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A deep dive into Indian Aesthetics - Everything you need to know

The word ‘aesthetics’ is most often associated with the fields of science and philosophy with respect to fine art. Indian aesthetics comprise poetry, music and architecture, although sculpture and painting are also a pivotal part of this domain. Among these art forms, poetry is given the highest regard. Indian art is rooted in the use of signs and symbols, this can be observed in the practice of the eleven artists in ‘From the tree to the seed.’ These signs and symbols are deemed adequate or inadequate depending on their truth or frailty. The inadequacy or adequacy of a symbol is determined by its degree of resemblance to the art form it is used to reference, with this resemblance the truth of this symbol becomes apparent. In contrast, when a symbol’s likeness to an art form is disproportionate, it results in frailty. As poetry is filled with symbolism and deeper meanings, it assumes the uppermost position when it comes to aesthetic pleasure.

The ones who sought out aesthetics were staunch followers of Vedantic principles. In accordance with their desires to seek attainment and renouncement that pose as a unique attribute to seek aesthetic pleasures. From the Vedas and Upanishads, came the rasa theory of aesthetics. 

Rasa: The term ‘Rasa’ is an Indian concept in the domain of Indian aesthetics that denotes an essential element of any art form, including visual art, literary work or performing arts. To this day, the rasa theory forms the basis of aesthetics in Hindu philosophy, especially in Indian classical forms of dance and theatre. The first recording of the rasa theory was in the Sanskrit text, the Natyashastra (natya meaning drama and shastra the science of), a literary piece ascribed to the ancient sage, Bharata Muni. In this piece, the Gods proclaim drama to be the fifth Veda. 

Bhava: Upon translation, ‘bhava’ means to become. This term is another concept in Indian aesthetics that is spoken of in relation to rasa. While bhava is referred to as ‘the state of mind’, rasa is the ‘aesthetic flavour’ that is a result of the bhava. In solitude the ‘bhavas’ do not hold any meaning, for they derive their meaning from the rasas.

The rasas

Bharata Muni wrote of eight rasas in the Natyashastra. Performing arts in India, describes rasa as an emotion or sentiment that is expressed by every audience member. Each of the eight rasas is governed by a deity and a particular colour. 

  • Sringara

The rasa of love and romance. 

Deity: Vishnu

Colour: Light Green 

  • Hasyam

The rasa of laughter and merriment. 

Deity: Shiva

Colour: White

  • Raudram

The rasa of fury and anger. 

Deity: Shiva

Colour: Red

  • Karunyam

The rasa of compassion and forgiveness

Deity: Yama

Colour: Grey

  • Bibhatsam 

The rasa of disgust

Deity: Shiva

Colour: Blue

  • Bhayankam

The rasa of fear 

Deity: Yama

Colour: Black

  • Veeram 

The rasa of valour 

Deity: Indra

Colour: Saffron

  • Adbhutam

The rasa of wonder and awe

Deity: Brahma

Colour: Yellow 

In the later years, a ninth rasa was added by authors by the name of Santam, this rasa depicted peace and serenity, with the deity Vishnu governing this rasa and the colour perpetual white. 


Q1. Why is aesthetics important in art? 

Art can be perceived as an instrument used by mankind to bring life to abstract concepts. Aesthetics when it comes to art is important because it gives one an insight into the history of art and the desire for humankind to view the world through a more clear lens in the form of art. It helps us understand the reasoning behind art as a form. 

Q2. What influenced the Aestheticism movement? 

The Aestheticism movement draws inspiration from Italian paintings of red haired women, medieval geometric designs, Japanese motifs and aesthetics. 

Q3. Are Indian aesthetics different from Western aesthetics? 

Yes, there is a significant difference between the two. As compared to Indian art, Western art relies more on codification. In Indian tradition, art is a celebration of life, which is governed by the navarasas.