By Harsha V Dehejia
The traditional ends or ideals of life are dharma, artha, kama and moksha, understood as moral order, material fulfilment, emotional gratification and spiritual freedom. The Indian psyche has been shaped by these time-honoured principles of organising ones life and they have given us a certain direction and guidance, underpinning our life, both sacred and secular. While dharma is what sustains all our activities and moksha is the ultimate state of being, artha and kama are driven by our innate nature and largely define our material life. Our material and emotional pursuits are products of our intrinsic psyche and mental attributes. However, there is one pursuit that is worthy of being included as a purushartha or ideal in its own right, or at the very least woven as a subtext to artha and kama, and that is seeking the beautiful and making it a part of ones life, or realising saundarya inwardly and subjectively.
To beautify, adorn, decorate and embellish, not only animates and delights our senses; it becomes an important value to strive for. Celebration of the beautiful pleases our senses on first encounter and arouses a state of adbhuta or wonder. However, the state of wonder ultimately enriches our spirit in a second more contemplative moment, for the transformation from what is objectively and sensuously beautiful to the subjective and inward state of beauty creates a serene and tranquil state akin to ananda or bliss. This cannot replace our realisation of the ultimate but comes very close to it.
In recognising the importance of the beautiful we are not only valuing what is created by human hands but equally the human artistic creativity that is responsible for the beautiful object. The beautiful in its many and varied different forms and expressions goes beyond the unnecessary and distracting distinction of art and craft, or the needless separation of sacred and secular, or the differentiation of classical from folk, for neither of these modern and mainly western dichotomies are relevant in the traditional Indian context of beautiful objects that are a part of daily lived lives.
The beautiful defies categorisation or even definition, and stands self-assuredly alone. It needs no reason for its existence and lives in holistic harmony with both the animate and inanimate world around it and thus becomes a part of our life. Creating objects of beauty and making them central in our lives brings to us grace and dignity. Theres more. We beautify our surroundings, bringing a certain elegance and brightness into our homes. We adorn our own selves with the traditional 16 adornments and this gives us pleasure and enhances our looks but there is a higher purpose to creating personal beauty than mere adornment, decoration or vanity. Sangit, chitra, shilpa and sahitya are sources of beauty for us. They express our world view, creating fullness, bringing us closest to the divine. The beautiful for us can also be a part of everyday objects that are lovingly made such as a kalasha, diya or textile draped over our body. The various akritis or forms whether they are made with thread or brush, drawn on the ground or on mud walls are visual metaphors passed down through generations. Many derive their form from primal archetypes and reveal the inner logic of their form to the inquiring mind.
Celebrate beauty. Make saundarya a purushartha.
The writer,a professor at Carleton University, Ottawa, holds doctorates in medicine and ancient Indian culture.
Source: Times of India