to the reasons why the system continues to be valid until the 19th century.
We will recall the oft-quoted injunction of Visnudharmottara Purana referred to in the context of the relationship between sculpture and dance—”as in Natya, so in painting (citra) those eyes, those bhavas, that abhinaya, angas and the upangas present a supreme picture—the paramcitram” will bear repetition.
The relationship between painting and dance can be investigated on many levels through a variety of approaches. As in the case of literature and sculpture, the theoretical treatises on painting could be examined with a view to identifying the ultimate aim of art and the principles of form enunciated therein. The texts belonging to the period between the 5th and 14th centuries must have emerged as a result of a flourishing tradition of ‘painting’. Therefore, it would be necessary to consider the evidence relating to painting preceding the formulation of theories, and to trace how some fundamental principles were followed in the subsequent centuries. To this could be added an examination of the references to ‘painting’ in the creative literary works which speak of the prevalence of the art in different social milieus and levels. The two together would enable us to reconstruct the history of Indian painting in relation to aesthetic theories formulated by Bharata and his successors, not only for drama (natya) but also for other arts, While this avenue of exploration would no doubt he rewarding, it may not enable us to identify the exact points of contact and the areas of interaction between painting and dance, which is our chief concern.
For this purpose it is necessary to examine the text of citra with a view to identifying the instrumentalities by which the state of rosa is evoked and bhavas portrayed in painting through añgas, upangas, etc. The Visnudharmottara alludes to these aims, and speaks of analogous methodologies of the two arts. The interconnection between the two arts on the levels of theory and certain fundamentals of form and technique would then become self-evident. Finally, the survival of Indian painting over a period of many centuries provides invaluable source material for reconstructing a history of dance in different periods and in diverse regions of India.
As in the case of literature and sculpture, we shall begin with a systematic inquiry in the field of Indian painting with the dual objective of: (I) identifying the analogous principles on the conceptual and theoretical levels; and (ii) tracing the history of dance through the pictorial evidences which often reveal the Indian artist’s preoccupation with dance motifs. This, we hope, will enable us to understand the exact nature of the relationship between the two arts.
At the outset, however, it must be clearly stated that in spite of the identical objectives of evoking a rosa and presenting dominant states of being (bhavas) through the limbs of the human body (angas and upañgas), there is a real autonomy of each artistic genre determined and governed by the medium of expression. This is the artistic focal point which makes literature primarily a verbal expression and dance a kinetic expression, sculpture a plastic expression, and music a system of sounds, etc. It is the linear two-dimensional quality which gives painting its distinctiveness. This accounts for the sculptor’s and the painter’s capturing movement of the human body in certain ways. The idea of perspective. treatment of space, techniques of elongating and foreshortening are naturally determined by the medium, where line and colour, as opposed to mass, volume and weight in sculpture, play a significant role. Thus, within this framework of the interrelationship and interdependence of different Indian arts, the autonomy and distinctiveness of different artistic media have also been duly recognized. Nevertheless, each art provides material and scope for obtaining revealing insights into the other, in the case of painting, the materials at our command cover a vast span of many centuries of Indian civilization. It extends from the prehistorically period to the twentieth century. In spite of this immense sweep, here are many gaps which make it difficult to present a picture of continuous development.
One of my earlier works covered the literature and sculpture of the period 2500 B.C. to A.O. 1300. And in the same work a detailed treatment has been given to the literature and sculpture of the period 2nd century B.C. to 14th century AD. In the case of painting (i.e. pictorial art in the widest sense), we are obliged to move even more freely in time and space. The recent excavations of prehistoric finds and our growing knowledge of many more examples of cave paintings make it clear that many forms of tribal dancing still extant in India can be traced back to the antiquity of these paintings. Therefore, it would not be possible to ignore the valuable evidence, even if in some cases it precedes (or does not) the Mohenjodaro civilization. Again, although we know a great deal more about mural paintings between the 2nd century B.C. and the 10th or 11th century AD., the evidences for the development of dance forms are scanty, and often fragmentary. It is not comparable in volume to what we have examined elsewhere in the context of sculpture.
There is then a gap of about two centuries between the late mural traditions and the growth of several schools of miniature paintings (despite the fact that new researches have been bridging the gap). From the 15th century onwards begins the prolific and multi-faceted activity in miniature painting, which extends to all parts of India. The evidence that these schools present is massive and valuable and cannot be considered as being restricted to the court art of the elite. Once it was believed that the continuity of the Indian mural tradition was broken and there was little or no relationship between the miniature painting and what had preceded it. But current researches brought out facts to the contrary, and we are aware that several schools and sub-schools of Indian painting reflect simultaneous development of the mural and the miniature, their continuity and gradual transformation, and also the assimilation of foreign influences which led to the emergence of new styles. St has also become increasingly clear that sometimes the rich periods of literature and sculpture are coeval with the great periods of Indian painting, particularly that between the 5th century and the 10th century AD. At other times, painting assumes importance just at a time when sculpture begins to decline. There is hardly any significant specimen of the post- 14th century sculpture in North India. The reasons for this are not too far to seek, but the period following witnesses a prolific activity in painting. In the South, on the other hand, both sculptural reliefs and sculpture in the round continue right through the Nayak period and the rule of the Zamorins in Kerala along with the several mural traditions. Traditions of miniature painting are scanty south of the Vindhyas.
In view of the nature of the evidence in painting, we have broadened our time-span to include the entire canvas. Understandably, this cannot be anything but a bird’s-eye view of the vast panorama. Nevertheless, we hope that the few examples included here will be sufficient for establishing the vital relationship between painting and dance. They will, it is hoped, enable us to identify the continuities and new developments in these two arts through the period under view. It will also make us aware of the gradual emergence of regional styles in different parts of India, which adhered to certain basic principles. Naturally we shall be obliged to broaden our view to include specimens of all forms of dance and not the ‘classical’ only.
An indispensable and parallel field of inquiry would be that of the literary activities in several Indian languages during the same period. The continuities and changes evident in the later Sanskrit literature obtained all over India and the literature in various Indian languages are a close parallel to any history of painting and dance. But we are obliged to omit this area, since it is a vast field in itself. Otherwise, a natural corollary to such examination of the pictorial material would have been its close correlation with the literary and dramatic developments... This subject will be taken up in a subsequent work.
These preliminary remarks or what may be called an explanation for determining the time-span of the data are necessary because in all other matters of approach and methodology, I have followed the format of my earlier work. The reason for making this departure is that it will increase the possibility of an enhanced understanding of the interesting developments in the field of dance during the fourteenth and nineteenth centuries. Miniature painting of this period is our richest and most significant source.
With this introduction we may now begin, as we have done in the case of the other arts, to study the developments in Indian painting in relation to dance and dance drama during the pre-Bharata and the post-Bharata period. The formulations of Bharata (as we well know by now) are pertinent not only to Natya and Kavya (drama and poetry) but also to all the Indian arts. At the appropriate time, we shall consider the theoretical texts of painting (citra) in relation to Bharata’s theories, and attempt to examine the overlapping and complementing areas of the two arts in theory and practice, and then return to the dialogue of Vajra and Mãrka4eya quoted in the beginning of this introduction.
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