From the Jacket
PRAKRTI: The Integral Vision Explores the concept of the primal Elements (Sky, Air, Fire, Water, Earth, etc.) which has governed and determined the evolution of civilizations and cultures. This5-volume collection is the outcome of a series of five successive but inter-locked seminars culminating into cross-cultural, multi-disciplinary understanding.
The First Volume, Primal Elements: The Oral Tradition, focuses attention on the articulation of cohesive communities communicating with the Elements in continuous unceasing dialogue. To them the nature is not a matter of intellection; it is a question of life here and now. This is manifested in their primary myths and rituals which sacralize nature so that man can live as an integral part of the Universe.
The Second Volume, Vedic, Buddhist and Jain Traditions, centres on the texts, probing deep into the Vedic rituals, Upanisadic philosophies and Jyotisa sastra. There is a prodigious consideration of the concept of mahabhutas in Buddhism and Jainism. It also brings forth the many covergences and divergences of the view-points between and amongst these different streams of Indian thought.
The Third Volume, The Agamic Tradition and the Arts, examines systematically the manifestation of the Elements in the Indian arts and their Agamic background. From the different vantage points of the architect, sculptor, painter, musician and dancer, the field is reopened here to discern the structure of the arts at its primal level. Experiences of the transformation of the gross to the subtle and the theories of aesthetics and cultural ecology emerge from such a captivating view-point.
The Fourth Volume The Nature of Matter offers a much-needed critical appraisal of modern scientific concepts with reference to traditional thoughts. It contains invaluable discussion on quantum theory and elementary particles, evolution of living matter, nature and function of matter, scientific philosophy and Buddhist thought, Sankhya theory of matter, ancient and medieval biology, mysticism and modern science, traditional cosmology, matter and medicine, matter and consciousness, etc. the dialogue created between the method of science and the method of speculation is invigorating.
The Fifth Volume, Man in Nature, is a coming together of cultures and disciplines. Enchanting in their own way, the international community of scientists, philosophers, anthropologists, ecologists and artists, share in this volume the myths and cosmology of their respective societies and cultures. There emerges a most meaningful dialogue between those who live with the myths of primordial elements and those who have modified the tools of science to investigate the nature of matter.
This 5-volume set, first of its kind, produced by the most distinguished specialists in the field, should enjoy a wide readership amongst philosophers of many different persuasions, scientists, theorists of art and culture, particularly ecologists and anthropologists seeking new insights into the phenomena of Nature.
In 1986 when the first of the Multidisciplinary and Cross-cultural Seminars was held under the aegis of the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, there was a trepidation. In my Introduction to the Volume on Concepts of Space : Ancient & Modern I have shared with the readers the sense of challenge as also of gratification. Then, it was not easy, nor has it been easy in the subsequent years to bring together people from different parts of the world of diverse disciplines and levels of society to speak through a multiplicity of languages to reflect and converse, and have a meaningful dialogue on the fundamental concerns of humanity in the past or present, in science or religion, philosophy and the arts, in civilizations as far apart as Egyptian, Chinese, Greek and Indian, permeating expressions through the written or the oral word, generating a language of myth and symbol which communicates across cultures.
The gathering, the dialogue and the discussion on a single concept of Space (Akasa) made it evident that the more fundamental and universal the concept, the greater the probability and possibility of diverse interpretations at multiple levels. The single concept of Space had taken us through the journey of the concepts of cavity, cave, aperture, fountainhead, body, air, sky, vacuity, cipher, point and much else. The scientist and the technologist explored the concept through their method of empirical investigation, the philosopher and the metaphysician, artists and the sociologist through perennial questioning and speculation. The two approaches and methods we learnt were complementary and not in conflict. The arts, architecture, sculpture, painting, music and dance enclose, embody and evoke space. Poetry creates vast edifices of space as spatial situations, and evoke the experience of outer and inner space.
The concern with Space (Akasa) could not be dissociated from the concern-the concept of Time (Kala). Two years later, a similar gathering with many familiar faces (who communicated with one another with greater ease) gathered to deliberate upon the many dimensions to Time (Kala). Once again, the discussions at that Seminar revolved round the micro and the macro levels of the single concept, from molecular time to the cosmic time, from the time of biologists to the time of astronomer, from the time of the seer and meditator to the time of the architect, sculptor, musician, dancer and the poet. Besides the familiar faces, there were others who had joined the family of the IGNCA. The enlarged family gave this Seminar a depth and richness, unique and unparalleled. The experiences His Holiness The Dalai Lama articulated in words lucid and resonant, were juxtaposed with the precision and meditation of a scientist the late Professor D.S. Kothari. The depth of the experience of Time in religious traditions, Islamic, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, Jain and Hebrew, and the embodiment of inner and outer Time in poetic language was shared through rapt silence through the voice of the Poet Kathleen Raine.
