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Representation in India's Sacred Images: Objective vs. Metaphysical Reference Author(s): V. K.

Chari Source: Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, Vol. 65, No. 1 (2002), pp. 52-73 Published by: Cambridge University Press on behalf of School of Oriental and African Studies Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4145901 . Accessed: 04/02/2014 10:08
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Representation in India's sacred images: objective vs. metaphysical reference


V. K. CHARI

Ottawa,Canada CarletonUniversity, It is well known that the study of classical Indian iconography by Havell and Coomaraswamy has forced a revision of earlier estimates by archaeologists and art historians from a naturalistic point of view, and insistently called attention to the spiritual meanings behind the sacred images and other artifacts connected with temple worship. The pioneer work of these two men set the trend for art-historical criticism of the twentieth century with reference to Indian art and established itself as the dominant interpretive tradition.' It was carried forward by Stella Kramrisch, and it lives on as a legacy in the work of Alice Boner and Kapila Vatsyayan, the latter being the most influential of the present-day exponents of Indian art in India.2 My object here is to re-examine the assumptions of this school in the light of the Sanskrit texts bearing on the subject, namely, the Silpa and Vastu literature, to see in what respects these texts can provide justification for the conclusions of these critics. I will try to show that, in spite of its religious ambience, its wild mythological tradition and its predominantly symbolic iconography, Indian art (Hindu and Buddhist) as evidenced by the ancient texts was meant to be judged by perfectly formal, objective criteria, familiar to aesthetics in the West, and also that while the art activity of the Indian people arose and flourished in a ritual, theological context and was geared to metaphysical goals, the aesthetic principles governing that activity may themselves be seen, to a very large extent, to be distinct from the purpose for which the art works were made. Some modern commentators and art historians have no doubt remarked on the essentially sensuous quality of the Indian images.3 But there are yet some fundamental aesthetic issues involved in their interpretation, particularly the question of what can or cannot be justly regarded as the representational meaning of an image in the plastic or pictorial medium, that call for clarification, based on the authority of the ancient texts. Since Coomaraswamy is by far the greatest exponent of Eastern aesthetics and since his work lays the theoretical foundation for subsequent studies, I will attempt a close analysis of his theory and then discuss its ramifications in the writings of Kramrisch, Boner and Vatsyayan, with passing references to Zimmer. The basic premises of what may be called the 'metaphysical' school may be summed up as follows: (i) Indian art cannot be dissociated from its metaphysical tradition. In order to understand the actual content and raison d' tre of Indian iconography it is necessary to return to its philosophical sources-the Vedas, Brahmanas, Upanisads, and the Buddhist canonical texts-to appropriate the Indian
See Boner, 1962; Boner et al., 1972; Vatsyayan, 1983. 3For books on art history, see, among others, Banerjea (1985); Rowland (1983); Bhattacharyya [1963]. For a general criticism of the religious interpretation of Indian art, from the standpoint of a naturalistic aesthetics, see Munro (1965). A. L. Basham (1968: 348), also criticizes Coomaraswamy's metaphysical approach to Indian art and emphasizes its sensuous character. In The sensuous in art, ch. iv and v, Rekha Jhanji (1989) discusses Indian views on painting. Bulletin of SOAS, 65, 1 (2002). 52-73. ? School of Oriental and African Studies. Printed in the United Kingdom.
2

SSee Partha Mitter (1997: 270-86).

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mentality and 'the specifically Indian modes of comprehending'.4 Indian art cannot be appreciated 'without a recognition of the metaphysical principles' to which it is related (Coomaraswamy, 1956: 35). (ii) The aim of Indian art was not fidelity to any actual models in the natural world, or representational illusion, but fidelity to certain visionary prototypes. The Indian image, Coomaraswamy argues, is not the likeness of any earthly model, but an 'ideal representation' or symbolization of a mental image, having for its referent a divine or metaphysical order of being. 'Likeness' (sadlrdya) Coomaraswamy interprets as 'a correspondence of mental and sensational factors' (1956: 13). The image-maker visualizes his model, not by direct observation of objects, but in contemplative vision (dhyana) and tries to translate it into stone, metal, or paint. Hence the images should be judged by their correspondence to those 'heavenly models'. For Coomaraswamy, 'true art' or 'pure art' is, in a sense, self-referential: it refers to 'a quality wholly selfcontained within the work of art itself' and 'relies exclusively on its own logic and its own criteria', not on standards of truth applicable in the world' (1956: 13, 25). (iii) The created art object reveals the subtle spiritual essence (sfiksma-sarfra) or presence (noumenon) through its gross sensuous body (sthula-sartra). The physical image serves as a pointer to, or is a diagram (yantra) of, the unseen world of the spirit. In the words of Kramrisch, the sacred images are 'emblems of the universal being' and 'exceed the semblance of' their 'anthropomorphic limits'; the plastic form makes visible the invisible spiritual content (Kramrisch, 1983: 130-31). Furthermore, following up the idea of the image being a magical diagram or graph, Alice Boner and Kapila Vatsyayan essay an all-out geometrical interpretation of the images and read into their geometrical forms profound metaphysical meanings, on the assumption that lines alone carry expressive, symbolic values (Boner, 1962; Vatsyayan, 1983). Thus, a transcendental reference (by which I mean 'a meaning exceeding the physical appearance of the art object or what may be elicited from it') has been claimed for the Indian icons on the ground that since the icons were made specifically for a religious purpose, as part of a 'metaphysical rite' (Coomaraswamy, 1981: 177), and designed as aids to meditation, they should be deemed to convey the full content of those meditations as their representational meaning. I The first point, that the Indian artifacts should be studied in the light of their verbal tradition and not merely for their surface properties, may be readily conceded. Since the form of any representational art object cannot be understood in isolation from its content, and since the content, especially when it happens to be of the esoteric, symbolic type, requires a semiotic understanding of the signifying practices that generated it, a purely formalistic approach would be wholly blind and misguided. Coomaraswamy and others are therefore justified in rejecting the 'aesthetic surface' approach of Western art criticism. India's religious art, like any other religious art, would be unintelligible without the verbal tradition out of which it originated. By merely attending to the surface qualities of an Indian icon, such as the dancing Siva, one would not be able to recognize the aesthetic design, for the design emerges only after the
4 Zimmer (1984: 4). In Myths and symbols, Zimmer (1974: 196) views Indian art as the 'pictorial script of India's ultimately changeless wisdom'. See also Havell (1911: xiv-xv), 'Introduction'.

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meaning has been apprehended. The iconology was anterior to the icon and was an element in its formal composition. The verbal tradition is thus necessary for explicating the narrative context as well as the emblematic features of many images, e.g. multiple heads and arms, Durga killing the buffalo demon, Visnu as the lion-faced man, etc. The same is true of Christian iconography which is equally bound to representations of scriptural scenes and figures. In saying this, however, one must be careful not to confound the concerns of theology and cultural anthropology with those of aesthetics. An art work may be dictated by certain theological ideas and embody those ideas to some extent as its referential meaning, but it is not the case that its entire design and the principles of its composition can be explained by those ideas. Moreover, the aesthetic in the sculptural or pictorial form is confined to the perceptual properties of the art object, and so one considers only those meanings that are and can be clearly manifested by its medium and that are required for the explanation of its formal design-not the entire semiosis of its production and reception. Granted, the Indian icons were designed for ritual and devotional purposes and they were inextricably part and parcel of the metaphysical and cosmological beliefs of the Indian people, but even so we have to determine to what extent these belief systems and the practices resulting from them can be said to have entered into the created artifacts as their meaning,, and also how much of the Indian metaphysical lore and the rituals of the Satapatha Brahmana, as opposed to the material in the Vastu and Silpa texts which deal specifically with iconography, can be admitted into our explanation of the sacred images, even by way of an intellectual commentary on them. Of course, even the iconographical texts often present an amalgam of aesthetics and theology. Our task, however, is to disentangle the two and show how, even for the ancients, the principles of art were a quite distinct concern and independent of theological beliefs. Also, while the icons evidently served a ritual/devotional purpose, we have to ask whether the commonly accepted aesthetic values, both expressive and decorative, too were not an important part of the Indian conception of art. Coomaraswamy and others of this school tend to make a freewheeling use of the scriptures in their interpretations and also to ignore or set aside the aesthetic aspects of Indian art, thus presenting an account wholly in terms of scriptural ideas. Also questionable is their attempt to root all Indian iconography in a 'Vedic philosophy of art' (Havell, quoted in Mitter, 275), disregarding important differences in doctrinal beliefs, aims and practices. For Coomaraswamy, both Hindu and Buddhist art may be traced to Vedic sources in respect of their symbolism (1981: 163) and their 'idealist concept of reality' (1956: 159). He is of course fully aware that Vedic ritual was aniconic (1981: 167). Nonetheless, he states that 'the essential values of the Vedic sacrifice are inherited and survive in the later iconolatry' (1981: 179). This is no doubt true of Hindu iconolatry in general, which was cast in the Vedic mould, incorporating some of the same hymns and ritual procedures, expecially in temple construction (which adopted the symbolism of the Vedic altar) and in the installation and consecration of the idols. The mythology of the deities worshipped, Visnu, Rudra-Siva, Brahma, etc., was an outcropping of the Vedic mythology, and the metaphysics underlying the Hindu conception of the deity, too, was of Vedic-Upanisadic derivation. But it is difficult to claim a similar affinity between the Vedic tradition and Buddhist and Jaina iconolatry, which is entirely different with regard to philosophical assumptions, subject matter, aims and mode of worship. What all these traditions have in common,

