Triveni Journal

1927 | 11,233,916 words

Triveni is a journal dedicated to ancient Indian culture, history, philosophy, art, spirituality, music and all sorts of literature. Triveni was founded at Madras in 1927 and since that time various authors have donated their creativity in the form of articles, covering many aspects of public life....

Ontological Bases of a Literary Work of Art -An Indian View

Prof. Salva Krishnamurthi



Life, Religion and Art

Any quest for the meaning of life, religion and art affirms our need for and a step towards a definition of these. We know that many definitions are advanced in these cases but are found generally insufficient or unsatisfactory.

It is conceded on all hands that the universe is an integral creation. To the theist the creative agent is a transcendental power called God. To the materialist it is a mechanical power called nature. Whoever be the agent the creative principle operating is not denied. Man being a part–however infinitesimal–of this creative flux, it is only natural that he inherits a part of the creativity. While his life is created he is also creative in a limited or finite way. Time and space are the limiting factors of the world. They give it a modal location. Similarly in the case of man too they are the limiting factors giving a modality to his existence, creativity and actions. Life is thus modally creative internally and externally. However, its creativity, though limited, extends to the aspect of replenishing and augmenting itself by its own samskaara or culture resulting in self-perpetuation for a time just as the external world does up to a point in Time-space continuum.

Is there a definition of life given by Indian thought? Yes, there is. The Vedic thought or sanaatana dharma or Hinduism, as it is called in modern times, has a definitive concept of life. Mahabharata, the well-known epic, said to incorporate the essence of all the four Vedas and hence called the fifth Veda, contains this definition. Sage Vyasa has offered it through the character Kunti. She defines: Dharmaartha nibaddham eva jeevitam. It means: Concomitance of Dharma and Artha is life. Considered in the context of creativity of life Dharma is nothing but the creative principle and Artha, the created wealth (welfare and prosperity) both of which constitute life.

Religion is that which binds us to the creative principle. It is simply the means and process of replenishing and augmenting the creative potential of life for our own self-sufficiency and fulfilment. Religion, the creative effort is ipso facto Dharma which is the creative principle. Is there anything to show that the intent, extent and content of Dharma is creative? Yes, there is. Mimaamsakas who deal with Dharma define it as  ‘Codanaa lakshano artho dharmah.’ Note that the two terms occurring in the definition of life occur in this also. Codanaa is explained as the drive, retrial (Punaraarambhah); Artha here means an act or action. They hold that a power called ‘non-existent-before’ (Apoorva) is generated from Dharma. It is easy to see that this power of ‘non-existent before’ is the creative potential occurring before the materialisation of the desired conditions or objects. Hence it is that the intent, extent and content of Dharma is creativity. From all this it is clear that Dharma is creative action carried out with an experimental attitude subject to the dictates of time and place. It is the cause and sustenance of all life. It is a major aspect and only a function of God for He is transcendental to both Dharma and Adharma constituting a duality. Yet it is deemed God since it is behind all life and creation; since it is through it alone that God may be realised. So much for religion. But what is it that we desire or obtain from life? Simply it is conscious experience or cognitive experience. Consciousness is contributed by our inner self; experience by the material world. To what does the conscious experience refer, to the self or to the material world? It is a matter of one’s own intent and action. If one’s accent is on self it leads to the configuration of self and thus to deliverance from Nature (Moksha); if on the iridescent world it leads to the configuration of Nature and thus to ‘Bhoga’ the suffering of pleasure and pain through an unending series of births and deaths. But conscious or cognitive experience remains the essence of life. Contact with the material world is necessary for any experience. Senses and sensations, mind and emotions act on the process of experience colouring it in their own way. But the ordinary mundane experience remains only profane. Due to the conditioning factors of life in time, place and particularity, it has no opportunity to sublimate into an experience of pure consciousness.

