Indian art is not a thing merely by itself. It forms one of several manifestations which represent in consummation, the spiritual life of the Indians. To appreciate the true nature of Indian art presupposes always a sound comprehension of the origin of all true art and that of Indian art in particular. Human mind takes an inward delight in reflecting itself upon nature and its processes, and it is the idealised forms of the issues of such a mental operation that have given rise to all productions of art. Man, as observer of nature, has discovered certain unities and similarities between himself and the outer world, but not being content with the mere shadow of a resemblance, he succeeded in finding out his own similarities magnified in scale or modified in form in nature. He proceeded still further and, from a consideration that all vibration signified a true sign of life, he believed that throughout in nature there was no lack of life, and nature, as a whole, was a living principle more or less. So rightly, he regarded nature as a great store-house of life and energy from which have radiated the so-called living beings, and consequently was justified in regarding nature as the true originator - the mother or father, so to speak, of created beings. This was the origin of the personification of nature, or in other words, of seeing nature in a personal form. When thus, the relation between Nature and Man was once established and understood, all the attributes as well as the functions of man commenced to be seen through nature, though in an idealistic form. There was however, another process at work: the process of abstraction or generalisation which gradually created a world in itself. Abstraction of qualities resulted in revealing certain universal phases of nature. Any comprehension of one of them was practically not possible without a “recollection” or “representation” of the object that it always inhered. Thus the need of objectifying the human as well as the natural phase was felt, and immediately we find, artists were born for attaining this purpose.
Artists of all ages have perceived in Nature and Man certain immutable universal types or phases, of which they have attempted to render faithful representation and skilful expression in the art of poetry, painting, or sculpture. All ideas, it may be maintained, are abstractions either of ideas or of forms. And ideas have been found to be the guiding factors of all art. Let us now take an example of what we have so far essayed to explain generally. It is well known that with the Greek artists the idea of the beautiful was practically everything. And thus, they eminently succeeded in bringing out that idea in the best phases of their plastic art. Similarly, the idea, though of no single attitude, but of fierceness, mildness, beauty, magnificence, meditativeness, and so on played a great part in the minds of the Indian artists. In this connection it would be just relevant to say that there existed a fundamental distinction between the Greek life and the Indian life. For their own sake, the bodily culture and the development of its form engaged the sole attention of the Greeks, whereas contrarily, the Indian life of old ages, and probably of today has been manifestly preoccupied with a contemplative state of the human mind. Thus it is only too natural to “discern” in the products and creations of the Indian artists a faithful representation of their subjective ideals.
It is not infrequently maintained that the old Indian artist was fettered to a great extent in his freedom of expression by rules and canons but for which he could have moved freely in the realm of his own art, and thus the productions which he has left utterly lacked that free play of art - that unrestrained atmosphere of life and harmony which is always the principal condition of success in all works of art. We however, naively dissent from such a view. We are rather disposed to hold that Indian literature generally, and religious literature in particular, bear clear proofs which indicate that not only were the artists directed to express art in a certain symbolical representation of the essential nature of a particular icon, but to delineate, through their brush or chisel, extremely subtle poses of the image, to express in unmistakable terms various moods and gestures, be it grim or mild, meditative or grave, in which the deities are supposed to manifest before the worshipper. This presumably led to the psychological foundation of Indian art.
There is still a deeper meaning conveyed by the productions of the Indian artists, - a meaning which they so eagerly made it their aim to express in their works. Once more it may be said that the Indian images used to be wrought and fashioned for the purposes of worship. And in order that the worshipper might without much effort meditate upon them, might think that his dearest, his “Saviour,” his master, his object of reverence, has come before his eyes, might forget his own individual identity and identify his own self with the image of God, the artists of India have tried their very best to render the images in as impressive and imposing a form as was possible to do within the confines of plastic art. They believed with the devotee that “God comes near the worshipper if the images were made fine.”
Another consideration of no less importance was in the minds of the Indian artists as it was in the minds of the “Rsis.”In almost all phases of Indiana art “Rasa” (or “impassioned feeling”) has played a very prominent role. The Indian belief is that the Supreme Being is “Rasa-svarupa,” or, as on other occasions, has been said - “Raso Vai Sah” (He himself is the impassioned feeling). Thus the merit of a piece of Indian art should doubtless be judged by the degree of “Rasa” (or impassioned feeling) it evokes in the mind of the spectator, or a worshipper. The mind and inclination of all people are not alike, nor are the states of temperament fixed for all times. They ever vary with individuals and with time and circumstances. Hence we find a number of different “Rasas” which the artist loved to dwell upon in terms of stones and metals. These “Rasas” offered the fundamental qualities by which they exerted a psychological influence upon the minds of devotees. The “Rasas,” being the very core of a poem or a drama as well, have thus been enumerated as nine in number:-
“Sringara hasya karuna raudra vira bhayanaka Bibhatsabhuta sangau chetyashtou natye rasah smritah II”
(“Love, laughter, pain, sorrow, rage, animation, fear, repugnance, wonder - these are nine feelings enumerated in drama.”)
The images were so wrought by the Indian artists as to manifest one or more of these “Rasas” by their mood, pose, and gesture. The artists believed that when the mind, feeling and temperament of a devotee would come in an identical line with those of the worshipped, the realisation of one’s prayer could only then be expected.Thus they furnished various images expressing not one but a variety of “Rasas,” just according to the needs of the worshipper. Nor should we carelessly err in assuming that an image conveys a single feeling in its pose. As in a man, so in an image may be discernible a mixed feeling - the result of an interaction of multiple feelings, either of similar types or even of opposing types. As for illustration, the expression of love and sublimity is regularly to be noticed in the images of “Hara-Gauri,” or “Lakshmi-Narayana,” more particularly in the “Ananta-Sayya” group. The feeling of laughter, but without repugnance or sarcasm, may easily be excited in us as well look at the pot-bellied image of Ganesa dancing with his elephant nose, or of Kubera, the God of Wealth, whose prototype is the modern Baniya or our bazaar. The mood of anger, together with the sympathetic protection (“Vara-bhaya”), has been emphatically expressed in most of the Tantrik images, which as a rule, represent the energetic principles of the universe. In them more vividly than in others may be witnessed a mingled feeling of fear, wrath, repugnance, wonder and sportiveness. Indeed, it ought to be said that, without a trained eye in this direction, it is as impossible to appreciate the remarkable success attained by the Indian artists as it is to estimate rightly and accurately all the monumental remains of ancient Indian culture.
Published in Rupam, 1920