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What is aesthetics?

(Editor, Compiler, Author and Translator Dr. PADMA SUDHI)

I have tried to unite the method of traditional, comparative and modern aesthetics. It was disheartening to see only the single aesthetic-theory of Rasa of India as has been enumerated 1 in the Encyclopaedia of Britannica. Unquestionably, Rāsa- theory is the back-bone of the whole of the Indian Aesthetics as atman or individual soul is the condition of the survival, veritably, the word Rasa was identified during later Vedic-period with the concept of ātman, and subsequently the soul of all the arts. But soul without body has no meaning. Thus, necessity demands the form to sustain the formless. As the forms are innumerable, everybody is different from the others. Similarly, difference in the medium of exposition, gives varied art- forms. Every historical period has its own concept of beauty being conformed by the society and its aesthetic culture. Therefore, aesthetic- theories have been becoming empirical (phenomenal) and spiritual (noumenal) in value and nature. The work Rasa stands for both, where spectator or connoisseur enjoy the manifested or un-manifested meaning in the arts according to his or her sensibilities or his or her different levels (kośās) of experience.

In the beginning, I dealt with the traditional aesthetics where I discussed the definition and standard of beauty and art, their relation with each other, as being tackled by the Indian philosophers and the opinions of their Western counter-parts. The aesthetics is a younger discipline of the study which has been derived from hoary past of the Indian cultural history. To provide Indian aesthetics a fabric in the modern sense, I had to give in the mobility towards the flux of Western aesthetical thoughts. I can emphasize here, that traditional aesthetics of India has made its course towards the modern aesthetics where behavioral psychology is studied prominently. In the behavior of a person, the ingredients of the mind, a thread from this subconscious to the conscious, then to the unconscious – is the vista for study, which long back has been founded by the Yoga-psychology. Therefore, the modern aesthetics as is classified by the Westerns Aestheticians is as older in India as the time of Vedic-literature, where glimpses of Yoga-psychology have been experienced in the study of aesthetics.

To provide the Indian name to the word”aesthetics” continuous effort have been made by me. Because of the long association of the study of Indian aesthetics, I came to the conclusion that the word Saundarya -Yoga is quite expanding in the meaning which circumscribes, traditional, comparative and modern aesthetic comprehensively.

The sense of hearing and seeing are the most contributory factors in tasting the aesthetic - configuration. As ears and eyes give the resultant, amalgamated experience of joy, thus, the theories of performing art are related to the theories of plastics art. Consequently, theory of one art has become the canons for other arts. There are two aesthetic- theories which comprehend total aesthetic experience from its primacy- theories of Elimination and the theory of Perfectionism. Beauty is a kind of knowledge (Madhu- Vidyā) which is enjoyed through practice. This knowledge is the identity of the subject with the object which has their proper place and status (my station and my duty-BRADLEY) in the scheme of this universe, wherefrom if they recede, they lose beauty. Whatever exists in the world that reflects itself in the inner- mind of a person also. This parallelism participates in the sense of compatibility which provides the aesthetic theory of propriety.

Somehow, we can not dispute effectively about particular taste through arguments. Aesthetics, logic and Ethics (Morality) have a common, though unknown ground. The beautiful is closely allied to the good and the true. This antinomical relation provides with the aesthetic-theory of Synthesis. For, as much as Indian art has covered the realms of religious thoughts, philosophical symbolism and spiritual value, we compel to discover the trends of beauty in the aesthetical theories of Vedānta, sāṃkhya and Yoga. But the physical and metaphysical theory of beauty which has been contributed to the trends of Essentialism, Mysticism and Symbolism in the art- forms, they have been extracted from the religious cults of Śaiva, Śakta and Vaiṣṇava. Whole world is the subject matter of any art whether it is poetry or drama, thus formational theories and emotional theories of the aesthetics can be propounded after the study of the art forms. Because there historical records into the account which express progress in the cognition of the world. It is necessary therefore, for an aesthetician to show briefly the account of the art history of different period - this condition, I have fulfilled.

