The True Spirit of Art
Full text of the T. R. Venkatarama Sastri Endowment Lecture for 1950, delivered under the auspices of the South Indian National Association, Madras.
Reprinted from “Triveni”
Vol. XXXI, No. 4: Jan 1951
According to my conception, the true spirit of Art comes not from a knowledge of Art alone but from a knowledge of Truth and from possessing the true religious spirit. I say this because the source of all knowledge and inspiration is one. It does not matter whether by Religion we mean a faith, a philosophy, a system of ethics, as long as we agree that the religious spirit is primarily a spirit of dedication. The true spirit of Art is something which can be contacted only by those who have this dedicated spirit. So is Art a sense of aspiration, a reaching out. Some may think that Art is Beauty and, being concerned with the expression of Beauty in a material world, is a matter of Form before anything else. According to me, Beauty is Form as well as inspiration, because the spirit of the Beautiful which comes down to expression is the spirit of inspiration. Many have said that Art is Religion. This should not be taken to mean that Art is another kind of a Religion but it certainly is the essence of Religion - the same inspiration is behind it. So it is that in the case of the artist, the sense of dedication, the sense of tremendous aspiration towards spiritual life becomes Beauty.
In the world today, people talk much about understanding the value of Beauty and Art without knowing fully what it means. Most people really do not know what Art is. They have, of course, a theoretical idea about the place of Art in national life. They give it a high plane in the national consciousness. Our present Government, for example, has the avowed intention of encouraging all kinds of folk Art, folk dancing, etc. But the conception most people have of Art is very superficial because it is mostly based on book knowledge. At the same time, while calling something very superficial by the name of Art, they are prepared to do anything for it. In reality, such an attitude is similar to that of a man who says, "I am a learned man because I have read many books and know them all by heart". But it is the identification with the spirit of knowledge that is contained in books that makes a man learned, not the mere committing of words to memory.
It is the same with Art. Many say they are artists but only a few are. It is aspiration, it is that inner conception of the true spirit of Art which is the real heart and the most important force in the human individual, that makes the artist. Take a great musician like Tiger Varadachariar. Those who have listened to him periodically will say, "He could sing a magnificent number of Ragas". Others will acknowledge and admire his marvelous repertoire of Kshetraya Padams and of Thyagaraja Kritis. All this is quite true; but suppose Tiger had forgotten them all or had never known them; then the general opinion would have been that he was quite a nice man but that he did not know much. The usual conception or judgment on such matters is founded on the extent of an artist’s knowledge and not on the feeling one gets of his contact with reality. As a matter of fact, it is this feeling of contact that is important. A very great individual, a great personality, gives on the feeling that he is in touch with something real. Such a person can even make mistakes which lesser personalities can ill afford to make. Tiger could make mistakes in Tala which in his disciples would mean only insufficient training. A very great poet may sometimes write verse which sounds appallingly like nonsense. In a lesser writer, such a poem would really mean nonsense because he depends for effect upon form - words, correctness, etc. In a great poet, whatever be the mistakes in form, he still gives the impression of a contact with reality. This is because he has touched the Truth, he has contacted light.
Ordinary people do not know how to judge artists. With all the present day craze for dance and music, we see how judgments and criticism are superficial. If a dancer is fair, the dance is good. If, in addition, she wears many jewels, the dance is still better. The same levels of judgment obtain also in the case of music and musicians. In the West, on the whole, the general level of Art appreciation is better. Because of this, over there, they have a certain understanding of genius and know how to forgive a genius his peculiarities. They will say, "Well, anyhow, he has something in him".
For a singer ordinarily, mostly so in the West, the voice is a most important factor. Of course, the voice is an important factor in India, too. But such a preoccupation with the voice of the singer can, in some cases, lead to a position where the voice becomes more important than the music. It is very hard to put up with a harsh voice. But there may be a musical element in a singer who has a harsh voice which may be beautiful and well worth while to contact. The music is in the soul of the singer and it expresses itself in beauty, whether or not the voice does it full credit. This is because the spirit of Art – the creative spirit – is a very remarkable thing. This spirit is independent of Form in one sense; in the sense that, often, it expresses itself even in imperfect Form, as in the case of the poet who may write good poetry which, from a formal point of view, may contain many mistakes. Art as we know it is at the same time dependent on, as well as independent of, Form. In one sense, if Art is invisible, there is no Art at all. It has to be visible and so is bound to Form. How can human beings know music without sound? If a great musician were to say, "I have taken a vow of silence for the rest of my life. In future, silence will express my music", it would be strange, even amusing, yet it is possible.
