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BEAUTIFULLY INDIAN

SUNDARAM SHOBHANAM BHARATIYAM
When in every form there is the hint of the formless
and in every movement there is a message of stillness
when in every thought there is a whisper of silence
and in every finite space there is the quest of the infinite
when a form takes us from the temporal to the eternal
it is then that akriti leads to sanskriti.
That is beautifully Indian.

pratyaakaara.m yadaa vya:ngya.m niraakaaram praka;sate /
gatau gatau yadaa sthairyam mukhyaarthatvena gamyate //1//
matau matau yadopaa.m;su bhaa.syate ;sabda-;suunyataa /
avakaa;se yadaa saante kriyate 'nanta-maarga.naa //2//
yadaa ca nayate ruupa.m na;svaraacchaa;svata.m prati tadaak®ti.h patha.h kartrii
sa.msk.rter bhavati prasuu.h //3//
eva.m pratiiyate yatra tatra saundarya-sa.myutam / bhaaratiiyam iti khyaat.m tattva.m
ki.mci d vilak.sa.nam //4//

AAKRITYAAH SAMSKRITIM
FROM AKRITI TO SAMSKRITI

In a tradition and civilisation that does not eschew elitism or deny sacerdotal hierarchy,
where society and its various functions are rigidly structured, where brahmin priests
zealously guarded sacred rites and religious rituals, where close fisted rishis parted with
their wisdom only to their sons and worthy pupils, it is refreshing to find that knowledge is
not just the preserve of the privileged or restricted to the study of scholarly texts or
acquired through esoteric practices but is equally experienced by the praja and the samajika
or the ordinary people, through their lived lives and transmitted through plain but eloquent
visual representations, be they on a mud wall or the threshold of their simple homes, or
embroidered on fabrics or painted on scrolls of itinerant performers.

India is a civilisation of many images, a culture of many visual feasts, a tradition where the
visible and the palpable are as important as the oral and the occurrent, where our highest
truths are embodied not only in our erudite texts but in kathas and gathas, akritis and
rachanas which are rich with forms and shapes, designs and motifs. Our temples are not
only places of worship but equally a gallery of beautiful forms and figures, where myth is as
important as doctrine, where ancient memories are full of cherished forms and narratives,
where mythic beings are real in many different ways and we enrich our lives by festivals
which celebrate events from the lives of our mythic gods and goddesses, and where
knowledge is gained as much from simple akritis as it is from learned discourses, where

even though we soar in the vast and boundless sky and reach out for the stars, we never
leave the earth upon which we stand firm footed, although we exalt and value the fo! rmless
yet we lovingly create and celebrate many forms, for us the nirvikalpa and nirguna is
majestic and ultimate but the savikalpa and saguna is beautiful and immediate, our minds
roam in infinite spaces but it is that very space that the potter encloses in the kalasha, we
conceive of timelessness but measure time with the rhythm of the dancer’s foot and the
sounds of the manjira, for us the body is perishable but yet it is the embodiment of all that
is beautiful for us, we claim that silence is eloquent but yet reach that through well sculpted
and chanted words. Idea and image, melody and lyric, arupa and rupa, the formless or
nirakar and form or sakar, avyakta and vyakta, the silent and the spoken, the seen and the
unseen, are inseparable a mithuna, a loving couple, and in the words of Dadu:

Incense craves to dissolve itself into fragrance and fragrance wants to remain enveloped in
incense. Melody seems to find itself articulated in rhythm and rhythm wants to get back to
melody. Idea craves to be embodied in form and form seems to release itself in idea. The
limitless seeks its intimate association with the limited and the limited craves to lose itself in
the limitless. I know not whose logic it is in creation and deconstruction, that there is an
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unceasing intercourse after freedom and freedom is always looking for a nest in bondage.

This inquiry will explore some akritis or visual forms that adorn both majestic and grand
monuments as well as common and ordinary spaces, which through their purely visual
language are a pointer to not only our culture but equally to brahma jnana or transcendent
knowledge. All sources of knowledge, and visual knowledge in no small measure, is an
integral part of the Indian tradition and it has been rightly said:

nahi jnanena sadrasam pavitram iha viddyate
there is nothing more sacred than knowledge.

These beautiful visual representations of both the samajika or ordinary people and
chitrakars or the artisans, which are not individual expressions but that of the shared
experience of the community and the preserve of the family, and which have been passed
down through trackless generations, are not mere designs or decorations, nor meant only
for rites and rituals, but in their own unpretentious way become sources of visual knowledge
and have a culture of their own. That knowledge is not private and personal but represents
a collective view of the world for us in the Indic traditions, be they Hindu, Buddhist and Jain,
for these traditional forms are not only a part of our living tradition but have an ancient
pedigree and are archetypal, and hence become primal and living expressions of a world
view of an entire civilisation.

It has been rightly said that everything in this world, mental or physical, has to have an
akriti or form, be it visual or oral. In our engagement with what is beautiful we specially
give primacy to akriti or the beautiful form, for only an akriti can give shape and form,
depth and dimension, colour and texture to a beautiful concept or an idea or a thought, and
going beyond the static representation an akriti can impart movement, and further even
though itself inanimate the akriti can become alive with a certain rasa or emotion. What is
beautiful cannot remain formless and must take a form or akriti and thus requires sensual
apprehension. Akriti therefore has both an ontology and epistemology, that is it has a
reality of its own which can be experienced by a committed aesthete, the akriti is not
merely ornamental or decorative but is a source of knowledge.

However an akriti is only an intermediate step in the creation and understanding of what is
beautiful. Akriti stems primarily from prakriti, that is, it arises out of the material and the
physical, it is a creation of both matter and mind. Prakriti is the bija and the garbha, the

their colours and hues. Where the hand goes the eyes follow. and in them we will hear hushed sounds of moving fingers and we will discover hidden truths . And when two hands come together they will fashion a pot and create an enclosed space which will be filled with water and it will sustain life. We will touch and caress and smell these objects. and we will lose ourselves in their patterns and textures. the chisel of the sculptor. adorn our bodies and our homes with them. the mould of the textile block printer. the spindle of the weaver. we will use them in our lived lives and they will give us visual delight as our eyes will be drawn to them. yato drishtihi tato manah yato manah tato bhavah. from their movement will arise metaphors and motifs passed down from mother to daughter and above all in these hands is the living and pulsating desire to create a beautiful akriti. but they have a presence of their own. the tender hands of a young girl learning the first steps of handling cow dung and the bare hands of the housewife making rangolis. yato bahvah tato rasah.seed and the womb. Laxmi resides at the tip of my hand and Sarasvati in the middle at the bottom of the hand is Govinda and this morning I venerate that hand. From these hands will come objects that are both functional and beau! tiful at the same time. suggesting that it is the hand that is at the main tool of human artistic creativity. making it hard to decide where function ends and beauty begins. These are not symbols nor are they art objects. the brush and the pen are held. the brush of the kalamkari maker. it is the hand that holds the needle and the thread. their forms and shapes. these are the basic tools of akritis and are a testament to human creativity. the kalam of the calligrapher. In them resides knowledge. a beautiful energy. they make no apology for their unabashed sensuality for they do not obey laws of the market place or dictates of the intellect. and it is the hand that moves the potter’s wheel and the weaver’s loom. an ancient memory. wonder and admire their evocative shape. Evolutionary biologists pay great attention to the detached thumb and hence its prehensile ability to hold objects. because in these akritis there is a constant interplay between usefulness and beauty. the adept hands of the flower seller making garlands. it is here that akriti is conceived. This pithy sutra from the dance tradition emphasises the role of the hand not only in creating beautiful akrtis through hastamudras but eventually through the contemplative experience of akritis ushering in the blissful state of rasa. the needle of the embroiderer. where the eyes go the mind follows Where the mind goes emotion arises and when there is emotion rasa is created . A common morning prayer is: karagre vasate Laxmi kar madhye Sarasvati kar mule tu Govindam prabhate kara vandanam. and this is the key to human creativity. and they live in connivance and in harmony with our senses. as if to say "I am". it is here that it empowers the human hand and it is from this human hand that comes the rekha and it is with the hand that the tulika and the kalam. The potter’s wheel. in them are bodily rhythms of trackless generations. such as weapons and the brush. It has been rightly said: yato hastah tato drishtihi. the pen and the chisel. The hand is central in any artistic creation and even the word akriti incorporates the word kar which is the hand.

