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Religion

종교 탐방

VI. Cultural expressions: visual arts, theatre, and dance

문화적 표현

 

The structure of Indian temples, the outward form of images, and indeed the very character of Indian art are largely determined by religion and a traditional view of the world, which penetrated the other provinces of culture and welded them into a homogeneous whole.

Indian art is highly symbolic. The much-developed ritual-religious symbolism presupposes the existence of a spiritual reality that, being in constant touch with phenomenal reality, may make its presence and influence felt and can also be approached through the symbols that belong to both spheres. (see also Index: religious symbolism)

The production of objects of symbolic value is therefore more than a technique. The artisan must model a cult image after the ideal prototype that appears in his mind (in certain canonical forms) only when he has brought himself to a state of supranormal consciousness. After undergoing a process of spiritual transformation himself, he also transforms the material of which the image is to be made into a receptacle of divine power. Like the artisan, the worshiper (sadhaka, "the one who wishes to attain the goal") must grasp the esoteric meaning of a statue, picture, or pot and identify his or her self with the power residing in it. The usual offering, a handful of flowers, is the vehicle used to convey the worshiper's "life-breath" into the external image, which has already been transformed into an adequate internal vision of the same divine power. (see also Index: iconography)

1. TYPES OF SYMBOLS

If they know how to handle the symbols, the worshipers--who must achieve their object themselves and cannot come into contact with God unless they insistently invoke him--have at their disposition an instrument for utilizing the possibilities lying in the depths of their own subconscious as well as a key to the mysteries of the forces dominating the world.

1) Yantra and mandala.

The general term for an "instrument [for controlling]" is yantra, which, while denoting in a wider sense cult images, pictures, and other such aids to worship, is often especially applied to ritual diagrams. Any yantra represents some aspect of the divine and enables devotees to worship it immediately within their hearts while identifying themselves with it. Except in its greater linear complication, a mandala does not differ from a yantra and both are drawn during a highly complex ritual in a purified and ritually consecrated place. The meaning and the use of both are similar, and they may be permanent or provisional. A mandala, delineating a consecrated place and protecting it against disintegrating forces represented in demoniac cycles, is the geometric projection of the universe, spatially and temporally reduced to its essential plan. It represents in a schematic form the whole drama of disintegration and reintegration, and the adept can use it to identify with the forces governing these. As in temple ritual, a vase is employed to receive the divine power so that it can be projected into the drawing and then into the person of the adept. Thus the mandala becomes a support for meditation, an instrument to provoke visions of the unseen. A good example of a mandala is the shricakra "the Wheel of Shri" (i.e., of God's shakti) composed of four isosceles triangles with the apices upward, symbolizing Shiva, and five isosceles triangles with the apices downward, symbolizing Shakti; the nine triangles are of various sizes and intersect with one another. In the middle is the power point (bindu), visualizing the highest, the invisible, elusive centre from which the entire figure and the cosmos expand. The triangles are enclosed by two rows of (eight and 16) petals, representing the lotus of creation and reproductive vital force. The broken lines of the outer frame denote the figure to be a sanctuary with four openings to the regions of the universe. A "spiritual" foundation is provided by a yantra, called the mandala of the Purusa (spirit) of the site, that is also drawn on the site on which a temple is built. This rite is a reenactment of a variant of the myth of Purusa, an immortal primeval being who obstructed both worlds until he was subdued by the gods; the parts of his body became the spirits of the site.

2) Lingam and yoni.

One of the most common objects of worship, whether in temples or in the household cult, is the lingam (phallus). Often much stylized and an austere rather than literally sexual symbol, erect and representing the cosmic pillar, it emanates its all-producing energy to the four quarters of the universe. As the symbol of male creative energy it is frequently combined with its female counterpart (yoni), the latter forming the base from which the lingam rises. Although the lingam originally may have had no relation to Shiva, it has from ancient times been regarded as symbolizing Shiva's creative energy and is widely worshiped as his fundamental form.