Nevertheless, expressed Art depends on Form whether in sculpture, architecture, or painting. Beautiful words are necessary in poetry to express noble ideas. Art, while it expresses itself in Form, transcends Form. The method of expressing oneself in the chosen Form of a particular Art is called its technique. The rules have to be learnt, but when they are learnt thoroughly then can be broken. Younger artists often like to break the rules, but really to be able to do so one must be a genius. What is a genius? Of course, from the Hindu point of view, genius is something that develops through a number of incarnations. Genius is creativeness of the soul. What is a creative person, what is creative Art? Creative Art is something that is eternally new, eternally different. A recognition that it is something ever fresh and new, leads to the misconception that it means variety. Mere variety does not mean creative Art, though many will say where there is variety there is creativeness. A creative artist can go on doing the same thing and yet it will never be the same. Each time, the creative impulse gives to the same Form a fresh, newly born atmosphere. Creative Art has variety but it does not need to have it. It can be something that is repeated over and over again and is yet ever fresh. It would sound like a paradox to say that, even in repeating, the one thing a creative artist cannot do is to repeat himself. A person who believes in variety, consciously promotes variety while an artist is concerned only with his creative spirit. In the creation of variety as such, there may be inventiveness, there may be talent. But talent is not genius.
In these days we are prone to mix up words and the facts behind the words. We think that talent is genius when it is not. A person can be very talented and still not be a genius. When artists have genius it becomes clear that all creative Arts belong to one spirit. That spirit becomes evident and expressed when an individual is able to contact the reality of an experience through a mind which is under the stress of a deep emotion. To be an artist, mind and emotion have both to be developed. The intellect, as ordinarily understood, is not necessarily needed for Art. I have myself seen this in the case of children who do not like books but are interested in, and can express themselves in, Art. Our ideas are very limited. We do not really know what intelligence is. Often we think that when we do not understand a person, she or he must be intelligent. When I was very young, sometimes I used to attend lectures delivered in English and I thought these lectures were marvelous because I did not understand one word. Now, the same thing happens to most of us in mature life. We are apt to be impressed by a thing just because we do not understand it. Intelligence really means a capacity for the perception of truth, of reality. In genius this very clear perception of the mind combines with a deep emotion which stirs the soul of him who contacts it. This emotion is not confined to one particular stimulus but is something which makes on sensitive to all experience, which makes one feel for everything.
In society, people often make a special effort to appear cultured in conversation. This is mostly so in the West where, in society, people have to have something to talk about. "What a lovely scene!" they say; "Have you read the latest book of such and such an author?"; "Oh! You are from India. It must be a very interesting country", and so on. When I go to New Delhi I hear men and women talk in the same way. This is a reflection in India of the superficial side of Western civilization. But this has nothing to do with real culture which primarily is a keen perception in which there is deep emotion - a deep emotion tremendously responsive and making one expand. Beauty and Art make one feel as if a comb is drawn through the meshes of our being and fresh air is let in. This happens when one sees a beautiful thing, when one feels very much for a child or an animal. We are breathing deep, spiritually, when we feel a great emotion. This stirring up is tremendously important and this is one of the reasons why Art is important. Unless we know how to comb out our being so that we are ever fresh and revivified, we cannot respond and we cannot help people. The intellect by itself is cold and unresponsive like steel. But when beautiful emotion is mixed with intellect we are able to contact something which is deep and marvelous. The actual emotion of contact is something one cannot convey to others. Ask a great musician wherein lies the secret of his inspiration and he will reply he does not know. At the same time there has to be something within us to respond. We cannot really hear the Kalyani Raga and all its subtleties unless there is a deeply responsive element within us. That part of us which hears, sees, and responds has to be prepared for the reception of Art.