It is an indisputable fact that all the ancient and medieval arts flourished as an adjunct to and under the patronage of religion. This confirms the common base and link of creativity between religion and arts. Religion is personal and so is art least in its unitary aspect. Both depend on leisure either natural or created. While activity is centrifugal in its force, leisure is centripetal. When there is no object of active attention, it returns to one’s own self. Thus art as an activity of leisure is primarily concerned with self-realisation through cognitive experience. The principles of play, pleasure and beauty introduced into the realm of art are merely oblique secondary resultants and hence subsidiary. They hinder rather than help definition of art. All playful activity is not art nor are all pleasurable things. Beauty is difficult to define and it cannot account for the ugly in the realm of art, individual preferences being the most difficult part to explain. Engrossment is the essence of play; elation of pleasure; satisfaction of beauty. Only these can explain preferences both on the subjective and objective levels. The Indian view lays stress on these. Alamkaara is explained as beauty and not vice versa. Literally Alamkaara means “making satisfactory.” The bald principle of “imitation” leads only to realism which is only partially true of Art. The Indian counterpart is “Bhaavaanukarana” (emotional imitation) enunciated by Bharata with its components of Lokadharmi and Naatya Kaavya Dharmi. The principle of pure creation deprives art of its locus standi leading it to purpose­lessness and/or amorality resulting in theories like absolute idealism, romanticism, surrealism, etc. Purposiveness is the characteristic of human endeavour and morality a part of human spirit.

Just as the Greek word Agape and Sanskrit word Kripaa are in cognation, so are the Greek word Arate of Aristotlian poetics and Rta of Sanskrit. Both mean the same thing: the comprehen­sible truth. It is better to connect art with Arate rather than with Ars and Artem of Latin. Since art is a creative cogitation along with religion which is Dharma and directs itself to the self or soul, the prime mover of all artistic endeavour is Arate or Rta. The well-known controversy in modern aesthetics whether truth is an aesthetic criterion is merely the result of inductive approach which cannot always appreciate the empirical issues of human spirit and experience involved. But how is this Arate/Rta, com­prehensible truth, known to us through art? Human personality consists of Ahamkaara (Id), Citta (mind-stuff), Manas (mind) and Buddhi (intellect). It is the mind which is the coordinator of senses. It can be a sense organ on its own. But it generates emotions activating Citta or mind-stuff and emotions are only experienced. Of course it refers the experiences to Buddhi or intellect for resolving their various constituents and interpreting their relationships thus enabling us to draw conclusions. How­ever the fact remains that what constitutes “life” for us is merely the series of live experiences or affects given to us by the mind rather than the intellect. Mind is contiguous not merely to the senses or intellect but with the self/soul also. It is this contiguity of mind with the self or soul that is the most important aspect of all art. The intermedium between the mind and the self or soul is the playground of all art. Artistic activity provides an interview between the mind and the self, itself acting as an interosculator. Just as religion/Dharma is intimately connected with the self or soul so is all artistic activity or art. The series of experiences obtained by the impact of external world on our senses and mind is turned into an intimate cognitive experience. Since we live our lives mostly through our emotions for larger parts of our duration and since the impact of the emotions is deeper and long lasting the philosophy of art is essentially experiential and its approach ontological. Its appeal is to the mind and emotions; its quality Maadhurya, i.e., its capacity to bear with any number of returns of the experience and yield him likable experience without satiating him. Since art appeals to emotions capacity for an emotional experience is the primary qualification for its enjoyment and nobody need be disqualified on this account. In other words it is a mass-medium. Hence the aesthetic requisite for a bold simple pattern, etc. Be that as it may, is it possible to frame a definition of art without introducing controversial issues? The Sanskrit word for art, Kalaa, offers a possibility of dealing with the problem pragmatically. The etymological meaning of the word Kalaa is kalvate iti kalaa; kala samkhyana. But Samkhyana means Careaa or Vicaarana; discussion or dissertation. Discussion of what? Obviously experience, the result being intimate cognition of Arate or Rta. Hence art may be defined as a cogitative human creation capable of yielding a discursible cognitive experience. Ignoring the earlier part, we may say that is art which yields a discursible cognitve experience. The advantages of such a definition are: (i) It does not introduce controversial issues referred to earlier (ii) It maintains the accent on life, experiences and its appeal to emotions (iii) It predicates only the comprehensible truth /Arate or Rta as absolute Truth is not within the province or finite minds. In fact the dictum is Rtena satyam prakaasayet, i. e., absolute truth may be revealed through comprehensible truth.

