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Metaphors of The Indian Arts and Other Essays

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Item Code: NAK620
Author: Kapila Vatsyayan
Publisher: D. K. Printworld Pvt. Ltd.
Language: English
Edition: 2015
ISBN: 9788124608203
Pages: 352 (Throughout B/W Illustrations)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 11.0 inch x 8.5 inch
Weight 1.10 kg
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About the Book


This anthology Metaphors of the Indian Arts and Other Essays is a selection of writings of Dr Kapila Vatsyayan's nearly four-decade long journey as an art critic and art historian. It reveals the distinct nature of Indian arts from the angle of the world- view in which they emerge. At the same time, it amply shows the theory of art and aesthetics which may enable us to "to see the other traditions of art from our own window". In a seminal article entitled "Metaphors of the Indian Arts", the author identifies some fundamentals which permeate the Indian artistic traditions.


In the article entitled "Mountain, Myth, Monuments" Dr Vatsyayan discusses the significance of mountains and the sanctuaries, diversity of attitude and approaches to them in Indian context. She focuses on sacred mountains, especially Kailasa, which have dominated the Indian imagination for many millennia in the world of literature, architecture, sculpture, music and dance.


The attitude to the human body as also the self- consciousness of the relationship of the senses and the mind in diverse civilizations has been of special interest to the author for decades. In the article "Early Evidence of Female Figures, Music and Dance", she points at essentials of treating the human body in Indian art, specially the female body, over a long span of history. She draws attention to the large measure of consensus on the identification of "meaning" of the particular or single image or relief, ranging from the examples from Mesopotamia to Assyria to Egypt and the figurines and statues of the Indus Valley, Mohenjo-Daro, Harappa and Mehergarh.


Further she returns to explicitly stating the ideational background of Indian aesthetics. Finally, she identifies certain motifs which have travelled across a vast geographical area, specially in South-East Asia.


Altogether, these essays will enable the reader to trace not only her journey but also her place in Indian art history as a carrier of a tradition of A.K. Coomaraswamy and Stella Kramrisch.


Internationally recognized as a leading scholar in the diverse fields of Culture and the Arts, Dr Kapila Vatsyayan's work is inter-disciplinary and spans a vast geographical area, particularly Asia. Her publications include path-breaking works such as Classical Indian Dance in Literature and the Arts and the Square and the Circle of the Indian Arts as also Indian Classical Dance; Traditions of Indian Folk Dance; Traditional Indian Theatre: Multiple Streams; Dance in Indian Painting; and Bharata: The Ntityastistra. She has explored the many dimensions of the poem Cita-Covinda - the literature, manuscripts, the relationship of the text, poetry and the painting: she has published six monographs, besides directing a multimedia presentation.


Dr Vatsyayan has been acclaimed as Editor of two major volumes for the IGNCA - The Concepts of Space and The Concepts of Time. Besides, she has been General Editor of seven volumes of IGNCA's Kalatattvakosa series, an inter- disciplinary exploration of Indian key concepts, as also of the Kalamulasastra series on fundamental texts bearing on Arts. She has edited The Cultural Heritage of India, vol. VII (in two parts) for the Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture, and co-edited Aesthetic Theories and Forms in Indian Tradition, for the Centre for Studies in Civilizations.


Dr Vatsyayan has been Secretary to the Government of India, Department of Arts, a member of the Rajya Sabha; member of the UNESCO Executive Board, and President, India International Centre. She is currently chairperson of IIC-Asia Project.


She is a recipient of many honours, including Padma Vibhushan from the Government of India and D.Litt. (honoris causa) from several universities in India and abroad; so also the first Asian woman to be awarded the Thalia Prize by the International Association of Theatre Critics.




Dr KAPILA Vatsyayan, a towering personality among the contemporary historians of Indian arts and aesthetics, has committed herself to explore and expound the multilayered and multidimensional nature of Indian art while highlighting its holistic nature. She has comprehended the arts not just as finished products but as a creative process, where the ideational and functional, the sacred and the secular vision and skill merge against the background of an integrated, interconnected and holistic world-view within a socio-cultural context and interdisciplinary system of form and technique. Focusing on the interrelatedness of Indian art forms through aesthetic theories, which according to her, continually evolves through interaction between the theoreticians (sastrakaras) and practitioners (prayoktrs) of those art forms, she has forcefully argued for the adoption of a fresh approach to the study of Indian arts. This has necessitated deeper investigation into a rich thought tradition and vast literary heritage. It requires a fresh methodology which is essentially interdisciplinary /multidisciplinary.


Like a Vedic rsika having penetrating insight into universal and fundamental elements of Indian theory of arts, beauty and aesthetics and at the same time an uncompromisingly analytical modem scholar with a powerful grasp over the language marked with a precision, exactitude and clarity, she has articulated her views in a comprehensive way. Hence, she stands unique among the scholars who have discussed history of world art in general and history of Indian art in particular.


