Timeless art of India

The timeless art of India

What is Art? It’s difficult to give a clear answer to such a simple question. Yet, art is perhaps the primeval form of human expression. It isn’t interest to develop here the definitions of the concept of art, which too easily solves it in the web with a single click. The intent of this article is to propose a less known perspective, but quite fascinating and authoritative, trying to tell what art is in one of the oldest cultures of the world: the timeless art of India.

Kṛṣṇa and Rādhā while dancing, surrounded by other gopī
Kṛṣṇa and Rādhā while dancing, surrounded by other gopī

Traditional texts of hindu culture describe the birth of art in this way: while the two primordial sages Nara and Nārāyaṇa, in the dawn of time, were in deep meditation, some divine maidens tried to disturb their peace. Unperturbed, Nārāyaṇa took the juice of some mango leaves, drew in outline on his thigh a beautiful female figure, of whom was born a charming nymph. She soared away and the intruders were ashamed at the sight of her. This nymph, whose name is Urvaṣī, is “the first and highest work of art”.

Then, in order to spread the knowledge in this world, Nārāyaṇa taught art to Viśvakarman, the architect of gods. In this way the concept of art was transmitted to humans. The hindu traditional texts distinguish art into two categories, the visual art and auditory art. Among the first you must enumerate architecture, sculpture, painting, which the West has consecrated as major art; among the latter there are singing, aural art produced by the human mouth, the most perfect and noble musical instrument, music, of secondary importance owing to its partial artificiality derived from the use of the instruments, and the literary art and poetry.

The visual art has a lasting value because it is fixed in space and resists in time, just thinking of all the monuments that ancient peoples have left us as a cultural heritage; but those features cannot be recognized to the auditory art, which spread in space and have a limited duration time. They are in fact intended to be perceived for the time of their execution (in spite of contemporary technology will allow playback nowadays). But there is an art group, referred to as “art act”, that arise from the “resultant of the action of time on space”, thereby producing a movement: the theater and dance. Their running expresses synthetically shapes and colors of the visual art, rhythms and sounds of auditory art, using the most perfect plastic material: the human body. Simplifying the concept, it is commonly known as performing art.

Dancer of Bharatanatyam
Dancer of Bharatanatyam

One of the peculiarities of Indian art is to consider the quality of the beauty of artwork entirely independent of its theme. In it there is the eternal and the universal, used to obtain a vision based on understanding and recognition of universal without any sentimentality. Indian artists adhere to the principle that the true soul of Art doesn’t want to extract beauty from nature, but reveal life within life, the noumenon in the phenomenon, the Reality within the unreal and the Spirit into matter, in an individual being the realization research perspective. When this is revealed, the beauty of the Supreme Principle is itself revealed.

Krishna dancing on the Kaliya serpent
Krishna dancing on the Kaliya serpent

Such an attitude of understanding of beauty by the viewer depends on his imagination capacity, since art is always the outcome of a long, complex and considerable effort that results in the immediacy of the “here and now”, and nothing can be done without a common and share inspiration between the artist and the viewer. Beauty is the only instrument used in Art to evoke a feeling that goes beyond the aesthetic admiration of the subject that observes: the only beauty cannot be considered an object of knowledge if not united to the impression evoked. Its perception is indivisible in its real and own essence: without the impression used by the spectator beauty does not exist. Art and beauty of art cannot be considered eternal, timeless, if their reality is not filtered by the experience. Thus, the Indian art and human research for the realization is recognized in the same function: the intuition of reality, aesthetic enjoyment and the identity of the individual with the Universal.

The three gods Vishnu Shiva and Brahmā before the Goddess
The three gods Vishnu Shiva and Brahmā before the Goddess

In contemplation of the work of art, the viewer finds, for a moment, the unity of his being in the Absolute timeless, as if the secret of every art is to forget themselves, to free themselves from the constraint of the contingencies of individuality, to dedicate himself solely to the perception of the universal, unchanging, without borders or nationalities, unique and undivided, since immemorial time. As the master Śaṃkarācārya said in his commentary on Brahmasūtra, “the deity is the real theme of art, in Brahman there is the authentic value of the Vedic hymns”.

Beauty, in its principle, exist everywhere, but, as the Hindu thought, it must be discovered, because it may not exist without the artist who plasmas form – or who performs the movement or that produces the sound – and without the spectator who enters in the experience of the artist.

Sensuous surasundari, beauty, Chandella period sculpture
Sensuous surasundari, beauty, Chandella period sculpture

It is important to emphasize the idea of revelation​​ of Art to avoid any doubt of the misinterpretation that could allow us to imagine the Indian art as a free personal production, unfettered by specific aesthetic. The anonymity of the Indian artists expresses their function that is not to obtain personal glory, but rather their task is comparable to a “social” function: to make visible to the eye of the viewer the “form”, in itself only one, of the Absolute, hidden in the various aspects of the event in the human world. Who, then, is the artist? “It’s the bee that carries pollen from flower to flower, allowing the tree to bear fruit”.

Ganeś, elephant-headed deity riding a mouse
Ganeś, elephant-headed deity riding a mouse

If this article has aroused your interest, we report the book “India arte oltre le forme” (ISBN 9788884743664) and the meeting at the LOVAT library for its presentation on Friday 16Th April 2016 at 18.30, organized in collaboration with the association VAIS. It will be presented by Prof. Gian Giuseppe Filippi, former Professor of Indology and History of Art of India and Central Asia at the Venice University Ca’ Foscari and Dr. Guido Zanderigo, Lecturer of Art.