A very important thing in life is the stimulus of being with someone who knows a great deal about these subjects. Slowly one begins to feel and know also. This has been a part of my own experience. I have often been in contact with remarkable people who were specialists along lines which were not mine – Sir C. V. Raman, for example. It is so marvelous when he speaks about the diamond, and his inspiration has made me feel that the diamond is indeed something wonderful. I have felt the beauty of the diamond all the more. When one hears him, one wants to go in for scientific research also. One wants to be a great scientist like him. His ability to contact such an inspiration in the subject of his research makes on feel that he is also an artist. The stimulus of greatness is tremendously important. Many say they will and can study for themselves. This is a mistake. The presence of greatness in the Guru, the teacher, makes on contact the reality in the subject of study. When someone has make a deep study of certain books, those who come into contact with him also begin to feel the greatness of knowledge. Sometimes I have heard recitations from Shakespeare which have laid open to me the soul of the poet and made me wish I could recite as beautifully as some of these artists. When one has such contacts, one is inspired. Therefore, we should be with those who can give us such inspiration.
The real difficulty with genius, the creative spirit, the Truth, is that you cannot really explain what it is or teach another person to acquire it. You have to learn to contact it by imperceptible means. Art has to be contacted thus and it has a very special message. Art means Beauty although today anything passes for Art. Dancers think that if they do anything with their bodies it is beautiful. In the Art galleries of today we see many horrors labeled as modern Art. Certainly, in the future, such Art will be looked down upon. In India at present, there is a craze to copy this foolish phase.
Art means expressing beauty but we must remember that the unexpressed is also beautiful. Complete negation of movement is beautiful. Beauty is a very marvelous and cosmic thing. Human consciousness is on many planes. There is one part of it which is material and one which is divine. That part which is material belongs to the world of limitations. It is slow, tamasic, purely physical. So the mind is often physical, very concrete and narrow; but one sometimes comes across a mind that can fly to heaven. There are ordinary minds and spiritual minds. The spiritual is a God-like force. From my point of view, the Gods cannot speak too easily to humanity because humanity is very slow to understand. The Rishis and teachers have made great efforts to provide this contact through the Vedas, through poetry, through Religion, through beautiful and forceful language. They have tried to show us something of the other world. Does Art teach us something else? If it does, what is it that it attempts to teach? It teaches us the same thing that the Rishis have taught. It shows us a suggestion of the Heaven world and puts it at our feet. Would you like to know what the Devas are like? Look at a beautiful dance; it comes from the Devas. Do you want to see something that comes from the highest and yet belongs to the ordinary world, something marvelous that God has created? There is a flower right before your eyes.
Art is something that, so to speak, is placed right at your feet. Here before your very eyes is your divine self. You think the artist is someone outside yourself. You yourself are the artist and a creation of Art is your own creation. You have it in you to create. You can make beautiful poetry, you can write a wonderful book, you can sing this song. You will say, "I cannot do any of these things. I am afraid even to attempt them". How is it then that another human being like you can do them? This means you can do it also. Art is a direct message from the Higher to the lower. Beauty is the most perfect language there is. You want the divine to speak. But we are hearing the divine speaking always. If we know how to hear music, we are hearing the divine speak. All of us have heard, only we do not know. We have seen the Art of the divine – though we do not realize it when we have seen a great dancer. But then we may say, "she is after all a human being". However, when she dances it is the divine spirit in her that dances and not the mere human body. If we learn to think this way, we will understand Art and its marvelous message. This divinity is a marvelous message to humanity – a direct gift. When we hear great music we feel so thrilled and stimulated that we feel we ourselves can create. If we really understand Art as a message of the Gods, then we will find that God Himself is Beauty. And the world should be filled with it. We must become God-like. We can do this. But we have to become filled with the spirit of pure Beauty, filled with a spirit of dedication. This means we have to expand emotionally and mentally so that we can enter into the spirit of Beauty, the spirit of Art, and be thrilled.
