Inter-relationship of the Arts Kapila Vatsyayan
Art in India was never dissociated from other aspects of life or from other disciplines. This is evident from the literary and the archaeological evidence throughout the history of India. The continuity could be maintained only because the tradition itself had an in-built paradigm of facilitating change, constantly adjusting itself to a contemporaneity of time and place while adhering to certain underlying principles which were perennial and immutable. The dynamics of the still centre and the ever kaleidoscopically changing movements of styles, schools and artistic expressions were sustained in different milieus and at different levels of society through different diverse media. The aesthetics emerged from a shared world-view with the acceptance of diversity in form. Any discussion on the inter-relationship of the Indian arts at the level of theory or praxis is meaningful only if we realise that all the Indian arts are as if the myriad petals of a single flower. Each petal is clearly definable, has autonomy in shape and form, but has life and vitality only as part of a ‘whole’. The contemporary debate of the autonomy of the specific arts vs. the inter-relationship and inter-dependence of the arts has to be viewed from the point of view of the arts which were bound together as emerging from a shared world-view and shared aesthetics and those others which were and are expressions of an individual experience through a specific artistic media. In the former case, the shared world-view, the subscription or commitment to a particular aesthetics, (in this case, the rasa theory) binds the diverse arts at the level of artistic experience of the creator and the ultimate goal of evoking that experience in the spectator. The media, the instruments used for expression, are diverse, autonomous but analogous and cognate. Here, the content is also shared-whether myth or the archetypes. There is an overlap of techniques but each of these are the vehicles of communicating an impersonal experience. In the second case, the centre of the concern is the medium itself-whether painting, sculpture, music, dance, pottery. The individual creation is from a unique experience of the person and in the process of that creation he does universalise or abstract, occasionally depending upon the milieu shared experience and interaction. There is a ‘give-and-take’ influence of the other arts. The primacy of the single art-whether visual or kinetic or aural-is clearly maintained. The relationship with the other art is of a primary and a secondary nature. Comparisons between the arts are of the final product. Modern painting can be compared to a modern piece of music or critical appraisal can be made of how a painting has been stimulated by a verbal imagery or how a poetic metaphor has emerged from a visual experience. However, they may or may not emerge from a shared unitary vision.
These are two different paths. Both valid, creatively sustainable but distinct.
Without setting up a contrived confrontation between the traditional arts or modernity, or speaking about ancient, medieval and contemporary, this change in vision and approach has to be recognised with respect. At this moment of initiating this dialogue, it would be pertinent to perhaps pause to reflect on the unified vision which was responsible for the inter-relationship and interpenetration of the Indian arts. I can do no more than draw attention to a few of the fundamental paradigms which pervade all aspects of the cultural heritage but particularly the arts. These are the common fundamentals of all the arts.
Basic was the recognition of sustaining an inner landscape of man which is the centre and the recognition that it expresses itself in an outer landscape of man comprising myriad petals of a lotus flower. Whenever, however, the vision may have come, it is clear that had this not been the guiding star of this country, it would not have been possible for it to have a staggering multiplicity of racial strands, languages, religions, philosophy systems, social structures and artistic expressions, all webbed together in one wholeness. The proverbial staggering multiplicity is held together as planets in a single astronomical orbit. Stated differently, all manifestations in time and space, varied and different, are the rainbow colours of a single white luminosity.
The Indian arts, particularly its poetry, architecture, sculpture, painting, music and dance reflect this vision and evolves methodologies of structure and form through multimedia communication systems only once again to evoke this wholeness.
