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  • Writer's picturePankaj Seth

High Aesthetic Experience must be Earned

Abhinavagupta, a thousand years ago, elevated the Arts because of seeing the aesthetic experience as a means to divinity and thus placed the Arts on a rock solid footing within Hindu Dharma. He built upon the work of Brarata Muni who composed the Nāṭyaśāstra a thousand years earlier.

The primary goal of the Arts is to create rasa/feeling so as to carry the spectator towards the high aesthetic experience of ultimate reality. But this does not happen automatically. It requires not only a great work of Art but also a ready recipient. This readiness allows for an attentive absorption and whose breadth and depth hinges on the knowledge base and inner refinement of the viewer and in this way a high aesthetic experience must be earned. For example, a poem to Krishna heard by an outsider compared to a bhakta is a different aesthetic experience.

For the experience to reach the greatest heights it must have both the aesthetical and rhetorical aspects. For example, to view a murti without knowing its symbology/teaching enables only pleasant feelings. But to approach a murti with this knowledge enables a meeting with divinity; here, the pleasure/joy/ananda approaches that of Yogic self-knowledge.

Abhinavagupta also added the Shanti Rasa to the list of the then traditional eight rasas. For me, this was a guiding principle in making Soma/film, to try to keep to the Shanti Rasa all the way through. I can definitely say that this was influenced by Abhinavagupta. The Nine Rasas, from Wikipedia:

  • Śṛṅgāraḥ (शृङ्गारः): Romance, Love, attractiveness. Presiding deity: Vishnu. Colour: light green

  • Hāsyam (हास्यं): Laughter, mirth, comedy. Presiding deity: Shiva. Colour: white

  • Raudram (रौद्रं): Fury. Presiding deity: Shiva. Colour: red

  • Kāruṇyam (कारुण्यं): Compassion, mercy. Presiding deity: Yama. Colour: grey

  • Bībhatsam (बीभत्सं): Disgust, aversion. Presiding deity: Shiva. Colour: blue

  • Bhayānakam (भयानकं): Horror, terror. Presiding deity: Yama. Colour: black

  • Veeram (वीरं): Heroism. Presiding deity: Indra. Colour: saffron

  • Adbhutam (अद्भुतं): Wonder, amazement. Presiding deity: Brahma. Colour: yellow[24]

  • Śāntam: Peace or tranquility.[25] deity: Vishnu. Colour: perpetual white.

Image: Abhinavagupta (c. 950 – 1016 CE[1][2]) was a philosopher, mystic and aesthetician from Kashmir.[3] He was also considered an influential musician, poet, dramatist, exegete, theologian, and logician[4][5] – a polymathic personality who exercised strong influences on Indian culture.[6][7]

He was born in a Kashmiri Brahmin[8] family of scholars and mystics and studied all the schools of philosophy and art of his time under the guidance of as many as fifteen (or more) teachers and gurus.[9] In his long life he completed over 35 works, the largest and most famous of which is Tantrāloka, an encyclopedic treatise on all the philosophical and practical aspects of Kaula and Trika (known today as Kashmir Shaivism). Another one of his very important contributions was in the field of philosophy of aesthetics with his famous Abhinavabhāratī commentary of Nāṭyaśāstra of Bharata Muni.[10]

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