Hands thus have a language and a voice. . In certain tribal villages a continuous thread is tied around the periphery of the village and this is to contain the good and ward off the evil from the village. for after all our hands are not for locomotion as they are in animals. When cotton is picked in the farm the and from it come threads and when these threads are woven into a fabric.. The potter takes a lump of earth and encloses the sky within as he makes a ghata and when the ghata breaks the sky is still the same only the potter knows where is the earth and where the sky from the voice of those who drank from the ghata is still heard. a song and a dance.. Sun and moon two shuttles filled and ready. Weaving is a very ancient tradition in India and weaving and philosophy share many common words. our joys and aspirations and dreams and to create beautiful akritis.. Coloured threads serve as a vastra for the deity in a puja and . weaving. woven with unwoven threads. Says Kabir: karma with karma. and all this through the various akritis that they produce. How well this weaver weaves.about life and living. Threads or sutra are an important part of Indian traditions both religious and secular. it no longer remains just a fabric but becomes a mother’s blessing. for in it she will portray not only the feet of the goddess but also paint her hidden longings.. And when the kalamkari artist takes his hand made brush and draws stories from the Puranas to a scroll he murmurs to himself sacred words and he relives those ancient stories through his hands. Wrapping a thread around the trunk of a tree is done for the granting of a wish. These hand crafted objects will pulsate with the heart ! beat of human creativity and move with the life breath of human imagination. How many know the world weaves who spread the warp? Earth and sky the two beams of his loom. And when a potter collects a handful of earth and fashions it into a pot he whispers a song as he turns the wheel and the pot then becomes a part of the household and when it is discarded it returns to the earth and in this journey there is a story and a message. it is not just an adornment but a visual prayer for the whole family. He spreads them lengthwise. The length end is still far away. printing and embroidering of cotton that the Indian crafts people found their richest expression. and the new b! ride decorates it with alpana. spinning. but given to us to express ourselves. a music and a rhythm. Earth and Sky the two beams of his loom. Watch him as weaves today. And when we are touched by them we will raise our hands and try and touch the sky. in all of this there is a voice and a song. words such as sutra and tantra. most difficult to reach. And when a housewife gathers old and worn saris and embroiders them she sings a bhajan taught to her by her mother. He takes a thousand threads... and makes these fabrics it into a kantha and a new born child lies on it. dyeing. There is a sense of wonder in creating a thread from a cotton pod and then weaving a fabric from it. It was Pupul Jaykar who once said that "it was in the growing. And when Diwali approaches and the women of the house apply fresh cow dung to the village home they do so with singing and chanting. a story and a message.

The environment in which the weaver lives filled him with wonder: green leaves. birds and blossoms. its colour and texture. a poignant sigh when the heart can bear no more pain. and another horse will be made.And when even this gets tattered chindis from this will be tied to the tree with a wish. design and motifs one must bring to it not only one’s sight and touch but even more the music that inspired it. the feather of a peacock and the fine thread of a spider web filled him with wonder and he incorporated that in his fabric. Some of the deepest sentiments such as between a sister and brother are expressed by tying a thread as i! n a rakhee. To fully understand a certain piece of textile. ante 'vyakteti caavyaktavyaktaavyaktam pravartate. fruits like the mango. Truly has it been said that weaving is like music. both are fine arts and done with a dedication and latifa or pleasure. and once more returns to avyaktaa or formlessness in the end.. and perhaps even a cry of pain. This creative act is not a mere karma or a volitional activity but a kriya. a silent prayer of thanksgiving. Just as music begins with a single note similarly the creation of textiles begins with a single thread. but the rite and the ritual will remain. An aakriti is avyaktaa or formless in the beginning. When the weaves fills his bani or weft and throws his shuttle it is as if the musician has started the alap and like a raga weaving has a certain rhythm of laya. Akritis are alive for they are created. just as a votive horse placed under a tree in an ancestral rite becomes one with the soil.27 This statement underscores the divine origin of akrtis but even more suggests that the rhythms of these akritis is imbibed by the humans in creative act. And like the many notes of the musical scale there are many types of threads and they can be combined in many different ways to produce a fabric. This . The loom is the weaver’s instrument and like the musician he adjusts and sets it like a musician tunes his instrument. a sacrament. And so it is with most traditional crafts and thus it is that in every akriti there is a voice. VI. Ait. Thus the cycle of avyakta-vyakta-avyakta continues. a whisper of joy at a samskara. For akritis often carry with them an expression of our deepest longings and heartfelt aspirations and all of these feelings are not too far from the hand that creates. A weaver very often will sing or chant as he weaves. And it is from threads that fabrics of all kinds are woven. The many forms that are beautifully and lovingly made will eventually disintegrate. Weaving has often been described to music. And then there are colours which the weaver derived from the world around. vyaktaa or possessing a form in the middle. It has been rightly said: aadaavaakrtir avyaktaa madhye vyaktaa bhavet sadaa. a breath of longing to restore some comfort and happiness. roots of a date palm.the devotee ends the puja by tying a thread on his wrist. a cry. the bark of a tree. they perish and they arise again. a hushed voice of excitement for a forthcoming family event. a song. charged with all the senses and alive with songs and chants. The Aitreya Brahmana states: deva shilpani etesham vai shilpanam anukritihi shilpam adhigamyate. Br. A fabric will age and fray with time and then layers of old fabrics are collected and embroidered and a kantha is born. And just as a raga has a certain rasa or rang the weaves infuses a certain feeling i! n what he weaves and each fabric like each raga requires a different technique.

and it is the process that is the preserve of the artisan and the artist. hues made from lapus lazuli or indigo. The correct intonation of these words was important and any distortions in this would lead it to be called an apashabda or the corrupted word. was codified early in the Indian tradition and casts a different light on the value of akritis. And no less evocative and beautiful are the materials that are used to express these akritis. are traditional sources of aurual knowledge and the spoken word enjoyed a primacy and validity in times ancient and does so even now. for when the alert and focussed mind cognises these akritis. it is rather perceiving. on palm leaves and paper and in pothis and books it is visual knowledge. whether it issubtle or gross Yoga Sutra Bhasya I. as texts were read aloud and even chanted and sung. that is to say that it becomes one with the akritis and then these akritis do not remain just adornments or decorations but become visual knowledge. From about the 6th century BCE onwards texts were produced on copper plates and then on palm and birch leaves. the mother and the daughter.brings in the all important difference between akar and akriti. on fabrics it is a blessing and on scrolls of itinerant singers they are a living narrative. the mind as it were assumes the form of the akriti. what is heard. The textual tradition remains of prime importance as sources and transmitters of knowledge. Whether it is rice past or natural dyes. Pasyati is a verb that denotes the simple optical act of seeing. However we shall by-pass this erudite textual tradition in this inquiry in favour of drishti or visual sources of knowledge through the engagement with various akritis that are a treasure of the tradition. feeling. Drishti however is a contemplative noun and means more than the act of visualisation or seeing. It is useful to begin with some basic concepts in Sanskrit that revolve around the words drasya and pashya. the textual tradition remained mainly oral. of sensual information into knowledge. The written word came later and we owe this to the Buddhists and the Jains. for akar is mere form and akriti is the process by which the form is made. but even when written. The process of transformation of the beautiful into beauty. insight and then ultimately realisation and drishti is therefore undertaken in a second more contemplative moment and falls under the rubric of anubhava ir experience.41 This foundational sutra from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra makes the contemplation of these akritis a yoga. and smriti or what is remembered. And then there is najar in the bhashas which is a type of vision and . The sensual cognition of these akritis or perception is on par with textual knowledge and exalts these akritis as a bonafide source of knowledge. Patanjali states: grahyalambanoparaktam cittam grahya samapannam grahya svarupa karena nirbhasate A mind is coloured by what the object it focusses on. This is an important acknowledgement early in the Indian tradition and gives akriti and gives primacy to sensual perception as a pramana or the means to knowledge. silk or cotton thread . Shruti . Drawn on the ground it is invocation to the earth on the walls and threshold. knowing. If akritis are created by the mind and executed by the hand the surface that enshrines the akriti is equally special. doors and windows of our homes it is a visual prayer. and this is what survives from times ancient till today and will endure even beyond. these inert but organic materials are brought to life by the artisan and they in turn enliven mute spaces into living expressions of visual knowledge where kriti is transformed into drishti.

