A Report on
Indian Dramatic Arts
and Value Education
A Symposium by
India International Centre (Annexe)
April 6, 7, 8 (9:30 am - 5:30 pm).
The session began with a Mangalaacharana by Dr. Bharat Gupt reciting the Sarasvati sukta in the traditonal Rik paatha and a welcome to venerable senior scholars, paper readers, performers, delegates, the press and other media persons. In the Statement of the Conference Aims, he said, that this symposium was being held to explore the philosophy, both traditional and modern, behind the vast variety of the Indian dramatic arts which though performed extensively were not discussed deeply that often. He drew attention to the plan of discussions as divided into four plenary sessions called Srishti, Aasvaad, Saadhanaa and Sahridayataa which followed not a historical and evolutionary approach but a diachronic definition of the ever renewing dramatic traditions.
The inaugural lamp was lit by Prof. Radhavallabh Tripathi who gave a moving address in Hindi stating how he aspired to understand the shaastra of performance, the Natyashastra, in more than one life time as the subject was so vast. In many ways the present times seemed to him as the age of the Natyashastra which was being followed not only by the Indian arts but also now in the new genres of film, video and CD-ROMs everywhere. The Natyashastra had a wide vision, as it wanted to show all that existed in this world and conceal nothing. It was not a constrictive system, as often alleged, but one open to new genres and forms.
In his keynote address, Prof. Kapil Kapoor emphasized that Indian theories of art, both of natya and kavya traditions, reveal a harmony between aesthetic and ethical values. He said this was also the case with the stream of Greek thought represented by Aristotle. The later European thought however had lost that balance and more often argued for either value free and or propagandist art. But in India, the purushaarthas, as abiding cultural values were held a part and parcel of art.
Shri Kireet Joshi, Chairperson, Indian Council for Philosophical Research (ICPR), said that the main purpose of this seminar was to draw out from the philosophy of dramatic arts the lessons for education. Drama like the moon not only gives light but also delight. The Natyashastra purified us through ananda. India had raised the important question in history, how can we see the invisible, saakshaatkaara? Sruti, smriti, natya and kavya are all means of knowing the invisible. Bharata Muni had given us the art of capturing invisible reality. He urged the gathering of scholars to think about the essentials that make for the greatness and timeless value of a dramatic work. He said that every performance is not drama and we should not lose sight of what sustains the works of an Aeschylus, Sophocles, Kalidasa, Shudraka, Tagore or Shakespeare. He emphasized that the classics have captured not just the world of appearance but also the reality that is not apparent yet governs not only mankind but the whole cosmos. He said, the Indian tradition was never limited by local or smaller concerns. It looked at universal aspirations. The philosophy of Indian dramatic arts had a conscious possession of the secret of the world and what was behind the world and the important instrument of presenting it. The Natyashastra was, therefore, the pancama veda and was more important than the four as it was a ladder of knowing the Supreme Veda or Ultimate Knowledge.
He said that the great dramatist shows through individual act the great world act. What is most important is action and not dialogue. There are many great plays with little dialogue but much dance and music. The dramatist gives us the experience of action and its result through which the soul gains knowledge. Thus there is no better way to education than drama. He wished that the philosophy of Indian dramatic arts is manifested in our country, we become repossessors of that knowledge, we enact great dramas, give our students the healing touch so that the quest for immortality, the fundamental message of India, is revisited and we become ‘amritasya putraah’.
In delivering the vote of thanks of the inaugural session, Dr. Bharat Gupt pointed out that the three addresses of the morning showed that continuous regeneration, unity of aesthetics and ethics, and art as channel to highest consciousness, were the guiding principles of Indian dramatic philosophy. He added that the traditional distinction between rasa and rasaabhaasa (the delusion of rasa) was meant to prevent our seeking enjoyment in the unethical. He thanked the audience for listening with rapt attention and announced the immediate start of the first plenary session.
First Plenary Session
Srishti : Creation of Natya was chaired by Shri Kireet Joshi and began with a presentation called “Transformation in Dance, from Text to Expression,” by Ms. Sonal Mansingh. She talked about how a dancer begins with the well defined postures but turns them into deeply emotive experiences that create a new spell with each rendering. She performed portions of the Jaideva ashtapadi, “Keshiimathanamudaaram…” with Shri Bankim Seth singing the Sanskrit text. In the ensuing discussion, Prof. Sunil Kothari elaborated upon how the dance language is meant to reveal also the overtly unstated meaning of the text. Dr. Bharat Gupt asked how can the dancer add to the language of traditional postures to facilitate modern expression. Ms. Mansingh said that creating novelty was achieved through emotive expression whether the postures were old or new.