Logically and naturally, from these two fundamental and universal concepts the next step in our quest for exploration of a single universal theme through diverse paths recalling the Rgvedic Verse, Truth is one; man knows it by different names, was to explore the concept of the primal elements (five or four) in different civilizations which have governed and determined the evolution of civilization and culture. Perhaps, the first conscious awareness of Man ws the fact that his life depended on water, Earth, air, fire and, above all, space. Understandably, in all civilizations, at the most sophisticated level as also at the simplest level, the recognition that the primal elements were primary and indispensable for Man, is universal. Myths of the origin of the universe, creation, cosmology and cosmogony, have been developed on the concept of the elements which are four or five. There is a vast body of primary sources and equally extensive and complex a history of critical discourse on the nature of primal elements and their indispensability, not only for Man but for all life on Earth.
The subject was too vast and too monumental to be taken up in a single Seminar. Organizationally, therefore, this time it was decided to hold five successive but interlocked Seminars, one leading to the others, so that they could all culminate in a final international cross-cultural multidisciplinary Seminar. Since cultures, disciplines, and levels of society are not completely autonomous and insulated, there was a planned and understandable overlapping between one Seminar or Workshop and another.
The five Seminars were divided more for facility than the autonomous nature of each area or field. The discussions, therefore, at one seminar were taken up and did interpenetrate into the next.
Logically, the first of these Seminars focused attention on the articulations of cohesive communities in the world who have lived in harmony with nature and who have communicated with the five elements in a continuous unceasing dialogue. To them the nature of the five elements water, earth, air, fire and space is not a matter of intellection or breaking down into separation and divisions of totality or a whole; instead, it is a question of life here and now. This is manifested in ritual practices which sacrilize nature so that man can live as an integral part of the universe, the rhythmic movement of the changing seasons, and the symmetrical punctuation and cycle of seed sprouting, growing, flowering, fruiting, decaying and renewing. In modern discourse this is understood as the need for man to live in harmony with the environment for an evolution of socio-cultural systems and methodologies for ensuring the maintenance of ecological balances. The lives and lifestyles of these cohesive groups have begun to acquire renewed validity on account of what man has done to pollute, contaminate, desacrilize and desecrate the very fundamentals that sustain him and make it possible for him to live on earth. The first Volume is based on the papers submitted at this Seminar.
The second Seminar moved the emphasis to the textual traditions. There is a vast body of literature in Greek, Chinese and Indian sources where philosophic discourses have been held on the nature of the universe, the nature of matter, the elements and the possibility of transmutation of the gross to the subtle. In India all branches of the philosophic streams have discussed the nature of the Bhutas and the Mahabhutas. The discussion ranges from the earliest articulation on the subject in the Rgveda to the philosophic school of Vaisesikas, Vedantins, Saiva and the Agamas. The old system of Ayurveda in India, as much of medicine in Greece in a very different way, is based on the concept of the Mahabhutas in the constitution of the body itself. The very conception of the five elements constitutes the body. Texts for Indian astronomy, chemistry, metallurgy are replete with discussions on the elements. This discussion cannot be dissociated from a speculation, and discourse of the nature of the universe, cosmology, cosmogony. The second Seminar delved deep into each of these aspects specially in the Indian tradition Vedic, Brahmanical, Upanisadic and Tantric. In addition, there was a consideration of the concept of the Mahabhutas in Buddhism and Jainism. This Seminar unfolded the very complex and subtle aspects of the discourse on the nature of the matter, the fivefold organic matter and the five external objects. It also brought forth the many convergences as also divergences of viewpoint between and amongst these different streams of Indian thought as exemplified in the textual tradition. The Seminar was hosted by the Department of Sanskrit, University of Poona, Pune. The second Volume of this series is based on the papers and the discussions held at this Seminar.
Logically, the third Seminar had to and did explore the discussions as also the manifestations of the five elements in the Indian arts, along with their Agamic background. As is well recognized, while the Upanisads provide the basis for speculative thinking, the Brahmanas give the methodology of ritual practice (Yajna and Prayoga). Parallel is the development in early and later medieval India where the texts of Vastu and Silpa provide the frame-work of the abstract principles of creating concrete structure through different media and in different forms. The Agama is the twin which provide the methodology of enlivening, giving life and breath to the concrete structures and forms of art. If monumental architecture, sculpture, painting, music or dance, poetry or theatre, is created on the comprehension of space and time, they are even more built on the system of correspondences first for embodying and then evoking the five elements. The fascinating and unceasing cycle of the movement from the inner experience to the creation of form, which would incorporate the five elements and the employment of a methodology of ritual, is outlined in the Agamic texts only to achieve the end experience of the transformation of the gross to the subtle. This was the subject of this Seminar. From different vantage points of the architect, sculptor, painter, musician and dancer, the field was re-opened to examine the structure of the Indian arts at its primal level.
Naturally, theories of aesthetics which have emerged from such a viewpoint had to be discussed and many questions asked. The third Volume incorporates the span of the papers presented and the discussions held at this Seminar.