that forms an integral part of the lived lives of these common people. a simple road side shrine on a busy street or a votive terra cotta horse that is lovingly made and offered. or mere adornments or decorations. Equally the icon gives aesthetic hints that an adept rasika or aesthete picks up and assures himself of a rich aesthetic experience. In other words drishti understood as the perception. now private and now shared. here is visual knowledge at work that is as spontaneous as it is intense. but what the! y may lack in grandeur. Drishti through akriti therefore should be given a honoured place in the epistemology of knowledge and deserves our scholarly attention. becomes a parallel knowledge system in its own right. they use images and not words.has a variety of meanings which include the romantic glance and even the evil eye. but it is important to remember that they have a beauty and presence of their own in the pluralistic Indian tradition. a river that is considered the embodiment of divinity itself. are simple and unpretentious. fervour and commitment. they more than make up in the faith and feeling that they generate. the forms and symbols of these visual representations. erudition and ceremony. and that drishti through akritis offers an alternative and parallel system of knowledge through everyday visual representations. but yet dignified and self-assured. worthy of curiosity but not of serious study. understanding and realisation of these simple akritis or visual forms. This underscores the fact tha! t while scholarly texts and their erudite commentaries are an important part of the Indian tradition of textual knowledge systems. The Indus valley seals have left hieroglyphics and primitive images such as that of a cross legged yogi or a woman within a Pipal tree which are obviously more than decorative motifs but markers of a world view. they are not the only source of knowledge. Etymologically related to drishti is darshana. these visual representations and expressions of the ordinary people tend to be side lined or dismissed by scholars as well as the world at large. Akriti thus is able to claim an ancient and pre-historic pedigree. as well as those who hold them sacred or beautiful. a narrative scroll that holds its audience spell bound. as visual as it is oral. tribal or traditional. In a civilisation which has encountered majestic truths and erected grand temples. Gesture and signs must have been the earliest form of communication even before language evolved and could be considered proto-akritis. Recent findings at Bhimbetka and at other sites leave little doubt that visual representations may predate even the spoken word. Popular visual forms transcend and by-pass the limitations of rational language. It is ths type of drishti that we are interested in exploring. as minor or lesser gods. whether it is in a home shrine or a temple. be they rural or urban. and going beyond all of these become a source of non-didactic and visual knowledge. and that it is through them that knowledge is available visually and outside sacerdotal rites and rituals and scholarly texts. These other visual sources outside the textual tradition are probably more ancient and perhaps more pervasive than shruti and smriti . an ancestor that is worshipped. The gods and the motifs. and while Sanskrit does not differentiate between darshana and drishti. Darshana or transfiguring vision of an icon is fundamental to the religio! us experience. The rituals and practices for these visual creations are neither scripted nor canonized. a fabric that is simply draped but considered sacred. charged with faith. its grammar and lexicon are made up of forms and shapes and not . However drishti can be understood in a wider context and is not limited to darshana or the transfiguring vision of icons in a religious setting and can go much beyond the narrow confines of an organised temple or even a shrine and can occur in everyday spaces in the lived lives of the samajika or the common people. Whether it is a tree that is held sacred or a naturally occurring stone that is revered. Prakrit and the bhashas considers darshana as the transfiguring vision of a deity that occurs in a temple and drishti as enlightened or contemplative vision.

In these simple and everyday visual representations the beautiful and the sacred come together through archetypal and primal forms. the secular and the sacred. it creates vistas of meaning rather than give didactic instruction. it suggests but does not impose. they confer auspiciousness and beauty in the daily spaces in the lived lives ! of our people. but it equally serves a magical function and confers to the space and the environment it occupies a protective charm. mainly Hinduism. Whether it is a mural in a cave. Visual knowledge for us in the Indian tradition has a special place for it conveys more than what meets the eye. Sanskrit words for Form and Design. In this pluralistic environment time tested philosophical truths survive in songs and stories. between utility and beaut! y. These visual forms provides that beautiful connection between the microcosm and the macrocosm. its logic is the inner essence of beauty and not a formal or rational idea. of Puranic stories and folk legends that are heard in many different ways and from the fertile and lush tropical vegetation of the Indian continent. both in rural and urban spaces. it is beautiful in its own right but subtly leads to visions of transcendent beauty.words. and stem from ancient dreams and memories that are a store house of fundamental and distilled truths of the tradition. it leads and does not insist. through trackless generations. These akrktis are more than static and inert symbols. a visual image performs many functions. where a handful of earth can hold more knowledge than countless pages of erudite and hoary palm leaf manuscripts. to prosper materially and flourish emotionally. akriti and rachana. for what grows must change with the seasons and eventually perish. growth and fertility are not only important economically and socially but become a measure of the beauty and meaning of life itself and provide a world view and a frame of reference for the representations of akritis. Buddhist and Jain traditions and the creation of akritis or visual motifs and symbols of divinities is an integral and important part of that. but from its seeds life will start all over again. It adorns and beautifies. the creation of visual motifs and symbols and their presence in the everyday lives of the people are an equally important part of Hindu living and are a testament to the sensitivity and awareness of the importance of creating beautiful objects and gaining from them not only aesthetic pleasure but philosophical truths by the unlettered and untutored in their own unique and simple way. bring a direct perception of jnana or knowledge both to the rasika who has a cultivated and trained eye and to the samajika to whom it conveys an intuitive sense of mangalya or auspicious and purnatva or fullness. The young girl and the housewife who create these forms may not be textually informed but are culturally encoded through the living t! radition and these akritis flow through them almost effortlessly. generally transmitted from mother to daughter. visual motifs and metaphors. it creates forms only to break out of them. it is born from a desire to create . motifs and patterns embroidered on a fabric. almost defining. To grow is to live. The visible and the palpable representation of divinity is an important. for creation in its best sense stems from a sense of joyousness and fullness and not deficiency or want. they are actually living visual metaphors. they beautify and they inform. and thus these akritis point to the eternality of time even in the face of human impermanence. part of the Indian Hindu. its canvas is not just palm leaf or paper but mud walls and scrolls. or a wall painting in a nuptial chamber in Madhuban or an adornment on a mud wall or a decoration on the threshold of a home. it gives a certain sanctity to the space in which it exists. These visual markers belong both to the sophisticated and the unlettered. its impact is immediate and direct but its message is the ultimate that is realised in a later contemplative moment. they protect and they purify. If the spontaneous and widespread public representation of the sacred and the divine is a feature of Indian religions. In a civilisation that is mainly agricultural in spirit. to ensure the continuity of life and creation but equally in the understanding and representation of that growth and fecundity it is to realise the movement and circularity of time. both imply a creative process and signal an exalted human activity. Above all. images and forms.

the dance rather than the dancer. the kalasha rather than the potter. the fabric rather than the weaver. are primal and very ancient and are born out of pristine archetypal forms. Rather it posits that we in India live in a web of interconnections and interdependence. To beautify. understood as pratibha or creative imagination. that is important to us. and not so much the creator. so that even a handful of earth on which he stands connects him through the Indra stambha or the primal axis mundi to the sky and thus creates a bridge to the heavens and the celestial domains. but the one central idea that emerges from this. a fundamental part of our Indianness. not only animates and delights our senses. It is the act of creating rather than the actor. The phrase Beautifully Indian thus captures the essence of not only what it is to be proudly Indian but equally makes the celebration of beauty through the various akritis. It has been said that rupam rupam pratirupam babhuva. both in its creation and its celebration. that we applaud and venerate through the various akritis. the world of trees and blossoms. 21) In the ultimate analysis it is human creativity. that human reality is not just of the immediate world but is of the entire world and the cosmos around him. Man therefore does not stand alone but is connected to the grandeur and majesty of the world around him. The celebration of the beautiful is a testament and veneration to the creative spirit of mankind and it has been rightly said that we come closest to divinity during and because of the creative process. and arises from a need to create a beautiful shape and enrich and enliven the form. As Octavio Paz rightly states: The hand crafted object satisfies a need no less imperative than hunger and thirst. the origins of the many forms of village or people’s art arise from the primal myth of the samudra manthan. to decorate and to embellish. This cryptic sutra has many levels and nuances of meanings. every form available to the human mind and eye is in the ultimate analysis a replica of a primal cosmic form. the need to take delight in the things that we see and touch. it becomes a purushartha or end in itself of life and living. to express a sense of joy and wonder and only then can that akriti take its rightful place in the world we inhabit and become one of the highest human visual expressions. The creator is only the conduit of creativity that flows from sources unknown and from reservoirs ancient. is that the many beautiful forms that surround us and that we create. but even more it becomes an important value to strive for. to adorn. In recognising the value of the beautiful we in the Indian tradition are not only valuing what is created by human hands but equally the artistic creativity that was responsible for the beautiful object. It has rightly been said: vyarthaM saundarya-kAraNasya anveSaNam bhAratIyeSu jIvane pUrNA sammlitA kalA . and that myth rather than history is the paradigm within which he best functions. What it also suggests is that the beautiful for us in the Indian tradition is not homocentric and does not just revolve around mankind. of rivers and mountains. While we celebrate creation in all its multiple manifestations it is futile to seek a reason or the first creator or the exact origin of our various akrtis. the stars and the constellations of the planet. The celebration of the beautiful pleases our senses on first encounter but ultimately enriches our spirit in a second more contemplative moment. that even thoug! h his life is spent on earth he seeks a pillar and stairway to the sky. While our religious icons or murtis owe their pedigree to the Purusha of the Purusha Sukta of the Rg Veda.something in the likeness of the creator. for the creation of the beautiful is so intimately tied with life itself and is undefinable and beyond intellectual probing. the sun and the moon. as we express and represent it in the Indian tradition through the various akritis. of birds and animals." (P.

