The aim of this book is to assess the significance of beauty to the other higher values, namely truth, goodness, and liberation. This is the focus of the last three chapters. The discussion of significance presupposes a knowledge of the nature of beauty in all its orders. Hence the book devotes the first seven chapters for discussing this question. The point of view of the book is Indian, and the treatment of the subject keeps in view the interests of the scholar and the general reader alike.
T.P. Ramachandran retired from the University of Madras as Professor in the Centre for Advanced Study in Philosophy in 1987. He taught Indian Aesthetics for the M.A. for many years. The present book is the outcome of his studies in the subject. His latest publication is M. Hiriyanna in “The Builders of Indian Philosophy” series, edited by Professor R. Balasubramanian and published by Munshiram Manoharlal, New Delhi.
Aesthetics as a distinct branch of philosophy is studied as an optional subject in some departments of philosophy in our country. Unfortunately, the students generally read about Western authors and theories. There is even a view that there is no such thing as Indian aesthetics. I still recall the surprise with which my lecture on Buddhist aesthetics was greeted in 1975 when I delivered the Buddha Jayanti lecture in the Indian Philosophy Congress that year in Delhi. The present work of Professor T.P. Ramachandran is therefore specially welcome because it presents a systematic account of aesthetic theory and problem in the light of the Indian philosophical tradition. The work will go a long way to meet the needs of the genuine students of philosophy. It gives a lucid and concise but comprehensive account of the subject.
Aesthetics like ethics is a branch of the general philosophy of values. In the present work therefore, the treatment of the subject is divided into two parts. The first part deals with beauty and aesthetic experience while the second part deals with the relationship of beauty to other values like goodness and liberation. The second part is described by the author as meta-aesthetics. In the first part he begins by considering the nature and different orders of beauty. Beauty is characterized by several general features. It belongs to objects which are apprehended by means of sense perception. In fact in Greek works aesthetics has the meaning of sense perception. Hegel defines beauty as the Absolute shining through the veil of sense. Sensuousness is the medium through which beauty is recognized. The most general beautiful character of beautiful form is the overall harmony of its parts. This pervasive harmony or sannivesa could also be negatively described as adosatva. Another feature of beauty is that it always appears to be new as Magha has said in his famous line-ksane ksane yannavatam upaiti tadeva rupam ramaniyatayah, This really means that a beautiful object has an infinity of aspects so that the appreciator can always see something new in it. What is more, “A thing of beauty is a joy forever.” In short, beauty is to be found located in these sensuous forms which have the aspect of pleasing harmony.
Beauty has two principal orders-transcendental and empirical. The empirical order includes beauty in nature as well as beauty in arts. The transcendental order includes beauty of the universe and beauty as in God. At the outset the author discusses the vexed question of objectivity and subjectivity of beauty. While considering that the appreciation of beauty requires certain definite subjective qualifications, he maintains nevertheless that beauty is essentially objective. The relativistic argument for subjectivism based on the variability of taste is rejected on the ground that common sense definitely asserts an objective locus of beauty. What characterizes the object as beautiful is the harmony of its parts as constituting a whole. This beauteous aspect of an object is distinct from its utilitarian and hedonistic aspect. In appreciating beauty, we do not satisfy any particular need or desire. We do not consume or use the object. The disinterested and undistracted contemplation of the object leads to the apprehension of beauty if the object is a harmonious whole. This perception of beauty is enjoyed for its own sake.
There is no doubt that the perception of beauty or of sublimity is accompanied with a peculiar delight in the mind of the spectator. This delight is not merely a detached appreciation of form, but an evocation or suggestion of feelings. This psychological aspect or aesthetic experience has been specially discussed in the Alankara Sastra. It began with the famous rasa-siitra of Bharata-vibhavanubhava-vyabhicari-samyogat rasa-nispattih. This was discussed in the now lost commentaries of Lollata, Sankuka and Bhattanayaka, The discussion was carried further by Anandavardhana, Bhattatauta and Abhinavagupta, who interpreted the concept of rasa in a highly philosophical manner and with such breadth and depth that it became the central concept of Indian aesthetics. The rival school of Alankarikas led by Bhamaha, Vamana and Dandin, Kuntaka and Mahimabhatta made valiant efforts to analyse the aesthetic experience in terms of literary form but were, on the whole, eclipsed by the theories of rasa and dhvani. Bhoja and Jagannatha Panditaraja made notable contributions to the subject. In modern times K.C. Bhattacharyya, M. Hiriyanna and A.K. Coomaraswamy have given Indian aesthetics a new dimension by correlating Indian and Western concepts.
