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Shastric Traditions in Indian Arts, vols. 1-2.

This handsome set brings together a total of forty-one papers presented originally at an international seminar held at the South Asia Institute of the University of Heidelberg sometime during the middle 1980s. (Perhaps an even more thorough search through the fine print would have yielded the precise dates of the seminar, but I have so far failed to locate them.) The papers are divided into eight general topics: introduction and general reflections (3 contributions), iconography (9), architecture (8), city planning (4), literature (5), ritual (4), the performing arts (4), and a final section on "tradition and modernity." This hefty volume is supplemented by a slimmer second volume containing a general index, reference lists, biographical sketches and addresses of the authors, 48 pages of drawings (maps, temple plans, designs and the like), and 104 pages of black-and-white plates.

First reactions were a mixture of admiration and frustration: admiration for the ambitious range of subjects covered, for the topic itself, for the conceptual scheme devised for the organization of the seminar and the volume, for the extremely thorough preparation of this difficult collection, and for the elegant design and printing by Franz Steiner Verlag; but also frustration because of the uneven quality of the papers, the predictable failure of many of the contributors to address the main theme of the seminar, and the high level of inconsistency in rendering transliterations, diacritics, spellings, and citations. A few of the papers are simply feuilletons and little more than "memoirs" of the original event; it is clear that one or two of the authors made no attempt to produce a readable contribution. One of the potentially interesting papers is accompanied by a footnote stating, "This paper was transcribed from the tape and, unfortunately, could not be revised by the author." Indeed! I found myself beginning to appreciate the level of understatement in Anna Libera Dallapiccola's opening editorial note!

Subsequent, more considered reactions were to shrug my shoulders and focus upon the many strengths of this collection of essays. It is beyond dispute that these forty-one studies are a treasury of information on the Indian arts and the tradition of rule-books by which their variations have been restrained and channeled into appropriate pathways. Dallapiccola--she is the daughter of the composer Luigi Dallapiccola, and it was for her that his 1952 cycle of piano pieces entitled Quaderno musicale di Annalibera was written--asks some of the right questions in her introduction:

How are we to "read," to understand shastric literature? For whom were such texts written? How does such theory relate to artistic practice? . . . Are these texts . . . treatises which, strictly speaking, governed lovers, elephant tamers, cooks, architects etc.? Or are the rules of the sastras laid down like the rules of grammar which are abstracted from natural speech and come to define correctness but are not intentionally used by native speakers in producing correct speech? Or have they yet a different function? How far do the end-products conform to the precepts? How are we supposed to interpret this intriguing body of literature which is, or seems to be, the backbone of Indian culture?

Dallapiccola continues with an excellent analogy, with reference to the gradual changes in cookbook strategies in recent years: the classical cookbooks, up to the beginning of this century, were evidently written for "experienced cooks, conversant with all the basic techniques, who knew how to 'interpret' the recipes. Such things as quantities and timings are mentioned, if at all, only vaguely, the authors presupposing a sound practical knowledge. The situation changes dramatically in modern times, a sign that the authors can no longer rely on the practical expertise of the readers." For her, shastric texts have two main functions: "(a) they are a compendium of 'floating knowledge' about a given practice, which at a certain point was collected from the most disparate sources (practising artists, observation of actual works of art, recollection of former traditions, etc.) and arranged more or less systematically in a book; and (b) they serve as a reference point for future generations of artists." It would take a panel of reviewers to do justice to this set, because of the tremendous disparity of the individual contributions and the variety of specialized disciplines represented, each with its own traditions, methods, and critical standards. So it should be understood that the following reflections represent, in most cases, the point of view of a general consumer of Indian technical literature--not a specialist who can take individual authors to task on matters of detail. But there is much to be learned from a survey of representative articles, even if the picture that results is not as coherent as we might prefer, and if many of the questions posed at the seminar still lack definitive answers. So I shall take up each of the major topics in turn, focusing upon the nature of the problem, the method of attack chosen by the author, and the conclusions reached. In some cases it seems best to avoid paraphrase and let the author speak for himself.

