Let me digress here for a while
Before we get to the texts that are devoted to the discussion on the Theories (Lakshana) and practice (Lakshya) of Dance and its various forms, let us talk, in general on the issues related to Art, Art-form, Dance and Dance-forms.
Art and Art-form
When we talk of a particular type of dance we call it a Dance form. And, when we talk of Dance, in general, we call it an Art form. What does this form mean? What is the relationship between Art and Dance? And, how is that formed?
Further, it appears there is a sort of genealogical relation that spans Art, Dance and Dance-form: Art ->Art form ->Dance ->Dance form.
A form could be taken to mean as that which is formed. It suggests that something has gone through the process of formation; and, that has resulted in a distinctly cognizable ‘form’.
Mahidasa Aitareya (one among the earliest philosophers, revered as a sage who showed the way to other thinkers that succeeded him), in his Aitareya Aranyaka, while elucidating his views on evolution of matter, explains that the evolution has a unity of its own; and , that unity implies identity and continuity, with change, of a common substratum. He says: matter (Pradanam) is that out of which a thing becomes; and, that matter is the ground of all plurality of forms, just as speech is the ground for all plurality of names.
And, a form is that which emerges out of a common substratum. A form (Murti) is that which is manifested. And, it is related to its principal or origin; just as a shoot (Tula) is to its root (Mula) – (AA.126.96.36.199– please check page 107).
Mahidasa did not look upon changes that take place from one stage of matter to another as unrelated or isolated events. It is a progression or a purposeful order, he said, where something that is nebulous and unstructured evolves into its next stage, which is more cognizable and better structured; developing its own individual features. According to Mahidasa, the more evolved an entity is, the more manifest or recognizable or better defined it becomes.
The same principle applies to Art and Art-forms.
There are various references to Art in the ancient texts, at different levels.
Abhinavagupta (10th-11th century), says; the Art, indeed, has no beginning (Anadi). The origin of Art cannot, truly, be traced. Even when Shiva taught his disciples, he recollected and renewed the ancient art (Vijnana); and, passed it on. According to Abhinavagupta, what matters, therefore, is not the debate about the origin of Art at a certain point of time. But, our concern should be about its uninterrupted flow; and, its genius to create beauty of lasting value.
He explains the term Datta, as one who is inspired by his own creative brilliance; who independently creates verities of expressions of uncommon nature; and, gives (Datta) to this world a fresh perspective of beauty. The Datta, verily, is the creator, the artist, who is blessed with such clear perception, Vijnana.
Vijnana (a special type of knowledge) was the term that was used, in much a earlier period, to refer to what we call Art. Banabhatta in his Harshacharita regards painting and sculpture as branches of Vijnana. And, he calls those artists as Vijnani-s (viśva-karma-mandiram iti vijñānibhiḥ).
And, such special knowledge (vijñānam) was admired as a gift of god. It said; Shiva taught the art of Dance to his disciple Tandu. And, Narayana , who was engaged in penance, created the art of painting (Chitram), for the welfare of the world; and, taught it to Visvakarma, to spread its knowledge in the world (Narayanena munina lokanam hita-kamyaya; kritva chitram lakshana samyuktam – Vishnudharmottara. 3.35.2-5)
The Mahabharata attributes all forms of arts to Vishnu (vijñānam etat sarvaṃ janārdanāt)
Yogo jñānaṃ tathā sāṃkhyaṃ vidyāḥ śilpāni karma ca vedāḥ śāstrāṇi vijñānam etat sarvaṃ janārdanāt – MBh. 13.135.139
What is Art, kalaa –कला ..?
Since, Dance and Dance-forms are regarded as forms of Art, let’s start with the question: what does this concept of Art signify?
The most common term that is used to signify Art, is kalaa –कला. And, in the Indian traditions, it is said; Kala (Art) is that which delights (kam anandam lathi iti kalah). It stands for various modes of aesthetic expressions that enchant, gladden the hearts (hrudaya-ranjaka); and, that which requires some knowledge as also skill or felicity in expressing its creative impulse – kaushala. Bharata, in his Natyashastra, according to some scholars, uses the term Kala to suggest fine (Charu) arts, as also the dexterity, skill in art-creation. (Na sā vidyā na sā kalā – NS. 1.116)
The Paramara king, Raja Bhoja of Dhara (1000–1055 AD), in his Samarangana –sutradhara, remarks that the best artists combine the knowledge of the theory of Art with proficiency in its practice (Bhudyante kepi shastranam kechid karmani kurvate: Samarangana-sutradhara -74)
Thus, Kala (Art) stands not only for what is ultimately expressed; but also for the process of expressing it. The Art can, therefore, be understood in two ways. One: art is that which is expressed as an art-form (objective); and, two, the manner in which that is expressed – the process, the skill (subjective).
There was a belief that an object of art, say a painting, is basically subjective; and, it, usually, takes after the nature and merits of the artist; just as a literary work mirrors the intellect of the poet. (Yadrisas chitrakaras tadrisi chitra-karma-rupa-rekha; yadrisah kavis tadrisis kavya-bandha-chhaya iti– Viddhasalabhajika-1).
That is to say; the effort and the process of creating a poem or a painting, brings one face-to-face with one’s own personality with all its limitations as also its potentials.