The permanent emotions of wonder and terror were visible at the onset of the Vedic-period which in the later half of that period had given birth to symbology and mystic trends in the aesthetics. From ephemeral plane to metaphysical aesthetic experience, creation of perfect propriety and the importance of sacrifice in the transformation of inner and outer life were enunciated. This ritual transformation after the foundation of religious concepts during the Vedas, had been directed towards the higher stratum, where in place of bagging from gods in polytheistic henotheistic, monotheistic then pantheistic manner, the Vedic seers suddenly had realized the joy of giving themselves in the sacrifices in microscopic and macroscopic ways. They, in their dream of thoughts rather than in the dreams of emotions, started the existence of Trinity of gods by attributing three individual functional status to them. More matured in their mind, Vedic seers later on rejected every theological ideas after discovering the concept of paired - god which had been become the full fledged achievements of the experience of joy of that period, where unity in plurality was investigated by the seers besides its singular or plural forms. Then the worship or sacrifice had gradually been assumed the forms of Tapas, the constant efforts of contemplation, which helped man transforming himself to a newer reality first, then the transformation of an image in the art the literature, it was indicated.

When, every hymn or every rc was to be written in the dual number (divivacana). This was the one of the secrets of the Vedic-literature which in its quest for higher suzerainty, instantaneously had established the image of god as a biological unisex, who was perfectly pretentious in all its dimensions. This concept of androgyn gave an idea of equality and propriety to the Kāma feeling. Later on, in that frame was erected the lofty institutions of marriage, which had extricated the beastly idea of spolygamy and polyandry during the Śūtra-period of India. By and by, through the theory of aesthetic relativity and awareness, they searched or contemplated the aesthetic vision of one conscious principle behind all the beings, realising which all distinctions, paradoxes and antagonism had been disappeared. The idea of non-dual pure consciousness had given the concept of another deity in the Vedas whom they called Sāmmanasyām and who had brought harmony of universal love in the mankind as against the individual's joy. Phenomenal theory of aesthetics which happened to be negative and imperfect, had been taken the turn towards aesthetical theory of positivism in its nouminal way. At the advent of the Upaniṣadic period, different mental levels in the forms of kośās to experience beauty of different gradations, the word Sukṛta, Samṛddhi and siddhi had been co-related with the expressive concepts of the aesthetics in the earthly as well in the divine sense.

All our limbs are created with the meaning of propriety by Brahmā as well - chiseled creation (Sukṛta). This cosmos is nothing more than the projection of our mental melting -pot (mis-conceptions). Nobody is in the rights nor in the wrong. One can realize that all the wild storms of anxiety and misery are but breaking of eggs. In this way the cosmos is more problematic than our own -self. The moment we discover the atom, it explodes, the moment we discover the ether, it evaporates. There is one clue to the universe of beauty and that is the individual soul within individual-being, which is Pūṛna (perfect) derived from Pūṛna and which has remained ineffective in its turn. There never was any universe, any cosmos of which the first reality was anything but living incorporate individuals. The Upaniṣads again and again emphasis seriously to realise one's own beauty in the self, in the self-realization, where true beauty of prosperity (in the sense of material as well as spiritual beauty Samṛddhi), and newer and newer discoveries of our own self with the successive powerful stages (Siddhis) of the Almighty's wonder could be visualized. Life meant nothing else but the spontaneous living condition, Gṛhya Śutras and Dharma-Śutras boldly accept great polarity in the life getting into the perfect circuit of the earth's terrestrial magnetism and gravitational force, we have to equalize this duality in perfect harmony of the true union of the male and the female with the help of the institutions of marriage. If the Upanisads lead more towards metaphysical discoveries and their beauty, the Gṛhya-Śūtras tell us to stablize into the perfect circuit of the earth's polar magnetism (Śiva-Śakti).