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however, is their basic conception of the image as a material symbolic representation of the divine ideal and as a tool of contemplation. Although there is thus a discernable connection or a sense of continuity, rather than a schism, between Vedic anthropomorphism and sacrificial cult and the subsequent iconism of the Hindus, it must be recognized that the concept of image worship (slkaropaisana)itself was alien to Vedic thinking and therefore that Hindu iconography could not have sprung from Vedic sources. Neither the ritualism of the Brahmanas nor the philosophical speculations of the Upanisads would be conducive to the worship of material images and image-making. A few references in the Grhhyastitras of the later Vedic period to images of the deities and places of worship would, however, suggest a partial recognition of the practice of image worship by the Vedic orthodoxy (Banerjea, 1985: 68-70; T. Bhattacharyya, 1924: 325-6),5 although they hardly amount to a philosophy of art or of image worship. The whole rationale and methodology of image worship was the work of the Agamas and Tantrasall dating from about the second to the tenth century A.D. It was in this later literature, with the rise of the Vaisnava, Saiva, Sakta and Buddhist Vajrayana cults, when temple worship became an established practice, that Indian iconography may be said to have come of age. Hence it is to the Agamic literature and the Vastu and Silpa texts which are based on it that we must turn for a proper understanding of Indian iconography, rather than to the Vedas and Brahmanas. The Agamas too, no doubt, had their own individual theological and liturgical bases. The artistic canons they established were not limited to the needs of individual cults, but had a general application. Some of these texts also included specifications for Buddhist and Jaina images. II Coomaraswamy's argument for a transcendental reference in traditional Indian art hinges upon his re-interpretation of the key terms 'imitation' (anukarana) and 'likeness' (sadrsya), which leads him to reject the naturalistic theory. The Silpa texts define an image (painting or sculpture) generally as a 'likeness of the world' and image-making as 'likeness-making' (sadr.yakaranam).6 'Whatever things there are in the three worlds, moveable or immoveable, a fashioning of them each according to its individual nature is what is called image-making.'7 According to these statements, the imagemaker's subject matter is evidently the objective world, which provides him with models for his art. Now Coomaraswamy puts forward three interrelated reasons as to why these terms should be taken to signify not a likeness of earthly models, but rather a likeness of heavenly or 'angelic' models: (i) First there is the scriptural authority that he adduces in support of his view. A passage he cites from the Aitareya Brahmana says that 'it is in imitation (anukrti) of the angelic (deva) works of art (silpdni) that any work of art (iilpa) is accomplished (adhigamyate) here' (156: 8). Coomaraswamy says 'Every artistic operation', as envisaged by tradition, 'is an imitation of what was done by the gods in the beginning' (1963: 12). The forms fashioned by the gods in the beginning are not, however, perceptible to the outer senses: they are accessible only to the 'eye of the soul'. They are thus 'intelligible'
5_A section of the Vaidika Brahmans, however, continued to be hostile to the temple cult of the Agamic religions. For the polemics against the Agamas and the rebuttal by the temple theologians, see Yamunacarya's Agamapramanya and Jayanta Bhatta's Nyayamaijarf (Ahnika 4), 239-42. Also, H. von Stietencron (1971). 6 Visnudharmottara-Purina,'Citra-Stitram', ch. 41-2. 7 Silparatna, ch. 46, verse 2.

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(i.e. convey an intelligible meaning), not 'perceptible' models (1979: 36). The human artificer follows the forms created by the divine artificer (Vibvakarma, 'architect of the world')-which forms he intuits in a meditative trance (dhydna). (ii) These forms are, again, not presented to the artist through the medium of sensation and emotion: they emanate intellectually in a state of gnosis, in which the artist identifies himself with the object of his meditation (1981: 152-3). The form of the deity that the artist/craftsman is to execute in his chosen medium first arises in his mind as a concept or as a set of metaphysical principles governing the process of creation, dissolution, and the like, of which the deity is made up. Then he visualizes a mental image of the deity, with his lineaments, according to the aspect in which it is contemplated, which he then executes in the physical medium. The whole procedure is thus intellectual or 'ideal' in the philosophical sense, rather than 'biological' or naturalistic in terms of its logic. That is to say that it seeks more an inner adequacy or cogency in the image than verisimility to external models. In Coomaraswamy's words 'the artist does not resort to models but uses mental construction, and this condition sufficiently explains the cerebral character of the art' (1956: 166). (iii) Indian art arose from a metaphysical tradition in which the cosmic process is conceived of in terms of its underlying principles, functions, energies, activities, and so forth, and not in terms of objective existents or sensibilia, and the gods themselves are conceived of as representing these abstract principles. Thus we have the five emanations (vyiihas) of Visnu in Vaisnava theology and of the Dhyani Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, in Buddhist Tantra, the five forms of the, Siva-Sakti in Saiva theology-all conceived in terms Siva and the concept of of the powers operating in the cosmic process. And the images of them-iconic or aniconic--representing their various forms (rfipa) are conceived 'by a process of symbolic filiation' (1956: 157). They are symbolic constructs (pratTka) whereby what is invisible and immaterial (amirta) is represented as visible and material (mirta). An Indian icon, Coomaraswamy says, is, even like a Christian icon, not 'constructed as though to function biologically', and it should, 'strictly speaking, be regarded as a kind of diagram expressing certain ideas, and not as the likeness of anything on earth' (1956: 5). Not only are the anthropomorphic images symbolic diagrams, but their proportions too are 'ideal' in the sense that they represent 'the idea or species of the thing by which it is known intellectually rather than the substance of it as it is perceived by the senses' (1956: 13). 'The "truth " of traditional art is a formal truth ... a truth of meaning '-that is, not the truth of likeness to a natural object. 'The artifact need no more resemble anything than a mathematical equation need look like its locus' (1977: 47; 21 n. 34). Coomaraswamy's account of the ideology that went behind art creation in the Indian tradition, and of the procedure adopted in the making of images is no doubt based on authentic sources. His interpretation of the texts cited, however, needs to be re-examined before we can ascertain their real intent. Indian deities were, as he pointed out, conceived in trance vision (dhydinayoga) and represented certain metaphysical principles or forces of nature. Their anthropomorphic shapes find their first adumbration in the Vedic hymns, albeit in a shadowy manner, with little iconographic definition. But as the Vedic religion was not idolatrous, the verbal evocations (mantras) alone served as objects of meditation and carried the potency to invoke the diety's presence during the sacrificial ritual, and its presence could be invoked symbolically in a jar, in the fire altar, in a blade of grass or a lump of cooked rice, as the case may be. In the fire altar (vedi) we have also the beginnings of the conception