As per Grammar, it is said, the basic meaning of Kalā (कला) is ‘a part’, especially ‘sixteenth part of the moon’- Chandra-kala (e.g. Bṛhadāraṇyakopaniṣad 1.5.14). The moon waxes and wanes in periods of fifteen days; each day it gains or losses one kalā. The sixteenth kalā is the amṛtakalā, abiding digit, which never fades away, even at the dark of the moon (Bh.Up.1.5.17). Thus, kalā is the symbolic expression of number sixteen.
But, there is also another interpretation, which is more significant.
It said; the etymological meaning of the term Kala (कला) is derived from its root Kal, meaning to count or compute. In the broader sense, it also suggests the meaning of: to do; to make; or, to calculate. The term Kala, thus, covers larger set of factors, apart from sheer abstract notions.
Artists are makers or creators. Any artistic activity involves creative perception to visualize; and, the intellect to estimate and to compute, in order to articulate and give a form to ones vision and to ones inner experience.
This etymological meaning of the word Kala, led to further exposition and development of mathematical and quantitative standards for artistic practices in India, especially in creative and performing arts. Most of the Indian Schools of thought, right from the Samkhya, adopted the analytical method of Anveshiki to enumerate categories of existence and experiences. The texts on technical subjects like Nyaya, Ayurveda etc., also followed the Anveshiki method of listing, in order to bring clarity into the analytical investigation of issues.
The texts on performing arts also followed the similar method of enumeration.
There is an interesting argument which binds mathematics and art together. Both try to transport an abstract concept into the real world of structures and forms. And, both search for beauty and aesthetics, in the structural harmony of their creations.
Following that premise, the Art theoreticians of ancient India attempted to quantify artistic activities; and, also the process of manifesting or articulating creative experiences. They developed a complex system of measures and proportions, which defies rigid definitions. It is called Talamana paddathi, iconometry, included under Prathima-lakshanam, the discussion on the features and nature of images to be created.
In the field of painting and sculpture, elaborate and precise tables of aesthetic measurements and proportions (Taala and Maana) were drawn up for ensuring a harmonious creation, endowed with well proportioned physical features (lakshana) – for each class and each type of images. It was meant to achieve a meaningful correlation between the nature, the content and the form of the subject.
This systematic process of specifying measures and proportions became an essential tool in visual arts; such as, painting and image-making. And, such conceptual standards of aesthetics were followed by all the regional and religious Schools of Arts in India.
Such mathematical standards and regulations served as the medium, in the process to translate abstract concepts into postures, structures that are, at once, beautiful, illustrative and meaningful. They helped to bridge the artistic quantification and aesthetic presentation.
For instance; the Vishnudharmottara, while detailing how a painter should go about his task, mentions: “the painter should think of the proportionate size of the thing to be painted; and think of it as having been put on a wall. Then calculating its size in his mind, he should draw the outline marking the limbs. It should be bright in prominent places and dark in depressed places. It may be drawn in a single colour, where comparative distinction is required. If depressed places are required to be bright, jet black should be used. “
The Taala-Maana system was also extended to the field of Music, dance and theatre, where the units of measurement were interpreted in terms of the units of time (Taala, rhythmic cycles; and Laya, tempo).
And, in Dance, the number of hand spans between feet in a particular posture (Karana); or the length of the step that should be taken, in harmony with the units of rhythmic cycles (Taala), is also regulated by a similar system of measures and proportions. In a way; the Taala could said to be the calculus of aesthetics, which allows the artist to explore the forms of beauty and their variations. This Grammar is followed by the artists, intrusively.
Prof. Vinod Viawans, in his very learned article Expressing with grey cells: Indian perspectives on new media arts, observes:
There is an important dimension of Art that has not been due consideration so far: ‘art as computation’. There appears to be tendency among the artists to treat Art as anti-analytical. They can learn from the Indian traditions, which have made some valuable advances in this direction. They have demonstrated that calculation and quantification can be an integral part of artistic practices. It is all the more relevant in the modern days. The artists, in the new age, need to be taught how abstract constructs and spaces could be created in virtual reality environment, with the use of mathematical values.
At another level, art expressions are regarded as fundamental to human nature
According to Gargyayana, a sage–king who appears in the Kausitiki Upanishad (and, said to be one of the teachers of Uddalaka Aruni), Art (Chitram) is how the human mind, essentially, conceives and experiences the nature and the surrounding life (maanasi pratirupa chaksusi); how it expresses that experience in its own way; and, how it imposes its own forms and interpretations on nature.
Centuries later, the Buddha amplifying Gargyayana‘s view of art, regarded Art as a product of human experience and imagination; a representation of ideas that take birth in human mind, in relation to diverse forms of life and human experiences – (caranam cittam citten eva cintitam – Samyukta Nikaya, 5.8 , quoted in the Atthasalini-204.)
Though there is no universally accepted definition of art, it could, broadly, be understood as an act of creating, expressing or making. Art could said to be a means to present or represent ideas, thoughts, feelings and experiences by skillful, meaningful, and imaginative devises, through a chosen medium, employing its appropriate instruments. It is both the means and the end.
Artistic encounter arises from the ways and manners how the humans react to the world around them. And, it is also a mode of sharing ones experience, feelings and thoughts with the society at large, through ones creative expressions.