In her opening address Kapila Vatsyayan recommended three distinct levels of exploration for the participants in the seminar: (1) "What are the early verbal sources in the Indian tradition which enable us to identify the nature of the artistic experience and the goal of art or arts," an approach that leads to a much broader perspective than one gained from specific texts in individual disciplines; (2) a "more concrete and tangible and defineable level of identifying, listing and evaluating the textual tradition of the Indian arts," in which problems of classification, textual criticism, editing, and translation must be confronted; and (3) the most important task of all--the relationship of sastra to prayoga (application), of theory to artistic practice. Vatsyayan contributes another useful metaphor in her definition of sastra as a "software system of computer language," a system that provides for flexibility, improvisation, and a rigor without rigidity.

Two opening papers by T. S. Maxwell and Sheldon Pollock provide the broadest view of the seminar and an appropriate introduction to the problems of sastrasastra, or, to mix languages, "meta-sastra"--for which readers of this journal will wish to refer to Pollock's 1985 article on "The Theory of Practice and the Practice of Theory in Indian Intellectual History" (JAOS 105:499-519). Maxwell's article on "Silpa versus Sastra" is valuable for its historical survey of early twentieth century-pronouncements on the relationship of silpasastra (broadly speaking, the visual arts) to "actually encountered iconographies." A hint of problems encountered at the earlier seminar arises on p. 10 when Maxwell remarks that

Participants who actually proved that they had this knowledge and competence |that is, knowledge of the original texts and the competence to talk about them~, deriving straight from Indian masters in well known Indian universities, did not take a leading role in the discussions. I at least received the strong impression that this constraint arose from the fact that their papers were continuations of discussions in India which, like certain fine wines, do not travel well. The conference missed a crucial opportunity for dialogue with the very tradition it was ostensibly examining, and as a panel discussant I share the blame for this. The internal preoccupations of the discipline in the West at times seem to deafen it to what is being said at source. Having been similarly impressed at other seminars by the failure of Indian and Western participants to engage each other by the same set of rules and with common assumptions, I can understand the frustration expressed by Maxwell, and this is one of the reasons why I suspect that these laudable efforts to achieve some sort of consensus on the thorny issues of sastra and prayoga are foredoomed, if not to failure, at least to some degree of chaos. But this is all the more reason to glean individual nuggets from the separate contributions. Maxwell concludes that "in fact there exists no single canon, and certainly no single authoritative text, for any of the Indian arts. . . . Artistic creation being a process, every work of art--a temple, a sculpture--is to the artist a project abandoned along the path of a continuous pursuit." It is the job of silpasastra to preserve parts of "the continuous transformation of perception and expression generated in the course of this pursuit which is the life of the culture. Fragments of this transforming process are seen in the comments of the brahman iconographers, and inasmuch as there ever was one, these fleeting remarks constitute the shilpashastric canon". Maxwell's summary is worth quoting in full:

If we rely exclusively upon surviving shilpashastric texts to interpret Indian art, we shall never understand it, since these texts are manifestly those of a small group composed not of artists but of their social superiors, the priestly guardians of cultural tradition. As a literary category, silpasastra is a conventional, poetically unremarkable, legitimising instrument mediating positively between sanskritic Veda-based tradition and artistic practice. It is a culturally contextualizing vehicle for a field of creativity which ran the risk of individualisation (how acutely perceived we do not know) and hence also the risk of a loss of cultural identity on the part of the individual artist, with a consequent falling into irrelevance of art to the achieved society. It supports, rather than censors art by not permitting it to be seen losing sight of its cultural vision.

Sheldon Pollock's article on "The Idea of Sastra in Traditional India" takes a still broader perspective in its examination of the role of sastra in various branches of literature. An appropriate Sanskrit proverb stands as the epigraph for his article: "Clearing up all uncertainties and revealing the imperceptible, sastra is the all-seeing eye--to lack it is to be truly blind." Pollock continues with an account of various divisions and classifications of the shastric literature and the gradual expansion of these taxonomies in classical and medieval Indian literature:

An idea of the broad area penetrated by this genre of learned inquiry can be suggested by a bare inventory of lexically attested sastras: agriculture, elephant-training, arithmetic, perfumery, thievery, painting, carpentry, cooking, fishing, sculpture, liberation-from-transmigration, ascetic renunciation, the lapidary's art, alchemy, penmanship, augury, music (instrumental, vocal, and dancing), hawk-training, horse-training. And this is omitting what is usually termed the catuh-sastikalasastra, the "sastras of the sixty-four arts," which include codified treatises on everything from jewelry-making to magic, needle-work, gardening, and cock-fighting.