In the Purāṇa-period, religious beliefs of different cults accepted whole heartedly each other's theories but in there own words and terminology. There sprang a reconciling state in all the philosophies and all the religious cults with the two principle realities behind all, that is Lord Kṛṣṇa and Lord Śiva. They both were paired with many goddesses by assuming themselves different forms. Aesthetical devotional theory of Vaiṣṇavism, Śaivism and Śāktism explored the love- feelings as the expression of free-soul. Freedom of soul with the knowledge and truth was the surviving conditions of beauty therein.. Body of love (bhāva-deha) was beyond the physical existence (aŚuddha- deha) and the spiritual existence (Śuddha-deha). The great philosophy of the cosmic -play (Rāsa) and the cosmic-dance (Taṇdava) were revealed in their aesthetic rapture. How the Purāṇic artists were in conflicts with each other to establish the rules for beautiful physiognomy of the male and the female and how they concluded their concepts in providing the canons to the sculpture, painting and iconography of that period which had been followed with esteem by the artists of the different periods till 11th Cent A.D. - all these, I tried to show it. There the birth of consciousness became the essential nature (svabhava) of a person which was coincided with the Nature in the macroscopic manner. Lord Krsna, his cosmic-play and music (Rāsa-Lila) takes place amidst the Nature with green foliage, river, chirping birds, and surf of clouds, clarity of autumn and softness of lotus and its creepers. Similarly, cosmic-dance (Tandava) of Lord Siva is also displayed in the vicinity of the mountains. Why? To expose how human sentiments reverberate with the colors and notes of the Nature, Later on and even earlier than this, the exponents of the arts like Bharata and Sarngadeva had applied the Nature contour of colour and notes of the animals in their theories on poetry, music, dance and drāmā which depicted each of the sentiments of the human-beings.

In the Rāmāyaṇa, the aesthetic theory of idealism is analyzed where repressed instincts are sublimated by the control after following the ideal existed in the mind of person. The meaning of sublimation in the concept of idealism is elaborately discussed by me in the second volume of the aesthetic theories of India. The subjectivity and objectivity are equally stressed in the aesthetic experience of the Rāmāyama. The word Sundara and the Sundārakāṇd are analyzed with their social perspectives where the word Sila and Sādhvī have aestherical implications in the feeling of idealist persons of the Rāmāyaṇa. Socialistic society of the Rāmāyaṇa followed the norms of beauty which bore universal wholesomeness. Individuals were meant for building a healthy society, leaving their vested interest after sacrificing themselves for the welfare of the society. Rāmā's life was demonstrable who stood against all the storms of the society and devoted only to the well-being of the kingdom. The repressed feeling of an individual without becoming incest, when elevated or motivated towards social and universal affluence, converted into dharma, the word again and again occurred in the Rāmāyaṇa. The emotional correspondence with the actions had been matched perfectly with each other in the Rāmāyaṇa. Inspite of prolonged separation of Sita and subsequently her banishment by Rāmā, the rigid observances of marriage imparted a system of beauty of its society. It was not only Sītā who suffered, but Rāmā also had inflicted torture upon himself after deporting Sītā to the forest. Rāmā was a real solider who fought against his own shadow in protecting the religion which was rigidly followed by the people of that society. The defense of a woman was the bedrock of the human ideal where virginity used to be adored equally as worship had been bestwed upon celibacy. Great pleasure of the king was to protect the moral sentiments of his subject after self sacrifice in a true sense. The horoes of both the Epics were quite conscious about the mortality of their personal lives. The Rāmāyan and the Mahabharata. In several places have frequency reverberated the sentiments that it is the king who through his moral or immoral deeds bring Kaliyuga or Satya-yaga and not the subject. Politics of the two Epies was dependent of King's highest morality.

The modern concept of the separated family of the armed forces and self-pity of a soldier for himself to get perquisite without rendering any service to the country, is inherited in the moral concept of the head of the state of to-day. It is learn that historical facts are not the reference- books to the modern statehood. The Modern world is absolutely different from history which can not be prototyped. Against the belief are my experiences. The superior man of Uncle Superior (US) once has been heard saying that he can not wed a girl who slept with the other man…which used to be equally prohibited in the society of the Rāmāyaṇa and the Mbh.

The Mbh. for its beauty is inclined towards sound health of the male and the female. That ideal had been adopted by the sculptor, iconographer and the poet of the Mahābhārata. All the three yogās of Lord Kṛṣṇa that is, Karma Bhakti and J āna are dependent on the sound health of the mind and the body as said in the Gita and the Śānti-parvan on the Mahābhārata. The diplomatic stratagems and the subtle morality in the politics, which can defy the political philosophy of the world with any existed ethical norms, are shown as aesthetical contribution to the heroic poetry of the Mahābhārata. Represented in the lucid and coherent language with brevity of the style as can be witness in the Bhagavad-Gitā.