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of the Yantra-a mystical, cosmological diagram into which the gods are invoked by the sheer power of the mantra. The construction of full-bodied anthropomorphic deities in later times answered to the need for a more concrete presentation of the deity, and myths grew around the old Vedic deities, and new deities were created with appropriate legends, in the Puranas and epics. Even so, in temple rituals, idol worship continued alongside Yantra worship. God could be invoked in four places: in the water pot, in one's own heart, in the image, and in the fire.8 However, primary emphasis was placed on the accompanying mantra of the deity and the contemplation (manana) of its significance. The external worship (bahyaydga) of the idol was necessarily accompanied by meditation (mdnasa-puijd)on its outward form as well as its unembodied state. In Vaisnava theology, however, the idol was invested with an independent power and a higher degree of reality as the very incarnation of Visnu (arcavatara). None the less the mental act (bhavana) or mental preparation was still important, the physical image serving as a re-inforcement to contemplation. In iconographical terms, the image-maker has to be wellversed in meditation and he has to visualize clearly the form of the deity he is fashioning, with all its attributes and trappings, in accordance with the descriptions provided by the 'dhyana-mantras' (hymns) pertaining to that deity. These 'dhyanas' that guided the artist in his work generally contained a description of the deity's palpable figurative manifestation, but sometimes also references to its formless, unmanifested (avyakta) aspect. It is the figurative visualizations that the artist picked up from the 'dhyanas' and translated into the plastic medium, using his imagination of course in delineating the exact details of the image-type of face, limbs, etc.-which the verbal outlines in the 'dhyana' could not provide. The image-maker is therefore asked to meditate on the meaning of the 'dhyana', clearly visualize his model-the form of the deity-consider its proportions, and then set to work.9 The standards of proportion too were, no doubt, laid down in the texts, but the artist had to determine the kind of image he was making, its character type, and so on and work out his measurements accordingly. The purpose of the meditation was that the artist would fill himself with the mental image given by the 'dhyana' so that his work could achieve complete accuracy and clarity of realization."' The whole procedure of image-making was thus, no doubt, as Coomaraswamy states, one that involved a good deal of meditation. The image-maker did not have to go to external models for his work, for they were already given-this was true at least as far as the images of the deities were concerned. His skill lay rather in executing the received conceptions or mental pictures in stone, metal, or paint. But does this justify Coomaraswamy's claim that the image-maker was either following some divine originals or that his models were conceived entirely in his vision and not drawn from the world around him? The Vedic seers who made the hymns to gods may have conceived their forms in their vision. The sages who composed the Puranas too may be credited with a mythopoeic imagination in weaving legends about the gods, giving each a local habitation and a name. But there is nothing transcendental about the image-making procedure outlined above. It is just the procedure followed by any artist, secular or sacred: first the visualization of the form to be presented, based on verbal description or observation, and then the execution of the art work. It is not also true that the Silpa texts enjoin that the
8 Padma Samhita, ch. 7: ' Mandalaradhana': arcanam ca catushane vari-hrd-bimba-vahnisu. 9 SukranTitih, 4.7.74: dhyatva kuryat. Commaraswamy cites this passage (1981': 145) and also the 10 following from Abhildsitarthacintamani:cintayet pramanam,;tad dhydtam bhittau niveiayet. Vdstusitra Upanisad, 3.14: dhydnaprayoge spastam bhavati. ripasaustavam,

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iconographic forms of the images be conceived entirely in meditation and that earthly models should not be resorted to. The passage from SukranTtithat Coomaraswamy cites in support of his view: 'Meditate (visualize) and then do your work', as Coomaraswamy recognizes, refers to the making of the figures of horses. The passage further says that the image-maker should first observe the form of the horse carefully, attending to all its limbs and their proportions, for no one can paint an object without looking at it. Coomaraswamy says, however, that 'in spite of the apparent demand for the likeness of the horse in view, there is insistence on visualization and on adherence to ideal proportions' (1956: 116). But the kind of visualization that is involved here is no different from that which is practised by most artists. It is nothing like transcendental meditation on angelic prototypes. And as for the 'ideal proportions' which the texts prescribe, they were derived from a meticulous observation and measurement of the anatomy of humans, animals, birds, and so forth, and they carried the normative weight of 'Those rules of old discoverd, not devised' which 'Are Nature still, but Nature methodiz'd' (Alexander Pope). Another text, the Visnudharmottara,defines a purely naturalistic type of image as that which has a degree of semblance of the world: 'Whatever semblance of the world there is [in the image], in that it is called a Satya painting' (41.2). Now Coomaraswamy says that the line should be taken to mean '" in which there is a similitude only partially connected with the material world ", in any case nothing like injunction to realism could be thought of, for the satya painting in question has clearly to do with the angelic sphere ...' (1956: 192, n. 24). This reading is clearly tendentious and flies in the face of the text's general treatment of the arts of dance and painting in completely naturalistic terms and the explicit statement in an earlier verse: 'As in dance, so in painting imitation of the three worlds is the rule '." Here Coomaraswamy is imposing his own idealistic epistemology, in which 'soul-knowledge' is the only knowledge, and an object must first be in the mind before it can be perceived at all (1956: 75-9). The 'angelic sphere' to which he refers is, then, a state of complete withdrawal into one's own mind, in which the artist sees his model as a mental vision: 'thus the artist's model is always a mental image' (1956: 79). But this kind of correspondence between the art object and a mental image-which for Coomaraswamy is the meaning of 'likeness'-is not what is meant in the texts. The texts, if read without importing ideas from the medieval scholastic doctrines and from the Vedas and Brahmanas, will make it clear that what they mean by the term is objective reference. The correct implication of 'whatever semblance there is of the world' in the passage in question would be that even a realistic image cannot, in every respect, be the same as the living original, and that is what is involved in a similarity relation: identity in respect of certain properties only. As for the gods and goddesses, they are of course invisible entities and in their formless essence they are beyond representation. So the Visnudharmottara says that the forms of such entities are to be constructed on the analogy of things found in the world, whereas the likeness of all observable objects should, without exception, be made as complete as possible, because in painting likeness-making is deemed to be most important.'2 Accordingly, all divine beings and others inhabiting the invisible spheres, as well as abstract principles such as Righteousness (dharma), Unrighteousness, Knowledge, Ignorance,
" Visnudharmottara,35.5: yathd nrtte tatha citre trailokydnukrtihsmrtd. 12 Visnudharmottara, 42.47-48: lokam drstva naradhipa/ adrstanam etad-rilpasamuddefam taveritam// drstarn susadramrnkaryarm sarvesam avi.esatah/ citre sadrdyakaranampradhanamrn parikTrtitam//