With respect to the actual relationship between sastra and actual cultural practice, Pollock offers a variety of ways in which this relationship can be conceived: (1) as offering a real blueprint for practice; (2) "as merely describing, ex post facto, a cultural product and thereby explicating its components for the benefit of a cultivated public; (3) as providing, in the guise of normative injunctions, something like a standard of taste and judgment to critics, that is, as defining the 'classic'; (4) even as functioning in some cases to 'invent' a tradition; (5) as constituting, in the hegemonic manner of high cultures elsewhere, practices as 'sciences' for theoretical or actual control; or--last in order but perhaps first in importance--as endowing a practice with the status, legitimacy, and authority directly conferred by any 'Vedic' charter, something most sastras aspire to become". I have drawn at some length upon these two articles, not only because I believe they have hit the mark with extraordinary skill, but because I believe readers will find them an indispensable introduction to this complex collection of subjects and perspectives. I proceed now to the eight individual categories, some treated at greater length than others.

As one might expect, the largest number of papers was devoted to the general theme of iconography (in most cases, sculptural). Of the nine articles, I found most rewarding those by Dasgupta, Dhaky, Maitra, Mosteller, and Ray. J. Bautze's article, "Did Painters in Eastern Rajasthan Follow a "Shastric" Tradition? A Case Study," is insubstantial and never gets around to answering the question. Adalbert J. Gail's essay, "Iconography or Iconomy? Sanskrit Texts on Indian Art," is brief, negative, and disorganized. The remaining articles offer more: Claudine Bautze-Picron's essay on the problems of identification and/or classification in Buddhist iconography focuses on the six-handed Avalokitesvara images in Bihar and Bengal between the eighth and twelfth centuries--with reference to such typical iconographic matters as pose, attributes, ornaments, attendants, and mounting. Although primarily a catalog, the article is a competent example of a standard iconographic problem. Gouriswar Bhattacharya's article on caturmukha (four-faced) and pancamukha (five-faced) images of Brahma and Siva is highly selective and primarily descriptive, without reaching any general conclusions. While I would have preferred a more focused selection, restricted either geographically or chronologically, there is a good deal of valuable analysis here, as well as some examples of misidentification of images in the recent literature. Kalyan Kumar Dasgupta's brief but impressive essay on the pancaratra (lit., "five nights"; fig., "five knowledges") tradition and its relation to Brahmanical iconography is one of the exemplary contributions to this volume; more to the point, it addresses the seminar theme in an explicit way. The article includes a useful history and textual survey of this Vaisnava sect, its thinking, its geographical spread across the subcontinent, and its typical imagery. Dasgupta concludes that "the shastric tradition of the Pancaratra literature is predictably valuable for Vaisnava iconography. But it is no less valuable for the iconography of the non-Vaisnava creeds. And indeed it may be occasionally illuminating". Among the many useful features of this article is its excellent glossary of Sanskrit technical terms.

M. A. Dhaky's study, "The Jina Image and the Nirgrantha Agamic and Hymnic Imagery," features an excellent account of how the image of Jina Vardhamana Mahavira (active ca. 519-477 B.C.) found its way into a religious tradition whose scriptures and early leaders were opposed to figural representation and their worship. The essay includes an illuminating historical discussion, analysis of representative hymn texts, and iconographic analysis of a wide selection of Jina images dating from the fourth century B.C. to the eleventh century A.D. For its brevity, the article accomplishes a lot, and it is difficult to imagine this sort of thing being done better.

Juthika Maitri's essay on the benign Devi and the puranic tradition is even shorter (a total of seven pages of text), but it is an efficient and systematic exploration of the iconography of Lalita, based on the evidence of the Agni Purana and other silpa texts. The second of Maitri's concluding points provides yet another good reason for comparing text prescriptions with visual representations:

The iconographic materials embedded in a text and their corresponding answers to extant images help us to ascertain the provenance of the said text. In the present case, for example, the iconography of Lalita delineated in the Agni Purana, combined with the surviving images of the goddess, all from eastern India, almost decisively established the eastern Indian origin of the Purana in question, a supposition that was made by R. C. Hazra on linguistic, religious and cultural and other grounds.

