Dialogue July-September, 2006, Volume 8 No. 1
Comprehending India on and through its own terms
The writings and discussions on the subject convinces me that the difficulties understandably arise at the level of comprehending ‘India’ the geographical entity, and comprehending the nature of ‘Man’ (Human) and his or her culture beyond categories evolved at a certain period of the critical discourse in the discipline of ‘anthropology’. It was and is clear that the diversities and even polarities of ‘views’ was as much on account of the multiplicity and plurality of the physical geographical bio-sphere India and its countless diversity of human-scape, communities, languages, systems of thought, artistic expressions, as the diversity of the theoretical positions of the ‘scholars’. The theoretical postulates in turn were in part or whole influenced by the critical discourse on India in the past or recent past and the immediate present, i.e. the ‘modern’ or ‘contemporary’ on both India the geographical space as also the enumeration and classification of the human species. Understandably the task of drawing up a conceptual plan for an institution which would communicate a ‘vision’ and a concept through concrete ‘objects’ and programmes is complex and challenging. Indeed it will continue to be so in the future. It has to be pointed out that Smti Indira Gandhi was always conscious of the difficulties and challenges of comprehending India through any one given yardstick or perspective. In one seminal statement she said,
‘If you wish to know something about India you must empty your mind of all preconceived notions of what you have heard or read. Why be imprisoned by the limited vision of the prejudiced? Also don’t try to compare. India is different and, exasperating as it must seem, would like to remain so! You will not find any of your familiar labels useful. India is many and it is one. It has incredible diversity, yet is bound in a unity that stretches way back into unwritten history.
There is hardly a thought in philosophy, science or the arts of which you will not find some grain in India. Even the passing fashions or cults which rock the West from time to time were found in India somewhere some time and were tolerated without the raising of an eyebrow or affecting others. This is the secret of India, the acceptance of life in all its fullness, the good and the evil, and, at the same time, trying to rise above it all.
In all the ups and downs of its long history, India’s culture, mores and traditions have been continuously evolving, shaped by its many experiences within itself and influences from outside. It has not hesitated to adopt, adapt and absorb new ideas. But these, like the foreigners (all except European conquerors), became merged in Indian society, became Indians, contributed to Indianness. The most remarkable thing was that through the ages, thousands of years, our roots remained strong and healthy.’
Thus her insistence on emptying the mind of preconceived notions is the essence of her statement.
It is certainly not my purpose to recount the historiography of the writing of India’s ‘history’. This has been undertaken by many historians with varying theoretical positions, e.g., the late Dr. Devahuti at one end of the spectrum to Romila Thapar on the other, to name only two. Also, it is not my purpose to comment or critique recent writing on India by both foreigners and Indians. Again, two examples will suffice: Raja Rao on the Idea of India and Sunil Khilnani’s book entitled The Idea of India. Each of these authors reflects distinctive perspectives informed by the ‘levels’ and dimensions of perceptions of India. If one traces and identifies the India of thought and experience, the other overviews the socio-economic, political dimensions. At a more definable (only relatively) domain of socio-economic structure and political formations, there has been the loud and clear voice of the ‘subaltern’ school which has endeavoured to place the histories of the ‘marginalized’ or under-privileged. The endeavour comprising seven volumes of subaltern histories has brought forth very important and valuable material on neglected regional and sub-regional histories all largely at the socio-economic level. The cultural and civilizational aspects have not received equal attention.
And now there is a sizeable body of literature in Political Science which has addressed itself to the dynamics of state formation and have analyzed, in great detail and with great sophistication, the idea of India as a nation-State and whether India ever considered (?) of itself as a whole politically or culturally. Lord Meghnad Desai’s latest book and his public lectures have categorically questioned the existence or perception of India as a single entity, politically or culturally. For him, there are only sub-nations and sub-nationalities, no India. There are others who have advocated that unless India abandons all its ‘diversities’ (cultural, linguistic, of course, ethnic) it cannot hope to be a dominant political (economic) power. Uniformity and homogenization for them is an essential pre-requisite for being a major player in the economic/political world of globalization. Not as dominant, but equally important, is the voice of the contemporary bio-scientist world which has been at pains to point out that the landmass of India is a single inter-connected ‘bio-sphere’ with bio-diversities and cultural diversities, but intrinsically interlocked with each other. No single part is an autonomous, isolated or insulated unit.
From these ‘varying’ and totally divergent perceptions, mentioned here in a telegraphic language as ‘markers’ and ‘reminders’ of the contemporary discourse, two questions arise. The first, did ‘India’ at the level of perception ever see itself geographically, culturally and civilizationally as a ‘whole’ or were there only micro-spatio-temporal units with divergent perceptions and commitments? We are now not speaking of political formations but of cultural and civilizational perceptions as articulated in both textual ‘sources’ as also in the network of routes of communications which were established across the landmass called ‘India’ - Jambudvipa, Bharata, etc., etc. The second and more important question is: did India evolve its own systems of thought and knowledge of comprehending itself or Man and his environment and society, or was there no such concern or consciousness? Also, if India had any such self-conscious awareness, then what were the categories, classificatory systems? And, last, does the knowledge and classificatory system have any relevance for us today?
The answers to these questions are clearly in the negative for any discerning observer, participator. To the first, it was not only Megesthenes, Al Buruni or Huen Tsang who spoke about the geographical physical entity, but the voluminous body of literary sources from all parts of India, ranging from later Vedic, Jain, Buddhist sources and of course the Puranas repeatedly speak of a geographical entity inter-connected from the Himalayas to Kanyakumari and from the West to the East. The physical territory Jambudvipa or Bharata may not have had political boundaries and lines of demarcation, but was certainly conscious, and keenly self-conscious, of the juxtapo0sition of the mountains and the seas, the rivers and fertile plains, deserts, marshlands. Indian mythology emerged out of these perceptions and in turn mythology was sought to be ‘located’ in different versions. It is not necessary to elaborate upon the countless descriptions to counteract the view that India or Indians never looked at themselves beyond their limited geographical area or region. The matter need not be pursued further, except for the comment that some very distinguished scholars may perhaps have given themselves the opportunity to peruse a vast body of primary sources rather than be guided by descriptions and perceptions of ‘travellers’ and critics.
Now in regard to India’s perceptions and self-perceptions in regard to human-scape, societies and communities, even cultural traits of body language, language and societal structures, one has only to read Panini not as a book of grammar but as a record of India’s geographical, socio-cultural, economic self-understanding. ‘Grammar’ was no doubt his primary concern, but the grammatical rules and formations constitute an indispensable tool and inroad to the comprehension of human habitations. The classification of ‘Vana’, ‘loka’ and the janapadas become important not only as historical record but as seminal conceptual framework of understanding which continues to be valid today. Other texts of the first and second millennia B.C. and the first millennia A.D. bear testimony. The Peoples of India project of the Anthropological Survey of India and its findings have to be juxtaposed with the evidence of the comprehension of the diversity of cultural formations as far back as Panini, Bharata and other texts, not to speak of the epics Ramayana and Mahabharata. These are partial answers or responses to the first question I raised, but the self-understanding of the natural and human-scape of India (sentence incomplete). In each of these texts there is self-consciousness of plurality of natural and human landscape and thus plurality of cultural traits, e.g., language, conduct, etc.