The performing artist, endowed with creative imagination and the requisite skills, ingeniously creates an imaginary world, by use of artistic devises such as: language adorned with poetic phrases or enchanting sounds (Vachica); beautiful hand gestures and body postures (Angica), and costumes (Aharya) etc.
Idealistic view of life
The Indian theories of aesthetics (Alamkara) adopted the concepts and idioms of philosophical schools, like Samkhya and Vedanta. According to Prof. M. Hiriyanna (Art experience; 1954), the Samkhya takes a realistic view; while the Vedanta prefers an idealistic vision of the world which lies beyond the phenomenal one of appearance. Following the Samkhya way, one could say that the Art is the mode of representing the reality. And, the Vedanta way is one of deflection from the reality.
However, the Indian theories of aesthetics went along independently, synthesizing all shades of views and opinions. But, it agreed upon the universal character of Art; and, its purpose as that of providing a unique aesthetic experience (Rasa). And, it, generally, moved away from mere realistic presentation; and, positively leaned towards idealism in its representations.
According to such idealistic view of life, the ultimate objective of any artistic creation is to evoke Rasa; and, to transport the viewer or the listener to an imaginative ideal world (Aloukika).
The artist, in his endeavor, can use various devises of art, such as: words, sounds, rhythm, balance, aesthetic proportions, etc., to help to derive such out-of-the world, virtual experience. For instance; in the theater, as Abhinavagupta puts it, the audience witnessing a theatrical/dance performance reside in the physical space; and, they are aware of it. But, at the same time, they can leap into the simulated world. In a way of speaking, an engrossed spectator enjoys the best of the both the worlds. Abhinavagupta suggests that Art is not absence of life; but, it is an extension of life – every element of life appears in one or the other forms of Art. And, the aesthetic experience derived from Art is free from mundane passions and its limitations; it is indeed Wondrous, Chamatkara.
The art-creation in India has, therefore, been a process of life. The creation of the beauty of form, for the painter or the sculptor, was said to be a joyous rediscovery of the glory and beauty of the whole of creation. The Vishnudharmottara (a text of about the sixth century) states: The purpose of Art is to show one, the grace that underlies all of creation, to help one on the path towards reintegration with that which pervades the Universe
Further, the Vishnudharmottara asserts that the images which are made with the understanding of the harmony of life are immensely beneficial for the viewer. Thus, it states: Art is the greatest treasure of mankind, far more valuable than gold or jewels.
It is said; the artist employs matter and techniques to embody an idea, a vision. Such created art-object is not only a source of beauty; but, is also an invitation to explore and enjoy the meaning (Artha) of that beauty. Artha, in the context of Art, is, thus, not merely the objective property of art-work; but, it is also a deep subjective aesthetic experience.
In other words; Art-creation is about the experience of a person; and, his own interpretation of it. And, that calls for her/ his unique creative genius, imagination, enterprise and individuality as an artist. It is not about how the world appears to one and all, but how the artist experiences and visualizes it.
The Chitrasutra says; the concern of the artist should not be to just faithfully reproduce the forms around him. It suggests that the artist should try to look beyond the tangible world, the beauty of form that meets the eye. He should lift that veil and look within. The artist’s vision should reach beyond “the phenomenal world of separated beings and objects that blind the reality beyond”.
What is expressed need not be a replica of the day-to-day objects and experiences. It should be aesthetically beautiful, in its own way; and, it should be able to communicate with the receptive connoisseur. Abhinavagupta remarked that a creation in art is the expression of a feeling that is freed from localized distinctions; it is the generalization (Sadharanikarana) of a particular feeling. It comes into being through the creative genius (prathibha) of the artist.
This is particularly true in the case of Dance (Natya-dharmi- stylized movements and expressions) and painting (Bhava – techniques to draw out the inner world of the subject).
Even in the case of Drama, it is said, ‘Theater is a practice of artistic expression and communication’. Abhinavagupta makes a distinction between the world of drama (Nātyadharmī) and the real but ordinary life (Lokadharmī). The daily experiences are different from the aesthetic experiences. The relation between the actor and the audience during a performance is out of the ordinary.
Art – forms
The Chitrasutra says, “Anything be it beautiful or ugly, dignified or despicable, dreadful or of a pleasing appearance, deep or deformed, object or non-object, whatever it be, could be transformed in to Rasa, by an artist’s imagination and skill”.
Such transformation of a concept or an idea into cognizable well structured forms could be called Art or Art-expression. The varied shapes it assumes, depending upon the medium that it employs, gives rise to different Art-forms. Following the principle stated by sage Mahidasa; the more evolved such a form is, the more manifest or recognizable or better defined it becomes. That is how, each Art-form branches out into well cultivated individualized sub-forms; each with its own characteristic modes of presentation, ethos and appeal.
The Art and its concepts are, rather, amorphous (Amurta); not having a specified concrete form (Murti). It, therefore, needs a medium through which it can emerge. It might assume different forms depending upon its medium of expression. For instance; sounds are the medium of songs and music; so are the lines and colours for painting. And, for the art of dancing, the body-movements, the gestures and facial expressions are the essential instruments. Such mediums of expressions also define the ways or ‘forms’ in which the artist’s emotions, imagination and excellence could be displayed. Had there been no variety in these mediums of expression, there would not have been varieties of Art-forms.