Language and Literary work of Art

All religions apprehend atrophied gnosis and are gnostically involution-oriented in their approach to life and ritual. Vedic religion is no exception. Vedic philosophy and metaphysics is generally septempartite in its approach. Thus we have a septenary division of Aavaranas (spheres of encompassment), levels of ignorance, intellect levels of gnosis, consciousness and emplacements. Literature as an art adjunct to religion is involution-oriented leading to self-experience or realisation of self, which is called beatitude or bliss. Even Aristotle’s pre-occupation with pity and fear in tragedy has a straight reference to “Soka and Moha” the two items pertaining to human spirit in the six waves of suffering that all living beings are subjected to. These are called the Shad urmi-s (the six waves). The rest of the four are hunger, thirst, aging and death which obviously pertain to the body. Thus Soka (sorrow) as a cause generates pity; Moba (infatuation) (illusion) generates fear.

Even language, a mere instrument of communication has its metaphysical and philosophical purport. At least two points bear mentioning. Sanskrit and other Indian languages have seven cases whether inflexional or agglutinative. It is a dictum in Mimamsaa sastra that the dative case refers to a God. Even in the non-religious literature the seven cases have a significant correspondence with the seven types of poets that are enumerated in the Indian literature. Before the ontological bases of a literary work of art are touched upon it is helpful to have them tabulated if only to have an inkling of the system. The seven cases, their ancient names, presiding deities, and the corresponding seven types of poets in their descending order are as follows:

Case                            Ancient Name                         Presiding Deity                       Poet

Locative                       Ghotikaa / Ghoni                      Sat-kamala                               Viveki

Possessive                    Moti / Lalita                              Kaantimati                                Mardavaanugata
Ablative                        Paani Kalaavati                                  Silpaka
Dative                          Devalaabhini Bhogamalini                              Bhushanaarthi
Instrumental                  Keerti Subhaga                                   Raucika
Accusative                    Jhata Keertimati                                Aarthika
Nominative                   Vaani Veeravali                                  Vaacika

(The vocative case is called Sarasaavali and its presiding deity Jayavati.)

Enthusiasm for the spirit, the essential meaning of it, its quality, its divine beauty, the comprehensible truth (Rta) of it, its Rasa form and the final gnosis are the seven stages involved in the scheme. The Sanskrit names are self-explanatory and further elucidation isnot attempted for want of space.

Mammata, the well-known Indian Alamkarika, has, in his famous Karika, enumerated seven results for a literary work of art or Kaavya. When Alamkarikas refer to Kaavya, they mean only a Sat-kaavya or a good literary work of art. The results mentioned by Mammata are: (l) Yasas (manifested effulgence), (2) Artbakriti (wealth), (3) Vyavahaara Vetrita (ability to deal with the world), (4) Sivetara Kshati (destruction of the inauspicious), (5) Sadyah para nirvriti (immediate deliverance from the surrounding things, (6) Kaantaa sammitatva (modus operandi of a lady-love) and (7) Upadesa yuktata (concomitance of a teaching). It is a regrettable fact that these terms are interpreted in a mundane fashion, whereas each term has an ontological base reference and a different denotation. In order to gain a comprehensive view, we will do well to have a collateral perusal of the paraphernalia of a literary work of art not merely with these philosophical divisions mentioned earlier but with another empirical science also, namely Bhakti. They are tabulated separately for ready reference and comment for each base. Please look up the table.

The first two columns may be taken to indicate the evolutionary process of descent while the third refers to our emplacement. The rest of the columns may be referred for the involutionary and ascending process of enlightenment. Let us start from the base.

1. Base of the Good

At this level man is in “earthy encompassment” (Prithvi aavarana). He is in a torpid state of deep sleep (Sushupta). His emplacement is ignorance (Ajnaana). He is not inquiring and his consciousness merely suffers the results (Phala caitanya). Inertness and sorrow are the characteristics: If and when such a man chances on a desire of inquiring, it is called auspicious desire (Subhechchaa). In literature Pratibhaa is the intellectual faculty that starts the enlightening creative process. It is the faculty of imaginative insight into the spirit of mundane things rather than their material aspect. He sees the goodness (Saadhu) of things. This goodness is nothing but the manifested effulgence ofspirit. This is what Mammata refers to as Yasas. It means the individual manifested effulgence of the cosmic spirit or God, besides the mundane meaning of the fame. A poet of this level is merely alliterative and hence called Vaacika. In the empirical realm of Bhakti it isSravana or listening to any discourse on God. Pareekshit who is said to have listened to Bhagavata from Suka, is the representative devotee of this base. The relationship between the poet and the World, the devotee and God is that of son and father (Pita-putra sambandha).