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Prosperity, and objects like Visnu's discus (cakra)-which symbolizes certain powers-were given human forms, and appropriate iconographical details were devised for them in the canonical texts, which the artist took as his guideline in designing his images. In view of all this, it would appear that Coomaraswamy's 'angelic' reference amounts to no more than anthropomorphism. In mythological formulation, metaphysical principles take on palpable forms as embodied beings and become actors in a human-like drama. It is these mythological characters that the image-maker took as his models. It is no doubt true that some of these characters were fashioned as fictitious configurations: e.g. the three-headed Siva, the many-armed Durga, Siva as half man and half woman, or a hybrid of anthropomorphic and theriomorphic features as in Visnu in the avatar of Man-Lion. Although these images have no prototypes in nature and are purely allegorical constructs (like many artifacts in other cultures-the Egyptian Sphinx, the Greek Satyr, the medieval Devil), they still depend upon natural models for their very conception and for their execution in art. They are fancy creations, or adaptations or modifications of natural models, and they are recognizable as such in their anatomical features, proportions, and expressions. They really present cases of exaggerated anthropomorphism. Thus, we could not have a Natardajawith four hands or a Brahma with four faces unless we had men with hands and faces. We may conclude therefore that Coomaraswamy's heavenly archetypes are simply the products of the myth-making, animistic, or anthropomorphic tendency that is so characteristic of the primitive mind. They could not, in any case, have blown in from some other-worldly source. It is not true that Indian art did not aim at representational illusion. On the other hand, the Silpa texts declare that an image should be as much like its original as is a reflection in a mirror.13 The texts further stipulate that in picturing animate beings, especially human figures, the artist should take care to see that the image comes alive and looks 'as though breathing ',14 The artist who knows his job is able to imprint sentience on the face of a sleeping figure, to represent a dead person as being really devoid of vital signs, and skilfully to show the effect of ups and downs on a plane surface. Other realistic effects that were sought to be cultivated in painting are representation of volume and the third dimension on the canvas, foreshortening, and so forth.15 The other point of Coomaraswamy's argument is that the Indian icon is an 'ideal' or conceptual form and that it is 'ideally' or conceptually determined. In the order of conception, there is first the idea or concept, and then the mental figuration or imaging, which is then translated into physical shape. This manner of proceeding is, as we have already noted, necessarily involved in personification and anthropomorphy, which are the very heart of mythmaking. An abstract conception, such as the sacrifice or the cosmos, is given a bodily form (jarTratvena rqipanam).It should, however, be remembered that it was at the stage of their first formulation-in the Vedic literature-that the images of gods and goddesses may have obeyed this conceptual method of construction (although it is doubtful that they were entirely the result of a conceptual process rather than of feeling-for example, the sense of mystery, awe, and the like, that is reflected in the Rgvedic hymns to Dawn and to the Sun God). At the stage of artistic creation, on the other hand, the
13MRnasolldsa, ' Sarvacitra-prakaranam', v. 900: siddrsyamrlikhyate yat tu darpane pratibimbavat// 14 Visnudharmottara, 43.21-22: sajiva iva driyatel sasvcasa iva yat citram tat citram ?ubha-laksanam// 41.9. See also Citralaksana. 15 Visnudharmottara,

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sculptor/painter was no longer dealing with concepts, but with flesh-and-blood characters as they were described in mythology or the hymns. The mythological texts themselves do not contain explications of the conceptual processes that gave birth to the myths. This is true of any mythology. Thus Brahma, Visnu, Mahe'vara, Stirya, Candra, Sarasvati, and so on, appear in their individual forms as actors in the cosmic drama, and it was these personae and their stories that were the immediate source material for poets and sculptors. Aside from the mythological themes, which originated in concepts and were embodied in analogical or metaphorical terms, there are the purely allegorical figures of the Agamic literature, to which the term 'conceptual form' may be applied even more appropriately. Indian art has been called a symbolic art and symbolization is thought to be its chief mode of representation, and rightly so. The texts themselves often contain explicit statements as to the presence of an allegorical meaning in the Lifiga, in the temple structure, in the ornaments of the gods, and in their weapons and vehicles, for without such statements we would not even be alerted to the presence of a second, occult, meaning in them. Thus, the temple is explained as standing for the body of the deity, with its structural parts corresponding to the limbs of the human body, the idol for the soul (purusa), and the pedestal for Nature (prakrti). Siva's Bull (Nandin) stands for Dharma on its four feet, Visnu's discus for the maintenance of world order, and so on.16 The deities of the Buddhist (Vajrayana) pantheon are in large part personifications of philosophical concepts and doctrinal ideas. They are allegorically, not mythically conceived because, unlike Hindu iconography, there is no mythology surrounding these icons (B. Bhattacharyya, 1924; 1925, 1928). Nevertheless, in their anthropomorphic forms, they exhibit the same artistic features as the Hindu deities. Allegorical images, except where the ascription of a further meaning is wholly arbitrary, earn their artistic justification only in terms of the concepts of which they are plastic representations. Their formal features can be deemed to be aesthetic only in so far as they are an accurate rendering of the meanings they embody, not by comparing them to natural models. Such images, as Coomaraswamy rightly points out, have an 'intelligible' form, with an intelligible reference, and their truth can be called 'formal truth' as opposed to objective truth. But we need to consider whether all of this intelligible reference or 'truth of meaning' can be said to be a legitimate part of the iconography of the image. A symbolic/allegorical interpretation may be allowed where some configurational feature of the work has no natural basis and breaks down in its ostensible meaning or it is in some way out of the ordinary or striking (e.g. the multi-headed, multi-armed type). But a deeper meaning may also be attributed arbitrarily to what is on the surface a normal representation, e.g. the Buddha image, or images of animals and birds, or of mute objects like the temple building, the Sttipa, weapons and ornaments-which make perfect sense even without the allegory. The iconography of this second category of figures does not bear all the ideational burden that is imposed on it. Meanings that are not in some way suggested by the factors presented in the image can not form part of its objective representation, i.e. a bull is a bull, a discus or a trident is just a weapon, and so on. They are, however, prescribed for the advanced worshipper to be contemplated at the abstract level of meditation, as part of a mental worship which should accompany the external worship of the material image. They can not therefore be admitted as the legitimate
ch. 44-85: 'Pratima-laksanam'; Visnusamhitc, 13: 'Prasada-Vidhih'; Visnudharmottara, (Adi-Kanda), 44.11-18; Iivarasamhita, ch. 9, 181. See also Smith (1969: Hayalrsa-Piincaratra 273-4).
16 See

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representational content of the icons. They are extraneous to the iconography of the images in question, to the fashioning of those images and the principles involved in it. For example, the image of a bull must be made in the likeness of a bull before it can come to symbolize Dharma on its four feet. In cases such as this, it should be sufficient, both for purposes of iconographical interpretation and aesthetic appreciation, to know the mythological background of the imaged objects (e.g. the mythological accounts of the association of the Bull, Nandi, with Siva), and perhaps also the emotive and other meanings which cultural usage attaches to them, without having to consider the allegoric equations, which do not necessarily enhance our understanding of the iconography of the images and which would, in many cases, appear to have been devised by way of providing them with a metaphysical justification. There is yet another implication of Coomaraswamy's idea of imitation and 'ideal form'. Coomaraswamy argues that every sculptural or architectural form is, even like a sacred rite, a symbolic, microcosmic representation of world creation at the macrocosmic level, and a mimesis of what was done by the gods in the beginning, in other words, 'an imitation of' [analogous to] ' nature in her manner of operation' (1983: 10-11). If imitation of the laws of nature is all that is meant by the divine analogy, then surely it is implicit in any human handiwork; this is how mimesis was understood by the Greeks, although the term was also current in the cruder sense of copy-making. In calling drama, dance, and the figural arts an imitation of the conduct of the world (lokavrtta-anukarana),the Indian texts too meant precisely this, understanding the term in its wider representational sense. Even if image-making was, as Coomaraswamy says, a sacred ritual both in its function and its significance, the art of image-making certainly followed the techniques and procedures-empirical models, norms, and proportions -that are common to any art creation, sacred or profane. The metaphysical scaffolding which Coomaraswamy takes so much trouble to erect therefore seems like unnecessary baggage, of little use in aesthetic analysis, though perhaps of value to those who are primarily interested in India's ancient wisdom. III The third assumption of these critics, namely that the Indian images have a meaning beyond what is revealed in their visible, sensible features, also needs to be re-examined. Both Havell and Kramrisch, unlike Coomaraswamy for whom 'art is visible theology' (quoted in Boner, 1962: 10), are appreciative of the great artistry of Indian sculptures as well as the functional significance of their morphological features, for example when they comment on the great Bull at Mamallapuram, the elephants at Konark, or the reliefs at Sanchi and Barhut, which are masterpieces of realism and are a testimony to the ancient artists' study of nature and their skill in capturing its forms in stone (Havell, 1911: 162-3; Kramrisch, 1983: 128-9). At the same time, however, they think that the aesthetic dimension of these works is somehow unimportant or secondary, and that their main aim and focus is not the 'outward semblance', but the 'inner and informing spirit' (Havell, 1911: 42-3). The true aim of Indian art, Havell says, is 'to reveal the life within life, the noumenon within the phenomenon, the soul within matter' (23-4). For Kramrisch too there is 'an invisible content' in the Indian images: 'The artist, through his image, makes others to see and understand an invisible content', the image being 'the concrete shape of an invisible inner realization, of a transcendental vision' (1960: 13). There is no doubt that the aim of the image-maker was to give