Ms. Arshiya Sethi in her paper, “Sacred to Secular,” the Satriya of Assam told the about the spiritual art form practitioners in the ‘kshetras’ who are now neither able to perform as of old nor able to adjust to the new audience. She made a strong appeal for Satriya to be recognized as a national art form of classical dance. The discussants, Sonal Mansingh, Makarand Paranjape and Madhu Khanna further investigated this problem which is acute not only for Satriya of Assam but of other classical forms as well. Madhu Khanna made an impassioned plea for providing education to the audience instead of asking the traditional artist to mould itself to cosmopolitan markets. Dr. Gupt elaborated on how artists have always been nurtured in the regional expanses but the ancient or medieval capitals did not ask them to refurbish their expression as is the case now. Tansen matured in Rewa but was rewarded for the same music in Agra. The challenge now before the artist is not to surrender to the new patrons. He summed up the salient points of discussion and invited everybody for lunch.
The afternoon portion was chaired by Prof. Kapil Kapoor and began with a lecture on Koodiyattam by Dr. Sudha Gopalkrishanan and a performance by Shri Madhu Margi as actor showing abhinaya and artha in Koodiyattam while the drum accompaniment was given by Shri Rama Unni. In an enchanting demonstration Madhu Margi enacted the feelings of Sita in Ashok Vatika as felt by her abductor Ravana, while Sudha Gopalkrishnan gave a commentary on the subtle aspects of abhinaya. It was followed by a discussion by Prof. Kapil Kapoor and Indra Nath Chaudhary.
The next lecture was delivered by Prof. Makarand Paranjape on “Naatyotpatti, the Origin of Natya”. He first drew attention to the fact that the coherence of an Indian shaastra must be always kept in mind before going into hermeneutics. He outlined the deeper meaning of the myth of the origin of drama as enshrined in the deva-asura combat and the implications it has not only for theory of performance in the Natyashastra but for all kinds of amrita, that is spiritual, social, cultural and economic wealth. A combat is going on today between people who believe in the value of Indian heritage and those who don’t. Drama and search for values have to be seen in this context. Myth of origin is representing in Natyashastra a metaphysics of creation and of knowledge that is ever renewing and is Vedic in that sense. It also represents the methodology of the science of performance through the tradition of disciplined artists and the art venues. The myth also affirms poetics of impartial truth and universal aesthetics in contrast with the reductionist approaches.
The discussants, Sunil Kothari and Sonal Mansingh talked on the difference of enactment (ekaahaarya abhinaya) by the dancer in representing dramatic persona in Koodiyattam and Orrisi. Madhu Margi observed that every actor had his own way of imagining a persona even beyond the taught skills. Dr. A. P. Jain, a scientist, asked a general question as to why when talking about Indian performing arts, we always talk of “Vedic heritage” only, as it alienates many people? An answer was that it is the oldest available text of our heritage and another that it is also the beginning of many performing arts as well. Besides, ‘Veda’ is just not the book but it has been clearly defined as synonymous with all that is worth knowing, added Prof. Paranjape.
Second Plenary Session
In the afternoon, we began the Second Plenary Session called Aasvaad : The Appreciation of Natya, chaired by Prof. Radhavallabh Tripathi. The first presentation was made by Prof. Indra Nath Chaudhury on “The Concept of Rasa, the Aesthetic Value System and the Modern Theatre.” He argued that the only thing constant in a play is a value system. No art can be sustained without a value implicit or explicit. The development of the shaanta, vaatsalya, lalita and other rasas was a development in the philosophical values of medieval India. He explained the transformation of the every day world into the art world through rasa aesthetics which is sometimes misunderstood as escapism. Development in the theory has been continuous since medieval times to the present day. Bhoja had rejected Bharata’s classification of sthaayee and sanchaaree and hence all feelings including the very modern ones could consequently be seen as rasas.
