About the Book
The book is a study of Indian art representing devotion, love, human moods and sentiments, especially in its depiction of female sculptures on ancient temples. It begins with a discussion on Indian art as synthesis of the sublime in nature and the human physical form that conveys the sublime. With numerous illustrations of art, iconography and sculptures from different regions of India, it examines a breath-taking variety of female forms of divinities, celestial nymphs and others symbolizing youth, beauty and sensuousness. Referring to features of art of different periods under various dynasties, like the Gupta art, it focuses on representation of female forms and couples particularly erotic realizations in art, i.e., nude figures and mithuna scenes. It studies the figures carved on various materials and in different styles, highlighting the salient features of each. The influence of religious traditions, as Tantrism, on the art depicted is painstakingly traced. Giving examples from famous temples of Khajuraho, Bhubaneswar, Puri, Konarka, Nagda, Belur, Halebid, Ajanta and Ambarnath, the work examines expressions, postures and attitudes of figures to show that they reflect physical bliss, emotional and psychological expressions, and the spiritual state.
The book will be useful for scholars of art and art historians in particular who are keen on understanding the aesthetics of Indian art.
About the Author
Dr. T.N. Mishra has researched various aspects of Indian philosophy and art and architecture in a career spanning over three decades. He has published articles in reputed journals on the subject and authored works that include Buddhist Tantra and Buddhist Art; Ancient Indian Bricks, Brick Remains; Westernization of Indian Art; Impact of Tantra on Religion and Art and Yoga-Tantra and Sensuousness in Art. At present, he is Assistant Curator at the prestigious Bharat Kala Bhavan at the Banaras Hundu University, Varanasi.
The history and culture of a nation is known by its art and literature as it mirrors the glory of its past. In India, a very highly and well-developed civilization had been flourishing since centuries. It is generally argued that the tradition of Indian art is more ancient than that of other countries. There are evidences of art found at the excavations of the pre-Indus and Indus sites. These excavations provide enough ground to believe that the people who lived there, were not only expert in the building activities but skilful artisans also, with ample evidences of their artistic skill. The Vedic period that followed the said period gave rise to a different kind a culture. The people of this period lived in close proximity with nature and sought its blessings. Men in the past either feared certain forces in nature or propitiated certain elements in nature for their benevolent activities. The fear on the one hand and appreciation of certain forces in nature on the other led to the birth of what we call religion today.
Indian art is from its very inception so intimately associated with Indian religion and philosophy that it is difficult to appreciate it fully, unless one has some knowledge of ideals that governed the Indian mind. The ultimate goal of Indian art had been a kind of aesthetic enjoyment where there is happy synthesis between the sublime in nature and a physical form that can convey this sublime. The art of India gets its inspiration from day-to-day life and it is the immediate experience of the dynamism that has been imparted in art. The joyous and effortless existence of life is here taken for granted; everything here is thin, light and obvious. Frankly, there is hardly any trace of spiritual quest. The unfounded love for little joys of life remained the keynote of this search; it is from this level that attempts were made to achieve the culminating state of all aesthetic enjoyment.
Throughout the ages, Indian art evinces a consistent growth, each succeeding phase starting with the heritage of the preceding one and leading the style to their natural and logical fulfillment. The material prosperity of Indian art had given birth to a class that was more open to sensuous delight. It must have facilitated the new form and fresh ideals to express beauty in art. There are faces and figures of human beings, which attract the beholders and invite admiration from them. They impress our sense-organs and lead us to an experience of ecstasy. The beauty comes in the form of a bliss, and the delight that we experience from a thing of beauty ultimately remains with us as a joy for ever.
THE culture of a nation is revealed through its tradition of art and literature. The culture partakes the look of a mosaic and is found composed of social manners and customs, religious beliefs and practices, parts and pastimes of every section of a society including the culture of the elites and of the common folk. This holds good with particular reference to India. Indian poets glorified every aspect of love and delved deep into ecstasies over the beauties of human body. The feelings for beauty and love guided the courses of Indian art throughout the ages.