The response to the second, i.e., did India have a self-consciousness of its systems of thought and knowledge, or whether there was a plethora of multiple systems of philosophy, religious faiths, sects and sub-sects, etc., etc., without an overarching theory of knowledge with its specific classificatory system, the subject is altogether too vast, complex and multi-layered. However, it becomes important and valid because today there is a general acceptance that there is only a ‘universal’ system of knowledge: this is normative, and has to be pervasive. There is now the less and reluctant acceptance of the existence of what are termed local or indigenous systems of knowledge, sometimes grudgingly called ‘traditional systems of knowledge’. The debate on these issues is not restricted to India. It is world wide and not restricted to the ‘environmentalists’ and bio-diversity and cultural diversity exponents, but has been extended to those who are trying to comprehend the nature of diverse cognitive systems and specially those who have addressed themselves to theory making and construction of theoretical postulates.
This is a rather long-winded and detoured explanation for the title ‘Comprehending India on or through its own terms’. Since the subject of comprehending India at different levels and as a civilizational and cultural entity was too vast and complex, I thought it may be pertinent to look at the limited sphere of nature of classificatory system within the knowledge systems both in the textual and the oral transmission and concentrate on some seminal terms which have a bearing on the issues of ‘theory’ and ‘praxis’, the high elite and the low, or more familiar but inadequately translated words ‘classical’ and ‘folk’, and finally the most used and misused notion of tribal, village-people or the all familiar term loka.
For this purpose let me take the ‘term’ literally and try and explore the first pair of terms, viz., ›åstra and prayoga, and a second pair mårga and de›a, and finally loka.
This exploration hopefully will throw some light on the difference in approach and method of organizing knowledge and the classificatory systems. Hopefully, at the conclusion, I may be able to convince at least some readers that the secret of India’s comprehending itself and in its incredible continuity and change lay in its ability to evolve series of categories which were not ‘absolute’ or frozen. Instead, it was fluidity, liquidity and interpenetration, and processes of inversions, recursiveness, (?) which facilitated absorption, assimilation and transformation, without radical rejection. I am stating this at the outset, so as to focus your attention on the method of classification.
There has been considerable discussion and a fair amount of confusion by equating the word ‘theory’ with the word ‘›åstra’ in the Indian tradition. Understandably I am restricting myself to Sanskrit terminology, although we could also include Pali, and Prakrita, the two other languages without necessarily equating ›åstra (Sanskrit) to the Hindu or the Brahmannical or Pali with Buddhist and Prakrita to the Jaina traditions. Equating language to religion has also been the cause of some confusion and misinterpretation. Also, it is my intention here to traverse the whole field of categories of knowledge, i.e. ›ikså, vidyå.
First and foremost thus would be the question of defining the word ®Såstra and to find a viable English equivalent which can be used in all the varied contexts in which the Sanskrit term is used. Despite the Sanskrit lexicographers explaining the term in the generic sense for a body of knowledge pertaining to any single discipline1, the term has been largely used during the last hundred years or more as equivalent to the English term ‘theory’ or ‘theoretical’. This is almost universally accepted in many contexts and disciplines. At the outset it needs to be clarified that the term ‘theory’ in its primary meaning excludes applicability or the practical and suggests an insistence on the speculative and contemplative. It implies knowledge at a speculative level. It alludes to a concept yet to be applied at the empirical level. Further it is agreed that a ‘theory’ is a tentative statement of a supposed principle or relationship as or cause and effect, in short a working hypothesis. Only in its derivative meanings does it suggest the abstract principles and universal truths of any body of related facts. Undoubtedly today the terms ‘theory’ and ‘theoretical’ are understood in a variety of meanings in specific disciplines. Theories of science have to be distinguished from theories in music. There is a wide range.
Now, if we return to the word ‘sastra’ and examine the varied contexts in which it is used as a suffix it will be clear that while the second derivative meanings of ‘theory’ can serve as a rough equivalent in some contexts, the primary meaning of the ‘theoretical’ as pertaining exclusively to the ‘speculative’ and the ‘contemplative’ (from its Greek roots theoros) is almost ruled out. In contrast, the term sastra appears to be used in the Indian context invariably to disciplines which have an ‘applicability’ aspect inbuilt. Neither the Dharma, Artha, Kåma, Cikitså›åstra, the ¯Silpa›åstra or the Nå»ya›åstra excludes the practical, the applied, and the empirical. If we extend this argument and ask the question why the Indians never thought of suffixing the last ‘Puruœårtha’ mokœa with the word sastra, the answer will be self-evident. Also while there is Åtma Vidyå, there is no åtma›åstra or Brahmaµ ›åstra, the two key words of Indian speculative thought. Of course, åtman and brahmaµa are key concepts of the Indian tradition. The discussion on these terms is the domain of darsana and not sastra.
The absence of these is indicative of the fundamental difference of approach and cannot be lightly discussed, even if it has been facetiously stated. In short, the ›åstra appears not to concern itself only that which is purely ‘speculative’, discursive or argumentative. Instead, it begins by accepting or articulating a conceptual model, and then begins to classify the particular domain into categories which are strongly grounded in the empirical practical. In short, all aspects of life which pertain to the physical material, socio-economic, political, physiological, even psychical, can be abstracted to a set of principles or norms. However, the spirit, the intangible that transcends them all and runs through them all cannot be bound within the walls of a formal classification. The methodologies of attaining a psychical state of ‘beautitude’, an experiential state of bliss, are set forth, but not the state or the nature of the last final experience. It was perhaps the recognition of this distinction between theoretical, speculation and ›åstra that has led many scholars to use the words textual ‘manual’, ‘treatise’ canon as equivalent or cognates for the word ›åstra. In a considerable body of critical writing ›åstra has been equated to a prescriptive ‘manual’, a ‘tool box’, even a recipe book. This is particularly true of all that is broadly classified as the technical sciences, e.g., architecture, sculpture, etc., and medicine.
