Main photo (above) is a Basohli illustration to the Gita Govinda, ‘Hail, Keshava, Hail! Ruler of Wave and Wood!’, c.1730
The penultimate part of this six-part series (Read earlier parts: Part I, Part II, Part III and Part IV) in which distinguished scientist, academic and Vedic scholar Subhash Kak shows how traditional Indian art is not only aesthetically sublime, but is a reflection of the cosmos and of the Divine itself. In Part V we see how the stories of Krishna, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, reflect a harmony between materiality and spirit.
Part V: Krishna’s dance
Krishna’s pranks and the love that the cowgirls (gopis) have for him is the frame for much of poetry, dance, and painting in India. As avatara of Vishnu, he is the narrator of the Vedic wisdom in the great dialogue of the Bhagavad Gita. His cowherd stories are a take-off on his other name Gopala, which means the protector of the world as well as cowherd, for the root gauh means both earth and cow.
The story of the love of the gopis is the story of each devotee for God. Krishna performs the rasa-lila, a dance, where mysteriously he is able to simultaneously dance with all the different gopis, which represents, no doubt, the mystery that the same One is able to inhabit the many.
Krishna, the flute player, is the spirit that inhabits each one of us. The flute is the body, and the melody is the unfolding of our individual lives. The love of Radha for Krishna can never be fulfilled, since the individual is forever doomed to stay apart from the divine in ordinary experience.
In the Mahabharata, Dhritarashtra is the ego, Vidura is discriminating intelligence, the Kauravas are the physical desires, Krishna is the transcending atman, Arjuna is the empirical atman; the higher faculties are the Pandavas, and the lower faculties are the Kauravas. The characters of the epics and the Puranas do not only act in the outer world; they play out our own private battles.
In the Ramayana, Sita is the intuition who has been abducted by the demon within, who must be set free by Rama, the inner sun. The demon, representing the urge to dominate and possess, has ten heads that represent the sense and action organs of the body. In the struggle between the asuras and the gods, Hanuman, representing the human mind that has devotion, provides critical assistance.
Although Vishnu and Shiva make their appearance generally in different situations since their centrality is in different domains, they are also visualized in a unity, as Harihara.
The Indian approach to reality is to seek a harmony that balances materiality with the spirit. It is this harmony that is the main goal of the artistic creation, and we see it expressed not only in the sacred arts, but also in music and dance.
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