People often consider themselves hardboiled, using that term in a complimentary sense. Actually it is an unfortunate confession, a very sad thing. If there is nothing on earth that thrills them, what a sad position they are in! Every person should be sensitive enough to be moved deeply by something. It is better even to be moved to tears than not to be moved at all. The capacity to respond to emotion means something more than being merely emotional. Every time you are really thrilled by something, I am quite sure it makes you grow and you will never again be quite so small as you were before. The difference before and after may not be very great, but if we go through such experience constantly and are constantly inspired, one day we will transcend the ordinary. Every individual has, at least to a small extent, the power to be inspired. If one is cold and hard, then inspiration means nothing. But if we are capable of being inspired, it means two things. Firstly, that there is someone who has the capacity to inspire and, secondly, that we have the capacity to respond. It means that we can respond to Beauty. To some extent, it is because there are people who can respond to Beauty that there is expressed Art, not entirely because there are artists alone. If nobody responds to music the singers will always have to sing to themselves. Therefore, the spirit that can respond to the revelation of a very great artist can also show you the way magnificently. When you contact such art, when you hear the sound of music or see the colors in a beautiful picture, you not only hear the music or see the picture; you see into the very soul of the artist and, even more, you see the soul of Art itself.
Art is a threefold message from the Highest, through the Spirit, technique and form. When an artist pours forth his inspiration, what is it we have? That which is inspiring in it is not the Form but the spirit. The spirit, of course, needs the Form for its expression. Form is necessary for the expression of Beauty – that Beauty which is Cosmic and which is the true spirit of Art. This Cosmic Beauty is like a very great river that comes down like a waterfall from the high mountains. This is Art. If we want to contact it we have to enter in to that greatness. We have to enter into the heart and the essence of Beauty. How are we to do it? Not merely by thinking of Form. Technique will come, will develop. Form will appear and shape itself even without effort. A person who is inspired is touched by the spirit which is eternal, a form which has no end. A picture can have a frame but the spirit goes beyond the frame. The form has limitations but in that limitation the spirit is seen and we begin to see everlasting Beauty. This is the work of Genius and is the essence of Art. Art goes together with the right kind of Religion. I have said this many times. There must be purity of action, purity of thought, purity of life, a true attitude to life, clear perception, sensitiveness to all things, a tenderness of feeling – above all, deep tenderness. Such tenderness of emotion is delicate emotion. The Art becomes spiritual and not the Art that is portrayed today. The dance I speak of is the dance of Sri Nataraja Himself. If we would understand His Art, we must learn to spell the word not only ART but also HEART. This is our way. We must put all our hearts and minds into it and a penetrating and keen intelligence, so that we are no more on the physical plane but on the plane of the Gods where the True Spirit of Art lives.
In India today, we have a great work to do for the revival of the spirit of Beauty. There is a consciousness of the place of Art – but there is a lack of understanding of Art itself. As we travel in India today and visit famous places we see monuments and temples in ruins. No traveler or educated Indian visits any place for sight seeing except to see relics of the old civilizations which are of either religious or historical interest. In India, with very rare exceptions, the religious and historical are combined. There is no history without Religion, nor monuments nor cities. This is a unique feature of India’s life. We have made our genius unique because Form is an embodiment of spirit, and we use no form that is not spiritual, nor is there any true life for us ordinary human beings without beauty of form. This is why Indian Art is primarily a spiritual Art. Our conception of Art has come from the plane of Intuition and therefore our creative expressions are the result of a spiritual experience. The fundamental difference between East and West seems to be that the East has emphasized the fact that a body is taken by the soul and therefore the soul has a body, while the Western conception is that the body has a soul. The Indian knows of the Himalayan heights and traces the Ganges from the source to the ocean, while a Westerner discovers the Ganges, and after traveling along the plains and climbing mountains, he finds the source.
So it is that we find the source of Art in the seership of the Yogis and direct knowledge is given to the world. Just as each Brahmin has a gotra by which he can trace his birth to a Rishi, each Art, each Science, has a gotra by which we can trace the root of the teaching to a great Rishi. Bharata Natya finds its gotra in the Rishi Bharata, Medicine in the Rishi Agastya and Dhanvantari himself and so on without end. Indians accepted the knowledge and worked with it to discover the truth of it. In the West, a few great poets, musicians, and philosophers gave to the world their knowledge and their experience. But it remains as their own individual expression. The nation as a whole accepts no knowledge but develops through experience. So we find that Western Art gradually developed through different phases of civilization and has yet to understand the deep significance of Art. They have yet to know the philosophy of Art, and the spiritual meaning. But whichever of the two methods is used, they will meet. Either Truth must be experienced, or, experience must teach Truth. It is with the approach of opposite ends that East and West will meet. Either way it is Truth that is Art.