The Upanisadic thinking believed that the ecstatic state of realization is only possible when a peaceful harmony between atma and paramatma is fully realized and in this state, one experiences the rasa or delight which is the same as Brahma-svada. A peep into the past reveals that the tradition of Indian art started its journey from the days of pre-Indus period. This unique tradition thereafter continued in the art of Indus Valley regions. In this period, nature played a significant role in Indian art. The Vedic Indians not only lived in close proximity of nature but also did not fail in praising various forces of nature. They honoured such forces and began to worship them accordingly.
The period between fourth and first century BCE witnessed certain significant developments in the realization of art. A kind of atmosphere was created in which Formless Being was attributed a form (Icon). The period laid bare an evolution in which the deities were reflected initially in symbolic forms (both aniconic and theriomorphic) but la ter in anthropomorphic forms. Behind the anthropomorphic realizations (pratima) of gods, there had been an intense action of devotion (bhakti). The word bhakti denotes complete surrender to one's beloved.
Devotion is essentially a kind of love - a love which is not merely the physical attraction. This is not an intellectual appreciation either. The abode of love is neither in the shape of a body or in the brain. It is to be found in the heart. Thus the nature of love cannot be understood by intellectual analysis or even by logical reasoning. The action of a pure love uplifts one above everything, above petty limitations.
Ancient Indian art had been a hand-maid of religion. The art of this phase is found to be intimately associated with Indian religion and philosophy. An icon (pratima) did not only represent the form of a divine being but it also included subtle human moods and sentiments. Since the sculptor was himself a human being, for a case study, one may take the example of the Buddha's stone image in the Archaeological Museum at Sarnath which is seen sealed in dhamacakra pravartana-mudra.
In this image, spiritually charged Lord Buddha is shown withdrawing from without and young within. To attain this concentration he fixed his glances of half closed eyes at the tip of his nose. To work out this figure, the unknown sculptor incorporated certain similes from nature (personification of nature) and his face emits an expression of compassion (karuna) and his hand gestures (jnana and vyakhyana) indicate his resolutions to eradicate the cause of sufferings (duhkha) from the human mind. The image thus includes spiritual detachment and its concern for upliftment of earthly beings from the sentimental attachments.
The image just referred to is, in fact, a piece of aesthetic enjoyment since it combines in it the sublime in nature and a physical form which was the pivot of Indian art for the time being. It includes both dignity and nobility and it also indicates a flight from the material world to a spiritual world.
The material prosperity of Indian society as such during the initial centuries of Christian era gave birth to a class of people in the society which became more open to sensuous delights. This class opted for certain new forms in art and gave birth to a new diction of beauty that was expressed in contemporary literature and art. Sculptors and poets defined the concept of beauty nearly in the same language. To express the notion of beauty certain norms and canons were codified. Such norms and canons were exposed to alien influences, and changes in the thinking as well as in the practice of art were noticed. Male and female figures made in this period exhibited a feeling of cosmopolitanism. The sensuous figures that sculptors made not only commanded the admiration from the beholders but also excited their senses finally leaving an experience of ecstasy. Thus a piece of beauty turns as a source of delight and pleasure. This reminds of Kalidasa who writes:
Was she delineated in a picture and then endowed with life? Or she moulded in the creator's mind from the assemblage of lovely forms? When I meditate on the power of the creator and on her lineament, she appears to me like a match creation of the loveliest of women.
In Malavikagnimitram, the beauty is found described as how flawless; in every part, is her form! Her long eyes, her face lovely like moon of autumn, the arm sloping at the shoulders, her compact bosom with the plump and swelling breast, her sides as if polished, her waist measurable by this palm of the hand, her hips expansive, her feet with their curved toes, her body thus seems formed to suit the fancy of her teacher of dancing.
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