A very interesting discussion followed his paper. Dr. Ramesh Rishikalp wondered if modern authors like Sircar and Tendulkar, ideologues of a different kind, could fit into the harmonious system of rasa theory. Prof. Satyadev Chaudhary reiterated that Bharata Muni’s classification of sthaayee and sanchaaree was a psychological reality and all enactment in whatever age fell into that category. The newest sanchaaree always enforced the oldest sthaayee. Many from the audience wanted to join issues with the speaker but the session had to be terminated by Dr. Gupt as the auditorium had to be vacated for the day and the tea was waiting.
April 7, 2002
The plenary session which continued the next day was chaired by Prof. R. C. Pradhan, Member Secretary, ICPR. While welcoming the audience and speakers, Dr. Bharat Gupt said that as shown by the intensity of yesterday’s discussion the term rasa still evoked the greatest involvement as it was one of those classical terms that are used by the pandit and commoner alike with equal complexity.
Prof. Ranjan Ghosh reading his paper, “Two Approaches to the Theory of Rasa” said that in the West the notion of aesthetic experience is now often debunked and rasa has to be seen in that atmosphere. The Indian approach centres around the experience of art or art emotion often transcending any life emotion, whereas the Western is concerned with the nature of the art object. He then proceeded to expound the two modern approaches to rasa, namely that of K.C. Bhattacharya and Barlinge. KCB, he said, postulates three grades of feelings, such as a child’s feeling in play not even aware that he is playing, a person’s identifying with the happiness of the child, and third, the feeling of another person who sympathizes with the feeling of the child observer either as projecting himself into the observer’s feelings or assimilating the observer’s feelings. The assimilative way transcends the object and takes only the feeling and is actually the rasa experience. Barlinge on the other hand, said Prof. Ghosh, was concerned with the enactment on the stage (aasvadya) and not the tasting or aasvaada. It was the art on the stage that contained the rasa. It was an objectified emotion on the stage and not in life. Barlinge he said made a clear distinction between art and life and was hence a better analysis of rasa.
Reacting to the paper, Shri Kireet Joshi raised three points. Is everything we see on stage drama, he asked. He shared the view of KCB that the object is transcended in art as that rising above is the crux of aesthetic experience. A fact of experience must become a value and not remain a mere fact. When Radha says that she holds the lord of the three worlds on her breasts and is thus greater than Krishna who held the mountain Govardhana, she is talking of a value (and not the lover). He added that the best dramatist was one who made the audience feel like a dramatist or creator. In his reply, Prof. Ghosh said he was not aiming to discuss evaluative criteria but only as to where and how the pleasure arose in art.
Dr. Patnaik was happy that Prof. Ghosh has shown that in India even modern thinkers were reinterpreting the classical texts. Here the reader, the writer and the text all three are taken together and is not like Structuralism overthrown by Formalism, and that by New Criticism, by Reader Response Theories, by Deconstruction, and so on. He then said, we should not forget that enactment in life was accidental but on the stage it was intentional. Also he asked about the nature of emotion on stage, was it just visible or suggestive? Prof. Kapoor pleaded for a more careful use of translated terms.
Dr. Satyadev Chaudhary reiterated that Barlinge is wrong in presuming that the Natyashastra defines rasa as residing in enactment, rasa is aasvaada not asvaadya else the epithets like ‘brahmananda sahodara’ would never have been used. Also one should not overlook their closeness. And there should be no confusion that Bharata Muni was prescribing rasa only for natya and not for kavya. He also pointed out that the discussions were overlooking the sutra that sthaayee alone transforms into rasa. Socially taught feelings are not strong enough to be sthaayee. Another member of the audience drew attention to the idea of Muktibodh that creative experience has its rasa and there can be no rasa without creativity. In his winding up, Prof. Ghosh declined to respond to the exegetical points related to the Natyashastra, but reiterated that he believed in the ideal construct of the art and in the unity of the tasted and taste worthy. Taking up the exegetical issues, Dr. Gupt quoted the sutra and drew attention to the point that the text of Natyashastra uses the term ‘aasvaadyatva’ and not aasvaadya. Bharat Muni was not talking about the aasvaadya or the performance but the aasvaadyatva or the capacity of the performance in yielding rasa. He also showed how the four ancient commentators from Lollata to Abhinavagupta had taken up the issues raised by modern theories of formalism, reader response, universalisation and personal projection.