for in the commerce of the day it is overpowered by the buddhi and ahamkara. where beauty can stand self-assuredly alone and does not need a reason or purpose. For us in India the beautiful in its many and varied different forms and expressions goes beyond the unnecessary and distracting distinction of art and craft. unclaimed. decoration or vanity. and let all of this work on us at many different levels: magical. religious and aesthetic. The beautiful has to be embraced and indulged with all our six senses: drishti. it is where ancient memories and primal forms reside. auspiciousness. shravana. of experiencing evocative colours and cosmic shapes that have been passed down from one generation to another. a mind within the mind. and stands self-assuredly alone. unsigned." This underscores a fundamental feature of the genesis of beautiful akritis. Satish Gujral. The Vedic term dhi is a coming together of manas or the emotive mind and manisha or the intuitive mind and needs to be awakened and accessed by the artist and the artisan in their search for a beautiful akriti. unattached to the personality of the artist. and unstruck music is heard. We beautify our surroundings and thereby bring a certain elegance and brightness into our homes. where the beautiful defies categorisation or even definition. where deep seated longings and dreams hide. the village or the town and are not the property of an individual. Akritis arise from dhi or the radiantly creative mind. where rationality is an unwelcome guest. a veteran contemporary artist. where gestures speak without any words. but stemming from his lineage. To be in the midst of beautiful forms is to be assured of ancient racial memories and hoary archetypal symbols. but beautiful akritis are more than that. where a thousand suns shine without casting shadows and the movement of the moon and the stars is in harmony with the rhythms of our body. of touching well loved designs and traditional patterns that have endured for millennia. and lives in holistic harmony with the both the animate and inanimate world around it. Creating objects of beauty and giving them a centrality in our homes and lives points out the importance of bringing grace and dignity into our lived lives. Buddhi or the intellect has no place either in the creation or appreciation of akritis and therefore no rational answer can be given as to the exact origin of akritis. . One of the ideas latent in this is that the individuality and particularity of the creator is not as important as is his creation. These beautiful forms are from the repository of the community. or the needless separation of the sacred and the secular. but it does not stop there. wher! e there are no dualities of pleasure and pain. where the heart trembles. for neither of these modern and mainly Western dichotomies are relevant in the traditional Indian context of akritis. we decorate our living spaces to give it grace and a sense of visual comfort but beautiful ob! jects go beyond that. It is from this space of our chetana that akrktis arise. touch. when asked hoe he created forms he replied instantly" :my forms arise from feelings and not from ideas. This dhi is where akritis alive in their praoksa form and it is well to remember that paroksha devah priya. the manaso manah. Thus it is that many of our creations are anonymous. or the differentiation of the classical from the folk. protection and well being. It is useless to search for a reason for beauty For art is completely integrated with life in India. where feelings abide and rasas flow. we adorn our own selves with the traditional sixteen adornments and this gives us pleasure and enhances our looks but there is a higher purpose to creating personal beauty than mere adornment. but there is only ineffable bliss. the subtle and the suggestive is dear to the gods. of being privy to living myths and timeless metaphors. That these forms are a shared inheritance is a recurrent and underpinning idea of the many beautiful forms of the Indian tradition and becomes the foundation of its culture. and which in turn comes from hidden sources and shared creative well springs of the tradition. and thereby assuring us of dignity.

which once again brings to light the importance we give to the creative process and its subjective experience rather than just the object. a need for the beautiful and not mere utility. it does not have a special word for art. shobha. while art as it is commonly understood today has a very limited significance in the Indian tradition. mrudula. be they poets or potters. to grow not only food that . or the creation of beautiful akritist is for us the expression and embodiment of beauty. or the process of creating. The word kala which we commonly use for art objects denotes mainly kruti and even sanskriti. to draw our ideas and inspiration for the many motifs and metaphors. While Sanskrit offers a multitude of words for the beautiful. The first principle in designing and giving form to an object and creating an akriti is that it be functional. The rasika. Utility is of course important but it cannot limit or exhaust what a sensitive and cultivated person demands from an object. These objects of beauty. ramaniya. or the cultivated connoisseur. a need to use our hands not only to work but to touch the stars. shilpis or sangitkars. not only enjoys his association with objects of beauty but engages with it contemplatively so that a discourse about akrkti can emerge. sunder with shringara the beautiful with the romantic. our culture and civilisation. have endured. that representing. and it is this that informs our religious i! deas and images. and ushers a sense of grace and dignity to our daily living and brings joy into our quotidian tasks. and when it comes to things beautiful we turn away from the world of arid reality and intellectual rationality but instead we turn to the vegetative and animal world. to nurture the kamana that is at the very core of our being. it is there that the joy of participating in what is sensuously beautiful flows like a dhara or stream. as the enjoyment and contemplation of the beautiful is a hall mark of the rasika and is an essential value for us in the Indian tradition. the beautiful with what is auspicious. All great civilisations have created beautiful objects which embody their concept of beauty. our values and behavior. The twin concepts of myth and agriculture make up our sanskriti. efficient and safe. women who adorn their thresholds with rangoli or who embroider fabrics. This is the first order of designing an object. The beautiful akrkti is not only worthy of artha or contemplation but we associate sun! der with saubhagya. It is kamana or desire to experience the beautiful that leads o! ur mind from the mundane and the banal to the exalted and the sublime. for our concepts and understanding of the beautiful go much beyond the narrow understanding of art. The Indian tradition is quintessentially mythic in its thought and agricultural in its life style. Artha or material satisfaction is a basic and primal need and this must obviously be fulfilled. and we in India have not only an ancient but equally a growing and evolving artistic tradition and culture. images and figures. a need in our environment for adornment and not mere expediency. for it is there that emotion and imagination are experienced. or utility and efficiency. a need to make our bodies a vehicle of grace and not of mere function. But there is within us a need to go beyond and surround ourselves with things beautiful. that are so much a part of our life. understanding and knowing what is beautiful in many different ways is multi- nuanced and is an important part of the celebration of what it is to be a cultivated Indian. words such as sunder. to have not only the means but a meaning to life and living. and even more importantly to the world of myth. There is in the human condition a need for us to use our breath to sing songs and not utter mere words of commerce. and it is only when these basic requirements are met that aesthetic concerns can start. and even more we equate sunder and isvarya or beauty and Divinity. and further it defines what it is to be cultured and cultivated. Art. It is quite clear then. it is there that the various rasas are tasted. lavanya. and the discourse around them. We have entrusted our deepest thoughts and cherished visions to our artists and artisans.taste and smell and above all our manas and only then will we totally enjoy and understand it and make akriti a part of our being. For the human mind is not satisfied with mere dharma and artha.

impossible to analyse.. bhu or the earth is no longer the limited womb that restricts but the womb that releases the form into the limitless. or just for superficial excitement. Thus in going from Prakriti to Purusha. What is objectively beautiful is so important to us because it touches realms of beauty within us. III. where the empirical and the metaphysical are held together as an organic whole.. craftsmen and designers and everyone that creates the many beautiful forms. our prajapatis. Concepts underlying Indian architecture. They are our creators.painting bring us back to the image of Man.. 2-3 The concept and the realisation of atman is central to Indian thought and has both ontologic and epistemologic significance. notes: Pure aesthetic experience is theirs in whom the knowledge of ideal beauty is innate. where a perfect concord exists between viewer and viewed. for that is where the ultimate knowledge of the form resides and beauty tasted. sophistication takes place.. tej or fire becomes contemplation. in intellectual ecstasy without accompaniment of ideation. Prakriti has not been lost or negated. and yet in the image our being... Tha Sahitya Darpana.. that is. This statement by Vatsyayan underscores the inwardness of the beautiful akriti. All of this is the function of our artists and artisans. The Vastusutraupanisad rightly says. vayu is not just wind but becomes the life giving prana and akash i! s not confined space but the vast and unbounded sky and thereby the realisation of akriti asserts its infinity and non-temporality. it is known intuitively. but transformed. Perfect form is the model of his inner vision to which he then seeks to give expression through visual or aural forms. sculpture and . the purusha and the Purusha of Upanishadic thought and the yajna of the brahmanas in more explicit terms. tad shilpa jnanad divya jnanam bhavati.nourishes the body but to plant flowers that will touch our spirit. the beautiful that touches the eye but is realised by the eye of the eye and which in turn is nourished and realised by the mind of the mind and then finally touches and awakens the atman.is the realization of beauty in perfect form. born of one mother with the vision of God. Understood this way prakriti becomes the bija or the seed that evolves into the majestic kalpavriksha within the atman. It is at the level of the atman that the materiality of the form transforms itself into the rarefied spirituality of the same form and in so doing goes from the form to the formless.. the knowledge of form results in divine knowledge. from the form to the formless. Kapila Vatsyayan writes: In the antara hradaya akasa . housewives and potters.. This Upanishadic injunction can be enlarged to understand shilpa as any object that has been thoughtfully and lovingly made and therefore embraces akriti or design in a broader sense. Sahitya Darpana. Conscious of mundane living he built a superstructure of refined feeling and sensibility. He gives this form many forms.. It is at the level of the atman that the pancha maha bhuta of prakriti is transformed: ap or water becomes rasa. and the knowledge that a . If the creation and the enjoyment of sunder akriti or beautiful forms is to be a significant activity and not just for adornment or utility. it must address itself to the atman. at the highest level of conscious being. its life is as it were a flash of blinding light of transmundane origin. where a continuous process of distillation. an ancient treatise on art. The Indian artist’s concern is with design imbued with a consciousness of the totality. always bearing in mind the inner state in which he saw the perfect form. This once again frames the creation and enjoyment of akriti within a metaphysical framework and akriti moves away from being just ornamental or the decorative to being a source of visual knowledge. the objectively sunder akriti or from is realised and experienced as the formless subjective saundarya..