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shape to an invisible content. But this, as we have seen, could be done only by means of the symbolic medium. In cases where the formal features are definitely emblematic and make no sense as natural traits, it may be allowed that these features suggest or point to an 'invisible content' or a meaning beyond their material limits-in the sense that such formal features can be explained only with reference to such meanings. But Zimmer, Coomaraswamy, Kramrisch and others tend to see an underlying noumenal significance beneath the physical forms of even perfectly natural anthropomorphic figures. Their interpretation of the Buddha image is a case in point. The Buddha image was no doubt, as Kramrisch shows, fashioned according to the conception of the Great Being (Mahipurusa), with a number of distinct physiognomical traits, such as the protuberance on the head (usnTsa), the brow-spot (-rna), and the conspicuously large ear lobes. On the basis of these, Kramrisch claims, and her claim is supported by the Buddhist canon, that the 'substance of the Buddha image exceeds the semblance of bodily limits and makes it into that of the Lokottara [supermundane] Buddha' (1983: 131). Buddha's body-like appearance extends beyond its anthropomorphic limits and becomes an emblem of the universal being. This may very well be so in the way the Buddha image was understood by its adorers and makers, and at least two of the physiognomical traits-the protuberance and the brow-spot-may be regarded as aberrant, if not impossible, features, and an emblematic significance attached to them. But the physical appearance of the Buddha image as a whole cannot, in its palpable form, be said to be an emblem of anything. For Kramrisch, however, it is not the physical body that appears in the image, but the shape transformed by Yoga, the subtle body (skksma-sarfra)as opposed to the gross physical organism (sthila-kaya) that is translated into form (1983: 29). The subtle body, granted the idea of one, is, according to the scriptures, entirely a matter of inner realization and cannot be manifested in the material body even through its outward expressions. What the artist can do, however, is to model the shape and expression of his image in such a way as to suggest a man in a state of meditative absorption and gravity. This state is of course figurable in terms of the plastic qualities of the artist's medium. But Kramrisch tries to project her imagination beyond such physically manifested features and sees in the images of Buddha, Mahesvara, and other deities in the yogic posture the inner movement or pulsations of the vital airs of the yoga-body. She says, 'While basing his sculptures on the appearance of man', the Indian sculptor 'transmutes and transcends appearance' (1960: 28). Again,' The configurations of Indian sculpture are based on what the eye sees, but proceed beyond empirical truth to express the metaphysical' (1960: 24). But we must remember here that an image of a god or a yogi is after all a material object and necessarily limited to its material medium. It can not communicate more than its medium allows. There is no inner image, no soul, beyond the physical form, except that which is supplied by the mantra which is believed to infuse life into the image-ritually, that is. The Indian sculptor, as Kramrisch rightly points out, gives to his image a certain life-like quality, but this is possible only through the physical expressions the image is made to exhibit. If, for instance, the figure of Buddha should convey an 'inward sight'"' it can do so only by its eyes being closed or inwardly drawn and by its face being modelled
17 Zimmer (1984: 58). See also Niharranjan Ray (1985). Ray too invokes the metaphysical in judging the adequacy or otherwise of the images. He finds the Gandhara Buddha, as opposed to the Sarnath Buddha, inadequate because, conforming to 'natural human form and expression', the image fails to give the impression of' the beatitude of ineffable bliss' (p. 31). A Siva Nataraja figure communicates by its linear composition 'the visual experience of ceaseless motion rolling into eternity' (p. 96).

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in such a way that it gives the appearance of a man immersed in meditation. This is a perfectly recognizable physical expression with no suggestion of anything transcending its appearance. In terms of the Rasa theory or the theory of dramatic emotions (propounded by Bharata in Ndtyasastra), which had a profound influence on the aesthetics of image-making, mental states can be expressed in art only through their objective signs (anubhavas). Thus, the image of Buddha in his typical meditative posture can mean no more than what its appearance indicates, namely, a man meditating. Neither can the viewer be expected to supply what is not formally exhibited in the image. The iconographical prescription for the Buddha image says that Buddha should be represented seated on a lotus in the meditative attitude, with his legs crossed in the yoga-asana posture, his hands placed upon the lap in the yogamudrd pose, his eyes closed in meditation, and with a calm and contemplative face.'8 Here the description itself says nothing about an inner symbolic meaning in the Buddha figure because the surface meaning is all that needs to be and can be said. When, therefore, Coomaraswamy states that 'the Buddha image is not in any sense a portrait but a symbol' (1981: 172) and that the spectator is 'to see the Buddha in the image rather than an image of the Buddha' (1981: 168)-that is, to see through or beyond the iconographical characteristics into the transcendent reality for which the image stands-he can only be thinking of the adorer who comes to the image with the proper frame of mind and equipped with the Buddhistic lore. Such a viewer will perhaps see beyond the image into the Buddha's mind (bodhicitta) and into the void, and even dismiss the image from his mind after it has served its purpose as a tool of meditation (B. Bhattacharyya, 1925, 1928: cxxix). But, as I have been insisting, all that is contemplated either by the image-maker or the spectator cannot be said to inhere in the artifact as its iconographical reference. In contrast to the Buddhist attitude, which Coomaraswamy takes as his paradigm, in Hindu iconography, and especially in Vaisnava theology there is a preponderant emphasis on the aesthetic appeal and function of the image. The SukranTti(4.74) says that for the realization of Dhyanayoga the image must be beautiful in all its aspects.19 It is only when the form is harmonious that it induces the meditative mood. 'In beautiful images the gods make their appearance '.2o For the Vaisnava, the Lord in his iconic form (arca) is at once the locus, the object and the instrument of enjoyment,2' and a devout loving relationship with him is the end of worship. The artist must therefore be able to capture in his chosen medium the sense of the exalted, august being of the deity, as visualized: ' Indicating the meaning with the hands (mudra), and expressing it through the eyes, the image appears to come alive '.22 While Havell, Coomaraswamy, Zimmer and Kramrisch focused largely on the symbolic, metaphysical significance behind the representational features of the images, in explaining the raison d'etre of Indian iconography, Alice Boner seeks to explore the purely structural, geometrical principles underlying their plastic composition. She thinks that the objective content of the images is itself of no consequence, for the meaning is carried by the abstract patterns produced
and 18 See iconographical prescriptions for the Buddha image from Agnipurana, in Rao (1985: vol. 1, part 2: Sanskrit excerpts, 48-9). Visnudharmottara Brhatsam.hitti, "19Sukranfti, 4.74: dhyanayogasya samsiddhyai; also 4.10, 4.76; Vdstustitra Upanisad, 2.22: rupasaubhagyatdhydnabhavo jiyate. devah sannidhyamrcchati.:HayaBTrsa-Pdncardtra, a20bhirupydcca birnmbnirnm quoted in SilpaSastram, xv. 21 Ramanuja,' 'Saranagati-Gadya, 2: bhogya-bhogopakarana-bhogasthana. 22 Samararigana-Sfitradhdra, 82.33: hastena sucayannartharm drstyi ca pratipidayan/sajiva iti driyeta sarvdbhinaya-darianit//