The second paper was by Dr. Bharat Gupt, “Indian and Greek Drama: Are they East and West?” Dr. Gupt started by saying that the Indians had viewed Greek culture as ‘Western’ because they were taught to think so by the post-renaissance European colonialists. The ancient Greek and Indian cultures belonged to the Indo-European belt (a historical reality to be acknowledged irrespective of the debate about the location of its cradle) and so did their theatres. He then expounded how Indo-European beliefs, concepts and techniques of performance that were found in the two dramatic practices and play texts. Both the theatres he said were sacred and were performed at such religious festivals. He then gave detailed similarities between the treatment of myth and itivritta, katharsis and rasa, use of dance, music and semiotized gesture in the two traditions. He also challenged the notion that Greek theatre pursued conflict while the Indian went for conciliation. He showed that there were so many Indian genres of aaviddha category like vyayoga and samavakaara that were only agonic. He asserted that definition of a tragedy as a single play ending with death and misery was not Greek (who believed in the cycle of fortune like the Indians) but later European. The Greeks showed the cycle of fortune like the Indians and there was plenty of pathos in both theatres. There were many other aspects of Greek theatre that were not European and therefore, it was best to categorize Greek and Indian theatres as Indo-European.
In the ensuing discussion on the paper, Shri Kireet Joshi commented that it was one of the most educative experiences given to the audience. He found the thesis highly acceptable as it was furnished with so much evidence. The division of the East and West was disastrous for mankind. Prof. Tripathi said that Dr. Gupt had rigorously demolished so many well established notions about Greek theatre and his book was well known to scholars here and abroad for quite some time. He had, however, some ‘shamkaas’ such as, why should the notions of purity and impurity (not taken up today, but in his books) be seen in the Natyashaastra and why should cathartic purgation be compared with the filling in of rasa. He said that the Natyashastra also has the tradition of unhappy ending in some genres, and he asked why does Dr. Gupt call both theatres sacred when Indian plays were performed even in secular places including bars. Dr. Gupt said it was true that sauca was not stated in the Natyashastra formally but Natyashastra does talk of elevation and change in the psychological state of the onlooker and the analysts from Nayaka onwards have explicitly held that without a cleansing of the emotions (satvodreka) there can be no rasa. That catharsis and rasa are the two ends of the same spectrum, was his thesis. As for the sacredness of theatre, he was talking about the best of the genres in the two cultures. Not only the Indians, the Greeks also had a vast tradition of secular performances like memos, satyrikon etc. However, even the trivial in the two cultures was located in the ambit of the cosmologically sacred value, as Indian ‘purushaarthas’ or Greek ‘arete.’
In the next paper, “Natya as a Vehicle of Purushaartha,” Prof. Radha Vallabh Tripathi, showed a detailed relationship between the four purushaarthas ¾ Kama, Dharma, Artha and Moksha and the four rasas, Sringara, Vira, Raudra and Bibhatsa. He then brilliantly elaborated how other rasas and the other aspects of the ancient plays like nayikas, vrittis etc, were connected with the purushaarthas or the well defined aims of life. He asserted that there could be no predominance of any one purushaartha in drama. Life had to be shown in its completeness. He pointed out that there were two streams in the ancient times, one didactic like Ashvaghosha’s and the other more pleasure centric like Kalidasa’s. They demanded two aesthetics. In the rasika tradition, pleasure also created an ethical resolution or ‘purusharthadhee’. After performance the onlooker had acquired better samskaaras or morally intuitive abilities and was a better educated person. As Abhinavgupta said the poet through recreating (anuvyaaharana), the actor through redoing (anukarana) and the onlooker through revisualizing (anudarshana) attain the understanding of aims of purushaarthas. There can be no rasa if the realization of purushaarthas is not present.
In the discussion that followed Dr. Bharat Gupt observed that though ethics was a desirable concern for the ancients and there could be no purusharathahina or value less pleasure, ethics however did not constitute the aesthetic pleasure, the main aim of natya. Purushaarthas were a social not an aesthetic construct. Prof. Tripathi agreed and said that achaaryas only claimed that drama created ‘purushartha-dhee’ and not the action. Prof. Kapil Kapoor said ethical values can be generated only if the art experience is affirmative. If it is postmodern there may be no rasa and no ethics either. Prof. Satyadev Chaudhury asserted that rasa was distinct and independent and the didactic functions such as ‘kavya prayojanas’ or ‘kaantaasamopa desha’ were outside ‘rasa nishpatti.’