The term assumes yet another dimension when we begin to look at a sphere of life which is today called the social ‘behavioural sciences’. Here we repeatedly come across the terms ‘›astråcåra’ and ‘lokåcåra’ or ‘kulåcåra’2. A related pair daivaka and laukika3 has also been used by modern sociologists to analyze the behavioural pattern of Indian society, by often dissociating them from the original contexts in which they were used. We are aware that the Brahmannical, Buddhist and Jaina pantheons, the gods and goddesses were classified as ›åstrika or ›åstriya (that which is sanctioned by codified sacerdotal texts) and laukika or sanctioned by the practice and conventions of people. Today they are being equated largely to the behaviour and conduct (and not just ritual patterns) of a socio-economic or cultural elite within a caste structure and popular culture not of people classified as rural or tribal. Imperceptibly but surely a transition takes place. Now the ›åstråcåra and lokåcåra become sociological categories. This has led to a tacit acceptance of an inherent tension between the two – a hostility rather than a ‘continuum’ or differentiation within a system. Little wonder thus that the ‘tribal’, ‘rural’, ‘urban’ classification of sociologists, placed in a unilinear progressive graph, has not been able to contain the complexities of the Indian social structure. The inconsistencies become apparent if we see that, on the one hand, ›åstra is equal to a ‘theory’ or manual and, on the other hand, ›åstråcåra is equated to the behaviour and conduct of the elite or the brahmannical. A further complexity arises when ›åstra is equated to the written textual and is contrasted with its opposite, the ‘maukhika’ 4.
By a queer twist the maukhika is equated to the laukika. The terms begin to denote the ‘literate’ and the ‘non-literate’ or the oral. Here there is an obvious privileging of the ‘written’ in relation to the ‘oral’. Now if we extend this argument somewhat perversely, it tantamounts to saying that the ‘sruti’ , which was by volition ‘oral’ or ‘aural’, is maukhika; therefore laukika; and therefore illiterate or non-literate. Extended further, conversely ‘sruti’ should be the traditions of the hierarchically low. We can go on tying ourselves in knots if we persevere logically to point out the inconsistencies. The discussion has acquired further complexity by the use of the terms ‘sanskritization’ and ‘vernacularization’ in the purely sociological context where they denote the processes by which a less affluent or privileged class of people begin to acquire the behavioural patterns of an elitist society.
Leaving sociology alone for the time being, although relevant to our discussion when we turn to the arts or culture, we find that the term ‘classical’ is being largely equated to the term ‘›åstric’ or ‘›åstr+iya’ and it is in this sense that many are using the term ›åstr$ûya sang$ûta 5 or ›åstr+iya n¸tya, ›åstr+iya kalå, etc., somewhere vaguely taking into account the sacredotal and the elitist mentioned above. Here also des$û 6 or loka are used as antonyms and equated to tribal or rural or more imprecisely folk in the sociological sense. Conversely, the word ‘classical’ is also used as a term for periodisation, to indicate sometimes pre-8th century, at other times pre-10th century and in some cases even pre-6th century developments in Indian art. Then classical is opposed to medieval.
This is obviously transference of the Greek term ‘classical’ used in the Western context to denote both a period and a qualitative artistic genre. Examples from other spheres could be added to reveal the many ambiguities and imprecision of the discourse on the Indian cultural traditions when carried out by applying terms ‘theory’ or classical evolved in a different context and another cognitive system. There is therefore a necessity of revisiting the term ›åstra in this case from within the tradition and on its own terms, rather than finding equability.
The term ›åstra in contemporary terms can stand for a theory, as an abstraction from a set of facts, a ‘technical manual’ or treatise, sociological term for the behaviour of certain groups, a term to distinguish the literature, textual from the oral and a term for differentiating a qualitative artistic excellence. An examination of the ‘manuals’, treatises and formulae will make it clear that the ‘›åstra’ indeed is a deduced conceptual model which provides for applicability and thus variation and modification. Each ‘›åstra’ is only a framework or structure and thus rather more universal than local, but in no event is it a scripture as ordinarily understood. All it does is to break up the constituents into its smallest parts or units and then builds an edifice through a schematic design of inter-relationships. This is true of the Våstu, ®Silpa, Sang$ûta and N¸tya ›åstra and others.
Now for the term prayoga and all that it has been used to writing. Again, except for its primary meaning of joining together or of throwing a missile, it has been broadly used for applicability. In its extended meaning as constant practice, with a stress on the empirical, it has connotated experimentation, innovation and variability. Indeed the nuance of experimentation has led to a literary school of the experimentalists in Hindi and other Literatures called Prayogavåda. We had observed that the antonym in the sociological sense to ›åstråcåra7 was lokåcåra or desåcåra. Although theory and praxis have very clear lines of demarcation, såstra and prayoga are not antonyms or opposites. Also, theory never becomes a sociological category, as is implied by the term såstråcåra and lokåcåra. In fact within the Indian tradition, specially in the artistic sphere, prayoga has not been equated to de›$û or loka but has certainly conveyed the insistence on vyavahåra 8, abhyåsa (practice) and all that we understand by the empirical, the practical, the experimental and innovative. Through all the shades of meaning and in several context the emphasis is on ‘practice’, ‘learning’ and creativity within a given frame and in a context.
This brief enumeration of the two terms and the possibilities of variety of approaches from the academic to the sociological to the purely artistic will perhaps make it clear that the terms denote concepts and processes which cannot be easily contained in their English equivalents so far precisely or imprecisely used. Each of these would need to be pursued first separately in the specific disciplines and contexts and then taken together in their underlying organic inter-relationship and inter-action of disciplines and areas.
I should like to raise one other question at this stage and this is the insistence on an inter-disciplinary approach. If we look at the Indian system, we find that an inter-disciplinary approach was at the core of the vision and structural system and some of the complexities of terminology arise only because cognizance of this inter-disciplinary system is not taken into account. No one discipline could be understood in its totality without taking into account the findings in other disciplines or, to put it simply, the ›åstra was just that ability to cull out the ‘universals’ from a series of empirical facts drawn from a variety of related or cognate disciplines. The story of Viœµudharmottara9 of the conversation of Vajra and Markandeya crystallizes pithily the vision and methodology in the arts. But it is so in other disciplines and spheres of life. My other submission thus is to stress the need for identifying the contours of this inter-disciplinary approach where the inter-connections and inter-dependence in all levels and spheres of life was being taken for granted or was fundamental to the study of any one discipline. So far scholars of Indian studies have identified and have dealt in great detail on the micro-classificatory system contained in each unit or discipline but have not placed these micro-classificatory details and distinctions in a total perspective where each unit was serving as an indispensable role in a larger organic system full of concordances, synthesis, with a clearly identifiable pattern of distinctiveness, autonomy, multi-layering and inter-action. The system has a staggering complexity which almost belies identification, hbut closely observed it has the rigorous organizational pattern and structure or, let us say, the London Tubes, the Paris Metro or, nearer home, the body system. It is no accident that the image of man as Puruœa has been uniformly used as a term of reference in all disciplines and spheres of life, ranging from the cosmological to the purely physical as one symbolizing coordinated activity where each part is inter-connected with the other.
