Resurgence of Art, Culture in India (2nd August, 2008) - Audio

When I heard that the general title under which I am to speak is commercial. I was slightly hesitant to present myself under that title, because I hardly fit in with the idea of commercialization.

So if I don't touch that subject, you'll pardon me.

It is a subject which has been given to me, which is extremely important and I think it is something on which we all who are Indians in their heart, and in their soul, and their aspiration should be concerned with it in a very central manner. I think, first of all, like the tradition of Socrates and Plato, we may do well to define the terms art, culture, India and resurgence.

I think you may begin with the definition of resurgence because the whole thrust is on resurgence and it is true that for the last hundred years, India is speaking of a period of renaissance. In fact since the time of Raja Ram Mohan Roy, we think of India having arisen as it were and a new world, and many movements like Brahmo Samaj, and Arya Samaj and Prarthana Samaj and many other movements that took place both in Eastern India and Western India, Northern India and Southern India. If we count a few eminent glorious personalities you find as it were, there's a crowd of some of the great personalities who have brought back what we can truly call Indian.

We are not very clear as to what exactly this word resurgence means.

Undoubtedly, there is an element of awakening or resurgence is a process of awakening. It shows that there was a period when India had gone to sleep and it is true that 18th and 19th centuries of Indian history indicate a great slumber of India. When the leadership of India had succumbed into wasteful luxury, irreligiosity and immorality. Shatranj ke khiladi is a very apt manner by which Satyajit Ray has tried to bring out what kind of slumber in which India was gripped at that time. It is from there that India is awakening. So there's no doubt about this fact that there is some resurgence in that sense. But then there is also sometimes a reference to the Renaissance of Europe and we try to ask whether India's resurgence is something like the Renaissance which took place in Europe. And we may like to ask this question, if there is a difference between the two? What exactly was the European Renaissance?

When Europe awoke, it was Europe which was Christianized, patronised, feudalised—that was Europe. And it is in the tide of these three forces of Europe that there was an awakening. But this awakening was a kind of reversal; it was going back to Greece and Greek civilization. It was bringing back the Greek thought, Greek spirit, Greek art, architecture; imprints of Greece that became the mark of this Renaissance in Europe.

In India it seems that it is not exactly that kind of reversal.

There is of course an awakening and there is a kind of stock taking of what India was. And there's also a kind of what we may call spirit of India coming back, asserting itself and giving to India's life the fundamental force of existence and therefore giving a kind of a new life, emerging out of the spirit. In that sense, you might say there is a return of the spirituality of India. And if we count from that point of view, there is going back as it were.

Dayanand Saraswati who rose at a period through his Arya Samaj gave this message, going back to the Vedas. Bhramo Samaj gave the call to bring back the Upanishads and then a number of other great leaders, including Tilak, who spoke of the resurgence in terms of the Gita, the teaching of the Gita. I think these three great personalities, three great movements − Dayanand Saraswati, Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Tilak sum up as if they were reawakening but this is not all. This is not a true account of the resurgence of India.

The true resurgence of India is something like, − rebirth and this word rebirth is very important. In fact, Renaissance means rebirth. In French naissance is birth and re is repeat, it's a new birth. What exactly happens in rebirth? In rebirth the soul is the same but environment and the means of expression are all different, is a new body, a new life, a new mind and even the soul in that sense is in the process of renewing itself, which is not exactly the same soul in the same kind of past; it's not the same in that sense but the spirit is the same, but there is a great resurgence a new movement in that very soul to create something new. I think the resurgence of India is of that kind. It is not a European Renaissance but where something of the past was again clamped back, slammed back on the movements of Europe.

Here we stand upon a new kind of a movement where the spirit of India vibrates with new vibrations. And Veda, Upanishad, Gita are of course recovered and should be recovered. The whole force and thrust is even to make spiritual life have a new kind of orientation. It is not merely Vedic spirituality, Upanishadic spirituality or Gita's spirituality. And Sri Aurobindo, the three great treasures which are available to India, surely must be studied by all of us in great depth. That is the necessity of the resurgence of India. And Sri Aurobindo says that the recovery of this knowledge is an essential task of India, so that if you do anything else, but if you don't do this, we cannot expect to fulfill ourselves. This is the foundation. But that foundation is not to be brought back as it was in the past. Even bringing back has to have a new thrust and that is the mark of special resurgence.