Judging other traditions by the Christian pre-conceptions as well as colonial designs has been the burden of Western scholarship towards the end of the nineteenth century and early decades of the twentieth century. These scholars tried to evaluate all Indian arts with Graeco-Roman yardstick and subscription to a linear progressive paths. This necessitated the search for an alternative approach towards the study of history and historiography of Indian arts to identify the special nature of Indian art from the angle of Indian world-view, metaphysics and "symbolism". Implicit in the first approach was the comparison with Europe, explicit in the second was identification, distinctiveness as also universality.


Thus, Dr Vatsyayan is the art critic and art historian of our times who has constantly tried to offer a balanced approach aiming at exploring the primary holistic system as manifested in the Indian artistic tradition. Present anthology entitled Metaphors of Indian Arts and Other Essays, which has been culled out of writings of Dr Vatsyayan's nearly four-decade long journey as an art critic and art historian, reveals the distinct nature of Indian arts from the angle of the world-view in which they emerge. At the same time, it amply shows the theory of art and aesthetics, which may enable us "to see the other traditions of art from our own window".


Her deep study of Vedic as well as non- Vedic traditions of thought, Sastric texts of Indian arts (Silpa-Sastra, Vastu-Sastra and Sangita-Sastra) and the Indian theory of arts and beauty enables her to identify the core-concepts, metaphors and symbols shared by the diverse streams of Indian thought which are imbued in the vast Indian literature, arts and crafts. In her quest for discovering pervasive fundamental principles as a means for "increased self-awareness" for Indian minds, she seeks to know the fundamental concepts which determine a people's way of being, perceiving and acting.


The question of investigation into the methodology to be adopted for discovering a comprehensive and all-encompassing theory of art, naturally, results into a search for key metaphors, symbols, concepts and seminal ideas vigorously present in the Vedic texts and later, blossomed and spread over in entire tradition of Indian literature, arts as well as Sastric streams. A highly reflective article of this anthology entitled Metaphors of Indian Arts offers illuminating thoughts in this regard. Dr Vatsyayan states:


For some time past, my concern has been to investigate some key concepts which permeate the Indian arts both spatially and temporally. The concepts provide the ideational foundation, as also the basic structural frames for all the arts. The "concepts" have the potential for a polyvalence of meaning and an elasticity of interpretation. Liquidity and fluidity along with a multilayered complexity are characteristics. - p. 52


She further underlines the fact:


The concepts no doubt emerge from a world-view and perception of the universe which identifies "interconnectivity" as the first principle. The interconnectivity is observed at the micro and macro levels, as also at the different dimensions of the physical, psychical phenomenon and spiritual experience. The interconnectivity has an inbuilt dynamics of reversibility and transformation. No aspect of life, inanimate, animate, geological, biological, matter, energy, primal elements, the sense- organs and sense perceptions, mind and spirit are absolute fixed categories in "autonomy" or "isolation". They are not placed in absolute hierarchy. Many micro-macro categories are evolved within a flexible and fluid structure and transformative processes, throughout recognizing that there is a dimension beyond measure and classification. - ibid.


The article delves deep into the question of the place of "man" in the universe, the paradigm of linear progress unidimensional, arrow time and the tacit acceptance that there are few absolute fixed categories of black and white, high and low, dominant and subordinate, major and minor, in short, all that we understand by the theoretical framework of binary opposites and a perennial conflict between and amongst the past (ibid.). She resolves these issues in the light of "efficacy of the artistic tradition in its capacity to re-invoke the 'perennial' through the distinctiveness of time and space" (ibid., pp. 52-53).


The comprehension of the universe, the world-view and perception of the dynamics of life, in a consistent movement of flux, could best be expressed in the language of poetic metaphor and not a discursive language of thought in a strictly" cause and effect" sequence - observes Dr Vatsyayan. With this view, she identifies some of the core concepts articulated as metaphors through period of many centuries and a vast body of textual sources and presents them in a well-ordered and systematic way. She rightly states that the power of revelation of the Vedic seer lies in the use of metaphoric language and the article begins with the enquiry into a well-known Vedic metaphor of Usas. In keeping with the traditional Vedic exegesis, she emphasizes that the Usas is an aspect of Surya and Surya is Agni, primordial energy. She raises the question why is Sun termed as seed, agni- bija? Considering the overwhelming importance of bija reflected in the vast Vedic texts, the mantra, Brahmana, Arm:tyaka, Upanisads and in the text of philosophy, metaphysics and arts, she elaborates the connection between dhara itri-btia and agni-btia. She underlines that the metaphor of seed and other related metaphors like garbha (womb) and anda (egg) on one hand and bindu as well as nada on the other permeate all the disciplines of the tradition. In her penetrating analysis of the metaphor, she unfolds their multiple levels reflected in Vedic and Sastric texts including Puranas and Agamas/Tantras. She, then, explores the manifestation of these metaphors in different art forms. She moves further to the related and more concretized metaphors of tree and pillar (asvattha and stambha), macro, micro man ipurusc), centre (nabhi, cakra) and ultimately vacuity (sunya) and fullness (purna). She concludes with the eloquent remark "we have come almost to where we began with agni and Sun, for he is one and the many, the point and the ray and appears as day or night, inert, sterile or fertile, dead matter or energy." Indian art employed the metaphors for over many centuries. It is concretized as symbol and motif from early Sunga art to contemporary practice. For instance, we recognize the fullness as the full vace of abundance, mangala kalasa or puma kalasa. Likewise Surya as baja of the sky is the seminal metaphor that we return to and visualize it in the great Vedic ritual what we call Agnistoma, because it is the mixture of agni and soma, she observes. The article ends with the remark that these metaphors are concretized as motif in multiple ways - the lotus, naga, svastika. So, the inverted tree (urdhvamulam adhah. sakham asvattham) pervades the Indian arts across time levels and locations. Each is a world which has many uses and colours: each is capable of perennial significance and local functionality - she states and reiterates that the metaphors are all webbed together and can assume many shapes and forms. Dr Vatsyayan with the clear perception of the complex and distinct nature of the Vedic metaphors and symbol, which continues vigorously in entire later tradition, has cautioned elsewhere that instead of linearity, it is the circulatory pathways of Indian thought which have to be explored for understanding the essential nature of Indian art. This illuminating article, thus, occupies the central place in this anthology.