As a brief illustration of both the inter-disciplinary approach as also a paradigmical model of a ›åstra, let us look at the Nå»yasåstra, a primary fundamental text of the arts, not only music, dance and theatre. This is a ›åstra both in the primary sense of presenting a theory or a conceptual framework of artistic creation, but it is also a ›åstra in its extended meaning in so far as it is a compendium of technical details of applied methodologies and skills required for a successful presentation of drama. But -what is of greatest significance is the fact that this ›åstra takes cognizance of the empirical, the applied in its fundamental conceptual framework and in this sense it is unique on one level, as also representative of the Indian system on another, because it may well be a ›åstra of prayoga or a prayoga›åstra. If this sounds a contradiction in terms, let us very briefly examine the text itself, the text in all its manifold complexities and the corrupted form in which it has come down to us, notwithstanding the heroic effort put in by Rama Krishna Kavi, Ramaswami Sastri and others. The very first verse raises the problem of terminology, because Bharata begins by saying: ‘I shall now explain the canons of Drama’ – (Nå»ya›åstra and Nå»ya). Fortunately, it is not necessary for us to point out that Natya does not denote a literary work alone but it deals with the creative effort of both the ‘Kavi’ and the theatric director, thus ›ravya and d¸sya. Indeed, this object of diversion or play (NS I-V 7-12) was created for all the varµas including the ›ødras. In making what appears to be a simple statement to be welcomed in a society wedded to the goals of egalitarianism, Bharata in one stroke through two phrases has opened up a whole Pandora’s box which would demand reconsideration of all sociological deductions of equating the ›åstric or ›åstråcåra to the behavioural patterns of the upper classes in terms of status and position and the preserve of literate society and also if ›åstric is equated again to the ‘literate’ or the written word. If we transport ourselves in time to the 4th or 2nd century A.D., whichever lower or dating for the Nå»ya›åstra, and re-read this within the framework of the normally accepted notion of a hierarchical society that these verses so far slurred over by most commentaries and modern interpreters, we may as well come to the conclusion that this was a most extraordinary, radical, almost revolutionary statement. For us it holds a crucial key to an understanding of what follows. Bharata does not stop at throwing the doors open by an insistence on the equalizing role of theatre but proceeds further by basing his base text on all that which is considered ‘sacred’, pure and beyond the pale of secularity, the profanity. After all, why this insistence on drawing upon the four vedas and why the term ›åstra and why open it to all and sundry, not just make it another exclusive category for the lowly in status and socio-economic conditions. This statement as we know is made in answer to a question which asks, ‘How did the Nå»yaveda similar to the vedas originate and for whom is it meant, how many parts does it possess, how far does it extend and how is it to be applied? The answer goes further by stating that it will incorporate all the sastras (M M.Ghosh10 translates this as scriptures here I.15) and all the arts and crafts (i.e. ¯Silpa). This is the ›åstra of Nå»ya and is not an exclusive ¯Silpa or a theory, it is a combination or amalgam of the theoretical, the conceptual, i.e., the ›åstric universals of all disciplines and the practice of all the arts (¯Silpa). Does it not already point at the organic relationship of the conceptual and the empirical and does it not open the door to what follows in thirty-six long chapters? These pithy statements themselves will make it clear that the ›åstra and the prayoga were not to be considered as exclusive categories and that also a clear distinction was made between ›åstra and ›ilpa.
Somewhat later the word prayoga is used in the more specific sense of a performance, when the Devas are considered unfit (Ayogya) to do anything with drama (nå»ya, i.e., actual dramatic performance). This is followed by the positive answer that the sages (¸sis) who have kept their vows alone have the capacity to put this into practice (vrata I.23); finally the statement that the art was learnt from Brahman from whom Bharata and his sons studied both it and its application or usage (prayoga I.25).
The use of the term prayoga recurs in this chapter in many contexts, including the adoption of different styles (v¸ttis), the special place of the prayoga (use) of Kaisiki.
A reading of the first ninety odd verses of the NS makes it clear that the sastra was not dissociated from the prayoga at any state and in fact the latter was almost primary (See I.46-47, 53, 54, 58) (in the context of the dismemberment of the Daityas I-64 or when the daityas object – 76-78 or for dramatic performance 76, 96, 97, 99,100 etc.)
Now then it is clear that in conceiving a major artistic theory of creation (aesthetics), Bharata was a no time even aware that there existed or could exist a tension between theory and practice. In short, the abstract and the concrete are inbuilt into one single system. Indeed sastra and prayoga were in symbiotic relationship.
However, we must pass only to one crucial pair, namely, marga and desi and a subsidiary pair related to these Natyadharmi and Lokadharmi. The latter pair I may not have the time to elucidate upon here.
In a brilliant essay on the Nature of Folklore and Popular Art, Coomaraswamy discusses the twin concepts of mårga and de›+i and sacred and profane. Mircea Eliade also in a different context examines the sacred and profane not only in the Indian context, but also in other world culture. Sociologists and anthropologists like Milton Singer and Baidyanath Saraswati have examined these concepts on the operative level through field studies. Milton Singer examines the role of the ‘cultural performance’ in Madras City and Saraswati investigates the social organization of Kashi. There have been others who have equated mårga to the classical and de›+i to the folk.
Coomaraswamy equates the word mårga to a highway and traces its derivation from m¸g ‘to chase’ or ‘hunt especially by tracking’. In the «g-veda, we are told it is familiar that what one hunts and tracks by its spoor is always the deity, the hidden light, the ‘Aditi’, Sun or Agni, who must be found and is sometimes referred to as lurking in his lair. Coomaraswamy cites the verse in the «g-veda where the word is repeatedly used in this sense. ‘In «g-veda VIII.2-6 men are said to pursue (m¸gayante) Indra, as one pursues a wild beast (m¸gam na) with offerings of milk and kine: in Rg-veda VIII 87-6 Varuna is compared to a ‘fierce-beast’ (m¸gas tuvisaman): in R.V. X. 46.2 the Bh¸gus eager seekers after Agni track him by his spoor (padaih) like some lost beast (pasum na nastam)’. Coomaraswamy concludes ‘that Mårga is then the creatures “runaway” the track to be followed’ (padaviya). One sees clearly what values are implied in the expression mårga (way) and how inevitably that which is mårga is likewise (Vimukti-då) since it is precisely by the finding of the hidden light that liberation is effected.