The Third Plenary Session (after lunch):
Sadhana : Pursuit of Natya : Prof. Ranjan Ghosh was the chairperson. It was both in the personal and social sphere that the pursuit of drama was sought to be examined in this session. Dr. Priyadarshi Patnaik read the first paper, “A Case for Self-Reflexivity in Aesthetics Studies in India.” He said, globalisation of culture has put Indian aestheticians at crossroads. Earlier methods cannot be simply discarded or abandoned, but new methods cannot develop overnight. Interest in the ancient traditions continues, but a postmodern indeterminacy and suspicion of universals, instability of meaning and method, have pervaded both Indian critical thought and cultural products. He was curious how we should evaluate the present day fusion arts which are neither eastern nor western. Even the western movies had abandoned traditional western genres and the Indian movies are also entirely mixed and classified as thrillers or carnival songs. So what are the canons now?
The paper was extensively commented upon by Drs. Sunil Kothari, Indra Nath Chaudhury, Arshiya Sethi and Ranjan Ghosh. The speaker was profusely congratulated for focusing on the Indian situation today.
This was followed by a paper in Hindi plus recital session of Tagore songs by Dr. Manju Singh. In her paper, ‘Natya Kala ke Sanskritik Mulya.’ She traced the pursuit of modern Indian playwrights like Bhartendu, Tagore, Jai Shankar Prasad, and the poets like Tulsi, Nirala and others who reaffirmed a fresh value system through their highly musical poetry and the difference music makes to the power of drama. She also demonstrated how she used theatre to acquaint the diffident students with difficult texts. She ended her presentation by singing a composition of Tagore and then a Hindi gita of her own that drew great applause.
This generated a round of lengthy discussion in which Drs. Ramesh Rishikalp and Bhartendu Mishra held the floor. Dr. Rishikalp congratulated Dr. Singh for translating into action the theory of ethical values in drama that was discussed by scholars in the earlier session. Mrs. Rashma Kalsi asked how the educators could hope that when the world is changing the choice of plays by the young will not change. If theatre reflects life then the young want to see that new life. They see so much television and newer art forms now and so why will they not take the new aesthetics and values. Is it possible to take just modern technology and not the contemporary western mores? Dr. Khwaja said this was only because India has yielded easily. He said, education should have an indigenous thrust to be effective and not be looking to the West. Dr. Raja Ganesan reiterated the same point and said educational institutions must be made centres of these arts for imparting values in the healthiest way. After all, Gandhi has recorded how the street play Harishchandra inspired his moral being. The chairperson Prof. Ghosh speaking in Hindi, concluded the session by observing that it was a laudable attempt to apply theory in education.
The later part of this plenary session was chaired by Dr. Madhu Khanna in which Dr. Bhartendu Mishra spoke in Hindi on “Lokadharmi Parampara se Vidyalayee Manch.” He said, the Natyashastra has laid down a system of teaching and representing the nature of the world or loka. It was a powerful didactic tool for pedagogy and was yet not interested in any particular ideology. In his opinion there was no better medium than theatre for introducing the students to an understanding of the world. The films could not do this today as they are made for commerce and titillation. Theatre in schools could counter this impact. He then addressed the problems of producing plays in schools and the constraints under which theatre is unable to become a powerful vehicle of cultural transmission and educational recreation. His was a strong plea for improving theatre activity in education. Dr. Khanna remarked that this paper has proposed a new responsibility on the school teachers as preservers of theatrical medium.
A very interesting paper was presented by Dr. Pratibha Bhattacharya on “Story Telling and Traditional Education.” She elaborated on story telling as a great cultural technique practiced in myriad forms in families, schools, gatherings and professional performance but now in erosion by westernisation and info technology. She elaborated on the variety of tale telling techniques that are practiced in societies from cosmopolitan to primitive. If the great wealth of culture preserved by story telling has to be saved, the family and educational systems now need to imbibe something that can fulfil the same function. Story telling represented values of cooperation and unity with other humans and nature whereas the present day narratives are full of conflict and suppression.
Dr. Khanna commented that a myth or a story was not just a collection of events but a reflection of the cognitive structure of our consciousness. And the speaker had shown nothing less than that and her anguish was justified. The katha was a natya also. As the clock showed closing time and the next users of auditorium hovered outside, the discussant participation was cut short by the chair and the conference director (by now reputed as ‘remote control’) invited everybody to tea.