As said earlier, an artist in the Indian tradition is considered as the creator. He is regarded as an earthly representation of Vishvakarman; the deity of the creative power; the supreme artist who brought all things into existence. An artist, on earth, creates Art by transforming a given object of the world into a thing of beauty. The voice is given; and, melody is created. The language is given; and, poetry is created. The lines and colors are given; and, forms are created. And, so on. Thus, transformations are taking place, all the time, in the creation of newer modes of Art forms.
Thus, an artist is one who strives to express through her/his chosen form of art. The medium of expression that the artist chooses would also decide and regulate the skill or the faculty of expression that she/he would need to possess, develop and hone it to, almost, near-perfection. That would, consequently, enable the artist to possess the corresponding bodily efficiency, the knowledge and the proficiency to express his/her feelings and thoughts.
If the medium of expression is sound, the artist may use voice and express her/his art in the form of music. Such an artist is then called as a singer. Apart from learning the theoretical knowledge (Lakshana), imbibing the practical skill (Lakshya), the singer would also have to work on improving the voice-culture and the ways of presentation.
And, for the same medium of sound, another artist might, instead, use her/his palms and fingers. or breath or whatever, to play on a musical instrument. The artist is then known as an instrumentalist. The instrumentalist, according to the demands of the chosen instrument, needs to develop a certain level of competence and skill in playing it.
For any artist, either as a musician or a painter or poet, there is an inexhaustible richness and diversity in the world we live in. And, there is also abundant freedom to experience and to express in countless innovative ways. And, that freedom is not something that is given to him by someone else; it is his own inborn genius.
Every notion can be expressed in infinite number of forms. One has access to the largest possible number of variations. The virtue of freedom , here, lies in choosing and employing the most appropriate of them all. That again , calls for the mastery over ones medium of expression – be it language , sounds or lines and colors.
As regards poetry; it is also considered as a distinct art expression – Kavya kala. Poetry is a unique form of knowledge (Vidya), an art or a skill. It combines in itself, the virtues of countless variations in the wonders of speech (ukti vaichitrya), delighting the heart of a responsive listener (sahrudaya- hrdaya ranjana), It also reveals the ceaseless mysteries of varieties of experiences (anubhuti) and thought processes (vichara vividyata).
Abhinavagupta muses: what is this ukti-vaichitryam (kimidam-uktivaicitryam?); and; responds by saying: it is the ever renewing (nava-navonvesha) wonder in speech that arises not only from the novelty of descriptions, but also, indeed, from the novelty of the object of utterance as well – uktirhi vācya-viśeṣa-pratipādi vacanam / tad vaicitrye kathaṃ na vācya vaicitryam
Hemachandra Suri (late 11th century), a Jain scholar and author of Kavya-anushasana, a work on poetics, says: a poet endowed with the power of creative imagination (Pratibha), rearranges his world according to his wish. He has a vision. And, that vision is the power of unraveling, intuitively, both the reality and the idealism underlying the manifold material world and its aspects.
Poetry and painting
The painter and the poet have much in common. Conventionally the painter deals with forms, moods and their representations in lines and colors . And, the poet is more immersed in the world of concepts, ideas, doubts and queries often tending to be philosophical. Both symbolize their emotions, sensations and ideas through concrete images and words;, each in his own manner.
Bhartrhari compares the communication through language (by use of sentences) to creation of a painting. Bhartrhari describes the painter as going through three stages when he paints a picture : “ when an artist wishes to paint a figure of a man, he first visualizes the object and its spirit as a composite unit ; then , as of a figure having parts; and, thereafter, gradually, in a sequence , he paints it on the surface of a cloth or whatever”.
That is to say; a painter conceives a picture in his mind; and, thereafter gives its parts a substance on the canvass by using variety of strokes, different colors, varying shades etc. Which means; an artist paints the picture in parts though he visualizes it as a single image. The viewer of the painting, rightly, also takes in, absorbs the picture and its spirit as a whole, as an integral unit; and , he does not look for individual strokes, shades etc or the permutation of such details that went into making the picture.
The same could be said of a poem and its individual words.The poetry and painting have much in common.It is said; poetry is picture in words; and, painting is poetry with form.
But , at the same time , the two Art-forms have their individual characteristics. Painting is a static object in space in front of us, allowing our eyes to roam over it at our will, in any manner. The poem, on the other hand, is an ordered sequence. It unfolds progressively in time and space. And, at the same time, the poem is also an illustration. The painting and poem are, thus, complementary; but, not in identical terms.
Painting and sculpture
According to the Vishnudharmottara, the Shilpa (sculpture) and Chitra (painting) are closely related to Nritya (dance) They all are based on a system of medians (sutras), measures (maanas), postures of symmetry (bhangas) and asymmetry (abhanga, dvibhanga and tribhanga); and on the sthanas (positions of standing, sitting, and reclining). The concept of perfect symmetry is present in Shilpa and Chitra as in Nritya; and that is indicated by the term Sama, equipoise.
But, making a sculpture is infinitely harder than making a painting. That is because; painting as a two-dimensional form, can communicate; and, can articulate space, distance, time and the more complex ideas in way that is easier than in sculpture.