3) Visual theology in icons.

The beauty of cult objects contributes to their force as sacred instruments: their ornamentation facilitates the process of inviting the divine power into them. Statues of gods are not intended to imitate ideal human forms but to express the supernatural. A divine figure is a "likeness" (pratima), a temporary benevolent or terrifying expression of some aspect of a god's nature. Iconographic handbooks attach great importance to the ideology behind images and reveal, for example, that Vishnu's eight arms stand for the four cardinal and intermediate points of the compass and that his four faces, illustrating the concept of God's fourfoldness, typify his strength, knowledge, lordship, and potency. The emblems express the qualities of their bearers--e.g., a deadly weapon symbolizes destructive force, many-headedness omniscience. Much use is made of gestures (mudras), conventional devices for denoting activities that express an idea; thus, the raised right hand, in the "fear-not" gesture (abhaya-mudra), bestows protection. Every iconographic detail has its own symbolic value, helping devotees to direct their energy to a deeper understanding of the various aspects of the divine and to proceed from external to internal worship. For many Indians, an installed and consecrated image becomes a container of concentrated divine energy; according to Hindu theists, it is an instrument for ennobling the worshiper who realizes God's presence in it.

2. THE ARTS

1) Religious principles in sculpture and painting.

The dance executed by Shiva as king of dancers (Nataraja), the visible symbol of the rhythm of the universe, represents God's five activities: he unfolds the universe out of the drum held in one of his right hands; he preserves it by uplifting his other right hand in abhaya-mudra; he reabsorbs it with his upper left hand, which bears a tongue of flame; his transcendental essence is hidden behind the garb of apparitions, and grace is bestowed and release made visible by the foot that is held aloft and to which the hands are made to point; and the other foot, planted on the ground, gives an abode to the tired souls struggling in samsara. Another dance pose adopted by Shiva is the doomsday tandava, executed in his destructive Bhairava manifestation, usually with 10 arms and accompanied by Devi and demons. The related myth is that Shiva conquered a mighty elephant demon whom he forced to dance until he fell dead; then, wrapped in the blood-dripping skin of his victim, the god executed a horrendous dance of victory. (see also Index: Indian sculpture, sacred dance)

Images sustain the presence of the god: when Devi is shown advancing against the buffalo demon, seated on her lion, she represents the affirmative forces of the universe and the triumph of divine power over wickedness. Male and female figures in uninterrupted embrace, as in Shaiva iconography, signify the union of opposites and the eternal process of generation. Lovers sculpted on temples are auspicious symbols on a par with foliage, water jars, and other representatives of fertility.

Like literature and the performing arts, the visual arts also contributed to the perpetuation of myths. Hindu sculpture tends to be less narrative than Buddhist, which delights in scenes from the Buddha's lives. In Hindu sculpture the tendency is toward hieratic poses of a god in a particular conventional stance (murti), which, once fixed, perpetuates itself. An icon is a frozen incident of a myth. For example, one murti (image) of Shiva is the "destruction of the elephant," in which Shiva appears dancing before and below a bloody elephant skin that he holds up before the image of his horrified consort; the stance is the summary of his triumph over the elephant demon. A god may also appear in a characteristic pose while holding in his multitudinous hands his various emblems, on each of which hangs a story. Carvings, such as those that appear on temple chariots, tend to be more narrative; even more so are the miniature paintings of the Middle Ages. A favourite theme in the latter is the myth of the cowherd god Krishna and his love of the cowherd wives (gopis).

2) Religious organization of sacred architecture.