Two fundamental paradigms evolved for comprehending the physical phenomena, the rhythm of the universe and the mind and spirit of man as one ecological system. The first was the simple but most potent paradigm of the human body (Purusha). This body was made up of different systems, the digestive, the circulatory, the nervous, each inter-related and inter-dependent in which matter and the spirit, the physical and meta-physical, were contained. The body of man was the microcosm representing the macrocosm. The second was the paradigm of a chariot wheel with a centre, a hub, spokes and a circumference. Here also the insistence was on the relationship of the still centre, the hub with the periphery. Centripetal and centrifugal forces were juxtaposed. There was an inner still centre formless beyond form and an outer movement capable of multiplicity plurality but all contained within the circle. The centre was the symbol of the life of reflection, of individual introspection, statis, nirvana, moksha, the spokes and the area between different radii was the life of dynamic action comprising desire, pleasure, prosperity, knowledge, power, duty and conduct but all harnessed. Time was cyclic, the beginning was the end and beginning. As in other ancient civilizations of the world, the awareness of outer space and the consciousness of the inner landscape of man was inter-related. The Rig Veda stated it as “Truth is one but its expressions many”. The Katha Upanishad spoke of the body of the man as the charioteer and the chariot wheel:
“Know thou the soul (atman) as riding in a chariot,
The body as the chariot.
Know thou the intellect (buddhi ) as the chariot-driver,
and the mind (manas) as the reins.
The senses (indriya), they say, are the horses:
The objects of sense, what they range over.
The self combined with senses and mind
Wise men call ‘the enjoyer’ (bhoktri).
“Higher than the senses are the objects of sense,
Higher than the objects of sense is the mind (manas):
And higher than the mind is the intellect (buddhi).
Higher than the intellect in the Great Self (atman)”.
Here we can do no more than draw attention to how all the arts in India developed on the ground plan of this understanding of the universe. The aesthetic experience born out of life bound by it but in the ultimate was universal and transcendental: the artistic creations were the embodiment in specific form of this experience. The form was guided by cultural boundaries specificity of periods, regions, lifestyles, motifs, but all individually and together was an expression at the micro or macro level, the experiences of balance proportion, harmony and concord.
Indian architecture-whether the stupas or the temples or the mosques or the city plans or domestic architecture, humble and modest-embodies this world-view: the mud walls, the brick and stone, ground or elevation plans are an orchestration of multiple forms flowing out of and flowing into a centre. Invariably it begins with a point of unity and manifests it through a spectrum of multiple form which in turn evoke harmony and equanimity. There is a first and foremost a centre. This centre enlarges itself into a vast complex either as a circle or as a square, is filled with crowded abundance of life in all its variety. The ornamentation and the decoration, representational or abstract, play their role to an ascending oneness vertically and a closing in and gathering of all energies horizontally from the outer to the inner. Brick by brick, stone by stone, and immense epic poem of the infinite is made. Each detail can be separated but in fact none is autonomous: each unit is the part of the whole, interwoven and interlocked. In its totality, it represents heaven on earth, the central mountain, the Sumeru. Ultimately it is the cosmic order on earth, arousing the dominant mood of wonder (vismaya) and evoking a transcendental experience of bliss. Whether the observer, participator or pilgrim moves from the outside to the inside or circumbulates the stupa temple or mosque until he reaches the centre which represents the ultimate void, the sunya, nirvana or moksha. Alternately, he figuratively ascends the pinnacle whether in the austere simplicity of the spherical dome of the stupa or the masjid or through the crowded multiplicity of the temple. Sanchi and Bharut, the temples of North, South, Western or Eastern India, or the mosques speak the same language of transcendence and of heightened experience despite the cultural specifies of each of these monuments. Impersonality and intensity are the twin paradoxical demands of this art which is life bound and beyond it. These monuments bear testimony to the concretisation of this vision through a perfect language of art which was as universal, pan-Indian as specific in time, region or locality.