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by the geometrical lines of the composition. These 'form-elements '-vertical, horizontal, and oblique lines, and shapes, such as the circle, square, triangle, and so on-have an inherent symbol value and refer to a hidden metaphysical sense. The geometrical shape of the image itself is said to convey an occult significance by virtue of its formal configuration, independent of the iconographical content of the image. Boner says: 'Forms and lines have function, character and expression in themselves, quite independently of what they actually represent in the images' (1962: 13; 1982: 3). Boner takes her cue from the Tantric concept of yantra-a linear diagram with an occult significance-also building on suggestions contained in Zimmer, among others.23 She equates the yantra and the mandala (a diagram filled with figures) with the pratimi, the figural composition. The three forms of representation, she says, have identical functions and are therefore equivalent and interchangeable. Figural compositions, she argues, are based on underlying, though hidden, yantras, and hence the two are 'equivalent in both form and function' (1962: 32-3). The function of the yantra is that, in a skeletal form, it serves as a support to meditation, in which the devotee fills in the lines or 'loads' them with energy currents and visualizes them to be passing through the nerve centres of a body. In addition, certain geometrical shapes, like the circle, square and triangle, are supposed to symbolize the cosmic forces--the sky, earth, fire, etc., and suggest the appropriate deities immanent in them. Boner pictures the image as a network of intersecting vertical, horizontal, and it oblique chords, set in a circular field around a centrepoint (madhya-bindu); is a circle with radial divisions. The network of verticals and horizontals defines the spatial extension of the form-elements of the composition, whereas the system of oblique diameters represents the kinetic elements in it. The image is thus a 'diagram of forces', a 'dynamic graph' or a 'texture of stresses and movements' (1962: 16, 44). Boner analyses some famous relief sculptures of Elura and of other places in terms of their geometrical structure, and shows how the interplay of the diameters, intersecting triangles and so forth into which the plastic composition may be broken up, may be supposed to generate currents of energy, and how their integration with reference to the centrepoint of the panel or of the individual image reflects the unity and cohesion of the cosmos. Like so many other aniconic objects, such as the lotus, the tree and the wheel, which carry symbolic meanings, geometrical lines too connote aspects of the cosmos: e.g. a straight line stands for speed and energy, the vertical for stability and equilibrium, the horizontal for expansive movement, the diagonal and oblique for movement and stress, and so on. The complex texture resulting from the criss-cross of these lines may be seen to vibrate with life-currents which animate the form of the image. As the image is conceived of as a metaphysical formula, rather than as a representation of any concrete object, Boner concludes that the abstract geometrical figurations upon which, she assumes, the sculptures were based, are the primary conveyors of their ultimate meaning, not so much the postures, gestures, and facial expressions exhibited by the figures. The tenability of Boner's thesis will depend on the following considerations: (i) Whether in the actual composition of the relief panels or sculpted figures the ancient Indian artists based their work on preconceived yantras, as Boner surmises;
23 Zimmer, (1984: ch. 3) 'Yoga and linear sacred image'. Also, Coomaraswamy (1956: 28-9): 'The "anthropomorphic" icon is of the same kind as a yantra, that is, a geometrical representation of a deity, or a mantra, that is, an auditory representation of a deity'. He says further that 'it is the mantra and not the eye's intrinsic faculty that originates the image'.

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(ii) If such yantras did exist, whether they reveal the principles of composition that, according to Boner, guided the work of the image-maker; (iii) Whether, aesthetically considered, the power and expression of the images can be said to derive from the supposedly symbolic geometrical patterns into which the images can be analysed, or conversely, whether the abstract patterns themselves are not the by-product of the character, disposition, gesture and stance of the figures; (iv) And finally, whether the symbolic meanings supposed to be conveyed by the geometrical patterns can be said to be a legitimate part of the representational content of the images, or whether they are furnished only by the verbal tradition separately as part of a total comprehension of the imaged deities in their metaphysical dimension. Each of these considerations is discussed in more detail below. (i) There is a good deal said about the yantra and the mandala in the Agamas and Tantras, but significantly nothing in the standard texts dealing with iconography. There is, at any rate, nothing to establish a connection between the yantra and the iconic image to suggest that the image of the deity has to be modelled on a yantra type of geometrical structure. The yantra is conceived of as a diagrammatic representation of the abstract form-pattern of the deity (while the mantra is its sound-body), mapping the various cosmic magnetic fields in which are posited the various powers, seed-letters (bijdksaras), etc.: e.g. the Sricakra.24Yantraworship, moreover, is an alternative mode of worship in which the diagram takes the place of the image and is meant for initiates at a certain stage of their spiritual training. It is not the same as image worship. The case of aniconic images, such as the Siva Lifiga, the Buddhist wheel, or the flag-post (dhvaja-stambha)in front of the temple building, is different.25 These objects are conceived as yantras and every part of them is given detailed symbolic meanings, and their proportions too are determined in accordance with those meanings. There was also the practice, current even today, of laying a yantra of the deity in the foundation pit of every major structure in the temple complex. But is there an iconographically significant connection between the yantra and the image? Boner's own studies do not establish any such relationship. Her study of the Silpa Prakida, a treatise on Orissan temple architecture, and of the Sun Temple of Konarka (Boner et al., 1972) shows that the placing of yantras below the temple buildings and images was a vital part of the construction and installation ceremonies. But the yantra themselves, of which the texts provide a number of samples, reveal no correspondence to the figures of the deities even in terms of a linear record or outline shape. They are either independent geometrical figurations of certain powers, with inscriptions of the names of the deities representing those powers or, in some cases, ground-plans of the architectural structures, indicating the positioning of the images-of the main and subsidiary deities, guardians, andpillars and other parts of the temple structure. For example, the yantra for a Sakti temple (yoginT-yantra)in Silpa Prakdia (vv. 90-100) describes a criss-cross of triangles with their apexes turned downwards, upwards and sideways, with sacred letters on every point of the triangles. Sure enough, these geometrical figures have symbolic meanings: the triangle with the apex turned upwards (called vahni kona or cone of fire) may represent male energy, the one with the apex turned downwards female
On yantra and yantra-worship see Shankaranarayanan (1979) and Tucci (1973: 45-8). For the symbolism of the artifacts of the Siva temple, see Janaki (1988: 122-81). For aniconic symbols in Buddhist iconography, see Coomaraswamy (1979).
24 25

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energy (yoni), the matrix of creation, and so forth-which the adept are to meditate upon. But it is difficult to see how such symbolism could have a bearing on the composition of the image to be installed. The Vdstu-SiitraUpanisad(ch. i) on which Boner also draws for the formulation of her theory, lays down that knowledge of the circle and the line is the fundamental requirement for the sculptor. The first step in image-making is said to be the drawing of a compositional diagram or cage (khilapanjara)on the stone surface, the diagram consisting of an outer circle and a square or a rhombus within, and the whole surface then being divided into a number of straight lines-vertical, horizontal, diagonal and oblique. The limbs of the deities with their attending gods and worshippers have to be set along the lines, according to their hierarchical status, and fitted into the geometrical pattern. The resulting panel is supposed to represent the cosmos in miniaturerepresenting in its upper, middle and lower planes, the deity, the attending gods, and the deities' vehicles and worshippers, respectively. The lines and the geometrical figures are also invested with cosmological significance (ch. ii). The verticals are called fire lines, the horizontals water lines, and the diagonals wind lines. The sacrificial post (yipa) assumes central importance in the carving of the images; it becomes the model and measure of human form. In spite of this seeming esotericism, however, the Upanisad offers a perfectly natural explanation for the drawing of the diagram. The line and the circle guarantee the success of the composition, for the limbs of the images follow along the lines of the cage. The geometrical diagram is only for the purpose of positioning the figures on the panel according to their proportion and for securing for the panel an orderly, well-structured look. The centrepoint (brahma-bindu)of the panel, together with the plumb line (brahmasutra)and the middle horizontal diameter (madhyaprastha)is a source of harmony; it is what gives centrality, symmetry, and equilibrium to the limbs of the image or to the panel as a whole. It is in this sense that the line is said to be the fundamental truth concerning image-making and what gives the image its form. Chapter v of the Upanisad goes on to say that the character of the imageits emotional disposition (bhdva),posture, and gesture-is of the utmost importance in image-making. The aim of sculpture is to make manifest the divine attributes, so that the worshipper may meditate on the deity in its concrete, visible form. The three types of lines-vertical, horizontal and diagonal-are said to be expressive of the moods of the deities or conducive to the manifestation of their dispositional forms (bhdva-ripa), because, obviously, of their association with expressive postures in real life. Thus, for love-images horizontal lines are used; for furious images, oblique lines, for serene images, verticals, and so on. It would appear, then, that the overriding concern here is with achieving expressiveness through mudra (hand gesture), looks (rasadrstis), and stance (asana/sthana) of the image, and harmony and balance of the panel as a whole. As for the cosmological symbolism of the lines (the vertical is called the fire-line, the horizontal water-line, etc.), the Upanisad itself explains that this can be attributed to their association in the ordinary world with those elements-fire goes up, water flows on an even surface, and so on (II, Stitra 15). There is thus no suggestion either that the compositional diagram on the panel is a yantra containing a hidden metaphysical sense, or that such a yantra should serve as a conceptual frame for the formation of the images on the panel. (ii) As we have seen above, the yantras for the temple architecture and for the various images studied by Boner appear simply to be magical diagrams

