AESTHETICS OF INDIAN ART
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INDIAN CONCEPT OF DIVINE BEAUTY
To understand the Indian concept of divine beauty is to know all Indian aesthetic thought.
To the Greeks its the warrior, the athlete. To the Indian it’s the Yogi, who aims at freeing himself from worldly attachments and placing himself in communion with the Universal Self-Brahama. The Indian artist only strives to materialize the subtler, purer soul within.
The root idea of Yoga that, through meditation, or intense concentration of thought, body as well as the soul could be purified and freed from their grosser attachments, was recognized by all schools of Indian philosophy at a very early period, and it could never have been excluded from the philosophy of art as taught in the Indian monastic schools. The idea of Dhyana or Yoga as a means of obtaining spiritual power was older even than Buddha.
Though the principles of Yoga philosophy were not, of course part of Buddha’s teaching yet, in depicting the divinity of the Buddha the Indian artist must represent the Buddha as the yogi. From Ashokan monuments we gather that Buddha’s person did not receive adoration from his disciples until several centuries after his death; certainly the idea of representing the person of Buddha as an Indian ideal was not introduced into Buddhist art until after the original teaching of Buddha had been modified by Mahayana doctrines or somewhere about the 1st Century A.D.
The Indian Lion: The broad deep shoulders, and the narrow, contracted abdomen. The Indian artist thought not of the feeble, wasted human body, but only of the spiritual strength and beauty the master had gained through his enlightenment. Thus, giving the body a new spiritual look. Broad shouldered, deep-chested, golden colored, smooth skinned, supple and lithe as a young lion. A very different look from the Gandharan, Chinese or Japanese Buddha.
The change from Naturalistic art evolved with the Indian philosophic systems. It may have been borrowed from orthodox Hindu sects, which worshipped anthropomorphic images long before they were introduced in Buddhism. The simple image of the Buddha gradually established itself as an academic type of beauty for the human figure also.
The Divine Ideal: Just as the male form in Indian art is taken, not as an example of physical beauty, but as the material manifestation of the Universal Spirit, so the female becomes the concrete expression of the Power of the Spirit, its virtue, or Shakti. Instead of an Aphrodite, Indian art creates a Saraswati, representing Divine Wisdom, or Prajanaparamita, her Buddhist counterpart, and Tara, the Spirit of Infinite Mercy.
Prajanaparamita: Seated on a lotus-flower, the symbol of purity and divine birth, in the pose of a Yogini, by her hands she makes the mudra, or symbolic sign, of spiritual instruction.
Nagarajuna who preached Mahayana Buddhism around 2nd C. A.D. produced a treatise called ‘Prajnaparamita’. She is the incarnation of the Divine Word. Thus, a book is placed on the lotus flower and the stalk entwined round her left arm.
Orthodox Hindu teaching had always maintained that it was irreverent and illogical to found artistic ideals of the Divine upon any strictly human or natural prototype.
Thus, in Indian art the artist constantly seeks to answer the question how can art, which is knowledge and expression, represent the Unknowable and Inexpressible?
In many famous Hindu temples of Southern India the Causes of all things is represented by space. An empty cell, showing a fine perception of the limitations of art.
Hindu philosophy recognizes the impossibility of human art realizing the forms of God.
To this end Indian art chose an imaginative rather than a naturalistic ideal.
Spiritual strength of a feeble body
Male form: Universal Spirit
Female form: Power of the Spirit
Book a symbol of spiritual instruction
The Unknowable & Inexpressible in art