The Såma-veda on the other hand alludes to distinguish two levels of musical expression. The mårga here can be equated to a definite combination of notes in a given order, and belonging to the sphere of celestial music of the gandharvas: this is distinct from the music of ‘man’ which can be regional and local. The Satapatha Bråhmaµa makes a similar distinction (III.2-4) in connection with the seduction of vac, who is won over by the Devas from the gandharvas. The word mårga is discussed again in the Puœpasøtra. I.1.8 1 & 2 220.127.116.11- and 8 and 18.104.22.168). The Masakakalpasøtra mentions it in the same way. The real discussion on the subject however continues in the technical context of music in the Nå»ya›åstra (28.31), most importantly in the Bråhadesi, the Viœµudharmottara Puraµa (III 18.4-12), the Dev+ibhågavata Puraµa (8.15.8), and later practically all the musical texts ranging from Sang$ûtaratnåkara (1.4.11) to Sang$ûtamakaranda (I.1.60), the N¸»yaratnåko›a (I.1.185), the Sang$ûtadarpaµa (I.4-6) and many others. The texts on drama and aesthetics also discuss the subject and Dhananjaya in Dasarøpaka (I.15) applies the terms to the relative use of gestures and instrumental music. Here the term is used in its generic sense and as part of discussion on the Madhyamagråma.
Although the discussion is most vibrant in the musical texts, it is also present in other texts. What is of significance is the fact that none of these sources considers mårga or de›+i as sociological categories. They are instead artistic or cultural categories.
Coomaraswamy’s interpretation is again significant and valuable. He derives de›+i from ‘dis’ - to indicate - and hence ‘dis’, ‘region’ or ‘quarter’ or ‘local’. He draws attention to the phrase de›am nivis - to settle in a given locality, de›a vyavahåra or de›åcåra ‘local custom’, ‘way of world’, and de›ya ‘native’. He goes on to explain that these are not merely terms that could be derogatively employed by city people or courtiers to countrymen in general, but that could be employed by dwellers in the city of God or in any Holy land with reference to those beyond the pale. Heaven lies ‘behind the falcon’, the worlds are ‘under the sun’ and in the ‘power of death’; ‘world’ is ‘Logus’ logically from Latin ‘Locus’ a place defined by given conditions; and ‘Laukika’ ‘mundane’ is literally ‘local’; it is precisely here (iha) in the worlds that the kindreds are ‘settled’, ‘localized’ and ‘native’. He concludes, ‘From the celestial or solar point of view desi is thus mundane, human and devious as distinct from super mundane, divine an direct: and this distinction of mårga (= svarga) from de›+i as sacred from profane is in full agreement with the sense of expressions rañjaka (pleasing, impassioning, affecting, etc.) and v¸tha ‘Wanton’ random as you like in the manner it has been used in the context of the Satapatha. These conclusions of Coomaraswamy we shall examine shortly but it may be added that several texts of music and dance which follow the Nå»ya›åstra continue to use the term in the primary sense. Later a whole class of composition is termed as de›+i both in music and dance. De›+i is both a category of rågas as also a particular råga. In dance also, it is both a particular dance as also a category of dance specially of the n¸tta (abstract type). The Sangðtaratnåkara clearly distinguishes the de›+i ragas from the mårgi or gandharva music (5.4 and 6.358) and also defines the de›+i råga as belonging to a particular region (6.713). The particular model scale of the de›+i råga is defined as one in which Re is used as Grahamsa and Nyasa, excludes the pancama has a mandra gandhara, and a frequent use of Ma Ni and Sa a (II.2.102). In several other places he refers to the term specially in the context of the discussion on the jåtis and tålas.
Writers of the Sangðtamakaranda, Rågavibhoda (22.214.171.124) the Sangðtapårijåta (21), Bhåvaprakå›a (19.296.12) more or less follow the Sangðtaratnåkara. The Bhåvaprakå›a (10.299.17 and 10.296.10), the Dasarøpaka (11.9) along with the Sangðtaratnåkara (“Chapter VII) also discuss de›+i n¸tya or n¸tta in several contexts. The text on ¯Silpa the Samarangasøtradhara (31.58) also includes a discussion on the subject. We could enlarge this list of references, but the few cited above make it clear that in the arts, there appears a recognition of two categories distinct, but related like many other pairs of opposites in Indian thought and religion. A little later, we shall examine whether or not the categories pertained to celestial and terrestrial or as Coomaraswamy suggests sacred and profane, or to a few purely formal elements or technique. However, at this stage it is necessary to point out that in all these texts ranging from the Såmaveda to the Brahadesi there is no suggestion of hierarchical stratification in terms of gandharva or mårgi implying a category of music and dance which belongs to the elite Brahmins and the upper privileged classes and desi to the lower group of the vaisyas and ›ødras and all those outside the varµa å›rama. (Is it necessary to use the words lower group in the previous line? NHR) Also there is little to support the view that one form was tribal, rural and village-based and the other town or urban-based. Celestial and terrestrial are qualitative artistic terms, not sociological categories. It would have been perfectly understandable for the theorists to relate the mårgi or gandharvagåna to the nagara and the de›ð to the gråma in sociological terms, and the terms placed in a hierarchy of status. The system of establishing correlatives and correspondences was so pervasive and so well established that the addition of one more set of correspondences in sociological terms in a total framework would be logical. Its absence is a significant pointer at the fundamental approach to the concepts. From the primary source material there is no basis to establish a correlation of the mårgi with the urbane (?) and the de›+i with the village or tribal. Alas, in much contemporary popular and even scholarly writing this simple correspondence has been tacitly accepted as a working hypothesis. Mårgi is considered ‘classical’ temple or court based, and de›+i rural or tribal based, almost implying socio-economic levels, rather than qualitative differences in artistic terms. Indeed, Matangas Brahadessi speaks of the possibility of reversibility of the categories. The discussion in Brahadessi of Matanga is of great significance beyond the sphere of music. We are made aware of the fact that the categories evolved were not absolutes, instead they could inter-penetrate. Nor is a pyramidical structure being suggested, of gradual refinement. Yes, there is an emphasis on ‘location’ or ‘regional’. Now when we turn our attention to the contemporary discourse on India, we may recall the theoretical construct of the great and little traditions in sociological terms, classical and folk in artistic terms, Brahmannical and non-Brahmannical, or Dalit, etc. etc., and of course the Sanskrit and the vernaculars (i.e., modern Indian languages and dialects). This discourse is pervasive and active. Despite the diversity of theoretical positions, there is a tacit acceptance of in-built tension as also a hierarchy. The Great is poised against the Little, the classical against the folk, the Brahmannical against the non-Brahmannical, the Sanskrit against the bhåœås, and on and on. However, a careful perusal of the primary sources reveals that mårga and de›a were not polarities, they were complementary and reversible in space and time, certainly at the artistic level but not exclusive only to the ‘arts’. No one-to-one-equation was made between the societal, sociological and the artistic. The texts do not speak of a nagara art equal to mårga and a rural gråma art equal to desa, nor is there a mention of Brahmannical and non-Brahmannical art. The absence of this discussion in self-reflection should not be overlooked if we wish to comprehend India on its own ‘terms’, at least in the artistic sphere, extendable to the larger area of ‘culture’ and creativity.