2. Base of the Substantial

This second level isthat of aquatic encompassment (Jala avarana). Ignorance issimilar to that of dream-consciousness. Man is in the emplacement of “encompassment” (Aavarana). Consciousness is that of predication (Prameya). Inquiry is the level of gnosis (Vicaarana). In literature the intellectual faculty is that of a patient listening to the preceptor (Srauti). Relevant meaning alone is the good part here, for this level is a maze of meanings. A poet of this level is called Aarthika. He does not, in his quest for meaning, work in the wrong way or labour at it. He writes withartistic economy and his composition is thought-laden. Mammata’s term “Arthakrite” refers to this besides the money-making of the poet. Narada is the representative devotee at this level. His teaching is “non-wastefulness of time.” Too much of researching iscautioned against. Concentration on the substantial is the dictum. Hymnody is devotion here. The relationship between the poet and the world of meaning, the devotee and God is that of the protected and the protector (Rakshya and Rakshaka). These twobases are interlinked like earth and water, sleep and dream, desire and inquiry, sound and sense.

3. Base of the Possessing

The third and the fourth bases are again interlinked like the previous two. But this set is a more difficult one. Thethird pertains to the fiery encompassment. Ignorance is like that of a dream. Distraction is the emplacement (Vikshepa). Gnosisis psycho-physical. Consciousness is that of ratiocination. In literature, retention and improvement is the intellectual faculty. Possession is the good part of things here (Vidyamaana). A poet of this level is called Raucika, one who polishes. He imparts qualities like lucidity, sweetness and vitality to his composition. Mammata’s term “Vyavahaaravide” refers to the ability to deal with pure spirit in the higher regions rather than mere worldly knowledge. Prahlaada is the representative devotee of this region. Recapitulation is the form of devotion. Relation and relator (Sesha and Seshi) is the correlation between the poet and the world of spirit, the devotee and his God. Qualities alone are enjoyed here. Here starts the ground of Aristotle’s “Catharsis.”

4. Base of the Cultured Universal

This is the gateway to the spiritual world and said to be the most difficult stage. The encompassment is weathery. Ignorance is like that of day-dreaming. Mediate awareness is the level of emplacement. Consummation of vitality is the stage of gnosis, Subjective awareness is the nature of consciousness. In literature the intellectual faculty is what is called “genius”, that is, infinite capacity to take any amount of pains. In Sanskrit it is called “Cattva” which is nothing but Sattva. “Well-cultured” part is the goodness of the thing here (prasasta). Mammata’s term “Sivetara-kshati” refers to the crumbling of the non-divine or perishable. A poet of this level is called “Bhushanarthi”, one who desires ornamentation or figures of speech. This is the realm of universal spirit; the area into which Mr. Christian (in Bunyan’s Pilgrims Progress)took a risky run in the face of the guarding lions. Finiteness is lost. Infinitude prevails. Complete relaxation of mind (Citta visranti) is experienced here. But there is also a danger of captivating beauty here. If taken in, one may be thrown down again. A Yogin who has realised this stage is called Brahmavid. Bhargavi is the representative devotee of this level. “Serving the foot” is the devotion (Paada sevana). The relationship between the Yogi and his soul, the poet and the spirit, the devotee and God–is that of wife and husband. Consider the infatuating nature of experience that can arise here.

