AESTHETICS OF INDIAN ART
If you wish to submit your work or related information
Kawaguchi's travel logs
Jai Shankar Prasad's book Kamayani
Kalidas' play Meghdoot
From Heaven Lake by Vikram Seth
Indians worship and admire the Himalaya mountains not because they are beautiful and majestic, but because in their inner fastness, they protect the source of life, India’s many rivers, fertile plains and resources. They are to Indians a fount of purity that makes India fertile, prosperous and a holy land. Steadfast and every giving of the source of life merits them worship.
All Indian poetry and mythology point to the Himalayas as the center of the world and the abode of the great gods.
Near the center of the Himalayas is the wonderful lake Mansarovar, about 15,500 feet above sea level, which according to Indian ideas is the source of the river systems of Asia. The Indus, Brahamaputra and the Gangese have their sources not far from its shores. Here says the Vishnu Purana, the Creator, Brahma, has his throne, "like the seed vessel of a lotus".
Once again for the student of Indian art it is significant to absorb the spiritual impressions of sacredness associated with Mansarovar lake in Indian ideas. Mansarovar means the Lake of the Mind (Manas). The creative force is thought, as expressed by the Mantras formulated in the Brahmanical system. In this lake resides the beautiful and pure Saraswati, Brahma’s consort, the Lady of the Lake (Saras), the swan. She represents Vac or speech, as well as musical, artistic, and literary creation. Each representing expressions of the creative force of thought. Brahma, the Creator, metaphysically, was the active, or rajasic, manifestation of the trinity of cosmic qualities-Sattvam, Rajas and Tamas- which had its center in the seed-vessel of the World Lotus.
The shores of Mansarovar are very regularly indented, so that its shape suggests a lotus flower. Towering above it to the north-west is Mt. Kailasa, its great pyramidal snow-peak shaped like the thatched roof of a forest hermit’s hut. The suggestion that the Divine Yogi, Siva and his consort, Parvati, must obviously dwell here in the solitude of the eternal snows, watching together their wonder-making Lila, the interplay of cosmic forces which makes and unmakes worlds innumerable, give the site of Mt. Kailash so close to the sacred lake its special sanctity.
Indian poets, philosophers and artists have expressed nature’s varying moods in the ever-changing aspects of the eternal snow. At dawn when the rising sun tinges the Himalayan snow peaks with the flush of crimson light, they are the Creator’s red lotus flower, the symbol of life and fertility. At noon, when the sun is overhead and the snow peaks stand clear and bright enveloped by Vishnu’s flower, the blue lotus of the sky, they seem to be pillars of earth and heaven maintaining the cosmic order. At sunset, they are the glorious golden lotus, the Deva’s throne. At night, when Nature herself seems wrapt in meditation, they are changed to the great white lotus, Siva’s mystic flower of purity and heavenly bliss, which opens when the moon rises over Mahadeva’s, Siva’s brow.
The idea of spiritual purity is one most intimately associated with Himalayan symbolism. He who hopes to enter the paradise of those high mountains must be pure in mind and body as the driven snow which covers them. All sins may be washed away by bathing in the sacred pools which collect the waters from Kailasa’s snow.
The earliest literary records of the great Himalayan pilgrimage, the closing scene of the Mahabharata, tells how the Pandav brothers, when tired of life’s struggles, resigned the kingdom they had won in heroic strife and set out together with Draupadi, their wife, to climb the Deva’s citadel of snow and to there rejoin their comrades in battle who by death in the field of battle had merited their entry in to heaven.
But the Gods would let no mortals in to heaven, except those who had never transgressed the law of righteousness. And one by one they stumbled and fell, borne down by the consciousness of their faults.
The story reveals the tendency of Indian thought to transmute aesthetical and ethical ideas. Dharma is identified with Siva. Dharma the guardian deity of the Abode of Snow became the symbol of spiritual purity and religious duty.
The virtue of that holy mountain was to be so great that in the epic war between Ram and the demon king Ravana in Lanka, when Ravana was defeated he went to Kailasa, Siva and Parvati’s abode, and began to burrow a hole beneath the rock in order that he might transport it bodily to his stronghold and use the divine power against his adversary. Parvati’s handmaid frightened by it and Parvati herself feeling the mountain quake grips Siva’s arm to rouse him from his meditation. But Siva not to be coerced by the ten-armed demon’s magic, just pressed his foot and imprisoned Ravana in his self made dungeon, where he remained a thousand years until, his grandfather, Pulastya, son of Brahma, teaches him to propitiate Siva, and obtain pardon for his crimes by performing penance and becoming a devotee of the god. Thus, by penitence he gained release.
A great bass relief of this legend with intense dramatic force and imagination shows it in sculpture at its best in Ellora.
Early accounts of travelers describe the circuit of Kailasa as several cascades shooting down crevices and rocks as much as a thousand feet in height. Seven of these having distinct individuality. The sight enraptured and transported you to some heavenly place. In this the Indian pilgrim would see the descent of Ganga from Brahma’s heaven when she threw herself down in seven streams upon Siva’s brow to wash away the sins of the Sons of Sagara.
The Gangese, according to Pauranic myth falls down from the heaven upon Siva’s head at Kailasa.
The fact that Kailasa was extraordinarily difficult to access added to its mystery and fascination to the Indian mind.
The veneration in which Kailasa is held as the Creator’s shrine has been shared by nearly every school of Indian religious thought from remote antiquity to present day.
Because of the difficulty of access and when the Indo-Aryans spread farther south, their ritual began to demand interpretation and recognition of other places of worship more accessible and less perilous than Kailasa itself, yet endowed by the Creator’s hand with some of the virtues which made Kailasa the holiest spot on earth.
The adaptation by the human mind of recognized symbols of spiritual inspiration to a new and different environment of Southern India displays the dynamic movement in India's art of transforming thought into new aesthetic forms. Current western art movements, in contrast to over many millinia of art creation in India, are at best only just beginning to explore this dynamic process of symbolically expressing thought and inner emotion in art by stepping beyond the visible.
Ever Giving HimalayaHimalayas the Ultimate Pilgrimage
Mahanirvana Tantra, The Great Liberation-scene of revelation Skanda Purana Gayatri Tantra Yogini Tantra
Red Lotus of Life and Fertility
Blue Lotus of the Sky
Golden Lotus throne
White Lotus of Meditation
Mahabahrata's closing scene
Fallen Soldier Merits Heaven
Only the Righteous and Pure may enter
Ellora sculpture Ravana imprisoned under Siva's foot
Kalidasa in Kumar-Sambhava
Story of Sons of Sagara
Literary writings and references
Niagra a contemporary symbol in new environment