The Traditions of Indian Art

Traditional Indian art was unique in its style and composition. When we refer to Sanskrit literature, we find many instances of portraits being painted of kings and queens or of the beloved by the lovers.

These portraits are supposed to have resembled the original so faithfully that they often produced an illusion of the real person. But seldom do we find any instance where the portrait was drawn in the presence of its original. All the references that we find confirm the belief that in most cases, the portraits were drawn from the mind. The artist has the original impressed on his mind and it is the materials of his mind that he visualizes and tries to give an external form to.

Thus we find that Dushyanta draws the picture of his beloved Shakuntala when she is separated from him, and the Yaksha of the Kaildasa "Meghaduta" also draws a portrait of his separated wife. But in all these cases, the portrait was drawn from the mind. The lover by his continual brooding had almost a trance-vision of his beloved in whose thought he spent his life. His heart was full of pangs of separation. Drops of tears trickled down his eyes as he thought of his beloved and he tried to represent in art one of these emotive moments grasped in a state of semi-trance.

We see that the aim of the artist was not so much the imitation of the actual visual form of the original, but an imitation of the mental image of that form as grasped with emotion and brought in touch with the very life and soul of the artist.

This is also in consonance with certain lines of Indian epistemological thought. One of the most well-known theories of Indian epistemology holds that, our eyes being in contact with the visual objects, our mind becomes impressed with their form and the mental images or emotions become enlivened by the reflection of the pure consciousness.

This is the very basis of darshan, the act of beholding a divine image in a temple, and having an image or reflection of it impressed on your being. Indian artists utilized this technique of form, style and composition to create some of the most appreciated works of art in the ancient world. Whether it is the Ajanta Cave paintings or the later examples of sculpture at Konark and Khajuraho, these examples are still appreciated today by millions of visitors.

The universe that we have in our mind, though connected with the external world, is in every case a new creation. This creation is, in a certain sense, a copy of the external world, but it is rich with the contributions of the mind and full of emotions and suggestions which substantially change and transform their original copies that had flowed into the mind. It becomes transformed into its spiritual substance, and it is this reality that the artist wanted to represent and not to copy the external object in a detached form by way of mere imitation.

So, though we may say that the Indian artist did not try to copy the external objects as they were, yet they tried to represent faithfully the picture or the mental image that was grasped by them in their meditative vision, which alone was for them the most important thing. Thus both dancing and painting may in this sense be regarded as an imitation of reality. The Indian artist always felt that the emotive moment of a trance-image, which he sought to represent, was a moment snapped out of the rhythmic flow of the creative joy that formed the essence of the artistic impulse.

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