As Sri Aurobindo again points out the Veda was a promise and there was a great unimaginable spiritual stir and the text that we have in the four Vedas is such a tremendous treasure that it has to be brought out as it were from mysteries and all kinds of superstitions. But what Veda attempted and has not yet been done. What Upanishads recaptured of the Veda and put forward but not yet accomplished. What the Gita brought back both of the Veda and the Upanishads and recapitulated in a dynamic form, for a dynamic action of man on the earth; even that Sri Aurobindo says: 'when we approach the Gita, we feel it brings us to the secret but it does not work it out.' And this is a very pregnant statement of Sri Aurobindo: Gita brings us to the gates from where the solution that we seek must be found but how it can be worked out, is something quite new and that is unexplored. And since we already made a great march in resurgence, we can say that what Sri Aurobindo did was to accomplish that task.

What was proposed by the Bhagavad Gita above all that Reality is not only static but also dynamic and not only dynamic but actively participating in every moment of man's action. And that this action is not merely the action of what is called the three gunas of sattva, rajas and tamas. The divine action is the action of what is called Para Prakriti of what is called the higher nature and that higher nature is to be made active but when it is made active to what length it can go. Whether it can accomplish what it wants to do, namely full manifestation of Para Prakriti in earthly life. This was a great experiment, which was still not yet accomplished in the whole history of India and it is that which Sri Aurobindo in the process of resurgence of India he accomplished. In that sense, we might say that we are already, as far as this fundamental work is concerned; we are the inheritors of a tremendous achievement of the resurgence of India. It is not as if the resurgence of India is to start now. This fundamental work is done and this is of great importance we should underline.

But apart from this and as a consequence of this is that it is bound to recreate for us all aspects of life. It is not the Dharmashastra of the old, which we shall resurrect and give to our people. All this can be recovered and recovery is necessary, but it is the new Dharmashastra that is the need of our times. The old Dharmashastra is inadequate to answer our questions. The old Shastras of art, music and dance are all that is necessary and should be brought back but in their old forms it is not adequate, we have to create new forms of art, new forms of literature, new forms of sculptor, new vistas. Even the medium of cinema today, it's a new medium and requires a big challenge as to how to make this new medium an adequate medium of expressing the spirit of India.

And then there is a vast field which has opened up before us because of the modern emphasis on political organization, a big question of Indian polity. What kind of social organization, what kind of political organization that we shall have and one of the great tendencies today in India is to seek a new form of state, indeed we speak today of the Constitution of India as if a great achievement has been accomplished, it is not true. It is only a beginning in which we have imitated the West, without bringing the spirit of India into the very constitution of our life.

Resurgence of India will be manifesting itself more fully when we shall all be together; it's a very difficult task. Monarchy, aristocracy, oligarchy, democracy, all these forms of political organization in Indian history we have passed through all of them. We need to bring back again, all the lessons of the past but then what are we to create? It would be no monarchy again, no oligarchy, no aristocracy, not even democracy of which we speak so much today.

A new form of organization has to come into existence that will fulfill the highest ideals of what can be called anarchism. Anarchism is a bad word because it means as if there is a disorder. But in political terms, anarchism is a great ideal where people don't require the development of mankind to such a high level, that there is no requirement of an authority, like a state, which can impose any law upon man. Free man living freely, directly by guidance of the inner law of being and harmoniously living together. It is that kind of formation that we need to develop in our country. In fact, this is a very far off dream, you might say but may not be so very far off, maybe 100 years, 200 years or something of this kind has to come into existence.

In fact, all the movements of the world today, the highest movements of political thought are centered on this question, state versus authority. Whether the freedom of the individual can be fully manifested even while the individual lives in society as a responsible contributor. This is the highest thought of political life today. And whereas all other nations are groping into it, if you examine Indian history, Indian experience, I would say that India can take a lead because of its past experience.

We had monarchy but democratic monarchy which was not present anywhere in the world. It's a new kind of experiment which Shri Rama himself accomplished, long, long ago, as we see in Ramayana. There was oligarchy, aristocracy, all kinds of forms we have gone through even the modern democracy we are now going through and we find the hollowness of it. The way in which today our country is being run, and if you look at the scenes in the Parliament today and the way in which so-called individuals, advocates of freedom, are utilizing their freedom, it is a travesty of the truth of individualism and freedom.

How can such an organization continue to exist when human beings of new kind and I must say that all of us today are human beings of the new kind, whether we recognize it or not, the sooner we recognize the better it is. We all belong to a new, new generation and we are filled with certain ideas, which make us new, whether we like it or not, we are vehicles of a new world. It is in this context that I would like to define the resurgence of India. It's a rebirth of the soul of India attempting to manifest itself in new forms − of physical life, vital life, mental life, new forms and therefore the emphasis of the form. And form is the central subject of art.