The inconvenient realities of the three dimensional existence restrict the fluidity and eloquence of the sculpture. It is almost not possible to depict, directly, in a sculptural panel the time of the day or night – darkness, evening, twilight or bright light etc.. That difficulty also applies to depiction of colors (color, in fact, is not a medium directly compatible with sculpting). And, it is also not easy to bring out the differences between a dead body and a sleeping person, particularly if the two are placed side by side. The sculptor – artist (shilpi) will have to resort to some other clever suggestions to bring out the differences. That depends on the ingenuity of the artist.
When we come to Dance and its forms, the medium of expression is the dancer’s body. The precise movements of hands, face, eyes, feet and body positions; the gestures; and, aesthetic expressions that are put forth, are indeed, the modes its art-expression. There is a complete physical, mental harmony and emotional involvement with the dancer’s performance.
Thus, for a dancer, her/his body is the instrument. The knowledge and skill that the dancer gained through the long years of hard work, pursued with discipline and devotion, are manifested through the rhythmic body-movements, meaningful and expressive gestures.
As said earlier, Art (Kala) stands not only for what is ultimately expressed; but also for the way it is expressed. The same is the case with dance also. What is presented through body-movements, gestures and expressions is called Dance. Similarly, the ‘processes’ and the ‘manners’ in which it is expressed are also called as Dance. The former meaning refers to a dance-item or a dance-production. However, it is the latter meaning that has gradually given birth to various dance-forms.
In other words; just as other Art forms, the Dance also has two aspects: what is expressed; and, the second, the way or the process it is expressed. The ‘outer’ form of art is the means to approach the beauty and purpose of its inner meaning. Accordingly, the various artistic processes by which dance-items are created by the artists; as also, the varied manners in which those dance-items are presented, has , over a period, led to the birth of several dance-forms.
At a given level, a particular dance-form could be described as an entity, which has its own unique characteristics that are intrinsic to it. This is what distinguishes one Dance form from the other; and, lends its special appeal.
Such varieties of Dance-forms might have come about due to factors and influences, such as: historical, social and cultural etc. However, what, truly, makes a Dance-form exclusive, lending it a distinct character and charm; and, that which sets it apart from other forms, is the dedication of the generations of artists – teachers and learners alike – who have striven to nurture its vitality, safeguard its purity and to enhance its creative ingenuity .
And, once a well developed Dance-form establishes its identity, it acquires an eminent status within the art- community; and, also enjoys a long-lasting relationship with the society, at large.
Convergence of Art-forms
In the Vishnudharmottara , the sage Markandeya explains to King Vajra, the interdependence of various art-forms ; and, takes him , step by step, from learning to make sculptures, the art of image-making ; to painting; to Dance; to instrumental music; to vocal music; composing, songs, poetry and prose; to literature , languages, grammar , logic, figures of speech; to aesthetic experience ; to theatrical arts etc.
That emphasized the convergence of all types of art-forms. And, asserts that, Dance, music, painting, sculpture, linguistics, and grammar etc., are not isolated and mutually exclusive.
In any case, be it music, painting, poetry or dance, the person; her/his knowledge; and physical-artistic skills, in a way, all turn into the ‘instruments’ of expression of Art and an Art-form. But, while the Art or Art-form might be objective; the forms of its expressions are highly subjective.
That is to say; there are countless varieties and modes of expression, as each artist brings in to play her/his own ingenuity and creative genius. Hence, the expression of the same Art-form – both, in its process and in the manner of expressing it, as well as in its outcome – differs from artist to artist. That is how, for example, a song rendered by one singer might appeal differently than the same song sung by another singer. Similarly, the same theme, when it is choreographed and performed by different theater-artists, has differing degrees of success and appeal. In this way, this dynamic relation that binds the Art, the Art-form and the Artist together, holds true in the case of all Art-forms across the world and all artists across all times.
In the artistic process, where presentations are made with the aid of various kinds of dramatic features such as Abhinayas and synthetic creations , we are moving from the gross and un-stylized movements of daily life towards more subtle forms of expressions and experiences; we move from individualized experiences to general representations; and from multiplicity to unity.
Its object is to elicit an emotional response, the viewer’s experience. And, it finds its fulfillment in the heart of the viewer, who derives Ananda the joy of aesthetic experience, the Rasa.
A work of art is not a mere inert object; but, it is so rich in meaning that it is capable of evoking manifold emotions and transforming the aesthete. A true aesthetic object, Abhinavagupta declares, not merely stimulates the senses but also ignites the imagination of the viewer. It can communicate through suggestions; and, evoke layers of meanings and emotion. Such artistic pleasure must not, however, bind the viewer; but, must liberate him from his limited confines of place, time and ego (self). Thus, he says, art experience is not mundane; it is alaukika, beyond the ordinary.
Thus, an Art-experience is a dynamic process that bridges the art-object and the connoisseur.
Art is One
The Natya of Natyashastra encompasses drama, dance and music. At the time the Natyashastra was compiled, the arts of poetry, dance, music and drama; and even painting, and sculpture were not viewed as separate and individualized streams of art forms.
For instance; the ‘Music’ that the Natyashastra talks about is, indeed, the Samgita. The term Samgita, here, is a composite art-form, comprising vocal (Gitam) and instrumental (Vadyam) music; as also Nrtyam the dance movements or dance (Gitam, Vadyam, tatha Nrtyam trayam Samgitam uccyate). The last one, Nrtyam, the dance, is composed of all those three elements.