April 8, 2002
The Fourth Plenary Session:
Sahridayataa : Sensitivity and Natya was chaired by Prof. Indra Nath Chaudhury. It started with Mrs. Veena Pani, director, dance troup Adi Shakti speaking on “Transforming Concepts into Theatre.” She declared that she belonged to the two worlds, the traditional and the newly globalised one and hence her work was a hybrid. Ganapati was envisaged by her as transition from the old to the new but being both at the same time. Ganapati was a revolutionary and yet the son of traditional as Shiva and hence a hybrid. But the core that hybridizes is that which you are and what you wish to become, it is a yoga. For her, rasa was also a reaching out and a yoga and an expansion, otherwise it would be merely art for art’s sake. Art thus also an expansion of consciousness. In creating her art, she relied most on using the body in a non-functional non everyday manner and thus enhancing the consciousness. The other reliance was inclusivity of genres as it was pluralistic. The contemporary mind can see many things at the same time. In Ganapati she was using Kalaripayattu and taala and connecting it to the cakras through dance.
In the ensuing discussion Shri Kireet Joshi asked Veena Pani what she considered to be the essence of drama or theatre. All the angika and genres etc, were merely tools but the essence has to be something else. Mrs. Veena Pani said that the essence in art was the emotion expressed through gestures etc., but behind which it also was the consciousness of the artist. Shri Joshi said emotion was common to all arts, but the essence of drama was action, which was initiated, developed and concluded in drama and was also to be seen at the cosmic level also. Dr. Gupt observed that Veena Pani has based her pluralism on the sound basis of the development of consciousness, an old precept that art leads to the divine but he wanted to know if her eclecticism in genres would also not exclude certain things? Veena said that exclusion was decided upon by the awareness of the artist, it was not a matter of rules. Prof. Ghosh appreciated that Veena Pani was concentrating on non lifelike motions for her art as that was essential for creation of art as this truth has been overlooked for too long.
In the paper that followed Dr. Madhu Khanna talked about “An Experiment in Meditational Art,” that presented her experiences with children from four countries which she conducted several years ago. The experiment was based on the premise that the psychological technique of aesthetic vision discussed in the Shilpa texts, and its signs of revelation, cited in scriptures, arise from a universal archetypal source. They are as valid today as they were in ancient times. The experiment demonstrated that the works produced by children during this experiment revealed the genesis of artistic form. Further, in this paper Indian arts are seen as a system of vertical and horizontal alignments. Verticality reflects the profound goals of the arts and links it to the four purushaarthas; horizontal alignments interconnect all the arts¾ performative, visual and literary¾into an integral whole. In the light of this observation, the creative process of meditational art can be applied to all forms of artistic expression. In contemporary India the technique can be reinvoked for promoting a value based education to children.
Prof. Radha Vallabh Tripathi pointed out that the Natyashastra in its own idiom talks of actor entering a role as a yogi enters another’s body, and the achaaryas also talk of the use of mental concentration particularly by actresses but how can the exercises that Madhu conducted be useful for theatre? Madhu said that there were many experiments on how meditation helped the artist. Priyadarshi who was working on relationship between image and text, asked Madhu if she had conducted experiments with painting after listening to music or seeing a river.
Shri Kireet Joshi said that Madhu has combined meditation well with the values of learning. He said value education was not a set of dos and don’ts but the faith in something higher than we already know. There are three ways of gaining knowledge, namely through science, philosophy and art. Art is not only expression but also a way of grasping knowledge. In meditation all three ways combine. The greatest seeker is an artist as well as a yogi. The best example of this was Gautam Buddha who made his life into an art and influenced millions in his own lifetime.
Dr. Lokesh Chandra spoke on “Globalization and the Indian Arts.” It was a paper that looked at globalization as a western cultural force interacting with India in the last three centuries. Also he was primarily concerned with the notion of classicism which he said was a western construct brought into modern India. Among the Indian arts, he said, dance is the only form that remains culturally untainted and this is very important. He began by noting that our land had been called India by many nations but the Tibetans called it the ‘land of dance.’ This was similar to the Egyptians naming Greece as the land of celebration of life. Solon was told by the Egyptians that while they celebrated death in pyramids, the Greeks celebrated life as children. Celebration of life was an Indo-European characteristic. Dr. Lokesh Chandra said that the Greek facets of classical culture have not been studied with Indic eyes in spite of the fact that there were so many instances of closeness with India. The Greek notions of dance and music were crucial in giving rise to ballet in 16th century Europe under Louis XIV who got dances representing the ancients Greek gods. Classicism encouraged many other aspects of European culture which led to the growth of modern science and applied technology.