If the arts deal with the process of transmutation and mutation of the subtle to the gross, and the evocation of the subtle from the gross, in other words, the process of the abstract and the concrete suggesting, stimulating and evoking the abstract, then the astrophysicist deals with the nature of primal matter itself. No discourse on the elements could have been completed by excluding the discussion on modern physics of elementary particles and the most recent developments in microbiology. The fourth Seminar took up the question of the nature and function of matter itself and discussed the theories of the creation of the universe and emergent cosmologies in the modern physics. This was juxtaposed with the consideration on the nature of matter and consciousness. It was obvious that the new developments in science were, perhaps, not all that far remote from the earlier insights in the context of consciousness. The debate between the nineteenth Century mechanistic science and the modern physics was re-opened. This was juxtaposed with speculations and the philosophic discourse in the Indian philosophic schools. If the second Seminar dealt with the textual traditions and the philosophic schools of Samkhya, Mimamsa and the Vaisesikas, this Seminar looked at these traditions s structuralistic traditions from a scientific point of view. The dialogue created between the method of science and the method of speculation was invigorating. The fourth Volume comprises papers and discussions at this Seminar.
The fifth and the last Seminar was a coming together of cultures as also disciplines. Coordinators of the earlier Seminars presented brief Reports on each of the Seminars which provided the background and the landscape. The international community, comprising scientist, philosophers. Anthropologists, ecologists and artists shared not only the myth and cosmology of their particular societies but also there was a most meaningful dialogue between those who lived in the awareness of the primordial myths of the elements and those who had employed the tools of science to explore the nature of the phenomenon of matter.
The putting together of the deliberations of the five major Seminars, as a single or a multiple-volume, is a daunting task. Through the combined efforts of the Coordinators of each of these Seminars and, particularly, the Chief Coordinator-Professor B.N. Saraswati and his associates it has been possible to prepare the five Volumes based on the deliberations of these Seminars as also a companion exhibition which was called "PRAKRTI: The Integral Vision".
It is my hope that these Volumes will provide material for further discussion and dialogue. The perennial nature of the theme and its urgent and contemporary validity will, I hope, make these Volume significant. As I have said earlier in my Introduction, Man stands today at a moment where he is threatened by the pollution, inner and outer, of his own making. The primal elements and the urgent need for purification through austerity and discipline are not the matters of intellectual discourse alone. Their maintenance and sustenance, and the purity of the these that are primary and primal, are the objective of our life, lest death overtakes us.
The essays collected here are based on papers delivered at the Bhutas seminar held in Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA), Pune, from August 24 to 27, 1992. The seminar was jointly sponsored by IUCAA and Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi.
The ancient wisdom contained in the Vedas, Upanisads, other sastras and the Ayurveda discusses the concept of matter in various forms. The word bhutas used here is to be taken as symbolizing these concepts. The ideas include the nature of matter on the micro-scale as on the large scale, the nature of living matter, the origin of life itself, holistic medicine, Yogasutras, etc.
Modern science has brought in new perspectives. What is the ultimate micro-structure of matter? In the sequence of atoms-nuclei-quarks is there an end-point? How, where and when in the universe did the various chemical elements form? Where is the frontier between physics and biology? What is the link between the 'living' and 'non-living' matter? What are the current ideas on the origin and evolution of life? How do they influence modern medical systems?
To what extent is there a commonality between the ancient and the modern streams of thought? The methods of seeking answers are different, but are questions basically the same? Can a dialogue between two systems with such manifest differences be successful?
This seminar was attempting such a dialogue. It sought to bring together intellectuals (who may not otherwise participate in a joint discussion) with the hope that the cross-fertilization of ideas would be productive.
The subject of the seminar covered both the Indian traditional ideas on matter and the modern scientific concepts. The scope was thus fairly wide covering such ideas as:
(i) Origin of matter
(ii) Nature of matter, its hierarchical structure
(iii) Transmutation from one from to another
(iv) Living and inert matter: commonalities and differences
(v) Evolution of living matter
(vi) Any other relevant aspect of matter not covered explicitly in (i)-(v).
On the scientific side there was participation by physicists, biologists. Astronomers, chemists, geophysicists, etc., while on the traditional side scholars from humanities, holistic medicine, ancient Indian literature, Ayurveda, etc. participated.
The participants cooperated by not being very technical since the workshop was interdisciplinary in nature. The highlighted the basic concepts and march of ideas rather than specific details. The long discussion session were enjoyable for their liveliness and spontaneity.
There was a general agreement that the seminar was a success and such interdisciplinary dialogues should continue. There were certain action-points suggested:
1. The database of ancient manuscripts should be made as complete as possible to enable scholars to use it for research purposes. The IGNCA may help sponsor this important activity.
2. An objective assessment is needed about the state of knowledge in past in the various fields listed under the subject-matter of the seminar.
3. Each of the topics listed above deserved extensive interdisciplinary discussions in their own right. As such further seminars could be initiated by the IGNCA and other interested institutions.
I am happy that the views of participants here will give the readers some glimpses of the depth and range of the subject-matter covered. I wish to thank all the contributors to this volume for their cooperation in submitting their articles promptly. Finally, I am grateful to Dr. Kapila Vatsyayan and here colleagues at the IGNCA for making it possible to hold the seminar at IUCAA.
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