It was only later that each of these developed into specialized Art-forms. And, even the components of the Drama of the Natyashastra-times later evolved and grew apart, assuming independent identities, such as: Opera, Poetic-drama, realistic plays and so on.
Thus, the Natyashastra presents an integral vision of art, which blossomed in multiplicity. All art expressions were viewed as vehicles of beauty providing both pleasure and education, through refinement of senses and sense perceptions.
The Vishnudharmottara also observes: One who does not know the laws of painting (Chitra) can never understand the laws of image-making (Shilpa); and, it is difficult to understand the laws of painting (Chitra) without any knowledge of the technique of dancing (Nrtya); and, that, in turn, is difficult to understand Nrtya without a thorough knowledge of the laws of instrumental music (vadya); But, the laws of instrumental music cannot be learnt without a deep knowledge of the art of vocal music (gana).
That is to say; the arts of Music->Dance->painting->sculpture are inter related.
Thus, in these texts, Art, essentially, is One. It is the common substratum. As it evolved, grew rich in content; and, with the passage of time, the Art branched into numerous Art-forms. And, each of those Art-forms, in turn, developed into specialized streams of art-creations.
That underlines the fact that Art has a fundamental unity of its own; and, that unity implies continuity, with change, while retaining its essential identity. The developments that take place during the course of its evolution; and, the varied forms it acquires, in the process, are neither unrelated nor isolated events. They all spring from a common substratum.
The principle that is involved here is based in the dictum that diversity essentially pre-supposes an underlying unity (abedha-purvaka hi bhedah). In other words, it says, where there is difference or division, there must be a fundamental identity underneath it; else, each cannot relate to the other; and, each object in the world would be independent of, or remain unconnected to every other thing in existence.
This concept provides the foundation for treating all forms of Art as emanating from a single source. The various forms and levels of art, from the most subtle to the tangible, are, therefore, treated as different facets of a unitary art-system.
The entire process of the evolution of Art resembles the imagery of the ancient mythical inverted tree – which the earlier Indian texts refer to so often – hanging down, with its roots in the air and with its branches spread downward (urdhva mulam, adah shakham). Its roots are ancient; but, its growing shoots, leaves, buds, flowers and fruits are ever green, tender and fresh. The roots of our art are in the very distant past. Though those roots are no longer visible to us, the branches and extensions of those roots in vivid forms that have come down to us, are very alive; and, its fruits are within our experience.
In other words; what we call as Art is essentially One. But, depending upon the mediums and instruments chosen for expression, this essential Art gets molded into various forms. These Art –forms, born from that single essence, are patterned into numerous distinct expressions, according to the artists who work with varying mediums and Art-forms.
Therefore, growth, change and adaptation are essential aspects of a living organism, called Art. It is distinguished by continuity with change; as also by its diversity and creativity. That is the genius of the Indian traditions.
Lalita Kala and Upayogi kala
The earlier Indian texts, such as Kama Sutra, make a mention of sixty-four types of Kalas (Chatus-shasti Kala). These include:
: – arts such as singing (Gayakatvam), dancing (Nrtyam), painting (Chitra-kriya), drama (Natya), poetry (Kavya-kala) etc;
: – branches of knowledge such as: Grammar (Vyakarana); meter (Chhandas); logic (Nyaya); metals (Dhatuvada) or skillful management of state affairs (Rajyabhara);
: – practical arts (bahya-kala) such as: personal makeup (Vishesha-Kacchedya), costumes (Aharya); applying cosmetics, perfumes (Gandhavaadam); cooking (Suuda-karma) etc;
: – secret arts (abhyantara-kala) like erotic devices and knowledge of sexual arts (Kama kala) ;
: – crafts such as : as pottery (Mrutt-kriya), carpentry (Daaru-kriya), weaving (Ambara-Kriya), jewelry-making (mani-karma), garland-making or flower-arrangement (Pushpastaran), and so on; and,
: – dexterous skills such as swordsmanship (Khadga-vidya), horse riding (Asva-Kausalam) , riding chariots (Ratha-vidya) or even thievery (chora karma) etc.
All these and such other arts, crafts and skills are regarded as art expressions. But, these are classified under two broad heads: Lalita-kala or Charu-kala (fine arts); and, Upayogi kala (crafts and skills of utility).
Many of the art-forms are categorized as Upayogi, because they serve a purpose; fulfill a certain need; and, are of practical utility. Take for instance; the crafts such as carpentry, fashion-designing, flower-arrangement and such others, which serve the consumers’ needs and the demands of the society. And, the diversity of such works also generates consumption patterns. And, in many cases, these utilities are practical necessities in the day-to-day living of the common people. And, the producers of these articles depend on their art/craft, as a means of their livelihood. The Upayogi kala is thus a part of the dynamics of life and living.
Another dimension of the issue is the status-image of the consumers that these objects tend to project; and, define her/his relationship with the society. For instance, the wearer of a piece of jewelry or a designer-costume makes a certain statement about herself; her taste, her economic capability; her social status; and, how she desires to be looked upon by those around her. It is, in a way, a natural extension of her identity; or defining who she is. And, that also helps the wearer to construct a certain relationship with the society.
Similarly, the tasteful furniture, elegant crockery and classy accessories etc., do project an impressive image of the user’s sense of aesthetics, social class and economic power.
