An Introduction to Indian Art and Culture – 1


              The ancient Indian art is of such a different character to that of European art, that if we approach it with the same critical eye and with the same standards of formal beauty, there arises the danger that we miss its deep significance altogether. For, it is not enough to look at the outward form, but we  must also be able to look through and beyond the form to sieze at the inspiration that has created it.  To understand this great art, we must first also understand something of its culture, its aims and aspirations in producing this kind of art.

               The first epoch of Indian civilisation dating more than two mellinia back was the luminous period of the Vedas when she sought passionately for the ultimate meaning of life through the intuitive mind. What she found, the eternal source, is so living that even till now all her religions and philosophies spring back to the same root. Nothing new since has been found that has not been written in the Veda (Book of Knowledge). The achievements she made in this period put such a stamp on her culture, that the civilisation of India took a completely different turn, to that of other great civilisations. The Vedic seers, in this period, discovered three great, fundamental truths – 1. the reality of the one Infinite Existence (which is referred to as “That One” or “That Truth”  tat satyam, tad ekam), 2. an ascending stair of planes of being in the universe (extending upto this reality) and a corresponding ascending stair of planes in man, 3. that man by an ardous yoga or self-discipline can turn more and more into this light and spiritual freedom through ascending of these planes. She also recognised by a fine spiritual tact that it is not possible for the lower nature of man to reach, in one violent leap, these high heavens. It takes millions of lives for man to be ready for taking on yoga. Hence, the ancient rishis hid the inner, spiritual meaning of the Veda in symbols understood only by a few initiates. (The sacred hymns are full of secret words that reveal their inner meaning only to the seer, kavaye nivacan¯a nin.ya¯ vaca¯m˙ si.) The early, primitive man could only conceive of the Divine as a power behind the most external, physical aspects of the cosmos, the lights – sun, moon, the stars; wind and storms, fire, water, oceans..  in these things he has a natural and simple faith though he knows not the inner meaning, he feels the mysterious forces working behind them. The Godheads of the Vedic religion are the godheads of the cosmos – the Sun god (Surya), the rain god(Varuna) ….. He approaches these deities as something greater than himself and offers them worship through the rituals described and in this way this profound religion took the natural sense and feeling of man and sought to lead him (through this constant communion and interchange between the individual and the greater powers) to the deeper truths of his being and that of the cosmos.  


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