Thus there are two levels of reality. and the presiding deity of all craftsmen in the Indian tradition is Vishwakarman. but the beautifully designed akriti goes beyond itself. that the infinite that is at the core of our being is awakened by an understanding of the finite but beautiful akritis that surround us. We must view akrkti not just from the point of view of the practitioner or the marketer but from the vantage point of the philosopher as well. and the artist from the craftsman. Akriti or beautiful form then takes its rightful place in the domain of Indian Aesthetics and as a form of visual knowledge it is a window to sanskriti. it is. express vastly more than what they appear on the surface. p. the divine artificer. to merely refer to it as something that pleases the eye or to look upon it as a source of mental excitement or one that sells well in the markets of the world. Therefore an object that is beautiful does not remain merely an object but it leads the contemplative person to a journey of inner discovery. not just in empirical but in philosophic terms. Thus the function of akriti in essence is to create the beautiful so that the mind that tires in the world of daily commerce can rest in realms of inner beauty. If we must distinguish between art and craft. 82 Implicit in this statement is the supposition that our inner reality becomes known to us on account of the reality of the many and varied beautiful akritis around us. the one that is defined by prakriti which assumes many forms or the beautiful. it is important to note that when it comes to akriti or beautiful forms we need the craftsman more than the artist to fill our daily life with things beautiful. 91 There is for Tagore an inner logic and reality of things that are outwardly beautiful. and the other that is defined by purusha or formless beauty. and the rasika or the connoisseur of that object. In the words of Tagore again: We become aware of a profound meaning of our self at the consciousness of some ideal of perfection. it exists to satisfy those primal needs. In Tagore’s words: They open the windows of our mind to the eternal reality of man. Tagore reminds us that the world of objects in which we live. words and movement. The Religion of Man. so that akriti can progress to jnana for this is the mandate of Indian sanskriti. for that is its! raison d’etre. The Religion of Man. colours and shapes. and it therefore behooves us to develop a discourse of Indian Forms.contemplative person derives from akriti or object then becomes divine knowledge. a pointer to the cherished values of the tradition that shapes us. in its own silently eloquent way. The onus then is both on the shilpi. and expresses in its mute and hushed language. one outer and the other inner. Tagore’s position places akriti securely within a metaphysical grid of Indian thought and moves it away from the merely psychological excitement or superficial decoration or adornment. and it is a testament to the pratibha or creative imagination of the artisan who made it. and equally for us who partake of its beauty. It is not sufficient to talk about akriti in either commercial or psychological terms. It is because of this that it can qualify to be a source of divya jnana or ultimate knowledge. As Tagore rightly states : The consciousness of the real within me seeks for its corroboration the touch of the real outside me. who fashions the chariots of the gods. The prototypical craftsman amongst them all for us in . Sensual pleasure and excitement are indeed the first response to a beautifully designed akriti whether it is a space or object. a heightened sense of our own reality. textures and cadence. as it distorts the holistic nature of what is beautifully Indian. the maker of the object. a distinction that is basically unnecessary in the Indian tradition. that our subjective self must find and feel the objectively beautiful to fully realise itself and ultimately is the assertion that the purusha is incapable of realising itself but needs prakriti for that understanding. some truth beautiful or majestic which gives us an inner sense of completeness. a world of lines and forms. p. a vision of the culture that defines us.

which then occupies a central place in our lives. The weaver. a prayer as well as technique. the state of beauty has an epistemological ring to it. it is a reminder that the creation and the pursuit of the beautiful cannot be an end in itself but must have a higher purpose and thus akriti provides a stairway to domains of adbhuta or wonder. Understood in this sense the beautiful is not just adornment but a visual prayer. For besides being aesthetically charged many of these akritis confer protection to ths space it adorns. where the senses no longer seek and the mind has stopped seeking. it is brahmananda sahodara. wiped away and then made again. from knowledge to knowing and our entire being rests. for in the intensity of creation and experience the creators go beyond the individual and transcend the specificity of time and place. It is not important to know who created them. and . It is important to remember that many of these creations in homes or havelis are for them visual prayers and not mere adornments. or the tribal horse that is made from earth and left under a tree to decompose and from the same earth another horse is made. The carpenter. For the rasika or the contemplative aesthete however the presence and meditation on the many beautiful forms and objects that surround him. In its ability to lead us to a transcendent state of being. and from that sense of wonder it is only an aesthetic leap to the final state of serene and blissful beauty and ultimate knowledge. 203. to be sought and indulged for its own sake. which is best described as vishranti or rest. It is abundantly clear that the aesthetics of akritis or the beautiful forms for the contemplative and cultiva! ted rasika in the Indian tradition is a cherished and transcendent experience. they have the power and the pedigree of the entire tradition behind them. like the sheshashayi or the recumbent Vishnu. whether on walls or floors. and although they are created by individuals. In so doing they are reminders of the cosmic drama of creation. a rasasvadana. Or the w! eaver who starts his day at the loom with a simple act of piety and then begins weaving. they must surely feel the satisfaction of carrying on a tradition handed down to them and experiencing a sense of comfort and security from the magico-religious benefit of what has been created. is close to or parallel to the bliss of brahman. signaling that the act of creation has a moral and religious underpinning to it. it moves him from the mundane and the commonplace concerns of life to the rarefied and sublime states of ecstasy and joyousness. IIC Quarterly Winter 2001). These artistic creations are in the words of Kapila Vatsysyan "archetypal symbols of human consciousness" (p. They are a part of their daily surroundings. the metal smith. for it is he who converts a sutra into a beautiful vastra. with which we adorn ourselves and our spaces to make the beautiful a part of our daily lives and living. the sonar and even the housewife all occupy a pride of place in our live! s for they fashion akritis and create forms that we not only use but cherish. destruction and renewal. They are lovingly made and piously celebrated.the Indian tradition is the kumbhar or the potter who takes a handful of earth and converts it into a kalasha. in a state of repose and quietude. lifts him from the pedestrian banality and the humdrum of existence to the charm a! nd aesthetic excitement of beauty. or in their home shrines. There is in the creation of these objects a ritual as well as a method. it is crucial to our being as much as social and economic security and our mental well being. both sacred and secular. it asserts that there is an inner logic of the beautiful and makes objects of beauty a source of visual knowledge. and which in the words of the tenth century Aesthetician Abhinavagupta. Many of these representations of everyday art or ritual art such as a rangoli or alpona are lovingly made. a atmajnana or ultimate self-knowledge and therefore of moksha or freedom. who makes fabrics is equally important. class and caste. In that state of bliss. While the samajika or the person at large may not be able to derive a full aesthetic experience or engage in an aesthetic discourse from the many forms of the beautiful in their surroundings. for it posits an ultimate reality to what is beautiful. the beautiful has moved from the objectively beautiful to a state of serene subjective beauty. They have come down to us from mother to daughter through trackless centuries.