Without elaborating on this discourse from within the tradition as also contemporary discourse, which I have done elsewhere, let me only point out that within the tradition, while full recognition is given to ‘local’, regional distinctiveness, in the matter of language, dress, body language, architectural styles, sculptural form, musical modes, there is always the recognition that there is an underlying commonality and unity across the country, spatially and a perennial movement temporally.
Coomaraswamy can be almost singled out amongst the scholars who clearly sees the logic of the mårga in its initial meaning of a dug path, a high-way which is constantly on the move but in a particular direction,with a specific purpose. It may perhaps be more appropriate to see what Coomaraswamy calls de«sð or ‘a by way’ (in spite of the insights into the etymological roots Latin locus and loka which imply a specificity of a spatial situation) as the circumscribing or limiting of eternal universal paths into the mannerism and styles of a region or a ‘given’ time situation. Indeed from this point of view the two terms appear to connote not levels of society but only universalization and specificity. This is certainly not what the term ‘classical’ and ‘folk’ in common parlance denotes. In their original meaning they stand for a running path or stream along a highway which flows into a ‘region’, a locality, acquires a specificity of distinctiveness, and then continues flowing in a definite direction. In the course of its journey it does receive the waters of other streams or pools, but its own course of movement does not lose direction. The cognizance of the possibility of the mårg+i becoming de›+i at any given moment is inherent in the very nature of their relationship. If the one is celestial and the other terrestrial in såstric terminology, it only goes to prove that the aestheticians were taking over the frame of reference of Vedic mythology in which the inter-dependence of the celestial and the terrestrial is taken for granted. We must remember that the analogy of the celestial and the terrestrial whether in Bharata or the later writers was highly contextual and was loaded with reference to the three fires of the ritual, separate but all integral to the ritual. The celestial and the terrestrial are thus not to be understood as high and low in modern sociological terms. We have to consider the celestial and terrestrial also as the eternal and the temporal. Both were never considered exclusive, but inter-dependent. Just as God depends on Man and is the Puruœa after the image of Puruœa, so also the mundane and sacred are inter-connected and mutually dependent. Indeed, we may go further and suggest that in so far as this is concerned, the categories of the sacred and the profane are not exclusive categories, which even Coomaraswamy and Eliade seem to suggest. They are clearly differentiated in time and space, but are not mutually opposed, indeed they are inter-dependent. The same space consecrated is sacred, and it is mundane profane at another time. Time too is both limited and profane on one level and consecrated cosmic on another level.
The Nå»yasåstra, the several texts of the Våstu›åstra, ¯Silpa›åstra bear this out. The temple itself embodies both the sacred and profane aspects of life. The two are never in opposition. This is also borne out in the field of religion and a social conduct (to check here) by Baidyanath Saraswati in his study on Kashi. After an analysis of a vast variety of reliable data, he concludes that the two are not polarities but two sides of the same coin.
From the above, it will be clear that Coomaraswamy’s very valuable analysis of the root word m¸g and of desa provides us with a significant criterion of differentiation and artistic levels. The ‘runaway’ (?) path, the directed flow of a river, over a period of times with possibility of future growth and development, along with ever renewing chiselling refinement is characteristic of the first, the clearly defined contours, in limited space and time with the possibility of stagnation and annihilation, while providing the milieu for distinctive growth, are the characteristic of the other. These however are not equivalent to the categories off sacred and secular as suggested by Coomaraswamy.
This puzzling zig-saw of categories or of the co-existence of levels and of the inter-action and inter-penetration of levels can be solved only if we look at the Indian cultural phenomenon as a continuous movement of sheathing and of over-layering without annihilations and obliteration of levels and recognizing that no category was either ‘absolute’ or frozen. The perennial and the ephemeral, the universal and ‘specific’ or particular were juxtaposed as complementaries and not binary opposites. This was as invalid at the level of sociology, i.e., såstråcåra and lokåcåra as in art, i.e. mårga and desa.
An analogy can be drawn from the sphere of astronomy to comprehend the system. Each cultural region may be seen as a sphere with an inbuilt inner structure all of which revolves around a regional axis. One face of this sphere is naturally like a disc. The disc has levels. These levels are made up of races – linguistic, social and caste classification. There is a continuous dialogue which takes place between these levels in a given region. Certain aspects of life style of the people are shared whether it is at the tribal level or at the highly ritualistic Brahmannical level. Each of these levels of the disc may be identified in terms of tribal, rural (gråma) and nagara. A movement of communications takes place amongst these levels determined by regional axis. Alongside there is a second system of communication where particular levels interact with parallel levels in other spheres. The orbit is large comprising many regional areas, but there are micro-grouping and macro-grouping of contiguous areas. Thus there is a very clear connection between the artistic expressions of the tribals of Ganjam district, even the Juangs, the Paiks, the dances of Mayurabhanj (?) Chhau, the dramatic techniques of the Gotipuras, of the Akharas and the Maharis of the temples in Orissa. That all these belong to different levels of society, but are held together by a regional style and channels of communication can be seen in painting styles and architecture styles in these regions, as also in Kerala. In Kerala we find the same continuum between the Theyyam, Theriyattam, Koodiyattam. Alongside there are elements of commonality amongst the forms of dance, such as Odissi, Bharatanatyam, Kathak and Manipuri, belonging to different regions of India. What is true of the performing arts is equally true of the plastic arts. While there is a connection between the simplest huts and agricultural field patterns and great architecture within a region, as in Bengal, Orissa or Tamil Nadu, there is a connection between the tribal arts of contiguous regions and between the sophisticated arts of different regions. This fact is borne out by a study of architectural style and sculptural modes indifferent parts of India.