There are many, many things in this world. Everything is a form but if there is a special field of art − it is form. And it is that which gives us a definition of art in life. Art is fundamentally an image. An image which reflects a vision, there is no image without a vision. So the foundation of art is a vision. Art is art, when an image corresponds exactly to the vision. A good artist, a real artist, a good dancer and a good sculptor, a good painter is one who has vision. And he or she is able to manifest that vision in an accurate artistic presentation of it, a real image of it.

In fact, this was a tremendous experience of Indian art. And if you examine the story of Indian art, it is amazing how in all different forms whether architecture, or it is sculpture, or painting, or dance, or music, or drama in all forms of art; and art is not the complete statement of culture, but it is a very important expression of culture.

And it is there that India has made a tremendous search because the vision of India has been guided by something very unique, − the vision of the spirit, vision of the infinite, the infinite looms large as it were all over. The whole Indian art wherever you turn, in whatever detection you turn, it is the infinite; the highest height, the summit which overpowers everywhere. And the greatest artists of India have tried to capture this.

Why Natraj is such an important symbol of dance in India, why? It is a vision of a cosmic reality, an infinite reality in its mood of exuberance and moving out thoroughly in all aspects and yet so rhythmically. It is a kind of a figure that looms larger than our whole imagination of the whole cosmic movement. It's a tremendous image in our whole Indian culture, Indian mentality. It's a tremendous achievement that this image has been cast so powerful on the Indian mentality. For us, cosmic movement is as near as a statue of Natraj. The whole cosmos is present and cosmos in its exuberance and its movement, which is rhythmic. This is the image that India has produced and given to mankind.

The face of Buddha, the ineffable manifesting itself in its calm. You look at the image of Buddha it is impossible to remain untouched, the infinity as it were overpowers you, eternal calm of Nirvana; it is as it were right near you, penetrating in all the cells of your body, this is a great achievement the figure of Buddha that you find everywhere, all over India, over powers of our consciousness all over. Nirvana is so near to all of us because of this Buddha figure.

And then you see Ajanta. All the great paintings of Ajanta. And you imagine what kind of art, what kind of expression? What must have been the intensity of the artists? Padmapani, just one figure you see and you find amazing; you can look at this for hours and hours and hours. It is one pose, this line, this figure and this bhava.

As we know, Indian art has six limbs. And in Ajanta when you go and see all the six limbs of art:“Roopabhedah pramanani Sadrishyam all the Roopabhedah and all pramananas and bhava-lavanya-yojanam. Bhava and lavanya and then we have Sadrishyam exact image, Sadrishyam. Vision and the image there should be Sadrishyam. Not exactly as in the imitation of nature as in the Western psychology and artistic tradition. When we say Sadrishyam, it is not Sadrishyam, a figure of man or woman in Indian art or painting is not a replica of the ordinary human beings that we see. Sadrishyam is there but it is Sadrishyam of the reality that is behind, there's a vision which is being manifested so that Indian artists did not hesitate to change the physical aspect of reality.

So that you can say that there is no realism in that sense, but there is no idealism in the sense that it departs completely, it is not surrealism either. It's not cubism either, it is realism, it is idealism, it is beyond because what is attempted to be expressed is that vision. And this is a very important mark of Indian art. And unless we understand this fundamental of Indian art and manifest it now because today we have to go beyond, or that has been so much recapturing the whole treasure of our experience of art of the past, are we able to express it in different forms?

And then this is not only the question of art. There's a question of culture as a whole. And what is the definition of culture, what is culture? We all speak of culture in a very loose manner and very often we only identify painting and dance and music at the most as culture. When you say cultural program, do you think it is a cultural program connected with art or music or dance, but culture comes from the root expression of cultivation. There is a question of cultivation, where is no cultivation there is no culture? And what is it that needs to be cultivated?

There is a great distinction between civilization and culture. In civilization also there is cultivation. Anything that sustains the social, political organization so as to give law and order to the people and some kind of guidance of higher motives of life is civilization. And in that sense we speak of Indian civilization and Egyptian civilization, Persian civilization and Greek civilization and so on. Wherever there is a civil society capable of living in law and harmony that is civilization.