Temples must be erected on a site that is shubha (i.e., suitable, beautiful, auspicious, and near water) because the gods will not come to other places. However, temples are not necessarily designed to be congenial to their surroundings, because a manifestation of the sacred is an irruption, a break in phenomenal continuity. Temples are said to constitute an opening in the upward direction to ensure communication with the gods; they are visible representations of a cosmic pillar and their site is said to be a navel of the world. Their outward appearance must raise the expectation of meeting with God. Their erection is a reconstruction and reintegration of Purusa-Prajapati, enabling him to continue his creative activity, and the finished monuments are symbols of the universe that is the unfolded One. The owner of the temple (i.e., the individual or community that paid for its construction)--also called the sacrificer--participates in the process of reintegration and experiences his spiritual rebirth in the small cella, aptly called the "womb room" (garbhagrha), by means of meditative contact with God's presence, symbolized or actualized in his consecrated image. The cella is in the centre of the temple above the navel--i.e., the foundation stone; it may contain a jar filled with the creative power (shakti) that is identified with the goddess Earth (who bears and protects the monument), three lotus flowers, and three tortoises (of stone, silver, and gold) that represent Earth, atmosphere, and heaven. The tortoise is a manifestation of Vishnu bearing the cosmic pillar; the lotus is the symbol of the expansion of generative possibilities. The vertical axis or tube (coinciding with the cosmic pillar), which connects all parts of the building and is continued in the finial on the top, corresponds with the mystical vertical vein in the body of the worshiper through which his soul rises to unite itself with the Highest.

The designing of Hindu temples, like that of religious images, was codified in the Shilpa-shastras (craft textbooks), and every aspect of the design was believed to be symbolic of some feature of the cosmos. The idea of microcosmic symbolism is strong in Hinduism and comes from Vedic times; the Brahmana texts are replete with similar cosmic interpretations of the many features of the sacrifice. This same Vedic idea of the correspondence (bandhu) between microcosm and macrocosm was applied to the medieval temple, which was laid out geometrically to mirror the structure of the universe, with its four geometric quarters and a celestial roof. The temple also represents the mountain at the navel of the world and often somewhat resembles a mountain. On the periphery were carved the most worldly and diverse scenes, including luxurious celebrations of human life: battle scenes, hunts, circuses, animals, birds, as well as images of the gods.

The erotic scenes carved at Khajuraho in Madhya Pradesh and Konarak in Orissa express a general exuberance that may be an offering of thanksgiving to the gods who created all. However, that same swarming luxuriance of life in all of its aspects may also reflect the concern that one must set aside worldly temptations upon the threshhold of the sacred space of the temple, for the carvings only decorate the outside of the temple; at the centre, the sanctum sanctorum, there is little if any ornamentation, except for a stark symbol of the god or goddess. Thus, these carvings simultaneously express a celebration of samsara and a movement toward moksha.

3) Theatre and dance.

Theatrical performances are also events that can be used to secure blessings and happiness; the element of recreation is indissolubly blended with edification and spiritual elevation. The structure and character of the classical Indian drama reveal its origin and function: it developed from the last part of a magico-religious ceremony, which survives as a ritual introduction, and begins and closes with benedictions. Drama is produced for festive occasions with a view to spiritual and religious success (siddhi), which must also be prompted by appropriate behaviour from the spectators; there must be a happy ending; the themes are borrowed from epic and legendary history; the development and unraveling of the plot are retarded; and the envy of malign influences is averted by the almost obligatory buffoon (vidusaka, "the spoiler"). There are also, in addition to films, which often use the same religious and mythic themes, yatras, a combination of stage play and various festivities that have contributed much to the spread of the Puranic view of life. (see also Index: dramatic literature)

Dancing is not only an aesthetic pursuit but also a divine service. Hence there are halls for sacred dances annexed to some temples. The rhythmic movement has a compelling force, generating and concentrating power or releasing superfluous energy. It induces the experience of the divine and transforms the dancer into whatever he or she impersonates. Thus, many tribal dances consist of symbolic enactments of events (harvest, battles) in the hope that they will be accomplished successfully. Musicians and dancing girls accompany processions to expel the demons of cholera or cattle plague. Even today, religious themes and the various relations between humans and God are danced and made visual by the codified symbolic meanings of gestures and movements (see SOUTH ASIAN ARTS: Dance and theatre ).

   


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This page was last modified 2001/09/23