almost forbidden. The central question for the philosopher of beauty then is what makes an object beautiful. who ever told. There is no room t! here for the prying eyes of the academic but merely someone who has a sense of wonder at how a formless substance begins to take a beautiful form.. no air nor sky. and the burden of that scholarly inquiry falls upon us rasikas. perhaps even he cannot. those . and whether framed by hand divine or no. which is ananda. Here is a pristine beautiful moment of creation. the fluid the sea. his methods are spontaneous and not rehearsed or scripted. it is during that journey that we recreate the creative forces that drove the artisan. One only has to watch a kumbhar or weaver at work and see the joy on their face as a lump of clay or just a few threads start taking shape. The small veins the rivers. Chandogya Upanishad. the thin membrane the mist with the clouds. and might forces strove A self supporting mass beneath and energy above. The silver one became this earth. a question that may be hard for the maker of the object to answer. beyond What covered all? Where rested all? In watery gulf profound? There fecundating powers were found. the Sun. This will take us to the various forces that serve as an inspiration to the traditional Indian artisan. 129. from whence this vast creation rose? No Gods had then been born. then it became existent. for s/he works intuitively and follows trackless traditions handed down from father to son and mother to daughter. these beautiful forms become silent messengers of deep and abiding metaphysical and religious insights. he is intelligent but not intellectual.both by their presence and their process. one of silver and the other of gold. For to pry into a creative process is a sacrilege. the beginnings of which are lost in the hoary past and which will continue endlessly in the tradition through the parampara. X. That journey should begin by an inquiry into the genesis of traditional akritis. and that inward journey on our part will reveal to us the strength and an epistemology of Indian design and forms. it is in that inward contemplative journey that motifs and metaphors decode and reveal to us vistas of meaning and in the end during the process of aesthetic recreation we become creators ourselves and in that final moment of aesthetic recreation when we discover the object fully that we touch upon our essential self. it turned into an egg. in that journey we allow our mind to be bathed in the rasas that touched the creator. And what was born from was Aditya. the thick membrane the mountains. Rg Veda. The two halves. his concept of beauty is intuitive and does not follow any shastra and the over all ethos for him in his workshop is one of joyous and spontaneous creativity. The traditional craftsman is confident and self-aware but not self-conscious. however he is neither academically trained nor expected to respond to a scholarly question. This is the journey that we shall undertake in this inquiry. For knowledge without an epistemology is akin to walking in dark and shadowy corridors. Who knows. and any attempt to answer that question on their part would only distort or fragment the truth. Then it broke open. In the beginning this was non-existent. Its lord in heaven alone can tell. Then there was neither aught nor naught. For in Aesthetics the journey is as important as the destination. The egg lay for the time of a year. the golden one the sky. it grew. The craftsman is merely a messenger of the ancient traditions of giving visual expressions to concepts and feelings of the sanskriti through various akritis. It would amount to curiosity if not to voyeurism. who then can e’er the truth disclose? Whence sprang this world. who wish to undertake a contemplation about Indian akriti through their design and form. even if that journey somehow takes us to our destinat! ion.

which characterise the creative moment. These beautiful creations do not belong to the individual but to all of us who walk on the Indian soil. Kapila Vatsyayan rightly connects myths and creativity when she says: It is the power of creativity to create myths and symbols.. the origin and sons of the divine architect Vishwakarma. these are starting ! points of our inquiry into these beautiful creations. And finally we must take note of the tropical environment.thousand points of lights that he turns into his vision of what he considers beautiful. The precise genesis and the creation of akritis. of analogy. perhaps unknowable. remains an unknown. Form. the samudra manthan or the churning of the ocean. and although they attempt to define the moment and process of creation they are unable to go beyond imaginative and poetic speculation. the story of rishi Bhavana and the origin of the Padmashalis and the family of weavers. Only then will we be able to say "yes this is Indian akriti" and that it reflects our culture. and make these artistic representations universal and timeless rather than specific and time bound. of metaphor. Modern Indian forms take its pride of place in a globalised world. process. . A multi-pronged and sustained inquiry such as this would shed light on Indian akriti through their design and form and help us formulate an aesthetic discou! rse of akriti. our flowers and blossoms. our trees and the creepers. visual or aural through what is called art. Even though the creation of akritis remains sacrosanct and not open to prying eyes it is nevertheless useful to undertake that inquiry for it might lead to a better understanding of the role that these akritis play in the lived lives of the people and the process of aesthetic recreation will lead us to that primal seed of creation. like cosmic creation itself. or irony. for the traditional Indian craftsperson functions within the society that he inhabits and not just as in individual. verbal and non-verbal. all of which are as relevant today as they were then. The creation myth of Indra and the stambha. the racial memories that flow through him like an ancient river. So are shastras or canons on Shilpa and Vastu which determine how our abodes and dwellings should be constructed and beautified. we should visit ancient temples and havelis which are silent and timeless repositories of! our cherished spaces. we should look at private collections and study treasured objects that once sparkled in opulent surroundings. primal yantras and mandalas. like tradition evolves. our birds and animals in the ambience of which the Indian civilisation developed. it has crossed oceans and is making its mark in international markets and it would be useful to inquire why an Indian fabric is as elegant in New York as it is in Milan. we must walk the hushed halls of various museums for there the silent objects will speak to us of the glory of a by gone era and the many forms it produced which live today only as museum objects but which were once living forms. There are many creation hymns in the Indian tradition starting from the Vedas to tribal culture. But yet this is not enough. Our starting point in this inquiry of beautiful Indian forms will be to acquaint ourselves with certain fundamental and primal myths which have a bearing on the creation and enjoyment of the beautiful akritis and which inform not only our religious rites and rituals but equally our aesthetic sensibilities. We should examine a handful of his earth and find in it the seeds which nourish his psyche.as also the release of creative energies. Invariably its language of communication is that of myth and symbol. And in doing this we confer a valued pedigree on the akritis as we connect it to its mythic origins. pointing once again to the limitation of language and ratiocination to touch the roots of artistic creativity. for it is these mythic narratives that shape his culture. the Natyashastra and the creation of the mandapa. It is the harnessing . That is our mandate. we should sit with him under the Pipal tree at the end of day as he listens to Puranic stories.. both inner and outer. and finally we should read our ancient shastras which enunciate principles of form. the archetypes that live only in the dim shadows of his mind and above all the collective unconscious of the tradition as a whole which is like a deep and mysterious ocean. the birth and the marriage of Parvati. and our journey must not end there.

The samudra is the metaphor of the collective unconscious of the tradition. Chap books of dreams and omens have also recorded such forms and it is interesting that they feature many popular forms that are a part of the vocabulary of Indian akritis. and in doing so they represent an entire world view of the tradition with a few strokes. these traditional forms have inspired the potter and the weaver. 210) There are certain primal Indian forms. a store house of ancient memories and deep and! unspoken secrets of creation. for in the dream state the mind is singularly free of the intellect and is privy to the collective subconscious not only of the individual but more importantly of the race. The jarjara of the natyamandapa. such is their strength. is a fertile repository of forms. the Ashoka pillar. airavat. the tribal pillars. and all this through simple lines and beautiful formations. Many of these forms are universal and are shared by cultures across the world. The dream of Trisala the surrogate mother of Mahavira. The other source of Indian forms is the mandala or the yantra. the toy maker and calligrapher. and in that sense we can call them uniquely Indian. The creation myth which sees Indra planting his stambha to create a living space between the primal waters and the sky for humans to live becomes the prototype for the many pillars of Indian forms. kaustabha Lakshmi and Dhanvantari. Mandalas are created through a condensation and focalization of energies and by a reciprocal process they can release those very energies to the participant. (p. and are seminal in giving rise to multiple forms. The earliest . aichavaras. but the way in which we use. the jeweler and the stone carver. and from them have emerged many variations of motifs and patterns. designs and adornments. There is in these primal forms not only functionality but beauty. The foremost among these forms are the various ratnas that emerge from the samudra manthan and which include the kalasha. Closely related to myths are dreams as sources of significant and beautiful forms. apsara. objects inspired by these forms are sold at fairs and festivals and adorn homes and havelis. shapes such as the circle.of sandhya bhasha in the Indian sense. These shapes carry within them the ability to represent a whole universe of the concrete world in simple and abstract forms. In its simple vocabulary these geometric shapes are able to reduce the macrocosm into the microcosm and at the same time portray metaphysical directions. All of these are forms that have emerged from the mythic and formless ocean and carry deep archetypal meanings and have remained foundational in the vocabulary of Indian design and forms used by the Indian shilpi. all take their pedigree from the Indra stambha and are a visual manifestation of the axis mundi and feature in many of our akritis. housewife and itinerant singers have created forms that either narrate a story or perform a ritual function or remain an important part of our adornments. And it is when this store house of ancient memories is churned that a number of forms appear. The myth of the first weavers arising from the lotus stalk of Vishnu and Brahma is equally foundational for expressions on fabrics are an important part of the Indian tradition. We return to these primal forms again and again. they combine utility and meaning at the same time. triangle and the bindu. and they carry within them the meanings and metaphors inherent in the primal myth of samudra manthan. kalpavriksha. square. cosmic movement and dialectic tensions. Religious or secular fabrics are central and have been a canvas upon which the artist and artisan. A mandala is in essence is representation of the cosmos through its abstraction into geometric shapes. Underpinning the manthan is the primal tortoise which supports the earth. forms that have an ancient pedigree and from these countless new forms have emerged over millennia of Indian creativity. represent and understand these forms remains quintessentially Indian. philosophical truths. padma. they are multidimensional and polyvalent. the dhvaja stambha of the temple.

