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A brief panorama view of Indian and Comparative Aesthetics

Art can be defined as the expression of one’s emotions and imagination through the choice of medium. Aesthetics is the school of thought that aims to uncover and explain the many aspects of art in all its forms. Further, Indian Aesthetics deals with the philosophical and symbolic meanings behind the art and its different forms of expression.


Indian Aesthetics: Concepts and Theories

The fundamental concept of Indian aesthetics is the rasa theory, which lays the foundation for the study of Indian art and culture. It focuses mainly on the art forms of Indian classical theatre and dance. However, in order to understand rasa, it is essential to learn about the bhavas that create these rasas. ‘Bhava’ is a reference to the state of mind that makes an artist create a piece of art, while ‘Rasa’ describes the essence or the ethos that goes into a piece of art. This is then savoured by a ‘sensitive spectator’ or a sahidaya. The Rasa theory denotes an ideology in Indian arts that examines the essence of all literary work, music, art, and music. These concepts have been spoken of in Bharat Muni’s Natya Shastra, which explores dramatic theory. 


Bharat Muni was a great philosopher and thinker, who studied the nature and essence of art and fine art. His insights and reflections were based on human psychology and the influence of a cultural setting on the mind. The realms of education, art and culture were influential with respect to Indian traditions and influenced his creation of the Natya Shastra. The Natya Shastra is a body of textual matter pertaining to the depiction of everyday activities of life. Bharata Muni believed that the Natya Shastra was an imitation of the world. It brought to light many interesting features related to the expression of art including, Natya, Vithi, model spectator, Bhav, vyabhichari bhav, Sattvik bhav, Vibhav, Anubhav, Rasa, Rasa sutra, Nishpatti and a continuous debate over the status of Shantih. 




Indian Comparative Aesthetics

All structured comparative studies conducted on Western and Indian aesthetics start with Poetics by Aristotle and the Natya Shastra by Bharata Muni. Poetics is an important piece of literature that plays a pivotal role in the discernment of the Western idea of dramatic theory and aesthetics. On a similar trajectory, the most significant literary piece when it comes to Indian aesthetics is the Natya Shastra. In comparing these two revolutionary literary works, we find that the focus in both, are very different. For instance, in Aristotle’s Poetics, he emphasises on catharsis, while in Bharata’s Natya Shastra, emphasis is given to the concepts of Rasa and Bhava. 

Upon examination of the Natya Shastra, we learn of the purpose of Natya (drama). Brahma professed that the motif of the Natya or drama should be relatable to everyone and include all sentiments and values. The primary aim of Natya was to bring pleasure to people, apart from providing cultural and social knowledge about the Indian culture. The Natya Shastra is said to comprise 6000 slokas (hymns). The first commentary on the Natya Shastra was given by Abhinavagupta. The Natya Shastra accounts for 10 forms of Rupakas (plays) - Nataka, Prakaran, Samavakara, Ihamrga, Dima, Vyayoga, Anka, Prashan, Bhana and Vithi. It also specifies the 4 forms of Abhinaya (acting) - Angika (through body movements), Vachika (by speech), Aharya (costumes and makeup) and Sattvika (through the subtle movement of the face) 


Q1. Who developed the concept of Indian Aesthetics? 

Although Bharata Muni wrote of the aesthetic forms in India and its significance, the person who developed this discipline was the philosopher and scholar Abhinavagupta. He applied the teachings of Bharata Muni and applied it to all forms of Indian art. 

Q2. What are Abhinavagupta's views on the rasa theory of aesthetics? 

He believed that ‘there is no poetry without rasa’. In other words, the rasa or experience of aesthetics and basic emotions (sthayi bhava) irrespective of the situation, mimetic changes and momentary emotions are interdependent on each other.