Speech alone does not portray Truth or knowledge. Knowledge or wisdom is expressed through color, sound, rhythm, and movement. It is because of this conception that we see in the symbology of the great Being, Nataraja, an expression of every form of Art. As the rainbow is many-colored, Art is many-formed. You see in Nataraja the great Yogi, for Art is primarily not only spiritual on the spiritual plane but spiritual on every plane of consciousness coming down to the physical level. So He is the Yogi, the Seer. He is the Teacher, for in Him is born knowledge. He is movement, and every limb even as portrayed in the still form of an image is movement and grace. He is the all powerful – but his power is hidden by grace and beauty. This again is the expression of true Art, for it is power that has transcended brute force and crudity. He is sound, for in Him is symbolized the first sound, the sound of the Damaru. He is last, but not least, rhythm, a dancer, for the dance is the united expression of all Art – poetry of motion, music, line, grace and, most important of all, an expression of spirit triumphing over matter. In the statue of Nataraja we see that all Art is one and the essential spirit of Art is the cosmic conception that touches the heavens and the human conception that touches the heart of man.
This is a very marvelous idea, because there is no Art which does not throb with human emotion. Without this emotion, Art becomes cold and uninspiring.
If we, as Indians, cannot understand this spirit, we can never really revive Art. What we need in India is a revival of spirit, not a revival of Art Forms. If we revive Art Forms, we revive a dead body; if we revive the spirit, we not only revive the Art Forms but become the source of new Forms which will be as beautiful as any that man has created. So many people speak of creating a new Art. In every field of Art in India efforts are being made in this direction. A am sorry to say that this effort is only producing ugliness instead of beauty because we are creating with the mind alone and not with the spirit. There are many modern-minded Indians today who decry what they call revivalism or tradition in Art. Usually these are people who neither understand Art nor India. For centuries and for thousands of years, India has not only preserved her religious spirit and tradition but has proved that creative consciousness was an important feature of Indian Art. One of the greatest dangers for the artistic future of India is the fact that people of little knowledge are taking such an active part in it. The Christ said, "do not cast your pearls", meaning, "do not give a precious jewel to the ignorant". In the same way when the ignorant direct the way of Art which is a message of the Devas, it can produce nothing but sacrilege.
Take the Dance for instance. First it came from the Rishis, it had a great place in the national life; so much so that it had a place of honor in the temples. Then it decayed owing to the degradation of the lives of those who danced. Why did it decay? Was it because the Art had no more beauty in it or was it because of the lowering moral values? It is a pity that the Art had to die because the artist did not lead a pure life, yet one important point emerges, that the life of the artist is as important as the Art itself. Though morality seemed to concern itself only with one aspect, yet the fact is as true as ever, that the life of an artist has to be dedicated and pure. This applies to every class of individual. Yet how many of us think of keeping our bodies pure and our minds and hearts filled with Beauty? The dance has become a craze and a fashion today. How many think of its spiritual meaning? How many realize that it expresses human emotion, rendered transcendent and beautiful by the stories of the Avataras, of the Mahabharata, of the Ramayana, and the Puranas? When we think of this Art decaying, do we not think of it entirely on the basis of morality? If so, what is morality? From my point of view, ugliness is immorality and today a greater immorality has taken the place of what obtained in those whose lives were called impure. In the hands of the professionals, the Art retained its standards of technique, purity of movement, and a sincere devotion to the Deity. Today the Art has lost its beauty of Form. It is strange to see that India has accepted Bharata Natya which is a temple Art but that the temple has no more of this Art and that, in fact, it is prohibited in temples. Still more, we believe in Bharata Natya without believing in Bharata. If a Natya which is given by the Rishis is divorced from them, from Religion and from the temples, how then does this dance represent the genius of India? To me, it now represents more the spirit of the modern world. To the modern Indian, the ruined temple is more interesting than the living temple itself. Yet, even in the ruins, the glories of India shine with more luster than in all the Art forms of the present day.