5. Base of the Adorable

This is the region of “concern” and one of the most important. The encompassment is etherial. Ignorance relates to super-consciousness. Interesse is the emplacement. Self is the form of consciousness (Jeeva chaitanya). Immediate awareness is the form of gnosis. This is the raison d’etre of all art; the region of Arate/Rta. In literature creative imagination is the intellectual faculty which is called Caarvee. The adorable (Abhyarhita) is the good part. Silpaka, the sculptor of Truth, is the poet. The functioning (Vritti)and mode (Riti) of the composition are the important literary elements. Immediate deliverance from the environs or beatitude (Sadyah paranirvriti) is the result referred to by Mammata. We have noted that ratiocinative consciousness and sylogistic thinking retire at the third base itself. From the fourth onwards it is a matter of pure experience and awareness. While the well-cultured imperishable universal is experienced at the fourth, this region offers the experience of the Adorable, the comprehensible truth called Arate in Greek, Rta in Sanskrit. But this truth, though comprehensible, cannot be described. It has to be suggestioveri. The poet has to accomplish this by a careful control on the mental aspects of functioning and its mode. Yamaka is said to be used here. Vrittis like Kaisiki, Saatvati and Aavabhati pertain to the inner functioning of the mind. Rities like Pancaali, Gaudi and Vaidarbhi pertain to the modes of expression of the Vrittis. Thus Riti is entirely different from “style” of English literature. While the former is concerned with the nature of comprehensible truth, the latter is an offshoot of the poet’s personality. Whether the nature of truth is important or the poet’s personality is anybody’s guess. In Bhakti Arcana is the form (worshipping). Prithu Chakravarti is the representative devotee. The knower and the knowable is the relationship between the self and knowledge, the poet and the truth, the devotee and his god.

6. Base of the Becoming

The mystery of Creation and Nature is revealed in this region. Ego (Ahamkaara) is the encompassment. Ignorance pertains to soul-consciousness (Jagrata). Retirement of sorrow (Soka nivritti) is the emplacement. Godheadness is the nature of consciousness (Eswara chaitanya). Comtemplation of the “substantial” (Padartha bhaavana) of Creation and Nature is the form of gnosis. In literature, pure intelligence (Medhaa) is the faculty. Bhavanee, Mother-Nature, is the good part of contemplation. The poet is the follower of the mellifluous (Maardava anugata). Mammata refers to this stage by the term Kaantaasammitatva. It is the place of the mystic conjugation of the soul with Nature. So far as the poet is concerned it is all callisthenics here, the maturity of the sense (Paaka) and the posturing of the word (Sayyaa) taking predominance as in the case of the mind and body of lady-love. Rasa is the literary element here. The conjunctive nature is important. In Bhakti it is paying obeissance (Vandana). Akrura, literally the non-cruel, is the representative devotee. The relationship is that of Self and Master (Sva-svaami). Nature pays obeissance to the soul and gets ready to serve.

7. Base of the Indestructible

Mahat, the great substratum of the universe, is the encompassment. Ignorance pertains to sprout-consciousness (Bijajaagrata). Immutable contentment is the emplacement. Pure consciousness is the Chaitanya. Final is the stage of gnosis. In literature, configuration faculty (Pandaa) is the intellect. A poet of this base is called Viveki, the Wise. Mammata refers to this stage with the term “Upadesa”, the mystic teaching. Rasa-dhvani is the literary element. The indestructible is revealed here. Vivekakhyaati, the effulgence of discriminating wisdom, reigns supreme. In Bhakti, servitude (Daasya) is the form of devotion. Garuda is the representative. Just as he serves Lord Vishnu as his vehicle, so does the body to the soul. The relationship here is that of the body and the embodied (Sareera and Sareeri). It is here that the final mystery of all creation and life is revealed and an immutable contentment is obtained as the final stage of gnosis.

From the foregoing it is clear that the ontological approach reigns supreme. The epistemological approach and syllogistic thinking is there only up to the third base. The ontological bases, to enumerate, are (1) the good (2) the substantial (3) the possessing (4) the cultured universal (5) the adorable (6) the becoming and (7) the indestructible. The respective stages of gnosis are (1) auspicious desire (2) the inquiry (3) the psycho-physical (4) the consummate vital (5) the interesse (6) the contemplative and (7) the final. This septenary ladder of ontological bases acts in each of the bases in a minor way pushing it up to the next higher one. Thus there are forty-nine stages in all. This number is in consonance with the forty-nine Bhavas enumerated by Bhoja.

A literary work of art is like a living human being, organic, insouled and incritical. Like us it has five sheaths. Words and their meanings are like the gross-body, external and internal (Annamaya kosa). Gunas and Alamkaaras constitute life-sheath (Pranamaya kosa). Vrittis and Ritis constitute the mental sheath (Manomaya kosa). Paaka and Sayya constitute Vijnanamaya kosa. Rasa and Dhvani constitute the Auandamaya kosa or the sheath of Bliss.

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