Sculpture likewise manifests this vision of wholeness through a methodology of impersonalisation. Indian figurative art is not portraiture of the specific. Each image is an embodiment of a dominant abstracted impersonalised state or mood in a given stance or pose evoking stillness and dynamic movement together. Each is a complete world unto itself, related to life born of life, part of the cultural fabric, but not it. Buddha is Buddha, the historical prince Siddhartha, and Sakyamuni, but he is more: he is compassion, pathos and grace in absolute. The spirit and soul of the cosmic infinite is contained in the body of the particular but impersonal form. The image is not the historical figure-it is and it is not the cultural specific in which it is articulated: a Kushan, Gupta, Pala or for that matter an Indonesian, Cambodian, a Khmer, Japanese and Chinese Buddha can be clearly identifiable. They are distinguishable and dateable, but in the last analysis, they are beyond their cultural boundaries and are each a hypothesis, an aspect of the vast ocean of karuna (compassion) in all its multitudes of shades, tones and subtleties. The dominant mood of compassion (karuna) is encircled sometimes with many transient states represented as the vegetation, flora, fauna, yakshis, dryads, gandharvas and apsaras, each playing a specific role in building the totality, or it may be the single austere simple statement of the still centre of peace and enlightenment suggested through the symbols of the Buddha, the Bo tree, sandals, etc., or the human figure. Some contain the variety and some eschew it, but the impersonalised intensity of the mood of compassion is the residual taste, everlasting and universal.
The images of Siva and Vishnu, in their benign or demonic moods, as the yogis or Sadasivas, as the lovers or ascetics containing bi-unity as endrogynes (Ardhanarisvara) or combining the three principles of involution, evolution and devolution, as cojoined images of Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesa, or only the principle of creation and destruction as Harihara, or as four-faced or three-faced lingas, all articulate, once again, the same attribute of the internalised intangible experience of the unmanifested unity. The multiple faces and arms of the image are parts of whole and vehicles for the final evocation of the transcendental experience of bliss (rasa). The famous image of Siva in Elephanta, called “Trimurti” is Siva as Sadasiva, as Parvati and as Aghora, the fierce one. Through the juxtaposition of three impersonalised states, a fourth that of complete equanimity is evoked. The multiple faces, the multiple arms are the artistic expression of this without form, beyond form, oneness and unity which is reflected through a spectrum of multiple forms each interlocked in a cohesive meaningful structure. In its totality, whether the iconical lingam or the Trimurti or the images with many faces, all evoke the response of an aesthetic experience heightened, subtle, and chiselled. The sculptural form, the particular stalk of lotus, the contours of vegetative creeper, the aquatic and terrestrial animals, the gandharvas, and apsaras and the human form accompanied by them or in isolation, standing, sitting or lying upon these or serpents, animals or dwarfs, is but the vehicle of a soul, meaning a concrete embodiment of an inner lower of inmost psychic significance and universal validity and meaning. Everything in the sculptural relief or the individual stone or bronze image, whether the monumental reliefs of Sanchi, Amaravati, Halebid, Belur, Hampi, Konark, are monumental constituents of a cosmic design, almost a geometric diagram of an impersonalised state, an archetypal dominant mood with its concomitant transient emotions as symbols. In turn, the relief or the image evokes an analogous state of whether love shringara or heroism, or valour of fierceness or humour or sheer joy. One has only to look at the images of the dancing Nataraja of Siva or the figures of Durga slaying the demon Mahisha and the vast variety of Vishnu images to be convinced of the fact that as in architecture, the sculpture begins from a still centre, builds upon a central axis and again makes a construct of expanding circles with diameters, radii, all moving into the centre and of moving out of the centre. In short, theory and technique of plastic expression is bassed on a system of multilayered correspondences. There is a correspondence of lines, straight, erect, symmetrical, diagonal or curved in spiral or otherwise and impersonalised mood or emotion, a correspondence between certain proportions and attitudes of standing, sitting and lying and certain moods dominant or subsidiary. Each part of the relief or each micro unit of the human figure plays its role-the eyes, nose, ears, face, torso and limbs and each physical gesture singly and in combination is suggestive of an inner meaning which in its totality suggests an impersonal emotion and thus evokes a transcendental heightened experience. The content, the particular motif, the style, the costume and coiffure, all have an individually enabling the spectator to date and localise these reliefs, images within their cultural boundaries, but the ultimate taste and relish of rasa (experience) is trans-cultural or trans-national.