If poetry is the inspiration of our creations then Sanskrit drama provides the structure and texture of our visual forms. It is rasa that animates all our artistic creations and takes us from the particular to the universal. done with a simple ritual but yet no less meaningful for the Indian home. The Purusha sukta of the Rg Veda holds a singularly important place in the understanding and evolution of Indian forms for it is there for the first time that Purusha or ultimate reality was depicted in an anthropomorphic form in classical sacred literature and it set the trend for the depiction of the infinite and the eternal in the finite and the temporal. If the Veda is the seminal source of many forms the Natyashastra makes dance the visual idiom of human perfection. both of which have played an important part in the design of Indian spaces. It has been said that " the basic theme of all Indian drama is spiritual equilibrium. from formless imagination to beautiful forms. The supremely beautiful dancing form is that of Shiva as Nataraja. The essence of poetry is rasa and so is the basis of all beautiful akritis. forms that have endured and have become the basis of our religious activities and aesthetic contemplation. Literature is an important part of the aesthetic treasure of India and in many ways it is the basis and foundation of much of our arts and crafts. creations of the simple housewife. in way or another. Poetry is very ancient and even in the Vedas we valorize the poet as a prajapati. visual poetry. poise between o! pposites. adornment and beauty. alpona and mandana. the dancing akriti is able to break out of its static form and go beyond the limitations of human time and space to convey timeless truths through the image of the standing man reaching beyond time and space. Feet are the objects of devotion and worship and hands the favoured mode of benediction and blessing and convey so much more than mere shapes and find a pride of place in Indian akritis. a leader of the people. celestial and divine beings. The oral enunciation of the Purusha in the Veda then inspired the Indian artist to embark on a glorious journey of creating a variety of richly enduring forms of our gods and goddesses. the Vedic altar and t! hen in the vastupurusha mandala. narrative and spiritual insights. While maintaining a human form the Indian shilpi broke out of the limitations of the anatomic human to manifest the many beautiful and spiritual realms of the human mind thereby making the anthropomorphic forms divine and fit not just for religious worship but for contemplation. These are the very shapes that appear in the various rangoli.. rest and fulfilment at the centre of violent motion. As the Purusha sukta says so succinctly: Purusha is all this but even beyond Dance is the favoured akriti of Indian shilpis and it has been said that almost all icons are in form or the other dancing images. hands provide a living presence of benediction and are incorporated in many different ways whether on the floor or on walls. from an outward emotion to an inward feeling. While feet invoke the presence of the deity or the elder. Combining artistic movement and gestured emotion. words and images are used to draw the viewer into a vortex of multiple perspectives.evidence of this was seen in the creation of the vedi.. hasta mudras or hand gestures that have a language of their own. 14/15 Lannoy) This is seen particularly in . While dance remains the paradigm of human perfection in the hands of Indian artists and the hasta mudras are an integral part of that. Mandalas are also yantras or cosmic diagrams that are used in meditational practices and remain visual manifestations of the inner states of the mind. and it is the same rasa that takes us back from objective reality to subjective experience. Poetry informs and inspires our artists and artisans and it would not be wrong to say that most of our akritis are." (P. human hands and feet play a special role in various Indian akritis.

soft sandal scented southern winds caress quivering vines of clove. for it to touch hidden sources of beauty within itself. He then offers flowers. That rational mind is too preoccupied with mundane activities. spring and the rains. It is not uncommon for the housewife to chant a mantra or sing a bhajan as she draws the morning rangoli on the threshold. growth and joyousness. when after a hot and arid summer the fields are lush. worship and adorn. during which time he must hold fast to the conception evolved through yoga. trees and creepers. The Indian artist treats time and space in a mental and imagined rather than a physical and observed perspective.. The maker of the adornments for the Jagganatha images during the ratha yatra perform austerities.sculpture and painting where rational perspective is purposely transgressed in favour of arational time and space. a simple chant or prayer. busy with the commerce of life. And above all the peasant and the potter share the joy of a handful of earth and everything that grows from it. of growth and prosperity and the joy of holding a handful of earth and looking at the heavens and can be considered an invocation and celebration of the rains. forest groves hum with droning bees and the song of the cuckoo and this makes vasanta the season of romant! ic love. The painter of the Pithora Baba sleeps near the wall where the mural is to be created and draws inspiration from his dreams. The mental picture is thus seen in all its details and the work of art is complete in the mind even before being translated into form. It needs a purified and chastened mind to reach hidden and ancient seeds of akritis. Whether it is myth or dream. incense and other gifts to the form conceived. are foundational in understanding the Indian psyche and especially that of the craftsman. filled with the noise and dust of daily living. a primal and pristine state of consciousness.. an exalted and radiant rather than the rational and arid mind. These then are the sources of our akritis. But it is varsha or the rains. The operative word in the creation of beautiful forms is therefore dhyana and not chintan.. It is this earth that is the source and the inspiration of the many forms that we make and celebrate. there is a fragrant aroma from the earth and the farmers rejoice at the prospect of a good harvest. Vasanta or spring is the season when the mango tree puts out yellow blossoms. eat only once a day and that too only food that has been cooked in the temple kitchen. and folk art and craft in particular.. It has been rightly said that vasanta and varsha. Singing and chanting once again draw the mind away from its arid rationality to more beautiful and poetic recesses within the mind and this empowers the hand and gives it a certain rhythm as it cre! ates akritis. The artist then begins the task of technical elaboration. . the trees are bathed in nourishing rain waters. All of these are the inheritances of the artisan in his creative imagination. the rivers and the lakes that flow on the surface of the earth and nourish our body and psyche. The artist views the world from an inward eye and invites us to do the same for neither Indian painting nor sculpture is a representation of a photographic reality but conveys the essence or the rasa of the person or the event and remains an idealised or abstracted representation of the actual form. flowers and fruits. Most Indian art. is a celebration of fertility and fecundity of the world around us..The kind of mental state designed to be secured through the practice of yoga can also be cultivated by the artisan through tuning up the functions of the body and mind into perfect obedience to the faculty of intuition and through the deliberate invocation of dreams . Equally the potter or the weaver performs a simple puja before commencing his daily activities. Mulk Raj Anand describes the preparation that the sculptor undertakes before commencing his work: The artist performs purificatory ablutions and sits down to focus his attention on . these primal akritis arise from altered states of the mind. trance or meditation. the mountains and the hills that are the abode of our gods. there is a festive spirit all around and the rains promise growth and the ethos of the rains is one of abundance.a dhyana mantra.

It is in that dhi that there is the supra-sensory vision of the artist and the artisan and it is there that the form is algebraically. Equally Indian artistic sensibility was touched and tempered by the European colonisation of India and at the height of this our artists and artisans created various akritis to suit the European tastes. The kalamkari of the 19th century is a case in point. Our beautiful akritis go from the physical to the metaphysical and take us from the sensual to the spiritual Akriti thus throbs with meaning and has a reality. And when an akriti is lovingly made and worshiped they acquire a living presence and a reality of their own. Notice how Kabir describes a kalasha: ghata ghata me panchi bolata in every kalasha a bird sings. Indian akritis reflect that overarching Vedantic statement and it underpins the beautiful with both a religious and metaphysical significance. they are tied to timeless traditions and are even backed by shastras or canons. complete even before it is visible and palpable. its inter-connectedness and inter-dependence with every aspect of life and everything that is alive. stem from ancient myths. A defining feature of Indian akriti is that it is alive or living and this can be understood in many different ways. while retaining spontaneity. no artistic representation of a flower exists by itself but is a part of a creeper or a tree. As they are passed down through trackless generations they remain alive from one generation to another. Most akritis take their pedigree from our gathas and kathas our ancient myths and timeless songs and are a living treasure of our tradition. Up to this point we have considered the Indian civilisation mainly from the Hindu. standpoint. a kalasha is not just a container but encloses cosmic space. decorative objects developed and patronised by the Muslim kings and nobility are generally informed not only by the world of nature around them but equally by Hindu artistic sensibilities. The sacred and the secular come together in a seamless tapestry of beautiful akritis. it rarely stands alone but is generally a part of a larger whole. along with the Buddhist and Jain. whether it is in architecture or decorative motifs and objects. In the spirit of the Vedantic isha it can be said all Indian akritis are not just mute and inert forms but have a rhythm and life. a virahini nayika is never alone but holds the branch of a tree. Hindu akritis. The form which though inert and static represents the totality and the wholeness of life. While Indo-Islamic architecture forges a unique synthesis of Hindu and Islamic concepts of enclosing sacred and secular spaces and speak to some foundational Islamic concepts. grace and beauty that they derive from a divine source. Realistic flower and animal studies. every tree takes its pedigree from the mythic kalpavriksha and is an axis mundi connecting the earth to the sky. There is an important social side to the creation and enjoyment of akritis which is as . arabesques and jalis are some of the beautiful forms develope! d by Muslims kings and testify to the love of an opulent life style and gracious living that was their hallmark. have their unique sense of what is beautiful. No iconic forms are static and inert but incorporate movement and rhythm. its living relationship with the animate and inanimate world around it and its message of universality and harmony. There is yet another sense in which the akriti is alive. The Isa Upanishad declares: isha vasyam idam sarvam yat kincha jagatam jagat everything that lives and moves in this world is divinely inspired. though not arithmetically. ewers and huqqas.taking us right back to the etymological root dhi which is the mind of the mind where akritis are born. However the Muslims who have played an important part in the development of a unique Indo-Islamic artistic sensibility.