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with an independent meaning of their own, not formulae for the composition of the anthropomorphic images themselves. Boner herself seems to admit as much when she tells us that they yielded no direct support for her investigations. The meditations on the divinities which guided the artist in his work contained only descriptions of the attributes, postures, and gesures of the images, and said nothing about their form-symbolism (1962: 7, 14-5). But still Boner says that the fact that the yantras did exist and were used in the construction of the temple would justify her assumption that they somehow signified the laws of composition for the sculpture (1962: xiii-xiv). Obviously, Boner is led by the Tantric doctrine, which no doubt played a key role in the installation and worship of images, into thinking that what is true of the yantra must also be true of the images and that the principles governing the two are the samenamely, that line and form have a transcendent significance and express the spiritual essence of the deities. But this assumption is not supported by the texts cited. Boner's analyses have at best a speculative value, but even that is not strictly relevant to the interpretation of the images, as I shall try to show below. (iii) The iconographical texts, including those on which Boner bases her conclusions, do not conceive of the image (ripa) as 'pure form' in the sense defined by her-that is, as an abstract figuration in which the lines alone carry the deepest meaning of the image (1962: 38). Sculptural form, according to the Vistu-Sfitra, is not a mere yantra, but a full-bodied concrete representation of the deity that is fit for worship and adoration.26 The whole emphasis of this text is on realizing the correct form of the deity according to its aspect, emotional disposition, and action posture. 'The character (state of being) of the form is essential', declares the Upanisad.27 The lines are formative only because the limbs of the image follow those lines.28 The lines support and define the form, like a boundary. The line is therefore the instrumental, not the generative, cause of form.29 For when the limbs on the panel are drawn according to the lines they become well-proportioned.30 On the other hand, as the text goes on to say, the lines themselves have to be laid out according to the character of the image.31 Different emotional attitudes generate different line formations, e.g. the furious sentiment is manifested by bodily distortions along oblique lines.32Chapter v of the Upanisad discusses the intimate connection existing between feeling and form, rasa and riipa, in sculpture. All shapes consist of lines and curves; there is no object without a geometrical form. The geometrical principles, then, are derived from the form of the object. The object is thus the generative cause of the lines. Once the feeling and form of the deity are conceived in a certain way, its geometrical shape follows. Lines are consequent on the assumed form of the deity. Hence it is the envisioned image-form of the deity that determines its geometrical shape, not the other way round. The sculptor meditates on the lineaments of the divine form as described in the 'dhyana' and then devises a geometrical shape that best suits that form. It may be seen from the above that the expressiveness of the images, which
26 Vastustitra,II.1: nirdistarthaka-pratimagrahy&;n. 3: saparyopayogint 27 ibid., III.1: ruipasyabha'vomukhyah. 28 ibid., III.1: rekhanukramenaruipaiigany acaranti. 29 ibid., IV.26, gloss: rekha ripasya karanam. tatksetre ainganisaubhagdni bhavanti. 30 ibid., 111.28:rekhasarmyoge j]ieyam. 31 ibid., 111.2:bhavanusarato rekhavidhanamiti 32 ibid., 111.4,gloss: navadha rasartham rekhaparthakyarm bhavah jiyate; 5.11: tiryag rekhaymrn prakato bhavatiti viiesah.

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Boner attributes to abstract figures, is derived from their underlying themes and from their gestures, from their 'form-content' rather than from their 'form-disposition'. Analysing the images, such as Siva Natardaja, Narasimhavatara, and Visnu Trivikrama, Boner states that the 'effectiveness of a representation depends much more on the basic [geometrical] composition than on gestures and facial expressions of the single figures ... Their power of expression rests on the symbolic substratum ... Apart from it they remain irrelevant and empty' (1962: 59). Again, she says that as these compositions resolve themselves into a 'play of dynamic stresses', the 'protagonists of the drama, whose movements are governed by the dynamic lines, cease to be persons and become pure embodiments of certain powers, actions or tendencies' (1962: 42). The gods and goddesses represented in the images are no doubt, metaphysically, embodiments of forces, qualities, or tendencies. But in their embodied, mythopoeically conceived forms, they are nothing if not protagonists in a drama. It is these mythological personae that the sculptor presents in his images, and not the underlying ideas. Not only are most Hindu images derived from mythological or epic narratives, where gods already appear in human form, even where there is no narrative and the deity is an abstract personification, as in Buddhist iconography, the aspect under which the deity is conceived is translated both in the 'dhyanas' and in the art work in terms of looks, gestures, and postures. And it is in this physical manifestation that the life and power of the image may be said to reside. It can also be argued that the linear diagram, which for Boner is the primary vehicle of expression, itself derives its expressive force and dynamism from the underlying theme (gdthd) and gestures of the image representation and that without them the symbolic substratum-the diagram-would remain empty and irrelevant.Thus, whether in dance or in sculpture, when the goddess Mahisasura-Mardini stretches her hand holding up the trident to stick into the body of the buffalodemon sprawled at her feet, or when Siva Tripurantaka aims his arrow upwards at the Tripura demons, the stretched hand coincides with an oblique line of stress. But the force in operation here is initially generated by the gesture of the hand, and not by the oblique line in the abstract. That is, the line of stress is consequent on the gesture, and it has no meaning apart from the gesture. A yantra of the same figure would simply consist of a graph-which may convey to the worshipper, in conjunction with the mantra of the deity, a general sense of the kind of force or energy symbolized by it. This is how a yantra is used in meditation, the abstract significance being supplied by some supporting mantra or meditation, but internalized by the yantra worshipper as a series of visual experiences. The worshipper meditates on the aspects or emanations of the divine, first as contained within the boundaries of the yantra and then as situated in the various centres (cakras) of his own body. He may meditate on the goddess-Lalita-, for example-as a thread of light running down his own body, or he may envision a blazing globe of the earth inside the yantra. But yantra-worship does not in itself involve meditating on the anthropomorphic form of the deity, although in practice one may employ yantra, mantra, and dhydna in conjunction.33 Thus, the yantra as an icon and object of meditation is quite separate from the image figuration, and the content of the meditation on it is also different. Therefore to say either that the image is a yantra or that
33See Shankaranarayanan (1979: ch. 16). For an illustration of the yantras, mantras, and dhyanas of the various deities, see Sarada-Tilaka-Tantram.For example, ch. 11, verse 19 gives the yantra of Durga with certain seed-letters inscribed within. Verses 21-24 contain the mantra of the goddess consisting of seed-letters, and verse 25 is the dhydna describing her physical form, posture, weapons and ornaments.