John F. Mosteller, in his study entitled "The Practice of Early Indian Iconometry |talamana~: The Evidence of Images and Texts," turns to modern technology in an effort to reconcile the often-conflicting evidence of visual images and the texts that specify their proper proportions. His detailed measurements of six images of Visnu from the fifth century A.D. were analyzed with the aid of a computer and a program based on the system of construction used by early Indian artists. The following extract summarizes his findings:

The picture of early iconometric practice that emerges from an analysis of these six images is consistent with the evidence provided by my larger sample of both Kusana and Gupta period Brahmanical icons. The variations they document demonstrate not only the inherent flexibility of the artists' systems, but also the absence of strict conventions and hence the artist's freedom to manipulate the proportions of his images. . . . The relationship between the reality of proportional practice and this early textual record is a complex one. It can be observed that system differences like these would usually have been explained in the past as reflecting the conventions of different artistic traditions. However, my findings clearly demonstrate that these differences ultimately represent only two alternate applications of the same proportional system that could and did coexist at the same time and place. . . . My work suggests that iconometric texts are neither strictly technical nor theoretical in nature. Instead, they record a censored view of the reality of artistic practice which nonetheless relates to that practice and, therefore, cannot be accurately classified as theory. As such, these texts are didactic in nature; their contents insufficient for technical instruction appear to be aimed at informing the non-practicioner. . . . What I hope I have been able to demonstrate here is the important role the monuments themselves can play in this process, and the way in which a computer-aided quantitative analysis can help to extract, from surviving objects, the record of ancient practice they embody. The final article in this set of iconographic papers is Amita Ray's study of the cult and ritual of Durga puja in Bengal, and of the transformation in imagery (beginning in the sixteenth century) that converted this formerly violent goddess into a benign earth-mother. The article is rich in historical material, tracing the growing influence of the smarta puranic religion in Bengal during the post-Gupta centuries and the consequent adaptation of the "rich world of brahmanical myths and legends, symbols and pantheons" that was fostered in the Ganga-Yamuna valley. One result was the crystallization of the iconography of the great goddess of Bengal, Durga Mahisamardini. Ray's final section is an illuminating explanation of the tantric base for the Bengali Durga puja ritual, its traditional symbols, and their role in daily rituals. The volume proceeds with eight papers on vastusastra (architecture); from this group of papers I shall single out two (those by Desai and Meister) for some special comments.

Willem B. Bollee's article on the kutagara (a building with a gabled or peaked roof) traces the development of this structure from a sacred men's house to a modern mansion in eastern India and in southeast Asia, amplifying and documenting some of A. K. Coomaraswamy's findings of the 1930s.

I have not been able to figure out just what Bruno Dagens had in mind in his brief and cryptic article, "Iconography in Saivagamas: Description or Prescription?"--put off perhaps by his opening assertion, "The title of this paper will soon appear deceptive: little will be said about Saivagamas and we shall not attempt to answer the initial question." What Dagens does conclude is that "as far as architecture is concerned, the shastric literature is to be considered as basically descriptive in nature and as giving to the architects more a guidance than a series of restrictive patterns; or, if you want, that the tradition represented by the Shastras is more a guide than a restraint". Surprise! Two pages seems overly generous for this essay.