To alter our analogy to facilitate comprehension from a single astronomical orbit to a river, then one can discern a clear movement of the rhythm of a flow of a river touching each region, giving it a distinctiveness at different levels and to the region as a whole and moving on with a uniform pace in time. The fixed centre which we had spoken of is still and changeless only in a very special sense of the adherence to certain principles remaining constant, invariable, but not in terms of an evolved form becoming static. The concepts of såstråcåra and desåcåra or lokåcåra and those of mårgi and de›+i and of nå»yadharmð and lokadharmð fall into a pattern where the members of each pair are distinct but inter-connected and mutually dependent. The sociological situation and spatial environment shapes them and gives them a definite identity in specific periods, whether it is in the context of the evolution of the de›+i bhåsås or regional time-specific schools of architecture, sculpture, painting or music and dance, but these are inherently ephemeral, subject to change and flux. The chiselled sophistication which emerges has a continuum of the river and its course is constant. The pools are formed; they dry up or become stagnant, but the river flows. Thus, while there is a multiplicity of pools or pockets in space and time, there is the continuity of the flow of a river. This movement pattern has provided the rhythms of continuity and change in artistic terms, whether it is at the tribal level where many changes are taking place in life style and artistic expression or at the urban level of a metropolitan city like Chennai or Bhubanesvar, where village and rural forms, so to say are acquiring a different type of chiselling and sophistication, but are indeed not cut off from their traditional matrix rooted, if we may suggest, in village and, more, tribal culture. In short, many things we term as ‘classical’ in the modern sense belong not so much to the city culture, but are a renovated or restructured aspects of village or tribal culture. Contrarily, many aspects of the high sophisticated culture of the past can be seen in forms which only in contemporary socio-economic terms belong to the tribal or the rural culture. We may call these survivals or continuities but they are certainly specimens of the highest artistic sophistication. These range from floor designs, paintings, terracotta work, music and dance performances.
The constant inter-changeability of the Mårg+i and the De›ð of the ¯Såstråcåra and de›åcåra makes it clear that neither at the theoretical level nor at the empirical level have these pairs been considered as absolute categories, nor can these terms be equated to their English equivalence, viz., theory and experimentation or classical and folk.
We have thus to reexamine both the Indian tradition as also critical writing in the English language which has constantly categorized the Indian tradition into the textual and the oral, the highly Brahamanized, Sanskritized and the vernacular, the sophsticated, the literate and the illiterate and finally the classical and the folk. Our analysis will have shown that at no point within the tradition, were these seeming binary opposite rarely considered opposites. They were certainly differentiated categories but placed either into a continuum or, as I have said earlier, placed as segments of a circle rather than a line. We could go on adding to the terminology and the conceptual models which have been used in English language for understanding the Indian traditions. A subsidiary pair, such as Nå»yadharmð and lokadharmð, has been often created to idealism and realism.
If all that we have considered above is even partially correct, then quite obviously the distinction which is being made between idealism and realism does not hold good when we consider the concept Nå»yadharð and lokadharmð. The final extension of consideration of these pairs would be the religious and the secular or, for that matter, the sacred and the profane. This pair has been considered by practically every writer of religion, sociology, arts, and the Indian tradition has been divided into these two categories. A closer look at the level of religious institutions or artistic manifestations makes it clear that while in the Indian context there was certainly the comprehension of the Daivika and Laukika, the Ådhyåtmika and the Bhautika, these cannot be equated to the terms ‘sacred’ and ‘profane’ or religious and secular, nor were they insular categories. Thus to call in India the Dhårmika and the Dharmanirapekœa is a total misnomer.
One could go on multiplying these pairs thus far considered as binary opposites in all disciplines in the Indian traditions and the English equivalence both in terms of concepts and terminology a hundred-fold. Perhaps it is not necessary to do so but it is necessary to realize that the conceptual models so far available to the sociologists or the art historians need further investigation and perhaps a re-formulation.
Finally, it is time to turn to the most familiar and misunderstood and trivialized term ‘Loka’, which is of direct relevance to the enterprise of IGMRS. After all that the Indoor Museum has displayed is Loka-Sa³sk¸ti, translated in the English language as folk and tribal culture. In anthropological terms it is the creativity of those groups of people or communities called ‘tribal’ nomadic and in administrative classification scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, and perhaps also OBC, etc., etc.
I thought it may be pertinent to overview very briefly and even hurriedly this seminal concept and term in the Indian tradition in many branches of knowledge and systems of classification. One could trace the etymology and origin of the concept through a vast body of sources in the same fashion as I have done, however inadequately, in the case of ›åstra and prayoga, and mårga and desð. This will necessitate another lecture and I am anxious to illustrate my argument of the nature of the Indian traditions which eschew modern classifications of classical and folk, textual and oral. Thus I can only allude to a few dimensions of the multi-dimensional term loka.
Although in common parlance we have equated the term loka to popular or village and at times distinguished it from the term ådivås+i or janajåti or vanajåti, somewhere in our consciousness we are aware that loka is not folk or village. This is evident from the nomenclature of the lower house of Parliament as Loka Sabhå. Obviously the constitution makers were not alluding to either a folk gathering or village sabhå.
I have already referred to Panini and other sources and pointed out that diversities of social formations were recognized. A clear distinction was made between specificity of communities, such as vanajåtis, janajåtis, from administrative units, i.e. janapadas. Also, the categories of gråma and nagara were clear: it will be evident from the above that loka was not a spatial category corresponding to gråma or village, nor was it an evaluative category alluding to ‘popular’ as opposed to sophisticated or elitist.
In order to comprehend the multi-dimensionality of the term, it is necessary to follow its trajectory through a vast body of textual sources from many disciplines, ranging from ‘cosmology’, metaphysics, sociology and aesthetics. Equally important is to identify many oral traditions.
Let me draw attention to only a few aspects, again almost in telegraphic language. First and foremost is its original meaning; the term alludes to quality of ‘shining’, to glow. We are familiar with the word åloka. Light and radiance are its attributes, an entity which has the capacity to emit light and illuminate. This world of illumination of the term loka and åloka is the seminal level. However, fairly early in the tradition in all the three streams, Vedic, Buddhist and Jaina, it assumes a spatial dimension; this is not at the level of social structure, e.g. village or town, instead it is at a cosmological level. Now loka in this context refers to the tripartite dimension of the universe - while there is level of beyond measure, the manifest world is triloka. There are three levels – bhø, bhavar and svaha. We are all aware that these familiar words denote the celestial and terrestrial worlds. Complementary is the temporal tripartite division, i.e. trikala. In the Jaina tradition there is clear enunciation of loka as a total cosmos. It is differentiated from non-world (cosmos) åloka. The non-world aloka surrounds the loka.
The concept is then conceptualized in visual terms as loka puruœa, a cosmic Man comprising the celestial, terrestrial and nether world. Exact shapes and dimensions of the paradigmical model are graphically described. The loka purusa is both a representation of cosmology but also of psychology, or, more specific, physical states. There are elaborate descriptions of the three loka-s and the psychic qualities of each of the loka-s within the loka purusa. The terrestrial or middle world (loka)is all important. It is the jambudvðpa. It is conceived as a disc in the middle portion (trunk) of the loka puruœa. There are mountains, rivers and oceans here. Also it is here that the soul resides. It can ascend upwards towards the ideational head and become emancipated or descend to the lower limbo. These elaborate descriptions of the loka puruœa can be understood at the level of cosmology or psychical states of being. The loka puruœa holds a central place for comprehending the notions of cosmology, metaphysics and psychology or psychical states. All levels are compressed into a single visual model. While the textual sources are numerous and are ancient, visual representations continue until the eighteenth century. Loka and loka puruœa have an incredible continuity of conception, visualization and representation. Jaina paintings of the seventeenth and eighteenth century bear testimony to this continuity.