Besides Greece and Rome, the Europeans came to look upon China and India also as classical cultures. They started acquaintance with China through widely imported porcelain and were soon impressed by it as a three thousand year old nation state. They also noted the great impact of Buddhism on China and began studying that formally. By the end of the eighteenth century a common origin for Greek, Latin and Sanskrit was postulated and soon the greatness of Indian drama as the only one besides the Greek was recognized. But the colonial bias did not take long to set in and in 1801, Jones admired the Greek poets for representing Europe as a princess and Asia as her handmaid. However the elevation of Sanskrit was first formulated in Europe for philological reasons and not in India. As part of the search for classical India, the search for classical dances of India also started. Classicism is a vital component of the Western mind but Indians are very shy of it. Prof. Lokesh Chandra said that so long as India remains removed from its own classical moorings, it shall not rise in any sphere of life because classicism stands for discipline.
The second wave of cultural renaissance came to India through the impact of Japanese painting or the Bengal school. In the search for the history of Indian painting and sculpture, the evidence of dancing figures convinced the Europeans that there was a classical Indian dance. Hence began the revival of traditional Indian dances and their acceptance as classical. This was not a return to the past but an identity for the future.
All the same in spite of recognizing the classicism of India, a cultural downsizing of Asia began as early as in 1890 in the book by Reinach, called Le Mirage Orientale. Ferdinand de Saussure (1857-1913) denied Sanskrit its oldest status and hypothesized that Proto-Indo-European with its European vocabulary was the oldest form and related it to Lithuanian. There was the beginning of a denial of a shared history between the Indian and the ancient Greeks and Roman cultures which cannot be understood in all its profundity without the help of Sanskrit. The significance of the Greek theatrical forms, the nine Muses, the Olympic games and so on cannot be realized without the acknowledging the shared past with India.
Hence, there is a great threat to Indian value system now which is portrayed as anti-European and backward. He quoted from Huntington’s Cultural Matters where traditional religion is damned as an obstacle to modernization. Most Indian arts have fallen prey to utter modernization. Only music and dance have managed to remain traditional. But what he had heard at this seminar in the last three days had thrilled him as it was evident that the deeper springs of culture emerge from our deeper self or chidaakasha.
In his reaction, Dr. D K Pabby asked how can we cure the rot that has set in except by making big changes in the educational system? He shared the anguish of the speaker and said that this pain may be bad for health but was good for mind. He said there was no way except by taking texts that uphold our values and teach them at all levels and through the media as well. Madhu Khanna said that the time had come to hammer out an Indian modernity and last 15 years are an awakening. She said every Indian must go through a foundation course in Indian culture.
Dr. Gupt said in the interest of our cultural distinctiveness we should now be calm and analytical. India must become culturally free and for that we have to challenge the West. Our universities and research places have to become non-derivative. For freedom, one has to make a confrontation. Shall we challenge the West by just a display of Indian arts, export of khadi textiles, software and fashion designs? Or intellectually by attacking the very values the West promotes? Just as the West interprets us we have to interpret them. It can’t be done by saying Shakespeare is the Kalidasa of India but by asking if they are doing the right thing by trivializing their own bard. When we talk of the Natyashastra the values behind it go as a challenge, the text should come across not merely as performance but as a different set of values.
Shri Kireet Joshi that Sri Aurobindo had said that it was the ‘brain of India’ that shall save us and not emotionalism. With the robustness of the intellect of Mahabharata’s Vyasa we have to confront the clash, dialogue and the sharing of civilizations. Our message to the world has to be universality and to let the good thoughts from all over, thus promoting the vishvabhaarati or the really global. That is the character of India. It had experimented with universality and globalization for the longest time. Its culture is not merely dance and music and poetry but the spirit of transcendence. The arts are merely expressions of culture.
