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Indian Aesthetics and its Present Day Problems

By Bharat Gupt Article Summary: 1. There exists a deep schism between traditional art forms, their aesthetics, and the Euro-derived genres, which has impeded fresh growth. Indians have given up the study of their own texts and hence lack originality. 2. There have been movements in Europe since Artaud and later in America to approach the Asian theatre perception (Natyashastra tradition) and which have created an impact in theatre and a revolution in music. 3. The present patch work/syncretism of global pop art that often slides into consumerism should be transcended to make sincere and genuine explorations. The Struggle between Euro and Indic Art Forms There is an un-subsiding conflict between traditional and modern genres. The latter came to India from Europe a century and half ago but have by now become the domineering content of the art scene. Whether it be the divergence between a print published and occasionally performed realism based urban Hindi play like Andha Yuga and a traditional rural Svanga, or the difference between a modern naturalistic novel like Godaana or Samskaara and a folk mythic epic like Alah-Udal, or the difference between a modern Maliyali film (its song and dance numbers notwithstanding) and a Kudiyattam performance, the hiatus offers very few meeting points between urban and traditional/rural genres. A lone exception among Indian art forms that resisted westernization so far was music, but that too has come under a severe neo-colonial influence in the last decade and is succumbing to westernization at an unprecedented scale. This conflict is not sufficiently discussed among writers and critics, as the practitioners of the two streams have a neither a forum for regular interchange nor a common audience to compete for. Each section is living in its own world. One thrives on the urban ground with secular state patronage, the other in rural areas with the help of religion and tradition based organizations. Indian aesthetic theory must overcome this schizophrenia. No Indian control over the study and interpretation Indian canonical texts India has been projected as a primarily spiritual culture from the 18th century onwards by the western Orientalists and westernized Indians themselves. We see this trend from Vivekananda to Gandhi via Sri Aurobindo and many great names of modern times. Though valuable, this portraiture of India as a spiritual nation has downplayed her contributions in science, statecraft, arts, aesthetics and a host of other worldly skills. As a result there has been no rigorous and sustained institutional study of the classical Indian texts by Indians themselves. Most relevant for the purpose of theatre arts, the three worldly aspiration connected texts, (artha and kama shastras), namely the Natyashastra,

Kamashastra and Arthashastra, have been kept out of fresh interpretative studies. A planned and well executed anti-intellectualism disguised as anti-Brahmanism has been practiced for a very long time, from the medieval court/administration patronized intellectuals like Ziauddin Barni of the 14th century to the British administrator T.B.Macaulay, and in recent times from the Nehruvian secularists to the present EuroAmerican academics like Wendy Doniger and the liberal left groups like the subalternists who concentrate on a caste, curry and sexuality ridden stereotype of Hinduism. This has engendered a pathetic ignorance of our own texts, particularly in their original languages, that oscillates from guilt to bravado in our educated elite. Another major fallout of this neglect has been the inability to interpret the European texts from an independent point of view. And hence Indians have not succeeded in creating a critique of the so-called Western culture. If the erstwhile colonizing European countries developed areas they called Indology to understand and govern India, why have the Indians in their fifty years of self rule not been able to develop, what may be called Westology to negotiate and interact independently with the West. Fresh Indian aesthetic theory cannot emerge unless a study of the indigenous texts and intellectual traditions is not restored in the system of higher education. The European Renaissance happened when Greek and Latin texts were studied and revisited. It is an enigma that Indian Anglophones never tired of singing eulogies of Euro-renaissance have never thought that such a revival is could be needed in India. Indian Tradition of Textual Analysis The Indian methodology of textual analysis was called vyaakhyaa. A detailed study of the vyaakhyaa system and the ancient educational system as a whole is urgently needed. As present we are too caught up in ethnographic or caste analysis of the ancient pedagogy and are hardy aware of its economics, its social contributions, its sources of sustenance and effectiveness. In its initial stages the vyaakhyaa system did not mean merely commentary but rewriting and enlarging the earlier text itself. Vi (in a unique way) aakhya (told, retold) was the way of transmitting and retelling the earlier story or concepts (siddhaanta). The malady of Presentism In spite of the much mouthed idea of plurality, the contemporary presumptions in the cultural field have an unmistakable bias in favor of present day notions of individuality and liberty, social freedom, universal franchise, anti-hierarchism and similar values. The present day concerns, valuable and necessary in themselves, are foisted upon the ancient or medieval texts, which are then evaluated according to the present day notions. The result is that a Kabir is seen as a social reformer and a promoter of Hindu Muslim amity while his central emphasis on the pursuit of nirguna-brahma is sidelined. Mira is seen as a feminist rebel against patriarchal repression and ignored as the supreme ideal of devotion that sees nothing worthwhile in this world except the Lord called the ananya gopika bhakti of the Bhagvad-purana tradition. Similarly, the text of the Natyashastra is some times seen as a social document of the 2nd century A.D. exemplifying Sankritic hegenmony over prakrits, or an Aryan text