a storage space for the harvest. The three woman sang songs as they worked and asked for the blessings of the Mother. The various forms that are created are the treasure of the community and not of the individual and indicate a shared vision. express their dreams and hopes in the many akritis that they create. vent feelings. As one can see just from these two examples how the creation and celebration of akritis has a social side to it. even as it is being created it fosters a sense of companionship. When it is time to paint the family home and get it ready for a festival like Divali the women of the household work as a team. Stephen Huyler writes: Apni. the woman paints designs and children help in whatever way they can and at the end of the day when the work is done they have had the joy of spending the day together while creating beautiful pots. When housewives gather and create a kantha or sujuni or sanjhi they have an opportunity to exchange stories. All the women join in songs and prayers to the goddess. they foster a sense of the . The atmosphere is one of joyous togetherness. Social inequities and caste boundaries are set aside in the socially unifying activity of creating a beautiful form. Then accompanied by the other women living with her. an uninterrupted continuity between life. she walks to the small vegetable plot outside the town. 17. Even as they embroider a tree and a kalasha they might put a motor car in the composition for she wishes that the family have a car of their own. beseeching her guarantee for the health of the male members of their extended family. northern Rajasthan. the other draws th! e outline and a third prepares the rice paste. In a small village near Ahmedabad in Gujarat there was this observance: On the first day of Navratri. two sisters-in- law. the man brings the earth and turns the wheel. The average Indian. arrange matrimonial alliances and as they stitch and embroider. the festival of the Goddess. especially to the women who would otherwise be cloistered in their homes and the activity provides an outlet for their emotions and energies. Amba was carrying milk in an earthen ghata and when she heard them she too joined and gave all of them milk and then all the women together completed the rangoli and placed flowers on it. four nieces and her mother-in-law. The workshop of the craftsperson is regulated not by a clock but by the rhythms and sensitivities of his or her body. the akritis speak for the community and not just for the individual. it observes not only the seasons but the many festivals.important as its aesthetic discourse and religious observance. does not divide his self-image from that of his environment. a place for animals and humans to rest and equally it is an atelier for the creation of variou! s akritis. their dreams and aspirations. and the villager in particular. a workshop for the family trade. and the social as opposed to the religious. Taboos and inhibitions fade away as women. as they have a holistic and organic view of life and living. one prepares the wall. There is no better example of this than the courtyard of the home which is a gathering place for the family. asked for the blessings of the Mother and went to their homes. She paints the walls of her courtyard with a simple mural before dawn on the first day. P. behind the sociology of these akritis is also a shared epistemology. a daughter. the wife of a camel herder in Mandawa. However. the many social sides of the day to day living. and all of this bonds the community into a family. Life for them moves seamlessly from the sacred to the secular and stays in harmony with the sun and the moon. After about an hour they sat under a Pipal tree outside their home and they talked and laughed for an hour and invited many women who were walking by to join them. performs Gangaur vrata every year. The village potter works as a family. Lakshmi prepared a special rangoli in front of her house and in this she was helped by her neighbours Ganga and Tulsi. enjoy family gossip. are given a living presence along with the creation of art and craft. living and craft and a festive celebration of what it is to be a human and be driven by a joy of creativity. their hopes and fears. young and old. neither does he make the sacred a bipolar opposite of the secular.

I go to the wheel and sit in front of it and offer to it a small flower and worship it and ask forgiveness that I will put it to work and seek its blessings that the pots that I make today will be perfect in every way. It is the moral. objects that add grace and dignity to everyday life and living. they are voices of the same tongue. These are objects that are lovingly made and used daily with pride. like the branches of a tree they are tied to the same root and thus must be understood as expressions of the same culture. varied yet organically tied to each other. The people who make and celebrate these forms are bound together by the various akritis as much as they are connected by ties of blood and lineage of families. a day when I will use my hands to make beautiful objects. it both an act and a prayer and entails not only the joy of creating something beautiful but is equally backed by a spiritual and moral discipline. For after all in creating an akriti the artisan has given form to the formless and the formed object does not remain merely an object but becomes a source of knowledge and it behooves us to take the form and restore to it its formless beauty through our contemplative involvement with it.community even as they forge a common identity and are a part of the common! treasure of visual knowledge.and before I know I have made ten pots and it so much joy to see my pots dry in the sun. And then I begin my work and with the turning of the wheel I constantly chant the name of Ambamata and the chanting is in harmony with the hum of the wheel and I do not notice the time going by . for without the understanding of that sadhana we are likely to consider these objects as mere utilitarian or decorative. the housewife or the young bride. but in the ultimate analysis the enjoyment and the understanding of these forms produce a singularly unique experience in the individual. best understood as sadhana. Here is another example of individual freedom in a pluralistic Indian civilisation in the acquisition. a religious observance or kept aside for the daughter’s dowry. to be used everyday or kept away for a special occasion like a festival or marriage. even today. However in today’s urban and even rural market. Even if these objects are sold it was generally done through a barter system where a potter would exchange a pot or a toy with something that the blacksmith or the jeweler or the weaver made. the roots and expressions. the making of these objects is both a vocation and a profession. For the artisan or the craftsperson. but equally should inform us who use and surround ourselves with those objects. They are diverse yet related. The beautiful objects that are created are generally not sold but are for the family and the home. For in that journey is the recreation of the various creative processes and it makes the celebration of akriti a festival of the creative spirit of mankind. to be surrounded by them as one goes through the quotidian tasks is to be assured of the living and constant presence of the beautiful in the lived lives of the people. they are forms that speak the same language. of the various akrtis or artistic forms that have inspired the Indian mind and endured through trackless time in living spaces. religious and discipline on the part of the maker of the objects.! Despite this it is important for us not to forget the maker of these objects and the spirit of loving creativity in which the object is made. art and craft are sold as objects of commerce and this has become an important part of the informal economy of the country and has lost some of its traditional value and meaning and therefore beauty. The knowledge that these forms reveal is conditioned by the culture in which the people live and speak eloquently of its values and ideals. These then are the sources and manifestations. Only then will the journey of akriti take us to sanskriti. A village potter in Gujarat had this to say: I get up in the morning and have my bath and offer prayers to Vishwakarma and ask his blessings to make my day. and this will not be in the keeping with the spirit of akriti and the kirtikar. they co-mingle and interpenetrate. understanding and realisation of knowledge. they are visions that sing the . that not only shapes the making and creation of these objects.

At this p! oint can we be far from the atman our true and ultimate selves? . obtained by a process of mental visualisation. every phenomenon of nature is its vehicle. the will and the mystery of the divine. from the objective form to the subjective experience of that form. Coomaraswamy rightly observes that: Rarely if ever have Indian artists drawn with a model in front of them.Thus the form is always reached by a process of synthesis and abstraction. rather than by observation. from the form to the formless. every fragment of matter its habitat and thus it is that every akriti is in some way or another a from of that divine. they are all beautiful forms of the same civilisation. every horse to Uchaisvaras. " (p. P.. as there is in the Vedantic manaso manah. a beauty that reveals the inner relationship and inter-dependence of everything that lives and moves and which highlights the organic fecundity and joyousness of life. the beautifully outer form only an invitation to the beauty within. that relates every kalasha to the samudra manthan. Form for us in India is not just a decoration but a revelation of an essence. and is always in the last analysis a memory image. from first to last. 35 History) This creative synthesis for the artist is not just of the present but of the distant past. a synthesis that creates a unity amidst the beauty of all life in formal terms. the craft person to the craft. The true realisation and understanding of akriti then is to go from the particular to the universal.24.. For us in the Indian tradition each particle of the universe manifests the power.same song. from the outer mind to an inner mind that connects a leaf to a tree and all trees to the kalpavriksha. there is for us in all our beautiful forms a sutrasya sutra. a synthesis not merely at an individual but at a collective level. every event its evidence. a mind of the mind. and the image proper is at all times. a rasa within an outer form. or the anya-manas or other-mindednes! s. We return to Octavio Paz once again who wrote: Between the timeless time of the museum and the (frenzied) time of technology craftsmanship is the heartbeat of human time. and it is only in that enlightened journey from akriti to sanskriti that what is beautifully Indian reveals itself to us and rests in the serene and blissful state of beauty. it is a perception of an inward beauty of those forms. that is not content just to stand on the earth but to raise their hands and touch the sky. and so on with every form and its roots in the grand treasure of Indian sanskriti.