The Lalita-kala, on the other hand, has a more subtle relationship with the society. The term Lalita suggests something that is playful, delicate and graceful. Thus, Lalita-Kala is one that delights; and, ushers in a sense of beauty (Charu) and grace into life.
Lalita Kala is said to be distinct from the Upayogi kala, inasmuch as it is non-utilitarian, in a limited sense; and, it does not provide material objects or articles of daily necessities. It is, mostly, a matter of individual taste, choice, and attitude to life. It, therefore, enjoys a greater degree of the freedom of expression.
Ideally, an artist should be under no obligation to please anyone, but himself. In a Utopian world, the artists who pursue these fine-art-forms need not be bound by the requirements, norms and demands of the society. In an ideal world, the acceptance or otherwise of her/his creation, could, plausibly, be left, with some disdain, to the whim of the onlookers. And, whatever be that, it should, normally, not greatly affect the artist. But, that very rarely happens.
Unlike Upayogi kala, the Lalita kala might not produce tangible, common place objects of day-to-day use. But, the fine-arts do bring in its own unique adorable values that render life more meaningful and enjoyable. For instance; the soulful music brings along a certain tranquil joy, beauty and loveliness into ones heart and mind. And, Dance, which reflects the charm, delight, rhythm and harmony in all this existence, does enliven one to the splendor that surrounds us.
Apart from bringing joy, beauty and harmony to an individual’s life, the fine arts and performing arts also help in binding the society together in a common aesthetic experience.
Further, an Art-form forges relationships between the artists who create and develop it, and the common people of the society who, ultimately, receive it. This applies both to the Lalita-kala (fine arts) and to the Upayogi-kala (utilitarian) arts. Depending upon a particular art-form and the function it performs, its relation with the society also varies; and, such relation is categorized according to each ones’ perception of it.
Having said that; let me also mention that the line separating these two categories – Lalita and Upayogi – is rather very thin. And, these two, often, overlap. The differentiating Art from craft is rather recent; and, it is rather futile.
For instance; an artist who paints should necessarily have some knowledge of the use of brushes, colors, as also the skill to apply them. And, on the other side; a jewel-smith, who develops and uses tools that mold and give a variety of shapes to metals, should be gifted with refined artistic sensibility, to produce delicate, attractive and brilliant pieces of jewelry. He should be able to imagine various aesthetic designs; and, visualize the beauty solidified in the form of jewellery, say a necklace or a bangle etc.
Thus, be it an art-form or an artifact ; it , essentially, is an artistic invention , inspired out of human ingenuity and creative genius; and, is intimately related to human nature , behavior and aspirations.
Effects of Time and Technology
With the passage of time; and, with numerous artists exploring various dimensions of wide-ranging art-forms, these forms have grown and expanded into newer and more sophisticated art-creations.
In the present day, the individual artists have the liberty and privilege to choose their theoretical positions. They can twist, bend and wield their newly acquired medium of expression in any manner they love to do. They can carry forward their tradition; or innovate and leap on to modern or post-modern technology as a tool for their art expressions. They might even attempt to fuse the two together. Sometimes, their creations might have unpredictable impact on the viewers or listeners.
In the process, the content or the repertoire of each Art-form has grown in terms of quantity, quality, as well as in their elegance. Consequently, they have become part of the ongoing tradition (parampara); and, gained acceptability both among the connoisseurs and the art-lovers, at large. And, each well nurtured Art-form has become an intimate part of a society’s culture.
Further, each generation of Visual artists, musicians, writers and performers, in their creative pursuits, deem it their responsibility to preserve the integrity of the Art they inherited; and, hand it over to the next generation, in its purity. Thus, the formation, growth and development of an Art-form is not an event or an incident; but, is a gradual process spread across generations of artists ; and , of enlightened teachers and ardent students.
In the very ancient days, for the gentlemen of leisure, fine arts like music, dance painting and sculpture were the source of one’s own pleasure and amusement (vaiharika-silpa or vinodasthana). It is said; Nagarakas (city-dwellers), connoisseurs of art, accomplished courtesans, painters, and sculptors among others studied standard texts on painting. Such widespread studies naturally brought forth principles of art criticisms as in alankara-sastra
But, there were also several professionals who practiced these arts and art-forms as a craft, the main stay of their life. Kautilya deemed it a responsibility of the State to support all such art-masters, who spread knowledge among youngsters.
Another very telling effect of the passage of time; and, the effects it has brought upon some of the Art-forms is that those who purse arts as a leisure-activity are far less in number than those who have turned their art-pursuit into professions. For instance; singing, dancing, painting, song-writing, acting or even sculpting etc., are now careers. And, those practicing such art-forms are known as professional- artists. With the change of times; and, with the growing social demands and economic pressures, a distinct class of such professional-artists has crystallized into recognizable groups, each with its own ethos and attitudes.
Whatever might be the past, one should recognize that these dedicated artists, in their own right, are well trained, qualified specialists in their discipline. And, they do constitute an important and a legitimate dimension of the cultural life of the society. There is absolutely no justification in taking a dim view on their professional tag; they indeed are Artists, in essence.
Their unique talents are utilized by various other trades and services (say, films, promotions, decorations of various sorts etc.) They render their expert service to the society; and, their professional achievements are recognized and appreciated by conferring awards and accolades. The thin line separating Lalita-kala and Upayogi kala has almost completely faded out. And, that has to be accepted as one of the characteristics of the times we live in (yuga-dharma).