From this unitary and non-dualistic view of universe, i.e. bhuvanasya nabhih, emerges the multiplicity of phenomenal world. Rather, this abstract idea of "One and the Many" is concretized further in Mount "Meru" which is the centre of the physical world surrounded by four or seven dotpas (continents) and seven sagaras (oceans).


Geological, physical material Mount Kailasa is analogous to the primordial Mount Meru, the cosmic pillar of many cultures and religious traditions, which unites heaven and earth. - p. 265


[Kailasa] is a sacred place in the three streams - Hindu, Buddhist and Jaina - a consecrated mandala. This is Kailasa, the holy mountain, which inspires, beckons and calls people of all faiths. - ibid.


The mystery of interrelation between myth and mountain on one hand and the manifestation of the concept in monuments on the other has been central to Indian mythical and artistic tradition. The Puranas explore the physical, mythical and psychical Himalayas repeatedly. Indian history of art is replete with the concretization of these myths in the artistic representations available in different monuments.


Metaphor, fundamentally, draws upon symbols and more especially it operates by interaction. As metaphors in Indian context have been vibrating and vigorous vehicles of creativity, so the employment of symbols and motifs has also a growing and continued practice in arts and literature. They have given rise to many conventions shared by the artists and connoisseurs of arts. Hence, a deeper investigation into the symbols and motifs becomes imperative. Dr Vatsyayan explains the multi-layered meanings of the selected symbols and motifs and makes them intelligible to the contemporary connoisseurs of arts, who have been separated from the tradition to some extent.


The article entitled "Ecology and Environment" is dedicated to the question of ecology and Indian myths. She asserts:


Cutting across historical developments, philosophic debates, scientific controversies, religious sects and cults, the one principle which underlies and provides unity as also continuity of vision and perception is the assertion that man is only one among all living matter; in short, the notion of jiva. Man's life depends upon and is conditioned by all that surrounds him and sustains him, namely, inanimate, mineral and animate, aquatic, vegetative, animal and gaseous life. It is, therefore, his duty constantly to remind himself - in individual and collective life - of the environment and the ecology. - p. 248


She further stresses her view that such veneration is no animistic primitive fear: it is wisdom contained in the language of myth and symbol. Then she moves to identify principal components of environment in Indian art forms and comes to mythology, particularly the mythology of Ganga and the dedicative and aquatic life as well as Mother Earth Goddess.


In the article with the title "Mountain, Myth, Monuments" Dr Vatsyayan discusses the significance of mountains and the sanctuaries, diversity of attitude and approaches to them in Indian context. In this essay she focuses on sacred mountains, especially Kailasa which has dominated the Indian imagination many millennia to the world of literature, architecture, sculpture, music and dance. She traces the portrayal of Kailasa as in Vedic, so in Buddhist and Jaina traditions and in Puranas as well as in literatures and particularly in Kalidasa's work and then, deals elaborately its manifestation in Indian architecture and sculpture. While discussing the representation of Kailasa in Indian architecture and sculpture, the myth of Gangavatarana cannot be forgotten and Dr Vatsyayan gives a vivid account and elaborate description of Gangavatarana myth also.





Publisher's Note



List of Figures






Part I



Art and Aesthetics



Indian Aesthetics



The Discipline of Art History: Its Multidimensional Nature



Metaphors of the Indian Arts



Goddesses and Women in Indian Myth; and Art



Early Evidence of Female Figures, Music and Dance



The Indian Arts: Their Ideational Background and Principles of Form



The Flying Messenger



Part II



Ecology and Environment



Ecology and Indian Myth



Mountain, Myth, Monuments



Sanctuaries: The Journey of Immanence and Transcendence



Entrances and Gateways to the Indian Pilgrimage






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