that shows the domination over Dravidian cultures, or a Gupta period Brahminic text hegemonizing over other non Vedic sects, or even as an example of North Indian supremacist over South India or South East Asia. Unlike Europeans who were able to revive the classical theories like that of the Poetics and Aristotelian tragedy in Renaissance Europe, in India we think of our classical theories, such as of the Natyashastra as outdated and fit for understanding only ancient plays like the Shaakuntalam and other such dasharupaka. It is at best conceded as a manual for learning hasta mudras of bharatanatyam. According to this view, modern Indian art forms cannot be related to the Natyashastra as now require a different aesthetics and terminology. Role of the Natyashastra in Search for new Expressions But the prejudices of the Anglophonic Indians apart, it is a well established now that apart from yoga and meditation, the Natyashastra performance, its theory and aesthetics have been the biggest Indian influence on the 20th century West. It is not modern Indian literature, philosophy or the much touted Gandhian ahimsa that has impacted institutions, art genres or social movements in the West but the unity of song dance and music enshrined as a principle of performance in the NS that has given rise to new music and performance genres, latest of them being the video song. After the impact of Sanskrit as a language that helped to evolve the discipline of comparative philology and linguistics in the 19th century, the Natyashastra influence has been most notable. It has been a good framework for correcting the distortions entrenched into theater by Naturalism, Realism, Absurdism and similar extreme experiments. It is also been a great aid for restoration of symbolism in theatre. Antonin Artaud developed his whole theory of non-verbal emphasis in theater absorbing the aesthetics of Indonesian traditional dance. Thirty years later in the sixties, Schumann, Schechner, Grotowski and many others created genres and theories of performance that derive directly from Natyashastra and clearly so acknowledged6. The concepts of theatre of cruelty, environmental theatre, total theatre, body theatre, puppet theatre, theatre of journey were all attempts to liberate European theatre from the shackles of word centered performance limited to the proskenion stage and all the proponents of these theories were inspired by the multichanneled four fold angika-vacika-saatvika-aahaarya unity stated in Indian dramaturgy. It is ironical that Indian theatre that stayed under the constrains of western realism till the 1970s turned to its traditional and folk genres under after the visits of Grotowski, Schechner, Eugeno Barba and a host of other European seekers of Natya to Indian gurus of Kudiyattam and Yakshagana and the Sangeet Natak Academy woke up to the pay attention to these genres. The National School of Drama that had been specializing the production of the British Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts style plays also began to foreground a host of directors who from NSD itself went back to their regional theatres to revive the vestiges of Natyashastra practices. That these production styles have largely remained regional and not attained a wider pan- Indian expression (as in the case of Uday Shankars dance style) is because of the lack of intellectual as well as experimental forums that recognize the worth of Natyashastra. The casual manner in which this

dramaturgy is taught in the very few theatre schools can hardly show any other result. The vision that there should be a School of Ancient Indian drama that can rise to task is beyond anybodys thoughts. No primacy of the Lexical Word in Indian Arts India has been very rich in performing arts and very efficient in handling of communication media, whether it is the formation of vedic chchandas, Harappan seals, Brahmi script, Paninian sutras or the dramatic theory of Bharata Muni. In fact, sculpture and painting segregated in modern Europe as plastic art, was looked upon as part of dramatic or natya theory and the architectural arts were also part of the same paradigm in which any given art form, poem, play, song, temple or house represented the macro cosmic body or the brahmanda. This form of vak, rupaka, svara, rekha, raga, vaikhari, etc., was the outer expression of the inner artha/bhaava/rasa. Very early in an analysis of artistic vehicles, generic terms like vibhava and anubhava were developed by the Natyashastra to denote all kinds of meaning-carriers or signifiers. The Sanskrit studying structuralists merely repackaged the Indian term vibhava as signifiers and artha as signified. A Convergence of Populations and of Art Forms The globalization of culture, besides bringing about a crude standardization holds a ray of hope too. Diversity of tastes and cross fertilization of art values is inevitable. Big movements of Asians into Europe and Americas and of the Spanish speaking peoples into the USA, is likely to create a new audience with a taste which is going to be very different from that of the white Europeans. Artistic genres are likely to be more emotion dominated as Asians and Latin people have a taste for emotional arousal. In the area of music, a revolution to that effect began in the sixties has now made a permanent change for pop music at least which is now dominantly non-European in form and content. Global versus Regional At the moment the cosmopolitan Festival of Arts circuit is giving rise to a commercial circuit that is creating an international edition of representation for most of the significant arts. Thus the kathak or the kudiyattam for Paris festival is so tailored that it looses much of its depth and variety. As the younger performer is more dependent upon global patronage he preserves only a limited version of his repertoire. End of the Text. Bharat Gupt Associate Professor, CVS, Delhi University, Founder member and Trustee, International Forum for India's Heritage. PO Box 8518, Ashok Vihar, Delhi 110052 INDIA. mobile: +91-98100 77914 home phones: +91-11-2724-1490,+91-129-404-4590 email: bharatgupt@vsnl.com : homepage: http://personal.vsnl.com/bharatgupt