Art and Technology
The relation between Art and technology has always been complex. And, at the same time, there is an affinity between the two.
Technology, broadly, is a human endeavor to shape, re-shape its physical environment to solve certain problems; or even to go beyond. And, Art is an act of beautifully making and shaping. At every stage in human life, available materials, tools and knowledge were put to use, to search for innovative applications. The degree of sophistication, in each age, went with the advancement in science and technology, at that stage.
The advent of technology and its innovations, it is needless to mention, has exerted a tremendous impact on all forms of art-expressions; and, have brought about transformation in the realm of fine-arts. Technology has also given rise to altogether new art-forms. In some cases, the association of technology with certain fine-art-forms has become highly essential; and is, in fact, inseparable.
One such art-form is photography, whose medium of expression is similar to that of the art of drawing and painting. Their concepts of form, shades and depth are alike. Here, the camera became the indispensable, principle medium of expression (in place of the brush), guided by the photographer’s intelligent understanding of the picture-composition; and, his creative skill in manipulating light, shades and focus.
In its initial stages, photography replaced portrait painting, which only the wealthy could afford. With the spread of the habit of taking photos, even the common people started going to the studios to get themselves photographed; or, hire photographers to take pictures of the auspicious and cultural events in their homes. In due course, photography came to be regarded as a credible Art-form, a pastime as also a craft. Thus, photography is at once a fine art as also a utility-based professional career.
The impact of technology on the visual media is awesome. With the advent of improved technologies, photography has taken astounding strides since its birth during the nineteenth century. In the recent times, the techno-artistic improvisations, in combination with the computer technology has elevated its art-craft and technique to an altogether different level.
Photography, in turn, has given rise to yet another art-form, which is Cinematography. It has brought along with it few more techno-artistic domains such as editing, art-direction, sound-engineering and so on. Further, the computer generated animation movies, in which images or objects are manipulated to appear as moving images, has emerged as the most astounding dynamic medium. It is the most amazing art-form, created with élan and superb artistry, which could not even be thought of in the earlier days.
[There is also a flip side to this. With the invasion of mobile phones, photo-video-graph is either for fun or for recording events; most of it being trivial. The persons who record these, as also the Selfies, for sharing on social networks, do not, basically, regard themselves as artists. It is, at best, an upayogi tool.]
In a way of speaking, the movies* are the present-day equivalents of the Natya (Drama) of the Bharatha’s days; attempting to engage and entertain the audience as best as they can. Various specialized domains of Art are converging into this media (just as it happened in era of Natyashastra). Their theatrical performances combine, in themselves, all the elements of the Drama; and, even more. And, here too, as in the ancient days, its Sangita, indeed, is the skillful unison of drama, song, music and dance. It also signifies the Unit’s intense engagement with various forms of craft and art-forms. At the same time, the business of movie-making has the compulsion to pay serious attention to the commercial aspects of production and marketing.
[*BTW, the term Films, itself, seems to have become redundant; since, in this digital age, the carbon films are no longer used for recording the actions or the stills.]
Now, with the arrival of the digital age, new vistas have opened up.
New media technology offers enormous scope, in terms of self-generating and self-modifying images, texts and sounds etc. Digital world is not bound by the limitations of the material world. You can get all the colors the human eye can see; you can change their vividness and brightness; you can mix and erase them without a trace.
Although digital art is not bound by the rules of traditional art, it often simulates the real; and, renders the whole process more intuitive. It facilitates the artistic quest for a newer form of beauty and aesthetic experience. It transforms the abstract constructs into completely novel and beautiful reality. And, the entire process of developing the algorithms, by itself, is highly imaginative; and, that too is Art, as per the ancient sages of India.
Art has always been a presentation, representation or reflection of the contemporary ethos. Artworks are objects of interpretation; and, they are also subjective. Today artists have many more options to give expression to their thoughts, feelings, fantasies, ambitions etc. With the arrival of new technology, Art might become more cerebral in its manifestation; yet, it cannot lose its sensitivity. At the end, it is, essentially, tied to human reaction towards it.
Thus, even in the digital age of new technologies, with all its possibilities of convergence, interactive flows etc., the Art, in essence, still retains its Universal character.
As mentioned earlier, all such Art-forms are Lalita and Upayogi Kalas, at the same time. The fusion of art, craft and technology is so intimate and inseparable, complimenting one another, as to make it next to impossible to view each as distinct element in the composition of the final product. Perhaps, these could be called as ‘technology-based-art-forms’.
As you can see from the above, the world of Art is a highly complex entity, not only in terms of its multiplicity of forms and types; but, also in terms of its historical, cultural and technological roots. Yet; though the modes of presentation and the instruments of its execution, over the centuries, have varied greatly, the principle of Art – expression of ideas and emotions that take birth in human mind; and , its effective communication – have remained the same.
All this again suggests that Art is essentially One; though it has countless forms. It is both the end and the means.
In the next part let’s talk about Dance and, Dance-forms, before we come to the texts dealing with the theory and practice of Dance
Sources and References
2. http://chitrolekha.com/art-forms-and-dance-forms/ by Ojasi Sukhatankar
3.Educating Artists for the Future: Learning at the Intersections of Art … by Melvin L. Alexenberg
All images are from Internet