BEN JONSON has said-"-Art has an enemy called Ignorance." Is beauty inherent quality of body? Or each part of the body? Let us analyze the problem. If we say that a person is beautiful because of the beautiful hair. If these hair cut and are scattered on the ground, even then they ought to be beautiful? But no one can dare to refer to such a scattering hair lying on the ground are beautiful .Contrary to it, people would be scared or disgusted at the sight of these cut-hair. Thus, the beauty is not inherent quality even separately of any limb. If we call the beauty on the whole as beautiful, the defect of inadequate extent ( Avyāpti) is augmented, so beauty is not inherent quality of body also. Coming to the Natural beauty of a lake embanked with flowering plants and trees bent with the fruits which are reflected in water. We have enchanted and try to catch reflected beauty of flora? But failed. Now the problem commences as regards to physical body and non-existent flora inside the lake. Then does this beauty reside in our sense of perception? If it is so, then it should be omnipresent in all beings? but it is neither subjective nor objective but it is beyond triad of world, that is beyond subject, object and the thing of perceiving by subject and object. EIENSTIN had accepted the velocity of light as Absolute, though it is moving fast, looks as if it is stand still. As absolute motion is the absolute rest, our senses can not reach the swiftness of ātman, which looks us like motionless.------ we can not have any criterion for determining the nature of aesthetics as its experience is but another name for our awakening consciousness.

Mahaṛṣi AURBINDO in his " Future poetry" Vol.IX(1972) explained--The object of the artist must be art only, even he treats ethical, social and political questions. But in doing it, if he satisfies the conditions of his art, shows perfect technique, aesthetic power, perfection, why not? Nations are made by artistes and poet (saints), not by the traders and politicians. To me, aesthetics has its own ethics, society, philosophy and political field and history of the mental beautiful images which certainly are renewed and assumed new shapes almost. There fore, study of aesthetics is quite irresolute and vacillating. To study aesthetics, one has to depend whole sphere of cultural background that is cultural Anthropology. I comprehended aesthetic attitude in India since the time of sage Bharata (2nd.Cent. BC For re-establishment of cultural values, even GANDHI JI many a time like NIETZCHE expressed his thought about aesthetics in his" Young India" II .8.2 p253with stressed about aesthetic culture" culture above all things in a broad term, is the unity of artistic style in every expression of the life of people( Thought out of Season , part I p.78. GANDHI JI in a same voice uttered in "YOUNG INDIA (13.11.74.p.377) Truly beautiful creation comes when right perception is at work. If these moments are rare in life, they are also rare in art.

Very recently, I am informed by my Australian friend Dr. GREG BAILEY that there is another Epic of Kirghiz language of the group of Altaic namely MANAS, edited by Russian writer, Mr. F. ONIAS which contains 2,000,000 verses in it. It is prevalent in most of the parts of Siberia. The discovery of MANAS relegates Mahābhārata from its position which was the longest poetry of the world. But MANAS shares one thing with Mahābhārata. Which like Mahābhārata is heroic and sagacious in nature. The Mahābhārata is an inter-disciplinary in nature as the study of aesthetics itself. Literature, performing arts and plastic arts of India, have been thriving upon the Mahābhārata for their subject of thoughts. The Bhagavad-Gitā, a segment of the Mahābhārata had invited the hundred of commentaries in different languages from all over the world for its hundreds of meanings. It is the function of the aesthetics to discover new meanings reverberative in different are-forms. The Mahābhārata has enticed a criticism from all the direction as an Epic of great importance.


1) The Encyclopedia of Britannica Vol. I, 14th Edition, 1929, London, pp. 263-272.

2) The Encyclopedia of Britannica Vol.I.ed. William Benton 1949. Pp 221-223

3) My child talks to himself and make everything as his playmates after imparting his own consciousness to everything. Through his imagination, for him, comb, shells and pebbles have life. Even his own limbs of the body are his disciples whom he instructs in his childlike manner after creating different gestures with them. By and by, his thoughts become his friends to play with. The subtlest perceptibility of a person enters into the spirits of vivacity conceiving lives in the inanimates, This is the process of harmonizing everything through personification and personation or with the methods of extroversion and introversion. The synthesis of both, invents the method, concurred in the superversion where creativity of art starts.

4) The Growth of literature, Chadwick N.K.

Author : Padma Sudhi

Source : Aesthetic theories of India Vol I, II, III BORI, PUNE -411004.

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