Hinduism: Hinduism and Fine Arts – 51

Hinduism: Hinduism and Fine Arts – 51


There is a close association between Hinduism
and fine arts. From the ancient period, when Hinduism was
not yet formally established, the proto-Hindu culture of the Sindhu-Saraswati civilization
exhibits an abundance of artistic skill and craftsmanship. As long as five thousand years ago, the direction
in which the people were moving was clear by their activities: the design pattern of
the housing in the upper and lower regions of the city, the ingenious drainage system,
the large community baths, the storage facilities for agricultural products, the seals, the
aesthetically beautiful sculptures, the production of ultra-fine clothing, and the large variety
of aromatic spices for their gourmet cooking. The inception of the Vedas has been considered
as man’s first attempt to create organized literature. The world of poetry, music, dancing, sculptures,
painting, and many other forms of fine arts grew steadily and swiftly. The earliest Hindu scriptures, Vedas and Upanishads,
are regarded as divine inspirations. As there was no written language at that time,
these were produced in poetic lyrics. These lyrics were then rendered to very haunting
melodies to make them easy to recite and remember. The vast canvas of the Hindu scriptures is
a testimony of the literary zeal among the followers. The free flow of written word is but a projection
of a free mind. In this golden cradle of civilization were
born so many new ideas and philosophies. The poets had a green pasture from which to
feed themselves. Much of the early scriptures, including the
Ramayana and the Mahabharata, were rendered in lyrical style. The Bhagavad Gita literally means the “song
of the Lord.” In the period of Chandra Gupta II (375–415),
India produced her finest poet and dramatist, Kalidasa. His most popular works include Shakuntala,
Meghdoot, Kumarasambhava, Malavika, and many others. These great classics have become the world’s
heritage—there has been unprecedented interest in the Kalidasa’s Shakuntala. In the nineteenth century, no fewer than forty-six
translations of this masterpiece—in twelve different languages—were published in Europe.104 In the twelfth century another brilliant poet,
Jayadeva, composed the Sanskrit epic song Geet Govinda, which immediately became popular
throughout the country. The devotional aspect of Sri Radha, the Krishna
zealot, often has been colored with sensuous moods, making Hindu religion unique in its
abundance and passion. The love play expressed in these songs, however
erotic, was still of pure type (prema), in contrast to the worldly type that is full
of physical desires (kama).106 The songs of other saints—Thirukural and
Chivavakkiyar (Tamil), Bhagat Namdev, Chaitanya Mahprabhu, Sant Kabir, Bhagat Narsi Mehta,
Guru Nanak, Bhagat Surdas, Sant Haridas, Goswami Sant Tulsidas, Sant Mirabai, and many others—also
have become extant and popular. For more than five thousand years, places
of worship have been steeped in the deep melody and enraptured tunes of chanting the Vedic
prayers (mantras), devotional songs (bhajans), and chorus singing (kirtan). As extension of the Vedas, the Upavedas were
created, which were mainly concerned with various human arts and sciences. For example, Sama Veda has its Upaveda, Gandharva,
which deals with the art of music. Carnatic music is the original classical music
of the Hindu culture, which started the basis of the sa, re, ga, ma, pa, dha, and ni musical
notes. Carnatic, which translates as “older,”
may be related to the ancient Dravidian culture. Soon afterward, the art of dance took hold
in Hindu society. It is said that Lord Shiva composed the first
syllables of bhav (emotion), raga (melody), tala (rhythm), and rasa (mood). He thus came to be called Nataraja, the King
of Dancing. A separate scripture, Natya Shastra, was compiled
between the first and third centuries and was dedicated to this fine art. Dance became the most prominent temple activity
in ancient times. Dancing maids, or devadasis, performed in
front of the murti (idol) of God, and all devotees cherished the worship through this
medium. The sexual exploitation of these devadasis
has been yet another tragic tale of human weakness, but the flower of civilization blossoms
by cutting the weeds, not by uprooting the plant itself. Today, Hindu women have taken to dancing,
both as art and profession, in a mature and serious manner. Seven prominent classical dance styles are
in vogue: Bharat Natyam of Tanjore, South India; Kathak of Uttar Pradesh, North India;
Kathakali of Kerala, South India; Manipuri of Assam, East India; Mohiniyattam of Kerala;
Kuchipudi of Andhra; and Odissi of Orrissa, East India. There are also many folk dance forms, such
as Chhau of Orrissa, Raas Garba of Gujarat, Bhangra of Punjab, and Lavani of Maharashtra. The richness of these dancing arts has been
admired in art circles all over the world. Sculpture and painting became the foremost
features in Hindu temple construction. From ancient times, these arts have dominated
the temple scenario. The terra-cotta art of earthen pottery, as
well as bronze, copper, silver, gold, and marble work, all have drawn the attention
of Hindu society from all walks of life. The extraordinary display of these arts in
many Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist temples is a testament to this concept. Even today, Hindus expend their wealth and
other resources for art, with great passion and intensity. The Hindu temple is often a work of art and
beauty in itself, both the outside and inside. The legend is that near the famous pilgrimage
of Orcha in Madhya Pradesh, there is a beautiful hilltop shrine of goddess Shakti, which is
known as Maihar. According to the ancient scriptures, this
Shakti goddess is associated with the fine arts. Apart from the permanent structures in the
temples, Hindus started the custom of creating very large, highly artistic, and alluring
idols of gods, especially during the Ganpati and Durga festivals. These idols were ceremoniously immersed in
the sea or water tanks after the conclusion of the gala religious events, thus ensuring
an ongoing support and patronage for the artists and craftsmen. Every year new idols with current ideas and
designs are created.

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