Of all the Arts, the easiest to revive will be music; yet it is only musical ability that can be revived, not musical genius, because musical genius is so inextricable a part of spiritual knowledge. Musical revival is possible, thought difficult, because the appreciation of it is still living to a certain extent. Even this is almost extinct in the north of India, but for a few deep students. It is unfortunate, the number of crimes that are committed in the name of Art. As I have said before, Art in the hands of the ignorant can become a sacrilege. One sees it everywhere, in the theatre, in dancing, in the temples and monuments. But the dance, one need not see; one can avoid it. Yet how can one avoid seeing sacrileges like one sees in the Dilwara temples, in Chidambaram, in Mylapore and other places? As one travels, this brings greater sorrow than almost any other form of ugliness except cruelty. One sees constantly the hideous colors that are painted over Gopurams and the walls of shrines. Great kings built shrines out of their devotion, kings who worshipped not only in their hearts but kings who worshipped through Art, kings who inspired, encouraged, and helped craftsmen whose work cannot even be imitated today. Such masterpieces that have inspired thousands of people, that are valued in every country and every museum in the world today, are neglected and forgotten. The other day I saw masterpieces of bronze which had once been buried underground during a Muhammadan invasion. Now they are unearthed and privately sold to connoisseurs and others. The possession of bronzes has become as important a craze as dancing. Shops are selling bronzes, real or unreal, to satisfy this craze. One of the amazing things of the present day is that ignorance can be satisfied by tricks. In the concert, tricks of the voice and glamorous noises of different instruments can please the audience and pass off as music. In the dance, a dancer who has worked years to perfect the Art, who presents Art through simplicity is far less appreciated than one who studies for a short time, who can present glamorous clothes, jewels, etc. In the same way the bronze that is copied and made to look dull and old is as satisfying as the old image full of the atmosphere of centuries of worship. This in indeed Kaliyuga, for we may have ears but we do not hear, we have eyes but do not see. The old prayer, "From the unreal lead me to the real, from darkness lead me to light, from death lead me to immortality" is applicable equally to Art, for what is Art but that which leads to reality, to light, and to immortality?
India is rich with the ruins of every Art. We are fortunate in this, for it gives us the knowledge of our culture and the promise of a great future. We are equally fortunate in the enthusiasm that exists for Art. To build the future, we must build on the basis of the old – not because it is old but because it is eternal. There are many who say they are developing a New Art. What they mean by this is usually the presentation of Art that will please the public.
This is against the spirit of India. Art is neither an entertainment nor a pastime. It may be entertaining, for we must learn through joy, but at the same time Art is neither for the superficial nor can it be expressed by the superficial. All Art is for the highest and for one’s own heart. It being the true education of life, its mission is to teach without appearing to teach because the best way to learn is to learn without the pain of learning. When songs are written about Nataraja, His dance is spoken of as Ananda Natana. The meaning of this is obvious, but how wonderful the conception it! It has many meanings, the most important of which is that joy destroys all misery. Through His joy, He destroys ignorance.
To the ordinary human, the learning of the dance is as strenuous as the practice of Yoga because it means the control of the body, the discipline of the body, and finally the forgetting of the body through the joy that comes of its transcendence. By the conquering of the body, by the expression of the spirit through the physical, we are as Shiva Himself, destroying ugliness, destroying matter and flesh itself into the ashes of divine rhythm and joy. Tamil poets speak of Shiva as One shining with brilliant and pure white ashes. This is the dance in which intelligent emotion transcends all. It is creative and new and when one’s mind is filled with this spirit how can the artist be conscious of pleasing the audience, or think of headlines?
As dance is the conquering of the body, so is music the conquering of the emotion. True music is transcendence of lower emotion. As Natya is the dance of the physical body, so is music the dance of the emotional body. To transcend emotion is again a Yoga, the sound that is physical calling to the eternal self in all. In India, the cultural center was truly the temple, and because Art was understood it was offered as flowers and incense to the Deity.