Despite the age of long debates on the concept of rasa, it remains enigmatic like the smile of Monalisa. It has been understood as emotion, plain and simple, conveyed to the spectator or reader. It has been understood as an inference of emotions through the imitation of reality. It has also been explained as the intuitive enjoyment of idealized and universalized emotion. Abhinavagupta explains it as the tranquillity of consciousness manifested in the course of the detached apprehension of a felt spectacle. It should be clear that rasa itself is not an emotion actual, induced or imaginary, nor a mere entertainment. It presupposes the evocation of emotions in an idealized manner. In fact bhava itself should not be understood as emotion. It is rather an emotionally evocative image. The vibhava or objective correlative presented by the artist evokes images tinged with feelings. These feelings may be transitory or relatively lasting. Some of the more lasting feelings, which are almost universally found in man, have been called ‘sthayi-bhavas’. Their imaginative experience enables the absorbed but detached spectator to glimpse the tranquillity of consciousness. This is made possible by the half turn which the empirical ego makes towards the transcendental self in art experience.
The question of transcendental beauty raises deep philosophical issues. If one can speak of beauty in the cosmos or in God, can beauty be merely accidental to created or uncreated being? When the Upanisad says, “From ananda all beings arise,” or when Brahman is described as ananda or as rasa (raso vai sah), is it not implied that value and reality are not really separable? The old ambiguity of the word sat becomes highly significant in this context. Hiriyanna’s comparison of rasa with the experience of the jivan-mukta needs to be pondered over. The concept of Wit and bhakti are also relevant in this connection. Indian aesthetics like Indian ethics, while closely analysing the actual experience of social life and art, harks back ultimately to a metaphysical conception of value and reality, characterized by the Vedantic epithet saccidananda.
The present work deserves high commendation particularly because it seeks to bring out clearly the outline of a possible Vedantic aesthetic, which at the same time speaks the language of modern philosophy in many ways.
It was more than twenty years ago that I wrote my book The Indian Philosophy of Beauty. It was published in two parts by the University of Madras in 1979-80. The present book is the outcome of my prolonged review of the earlier one. A philosophical approach to the concept of beauty involves two levels, each having a distinct standpoint. The first level is positive in standpoint and is concerned with the nature of beauty as such. The second is normative and considers how beauty is significant in the light of the other values, namely truth, goodness, and liberation. We may describe the two levels in the treatment as “aesthetics” and “meta-aesthetics,’ respectively. In my earlier book, the two levels are not neatly separated. I have for long felt that, in the interests of clarity, the two levels need to be demarcated. Accordingly, the first seven chapters of the present book exclusively deal with questions relating to the character of beauty (aesthetics proper), and the last three chapters are devoted purely to problems relating to the significance of beauty to other values (meta-aesthetics). Though, thus, the physical division of the book into two sets of chapters is unequal, the real focus and orientation of the book is represented by the last three chapters on “meta-aesthetics.” The portion on “aesthetics” has taken more space purely for the reason that it is the basis for entering into “meta-aesthetics.” Another difference between the present book and my earlier one is that many details in the aesthetics relating to art which would be of interest only to specialists in art and which have little philosophical implication have been omitted in the present book. The commitment of the book is purely Indian. Therefore comparisons with the West have been instituted only where necessary. Within Indian philosophy, the point of view which comes mainly of use in this book is that of Vedanta, which, of all Indian schools, has most to say on questions of beauty.
In the Indian tradition, the formal study of beauty was represented mostly by criticism in the fine arts, especially literature, under the title Alankara-sastra. In that respect, the scope of the study was restricted. A systematic examination of the philosophy underlying the aesthetic value in all its ramifications was not attempted in traditional times, in spite of the fact that there was ample material for it. In modem times, it goes to the credit of Professor M. Hiriyanna to initiate such a study and lay the foundations for what we might describe as an “Indian philosophy of beauty,” representing both the aesthetic and the meta-aesthetic levels. While his insight threw up the core ideas of the subject, his magnanimity made him share even his distant thoughts with future students and offer them guidelines for developing the subject. In preparing this book as well as my earlier one, my indebtedness to this pioneer in tbe field is illimitable.
It must be the result of a good stock of punya earned in some past life that I have been blessed in this life with the grace of the seers of Sri Kamakoti Pitha at Kanci. It is my good fortune that this little book is ready during the very year when the Golden Jubilee of the ascension to the Pitha by Jagadguru Sri Jayendra Sarasvati Svaminah is being celebrated. Before I could even dream of it, my close friends, Professor R. Balasubramanian and Professor N. Veezhinathan, took the initiative to suggest the inclusion of this book in the series of books to be brought out as part of the celebrations. I have no words to thank them adequately. But their friendship speaks for itself.
I place my grateful pranams at the holy feet of Jagadguru Sri Sankara Vijayendra Sarasvati Svaminah for his gracious permission for including this book in the Jayanti series.
I am grateful to the Dr T.M.P. Mahadevan Foundation for providing funds for the publication of this book and the Adi Sankara Advaita Research Centre for their kind consideration in getting this book published.
I thank Professor G.C. Pande, President-cum-Chairman, Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimia, for his kind Foreword to this book.
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