Painting schools and styles, ranging from those of Ajanta, Ellora to the caves of Bagh and murals of Alchi, give further evidence of this avowed faith and commitment to the impersonalised dominant moods (archetypals), which have been and are expressed in cultural specifies. At one level, there are as many schools of paintings as there are dynasties, or another level, each is the reflector of an impersonalisation which has been the beginning and is the ultimate goal. Again, the range is staggering in its multiplicity ranging from Ajanta to Sittanavasal–the Islamic geometrical designs. However, once again, in each of these, the archetypal dominant states, the reaching out to infinity and the expression through cultural specific idiom is vital and fundamental. Hindu, Buddhist, Jain figurative art is as abstract as Islamic calligraphy. Lines alone, with or without colour in their use, as straight, terse, diagonal, ascending or descending, curved lines as intertwined spirals or half crescents, are all symbolic of inner states of mind, dominant and subsidiary emotions: in their totality, whether as figurative art or as abstract lines, they embody the archetypal universal and follow the same principle.
The characters, heroes and heroines of epic poetry and drama are also archetypes as is the world of flora, fauna, animal or bird life. A formal language of symbols, signs and motifs conveys universal meaning within and outside cultural boundaries. The inner dynamics of the poetry of Valmiki, Kalidasa or the isometrical shapes of Islamic calligraphy are comparable. Again, the abstract and the concrete move together. Indian poetry transforms the notion of ecological balances into the recurrent rhythm of the season: plants, animal, human, water, earth, fire, sky are again in dialogue. The passage of annual time, the seasons acquire deep meaning and so spring,summer,autumn and winter are valid for themselves and in what they convey beyond themselves.
These are the more permanent arts, frozen at a moment of time for posterity. What about the occurent arts, those of music and dance, the oral recitations and the dramatic experience. They are shaped and formed in the art of creation, live for the moment the specific duration. Now instead of time being frozen in consecrated space, space is consecrated in time of fixed duration. The beginning and end of the performance in sound or movement is a consecration when the cosmos is made anew for that duration: it is complete and whole whether of five minutes or two hours or five days enactment. The beginning is the same, the still centre, the immutable invariable inwardness; the fixed note of the scale or the stances of the dancer. Thereupon is an enlargement in expanding concentric circles of the cosmos whether through one or three octaves, the exploration of space in all its variety of shares of tonality, micro-units of sounds, light, shade, stresses, accents, and discriminating exclusion of particular notes. The edifice is built with sound; it is architectonic in character. Now the listener circumbulates as the pilgrim did the stupa in clockwise but ascending direction. Through the structured patterning of sound the multitude of life in its endless variety is presented, a dominant mood is created; together the still centre and its flowerings like a lotus petal evoke the state of heightened aesthetic experience. While the creator performer begins with the state of internalised yoga and express through consummate skill the dominant mood, the listener responds by returning to the state of bliss where the artist had begun. Again, impersonalised emotion, a dominant mood, a multiplicity of sound, symbols and motifs combined with intensity,create an icon in music which the listener can worship as he could,the sculptural image in stone or bronze. In India, images are called mantra murtis (images of chants) and music is the ultimate Nada Brahma contained in a single sound Oum or its elaboration.
And finally through a beautiful and complete language of movement, Indian dance provides the most concrete manifestation of the inner state and vision. The dance, like poetry, music and sculpture, seeks to communicate universal, impersonal emotion and through the very medium of the human form, it transcends the physical plane: in its technique, it employs the technique of all the arts and it is impossible to comprehend the architectonic structure of this form without being aware of the complex techniques of the other arts which it constantly and faithfully employs and synthesises. The themes which the Indian dancer portrays are not only the raw material of literature, but are also the finished products of literary creation; the music which seems to accompany the dance is actually the life breath of its structure and, indeed, dance interprets in movement what music interprets in sound: the postures and the stances it attains are the poses which the sculptor models; all these the dancer imbues with a living spirit of movement in a composition of form which is both sensuous and spiritual.
The inter-relationship of the arts can be investigated within this framework of a unified vision and diversities of formal elements. The interdependence of text and image of the myth and the metaphor is intrinsic in the creative process. Today, we can re-evaluate this discourse both from the point of view of modern theories of criticism as also against the most recent trends of artistic expressions through multi-media.