Kalatattvakosa, A Lexiconof Fundamental Concepts of Indian Arts, Vol. III: Primal Elements – Mahabhuta

Kalatattvakosa, A Lexicon of Fundamental Concepts of the Indian Arts, vol. III : Primal Elements – Mahabhuta; edited by Bettina Baumer; published by IGNCA and Motilal Banarasidass Publishers Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi; 1996, first edition, pp. i–xxxvii, 1-446, with 55 select illustrations as line-sketches in the text, along with Bibliography and Index. Price : Rs. 450/-

The Present publication forms Volume III of a stupendous project, suitably entitled as Kala-tattva-kosa, being truly the ‘Compendous Treasury of Elements of Arts’, brought out under the auspicies of IGNCA, with Kapila Vatsyayan as its general editor and organiser. Like the already issued first and second parts of this encyclopaedic series, this volume too, is edited by Bettina Baumer. It has been given the subtitle of ‘Primal Elements – Mahabhuta’, that seems quite suggestive as the main articles studied therein are on five great elements..

The volume contains specific studies on eight basic themes selected from the rich Indian vocabulary of sastric definitions, believed commonly to have been evolved as loaded with ideas of far-reaching imports by the tradition of sages, scholars, poets and artists, aestheticians and conneisuers. They are some of those terms on which there came to be pegged fundamental concepts and thoughts being intrinsically handed down through successive ages of their development in ever-expanding currents and cross-currents of multidisciplinary implications and suggestivity.

            The list of concepts treated here both in respect of multiple strands of meanings and references as well as expositional cycles of Indian traditional understanding, includes such terms as prakrati, bhuta-mahabhuta, akasa, vayu, agni, jyotis/tejas/prakasa, ap and prthivi/bhumi. The authors contributing to the volume are some well-known names of modern authorities on Indology : K.A. Jacobsen, P.S. Filliozat, S.C. Chakrabarti, B. Baumer, S. Chattopadhyay, L.M. Singh, Frits Staal, S. Gupta-Gombrich, and Prem Lata Sharma.

            Quite exhaustive treatment of each of the above terms or concepts is to be found by general readers as well as experts, now readily available for reference and wider understanding. The methodology adopted connotes upon the particular concept as defined and explained in its thematical involvement of etymologies, exegetical analysis and principles, related terms and synonyms, mythical and metaphysical expansion, adaptations in diverse disciplines of religion, ritual, ethics and polity, arts and iconographies, astronomy, medicine, poetry and aesthetics, and so on.

            However, in case of this or that term referred to in this volume, one would have liked to see several more aspects and contexts to be included and commented. One may call some of such missing references to be minor or obscure although their concurrence in the tradition would be found to have its significant bearings on their wider understanding. Let us take few instances. Under akasa, there can still be added a reference to be Akasa-linga (also, called isana linga), to the vyoma as Surya’s symbol. Khasam which is a Tantric (Buddhist and Hindu) concept implying the absolute principle, akasa as the Visnu-pada,etc.

            In the case of prithivi/bhumi, there are likewise certain aspects to be mentioned in addition; namely, iconographic forms of the Goddess Earth, her vehicle kurma, her figure shown in Buddhist as well as Brahmanical sculptures as a female bust half-emerged from the ground, bhumi-silapatta (as mentioned in the Jaina canonical texts), bhumi’s representation on the hood of ananta; in illustrations, adi-varaha-dramma of Pratihara emperor Bhoja, etc.

P.K. Agrawala

Prof. Dept. of AIHC & Archaeology,

Banaras Hindu university, Varanasi.


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