It is because beauty is such a universal spirit that it can know no differences of nation, language, or caste. All speak today about a national language. To me, the real national language is culture and any Form that expresses culture is the language of the land. It is interesting to note how Art is the one thing which all nations recognize as a bridge. Even during the last war, many people and many countries gave up speaking German, would have nothing to do with Germany. But the only German born thing that was allowed in any country was the Music of German composers such as Bach or Beethoven. In the love of Art, the nationality of the composer was forgotten. For a great artist the world is his nation. In the division of India the greatest loss has been the cultural loss. In the North, craftsmen who make beautiful things, and wonderful musicians are Muslims, for music there is no barrier of Religion; almost all Ustads sing of Krishna and Radha. If real artists had been the politicians there would have been no division of India. Art seems to be exempted from all barriers of birth. The Christian will enjoy a dance performance or even learn to dance, though it is known that every song is in praise of Krishna, Rama, Sita, or Parvati. This interesting fact gives us an idea that perhaps in the new India, Religion cannot return in the same way. But if the religious spirit is to return it may be through beauty, through the presentation of drama, of music, of dance, and of poetry. Only if India regains the spiritual outlook will India regain her place as the Centre of Culture, of Beauty of living, a land to be worshipped.
At one time, India’s influence spread to China and pilgrims wrote of her and her prosperity. Will ever another pilgrim write of India’s glory? Will there be descriptions of our new Architecture, Music, Dance, Poetry and, most important of all, of the Poetry of living? Or will there be descriptions of the great progress of industrial centers with ugly cities filled with the smoke of factories? Today, from what I know, visitors come to see the ancient monuments and no new city is visited except to be shown the ugliness of the present day. When visitors are shown our dances, they are filled with surprise; surprise at the lack of organization, lack of color sense, the loudness of the microphone, and the lack of respect for the Art on the part of the audience. Of course, it is natural that audiences lack reverence for Art, because the artist himself of herself is unaware of the need for such a quality. Reverence and humility can come only with knowledge. The same is true of the Art galleries today. Our modern Art is neither ours, nor is it Art. We are all filled with respect for the West and copy the struggles of the West in our Art. Our pictures win little respect and are unfortunate copies of the wrong West. Of course there are rare exceptions, but popular taste in India is very uneducated though the uneducated have better taste that the educated. The uneducated has not learnt of the modern and, therefore, responds to the simplicities of the old or the eternal.
There is no doubt that in the Western world thee is a far better understanding of Art. The vulgar exists, as in the night clubs, but the vulgar is known to be vulgar, as the classical is known to be classical. The West is full of a sense of good taste, of polish and a capacity to do well whether in good or evil. The forms of dancing in the cabarets exact as much hard work and untiring effort as the classical ballet. The West is a land of contrasts. Last year when I was in Paris, and U. N. O. representative gave a lecture with lantern slides. He showed the glory of Notre Dame, the beautiful Cathedral dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and in the next picture was a slide representing the Folies Bergeres, a famous place of light entertainment. Yet, in spite of all this, there is no mixing up of the crude with the classical. There will not be one note of the cheap music-hall at a concert of a classical musician, and what is more, the audience will know the difference. They will not tolerate the sacrilege of the classical artist descending to the cheap tunes. The cinema songs in India, with their imitations of foreign films and their music, has made this type of music so popular that the greatest danger has come to the very life of India, so that an average Indian (except to a certain extent in the South) does not even know the difference between the good and bad. Those who work for Art and Education have this great mission, to educate children and the public to true knowledge.
If one day a traveler were to write of India’s place amongst the nations of the world, it will be to show India as a land of her particular genius, the genius to express Truth and philosophy in every phase of life, in the temples, in the homes. Just as the temple was the Cultural Centre, so was the home a Centre of Beauty. We still speak of a home as one where Lakshmi resides. What does this mean? It means Beauty in the home. The home of a villager, of a poor man, was as beautiful as that of any rich man. In fact India’s genius for simplicity in life, simplicity in the home, beauty in everything that was used such as the vessels, the lamps, the mats, the floor, and the dhotis or the saris. This universal sense of beauty extended to the stage. So, just as we wish for the presence of Lakshmi in the home, we need Lakshmi in our nation. It is then that India will represent an all-pervading Beauty, spiritual and real. It is then that India will bless the world both with the light of an outer Beauty which is Art and an inner Beauty which is character. It is only then that India will spread her message to the world, the message of her soul, and bring Moksha to the struggling nations. It was said by a great Teacher that "Men walk in their own shadows and cry out that it is dark". Let man see the light, the light of Beauty, and men shall walk in Light as they shall sing in joy and peace.