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the yantra is conceptually prior to the plastic rendering of the deity would be patently false, judging from textual evidence, for this would be to ignore the concrete, mythological content of the image and to miss the whole point of image-making. Boner's geometrical analyses of the dancing figures of Siva Nataraja on the panels make perfect sense as analyses of the dancing body. They show how the artist succeeds in sculpting the dance posture, and how through the proper distribution of the relief field he is able to accommodate the various minor figures and achieve correspondence and symmetry in relation to the thrust and sway of Natard-ja'sbody. Every feature of the images-ornaments, weapons, bodily stance, and gesture-is of course significant, as Boner points out. But it is the mythology of Siva and the descriptions of his dancing body that establish the accuracy and dramatic propriety of these features and account for any energy-currents that one might see flowing through the image, and not the geometrical abstractions. The same may be shown to hold true for the images of Narasimhavatara. Visnu Trivikrama, and also of numerous other images of the quiescent (santa) type she analyses. Therefore, when Boner says that the 'drama of stresses' produced by the interplay of lines and forms ' analogically expresses a drama of powers and wills' (1962: 46), she is putting the cart before the horse. For, in iconographical terms, it is the emotion of the deity and the drama of wills and powers enacted by it that drives the body to physical movement, into assuming certain postures and gestures, and in the process producing the corresponding lines of stress. (iv) As with Coomaraswamy, Kramrisch, and others, Boner's analyses also read into the images meanings which go beyond their material limits. Aside from the traditional symbolism of the many objective features of the images, her geometrical theory puts the meaning squarely in an invisible skeletal network intended to constitute the inner expressive form of the image. To interpret this type of geometrical symbolism, she draws on the Hindu metaphysical systems (mainly, the Patafijali Yoga, Sa~mkhya,and Tantrism) and reads them into the form-elements of the images. For instance, in analysing the geometrical structure of Natardajaat Elura, she finds in the hexagram (an upright and an inverted triangle intersecting each other), into which the figure can be fitted, the symbolism of the union of Siva and Sakti (fiva-sakti-samarasya), obviously following the Tantric doctrine. Similarly, she finds in the various limbs of Natarija's body the symbolism of the Three Qualities (triguna) of the Saimkhya doctrine: the god's left leg pointing downwards stands for tamoguna, the raised right thigh for rajoguna, and the head held up for sattvaguna. She also tries to trace in the images she studies the location of the various cakras or energy-centres of Kundalini Yoga. Obviously not all ideas can be objectified as iconographical features; they can not be figured and have to be extrapolated from literary sources and read into the images. Boner admits this difficulty when she says that the metaphysical symbolism is not self-evident, but is comprehensible to the spiritual individual, and that it calls for a 'readjustment of outlook' (1962: 11). To be asked to see beyond the visible and to readjust one's outlook may be a tall order! In this case, even according to the iconographical texts, the metaphysical dimension is not meant to be conveyed by the material image; it has to be contemplated by the initiate with the help of the descriptive verses, as part of the inner worship of the image. In Boner's own words, the devotee has to 'load' the images 'with the spiritual content of his meditations' (1962: 33). Obviously, what is 'loaded' into the image can not be the content of the image itself: it is what is contained in the meditations.

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Hence the Agamas say that the power of the yantra resides in the mantra, and that it is in contemplation (bhcivana),together with the mantra that the deity presents itself, as the mantra is the very body of the deity.34 While Boner applies the yantra concept only to sculptural images and that with some show of reason, Kapila Vatsyayan makes it an all inclusive principle or criterion of the Indian arts. She claims to have discovered in 'the square and the circle' 'an elaborate grammar of form' that can also explain the aesthetics of drama, dance, and music. As it is for Coomaraswamy and the rest, it is also her aim to go back to the metaphysical roots of Indian art-to concepts, such as Brahman, Atman, and Purusa, which underpin the Indian world view (1983: 42). In these concepts, and in the methodology of the Vedic ritual and the structure of the Vedic altar35she finds the basis for an inclusive principle of artistic form in the Indian tradition. And these concepts she applies uniformly to all art forms. Without a proper cultural anthropology, she says, Indian art theory can not be understood. For instance, she argues that since the whole world is a concretization of Brahman all the arts are simply forms of the same principle. Or, since all the arts represent the Purusa (the cosmos conceived as a person) in its various dimensions-Vastu Purusa, Safigita Purusa, Kavya Purusa-this concept constitutes an all-embracing symbol in the arts. For her, individual art forms are meaningful only in relation to such a conception of organic totality.36 The speciousness of this argument will be evident when we consider that in understanding the phenomenon of art we have very little use for these macrocosmic principles-for instance, we do not make images, nor for that matter, buy, sell, or barter on the assumption that matter and energy are interchangeable! These ultimate principles may be in the background of all human activity, but they do not help us to distinguish one activity from another, much less one art form from another. Equally ingenious is Vatsyayan's attempt to apply the concept of the yantra to the aesthetics of sculpture, drama, dance and music indifferently. The Vedic altar is such a diagram invested with a magico-symbolic significance. But it is difficult to see how it can account for the structure or aesthetic form of drama, music and dance. The dancer's body, she says, 'assumes postures recalling abstract yantras, all contained within the space of a circle or a square ... The body is depersonalized to the point of geometrical abstraction' (1983: 57). Vatsyayan's global application of the yantra concept to Indian arts need not detain us since our concern here is with sculpture. As far as her study of the images is concerned, she builds on the same principles and method of analysis as those formulated by Boner, and affirms that the geometrical shape of the image itself has its own logic and meaning by virtue of its formal configuration. An image can be analysed 'with little need for stressing muscular surface proportions and expression of the face in purely representational terms' (1983: 116). The geometrical frame of the image is the primary design, and the myth and legend concerning the deity are a superimposition. Of the Nataraija figure she observes that 'what has hitherto been understood as a figure of great plastic beauty and as a symbol of cosmic rhythm is primarily a perfect visual diagram or yantra' (1983: 126).

34

on 4.87:yantram devata p. 284: commentary mantramayam prahur Saradad-Tilaka-Tantram,

mantraripin-// of 35 For the symbolism

the sacrificial altar,see TheSatapatha-Brahmana, pp. 88-9. and 2. To work out such a holisticview of the Indianarts is also the aim of the Kall Koha series,of which she.is the generaleditor. See the firstvolumeof the series: a lexiconoffundamental Kaldtattvakoia: arts,(ed.Bettina Baumer). concepts of theIndian (1983), esp. ch. I 36 Vatsyayan

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IV
To conclude: The geometrical approach of Boner and Vatsyayan proceeds from a misconstrual of the aim and intent of Indian iconography. By reducing form (rtipa) to a yantra, both of these theorists are guilty of dehumanizing what was essentially a human/dramatic conception and a sensuous realization, and of confounding the principles pertaining to two distinct modes of figuration. By depersonalizing the image to the point of a geometrical abstraction they not only run counter to the philosophy of image-making, but, in effect, they defeat the very purpose of image worship which, as stated in the texts, is to contemplate the immaterial in its material embodiment and to realize the living presence (sannidhya) of the deity. The symbolic readings of the images by Coomaraswamy, Zimmer, Kramrisch, and others, while they are surely justified when such readings are necessary for interpreting their iconographical features, tend to go beyond the images to look for deeper meanings which, as I have argued, are unrepresentable and can not therefore be said to enter into the representational content of the images. These meanings are no doubt there, but they reside wholly in the hymns and other literature, and they are enjoined as part of a meditative procedure or inner worship, in which both the artist and the adorer may reflect, for their own edification, on the formless beyond the sensible form. There is no implication that the supersensuous is somehow contained in the sensible. It may thus be seen that there is no necessary conflict, which Coomaraswamy saw, between the naturalistic criteria laid down by the iconographical texts and the transcendental meanings that the images are supposed to convey. The view held by Havell and others that Indian art had no concern with objective representation and empirical norms (Mitter, 1977: 276) is not supported by the texts. Moreover, in focusing on the metaphysical at the expense of the sensuous, aesthetic dimension of the images, all these theorists are guilty of defrauding them of their rich mythical content. Indian art, especially of the iconic type, and Indian mythology may, as Zimmer thinks, 'voice the same truths' as the Indian philosophical doctrines (1974: 195). But they are not of the same form as the abstract conceptions of metaphysics. While the metaphysical significance was the source of the conception of the gods and goddesses, it does not constitute the body of the art object or of the myth that generated it. As I have pointed out before, Hindu images-as opposed to the aniconic or yantra type of symbols-proceeded directly from the concrete mythical embodiment of certain metaphysical concepts. And it is in their mythical garbs that the gods come to life. It is at this stage of concretization, too, that the art object comes into being."37 Art and myth share a common mode of perception. The life of myth as well as of art is drama or sensuous realization. The moment they are divested of this content through explication, they cease to exist in their own form. The preoccupation of these writers with the metaphysical background of Indian art, drawn from scriptural sources-which reveal information about the theology and world view of the ancients, but do not have a direct bearing on the art of image-making--while it may discourage a superficial approach, does not serve the interests of the aesthetic premises that shaped it.

37See Rao (1985) for the mythological accounts of the Hindu gods and goddesses, which help us to understand their narrative contexts as well as their iconographical features. See also Kramrisch for the myths of Siva.

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