Perhaps it is not necessary even to mention the Vedic parallels. The conception of the macro and micro Man of the Vedic tradition, viz., Puruœa, is well known and copiously quoted and interpreted. The seminal «g Vedic Puruœasøkta, much quoted and even misinterpreted as a statement of social hierarchy, is instead a paradigmical model of the universe at the level of the physical, social and cosmological. Several worlds are located in the body of the cosmic Man. All are structurally inter-connected. Loka shares some aspects of the Latin ‘locus’ but is a far more multidimensional term.
There are countless references in the Brahmanas and the Upanisads and the Puraµas to the three loka-s at the macro and micro levels. Throughout the emphasis is on the inter-dependence of the parts and the whole.
From its spatial connotation, the term takes another journey. Now it denotes ‘people’ and the authority of the people. We have earlier spoken of ›åstråcåra and lokåcåra. In the Dharmasåstra-s there is a highly sophisticated discourse on the relationship of the prescriptive (›åstra) and the actual conduct of the people. Gradually loka alludes to the ultimate authority of the people. It is in this sense of ultimate authority that the term loka pramåµa is often used in the texts of philosophy (dar›ana). It is in this sense that Bhartrihari says in the Våkyapadiya:
‘Nobody can violate on the basis of reasoning those paths of Dharma which have come down without a break, because they have been accepted by the people in this world’. (Våkyapadiya, 1.3i)
In the Nåtyasåstra there is a very importantstatement:
Loka, Veda and adhyåtma (inner vision) – these form the three-fold pramåµa (testimony) (in nå»ya). (The three-fold means of right knowledge, viz., perception, inference and truth conveyed verbally is loka; Veda the revealed texts and adhyåtma intuitive knowledge of the self). Drama is virtually based on the content of Veda and adhyåtma. Drama is composed of Veda and adhyåtma, is couched in words and metres; it (drama) is testified by loka only then it is testified; it is lokåtmaka (made up of loka). ¯Såstra (discipline) cannot ceœ»å (outer action) of mobile and stationary beings. The characters (prak¸tis) in drama have different ›+ilas (dispositions); drama is based n disposition; hence the producers of drama should realize the testimony of loka.
Thus loka is of this world and the voice of the people as the ultimate authority. It subsumes theory or prescription, includes practice (praxis prayoga) and acquires authority by virtue of its continuity and acceptance by generations of people. Thus it is not sacredotal (?) (sacred?), instead it is the constant loud and clear voice of people transcending any ‘sociological’, hierarchical divide. It is in this sense that Vivekananda used the word Loka Kalyåµa and Loka Sevå. Today loka-sa³sk¸ti has become an evaluative term for village, tribal culture, in short everything that IGMRS encompasses. In speaking of loka-sa³sk¸ti as folk culture, we have made a universal cosmological model into a sociological category. Understandably a multi-dimensional concept has been reduced or narrowed to a single sociological category which alludes to a socio-economic level, but does not take into account that the tradition did not conceive of loka at a socio-economic level of marginalized and the under-privileged. A careful and sensitive analysis of the transference of a universal model to a uni-dimensional sociological model speaks volumes of the internalization in the Indian mind of the evolutionary model suggested by nineteenth century ‘anthropologists’, e.g., Gordon Childe and others. What I am endeavouring to communicate is that our understanding of ourselves (?) through its own categories and vocabulary of discourse has been deeply influenced by the inescapable contact with the pre-colonial and colonial discourse. This is yet another world which has not been fully and dispassionately investigated. We have taken position ‘for’ and ‘against’, but have not observed ourselves on our own terms and in our epistemologies.
Nevertheless, it is not too late to re-think, re-discover, re-recognize and re-legitimize what have been called ‘native’ categories, or indigenous knowledge systems. As I said in the beginning, there is today a world-wide debate on the efficacy of these indigenous knowledge systems, life styles, specially in the context of the discourse on sustainable development. The terms used in the English language are indigenous knowledge systems or alternate knowledge systems or traditional knowledge systems. For us these should or could all be subsumed under the pervasive rubric of loka, jñåna or vijñåna, and not just loka-sa³sk¸ti, as cultural or artistic expression of the folk, i.e., industrialized level of society.
Perhaps it would be relevant to conclude this rather hasty journey of investigation of trying to understand India on its own terms through 1000 examples of ‘performance’ from different regions of India. These are the performative (not only ritual) acts by a whole group of people (loka). Each re-articulates a cosmology as also societal structure. Each has a significance and meaning at diverse levels. Basically through these performances, the ‘cosmic’ is made and re-made. In one it is the cycle of life, its drama (?) and through it all sections of the loka meet, caste and hierarchical. Through the performances issues of gender and power are also addressed. I can do no more than present some excerpts of a rare video-recording and describe through my inadequate words the nature of the performances, viz., Lai Haroba of Manipur and the Mudiyettu from Kerala.
No visual or verbal presentation can equal the impact of the actual performance and its experience.
All one can say is that these performances compel one to ask the question: can we comprehend the world view of cosmology and the social messages embodied inartistic form through derived frozen categories? This is indeed the world of the loka here and now and beyond.
1. Monier Williams, Sanskrit English Dictionary, 1974. Sastra, p. 1069; prayoga, p. 688.
2. Sastracara: conduct according to precept. Lokacara: conduct sanctioned by practice. Kulacara: conduct sanctioned by conventions of the groups.
3. Daivaka (celestial) pertaining to the gods, eternal, perennial, the sacred. Laukika (terrestrial) pertaining for the world innerdance. For discussion on these pairs of words, see Ray, N.R., Approach to Indian Art, Chandigarh.
4. Maukhika derived from mukha or mouth. Referring to the oral traditions or the spoken word.
5. Common usage of the terms. Literally they would be translated into theoretical music, dance or art; in fact, they denote the practice of music (Sangita), dance (nrtya) and the arts (kala) according to finalized grammar and system.
6. Desi is derived from desa local or spatially circumscribed. Popularly it is equated to rural or folk. Loka derived from loka terrestrial, world, mundane, popularly used for masses, or folk and rural.
7. See note 2 above. Sastracara conduct according to the treatises of dharma: acara is literally conduct, behaviour, norms of social relationships.
8. Vyavahara denotes social dialogue, conduct, modes of behaviour. It emphasizes practice as opposed to theory. abhyasa is constant practice, in the sense of repetitive routine leading to discipline or perfection, considered essential for any art.
9. Visnudharmottara Purana, see chapter III section.
10. Shastra scripture, Ghosh M.M. (trasl. By) Natyasastra, Calcutta University Press, 1967, page 3.
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