The second last paper of the day was read in Hindi by Dr. Ramesh Rishikalp. It was called “Hindi Naatak mein Rashtriya Chetana.” He started by pointing out that things have drastically changed from the times the best of the Hindi plays were written in pre-independence period. He said that today we are no longer nationalist as we have become entirely derivative and enamoured by the consumerism of the West. We have mistaken commercialism for modernity which was not the case with earlier stalwarts of Hindi playwriting like Bhartendu and Prasad. For Bhartendu, theatre was a better medium of creating national awareness, than poetry or fiction, as preferred by nearly all the writers of the times. In his struggle for nationalism he ended up writing and producing 24 plays and even attempted to get them prescribed for schools all on his own. The credit of reviving Chanakya for modern India goes to Bhartendu. Prasad took up the lead and reaffirmed Chanakya as a dramatic character. While Prasad wrote highly suggestive and symbolic poetry, his plays were full of lively characters representing a political and cultural vision for free India. He created powerful women characters, religious reformers and lovers of freedom. After Independence a period of disillusionment and hopelessness set in which too the Hindi plays reflected very strongly.
An hour long discussion followed on how globalization is dislocating and deprivileging Indian languages, culture and pluralism. Most of the speakers came from the audience. Shri Kireet Joshi pointed out that the Indian dramatic texts do not have an adequate representation in our educational curriculum at any level and this should be remedied quickly as these texts can be the best detergent to clean Macaulayism.
The last paper of the of seminar was read by Shri Kailash Mishra on the popular hero from the fisherman community (nishada) of Mithila, Bihar, ‘Raja Sehles, the Hero God of Mithila.’ He said that Mithila is one of the best known regions for intellectual traditions and as much for folk stories. Tantra came to Mithila from Nepal and Assam and was taken up by women and lower castes, and so did the story of Raja Sehles. The paper reader narrated in Hindi and Maithili. He elaborated how the cult of Sehles created a priestly class called Bhagat and established the ritual visitation of Sehles as a possession of the medium in a community festival. The cult has followers in all sections of Maithil society. It represents a wonderful intertwining of popular and elite, upper and lower caste cultures. He said the cult was an example of how Indian society has been willing to preserve elements of culture from all sections. In order to encourage this habit in our times, cultural heritage activity should be introduced as a curriculum at the school level so that the elitist approach of money making and commercial success can be toppled.
In his vote of thanks, Dr. Gupt expressed his gratefulness to all the participants and daily listeners who made the flow of rasa and ‘rasa charchaa’ abound for three days and which, he said, was not to be terminated but taken out of the bounds of the auditorium. He was pleased to see that nearly a hundred persons attended every day and at no time from 9: 30 in the morning till 5:30 pm less than a seventy were present. He asked forgiveness for frequently stepping on some toes so that the march could go on.
Shri Kireet Joshi observed that this was one of the best seminars that he had attended. He suggested that deliberations such as these should be made available to the whole country. On national holidays like Diwali, Holi etc., the University Grants Commission and such bodies should buy television time and telecast scholarly gatherings that analyze, discuss and present dance, drama, recitations and the performances as national celebrations without commercials and advertisements that nowadays have come to represent anticulture.
He thanked the ICPR Staff, the IFIH organizers in particular Mrs. Sarita Saraf, Dr. Gupt and Dr. Rishikalp. He felt that he was encouraged to organize a few more seminars of this kind on the philosophy of Indian music, handicrafts, poetics and so on to explore how Indian life is rooted in darshana or the philosophic vision. In India, philosophy was not an isolated analysis but the driving agent of life.
On the behalf of the paper readers and the audience, Ms. Sonal Mansingh delivered the ‘bharati’ vakya. She recited a verse praising the assembly as the sacred tree (kalpataru),with branches of knowledge (Vedas), flowers of the disciplines (shaastras) and seekers of aesthetic pleasure (rasikas). She thanked ‘Kireet Bhai’ for lending his mind presence for an incomparable symposium that did something practically for reinstating our own values and waking up the nation. She thanked ‘Bharat Bhai, the gentle pugilist, for collecting such learned combatants.’ She was glad that the North American model of the seminars based on academic-performer dichotomy was not followed here and the artist (kalavant) and the scholar (shastri) were on equal footing as practitioners of the same knowledge (vidya). She said, a rare feature of the seminar that greatly moved her, was the equal participation of women at all levels.
After lunch a performance of the play Ganapati was held in the main auditorium of IIC seen by another hundred and fifty people besides the participants.
Two hours of video clippings on Beta tape and 17 hours on audio tapes are preserved by ICPR-IFIH and can be made available for educational use. There is a plan to bring out a volume containing the articles read and the discussions held at the symposium when funds are available.
Report by :
Prof. Bharat Gupt
International Forum For India’s Heritage
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© Indian Council for Philosophical Research, 2002