Some element of culture undoubtedly has to be there in every civilization but culture by itself is a cultivation of faculties that transcend body, life existence. Body, life existence is a fundamental task on which culture can grow. It is a flower of civilization. It is a fruit of civilization and basically it has a precise connotation of the word culture is restricted to the development of mind and spirit; cultivation of mind and spirit. Where there is no cultivation of mind and spirit you can say it is a civilization but a very low culture.

Even a barbarian may have a civilization and modern commercialization. Now today brings us back to it. Even art can exist in a barbaric civilization but it is not culture. Real culture is where three aspects of the mind are greatly cultivated, − the rational, ethical, and aesthetic. These are three great aspects of the human mind. These are three great aspects, which put us into what is called norms of existence, it lifts you. Norm is a kind of an ideal which invites you to fly, to be more than an animal. Animal looks only downwards, it does not have the feet which can stand erect and cannot look upward. It is man, as distinguished from animal who can stand erect and can raise his head up upwards and look upwards and the one power in man, which makes him really, psychologically erect is the mind and therefore as civilization, which it does not have ethics and philosophy and aesthetics that civilization is not cultured.

Many times it is said India is not a cultured country. I mean, if you go to some very sophisticated countries of today and you see they think our Indian people think that we are not cultured. It is a complete misunderstanding of India because we don't ourselves know what our culture is.

In the 19th century, there was a big question: is India civilized? And many people in India themselves believe that India is not civilized.

If you don't wear a neck-tie how can you be civilized? So to be civilized, we do not know what is the meaning of civilization and that we are inheritors of a tremendous tradition of art, music, dance, drama, philosophy, polity, sociology and a tremendous movement towards ethics. I don't think any nation has given thought to ethics as India has for ages and ages. What is the ideal law of conduct? You go to Rome, of which many people in the West are very proud of Roman Law as if they had reached a climax of understanding human society and how human society can be governed. I don't think that any Dharmashashtra anywhere corresponds to what Dharmashastra India possesses; so detailed and so wonderfully worked out; every question is to be treated scientifically.

A Dharmashastra which is scientific, philosophy which is scientific, even art which is scientific. This spirit of experimentation, of observation, of pragmatic results we brought out of experimentation and then critical examination of the same and moving forward. As Sri Aurobindo says that 'If you examine India's whole history, you'll find three important characteristics of India by which India can be defined.

India can be defined as spirituality, intellectuality, inexhaustible vitality. These are three words, spirituality, intellectually, inexhaustible vitality. Sublimest spirituality, robust intellectually, not only intellectually but robust intellectually and inexhaustible vitality. Vitality of such a nature when India was going downward in a period of decline. In the thousand AD, India was almost on the point of decline. And yet as if it were like a jet, India produced twelve important languages as if from nowhere. Imagine that modern India today has 12 principal languages. And they all have taken birth after 1000 AD. What a vitality of this nation that on the point of your decline, you produce such a tremendous outpour as it were, pouring of new languages and development of them in all forms and recapturing the whole past into these languages. And today we are inheritors of vast literature because of that thing that happened in India. This is the vitality of India. And as Sri Aurobindo says: 'other nations or other civilizations which did not have this kind of background as India possesses, it would have perished.'

But in the 18th century, 19th century, we went down to such a level; India would have never arisen at all from that torpor. It was torpor; it would have been a death. It did not happen. India rode and rode like a wounded lion but recovering the wound and ready to roar and come back with a spring. This is the force and power of Indian culture and this is India.

India is spirituality, robust intellectuality, inexhaustible vitality. It is these three forces of India which are rising today, once again. Let us not mistake this point that India's spirituality has been reasserted in modern India. If you read the greatest books of India today, there are two greatest boons given by Sri Aurobindo are The Life Divine and The Synthesis of Yoga. These two great books, it will take for any Indian at least 50 years even to understand these two great books, intellectually, after you have got some intellectual training and some spiritual training. If you read these two books, it will take you 50 years to understand them. And this has been done in the 20th century, such a tremendous spring of India that a new spirituality has been given to mankind.

The whole idea of evolution has been absorbed. We thought that Darwin gave the idea of evolution and it is here in India that this idea of evolution is recovered as it were from the past of India and given a new garb and a new program and worked out. Sri Aurobindo spoke of Supermind as the next step of evolution. And it is that next step of evolution, which has been accomplished not only proposed. And this is what Sri Aurobindo and the Mother declared − Supermind is at work.

This is, according to me, the most important tidings for India, Supermind is at work and whether we like it or not, we recognize it or not it is at work. It is that which would lift all of us and give a new form. We have many, many dangers, many perils ahead of us. One thing we can give to Indians today is this message of optimism.