To continue: R. N. Misra's study, "Indian Silpa Tradition, Silpi and Aesthetics: A Study of Correspondence," provides a detailed analysis of the word silpa (image) and its wide semantic range; the article appears to be a solid piece of work. R. Nath's "On the Theory of Indo-Muslim Architecture" includes useful sections on the general spirit of Islamic art, the medieval art of India, Indian texts on non-religious architecture, the relationship between theory and practice in medieval India, and a brief analysis of the Rehamana-Prasada (a Sanskrit text on mosque architecture from the fifteenth century). H. Sarkar's short but authoritative paper, "Some Aspects of Shastric Tradition in the Architecture of Kerala," which appears in unrevised form due to the author's death shortly after the seminar, offers some interesting observations and an attractive selection of drawings and photographs of south Indian temples. Snehal Shah's analysis of texts from western India on water architecture (bathing tanks, ponds, wells, and gardens) provides a brief glimpse of one of the fascinating aspects of medieval vastusastra. Devangana Desai's essay, "The Location of Sculptures in the Architectural Scheme of the Kandariya Mahadeva Temple of Khajuraho: Sastra and Practice," is one of the gems of this volume. The article includes, among other things, an identification of vastusastras from neighbor regions (Malwa and Gujarat) that may have provided partial models for the temple architecture of Khajuraho, an illuminating account of how the religious symbolism of the moderate tantric Saiva Siddhanta sect is reflected in the placement of images in the temple's architectural scheme (leading even to verbal/architectural puns, such as the placement of erotically coupled figures as the sandhi-ksetras--the "junctures" between different parts of the temple), and the following conclusion: The magnificent Kandariya Mahadeva temple represents a phase of India's temple art and architecture in its creative and meaningful moment when temple design adhered to Silpa-canons without being thwarted by innovative spirit and when the artistic form was harmoniously integrated with conceptual and symbolic significance. The dynamics of ritual and sculptural imagery on various parts of the temple--its door, threshold, walls, interiors--points to a close interrelationship of Sastra and practice. It seems that the architect, well-versed in Visvakarma Vastu tradition, worked in close association with the religious acarya who had grasped and felt the metaphysical structure of the Saiva system and who gave meaning to sculpture through its location in the temple's architecture. The yantra-like rhythms of the temple with its hierarchically placed images in relation to the Centre take the devotee out of his mundane time to the cyclic time of dancing Matrkas and Ganesa on the outer circuit, to the mythic time of Mahesa's lilas (sports) in the interior avarana, to the symbolic experience of timelessness expressed on the juncture of the human and the divine, and, finally, to the Seed without origin (ajayamana bija) in embryonic darkness, beyond time and form.

I was also impressed by Michael Meister's elegant "Reading Monuments and Seeing Texts," which focuses on the names for various categories of base-mouldings for Indian monuments, and on temple plans that were created by using the dimensions of inscribed and circumscribed circles to produce "turned squares." The article is particularly rich in its selection of temple photographs and drawings showing how the geometry of the temples had been achieved. The volume continues with four articles on city planning: Joan L. Erdman's study of the design and construction of Jaipur, an essay by John M. Fritz on "The Plan of Vijayanagara," a tantalizingly brief article by O. M. Starza-Majewski on "The Sacred Geometry of Puri," and a study by Anne Vergati on "Ritual Planning of the Bhaktapur Kingdom, Nepal." The four papers complement each other and are generally well executed.

Erdman demonstrates that the shastric ideals had lost none of their force by the eighteenth century, and that the city of Jaipur--unlike many other Indian cities--was the outcome of a single creative vision, not a haphazard expansion from an original bazaar, fortress, or religious site. The author's thesis is that "the role of Jaipur's ruler--a successful military strategist, diplomat, astronomer, and scholar--in Jaipur's founding, the plan of the walled city itself (and its later extensions), and the ways in which Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh celebrated the founding of his city are clues to its shastric origins, designation and significance". Erdman's account includes a history of the planning process, personal background on Jai Singh, site selection, road planning, the divisions of the city, and a final discussion of its sacred symbolism:

A cosmomagical yet rational setting, with near-cardinal axes, this newly sacred enclave was permeated with symbolic patterning evident to all who visited or lived within its walls. . . . Jaipur is planned as a secular capital, the seat of a rule affirmed by ritual but not subject to it. Its symbolism is that of power and authority, accompanied by spiritual depth and immersion. Its plan is made for prosperity and centrality in the mundane world, which can only be sanctified and assured through sacrifices and judicious balancing of multiple religious sects. . . . Jaipur was a model for contemporary rule in the early 18th century, rather than a slavish copy of an ancient diagrammatic. . . . As capital of the post-independence state of Rajasthan, Jaipur integrates ancient patterns, modern planning, and contemporary use in a way that guarantees its survival and importance.

Fritz's study of the plan of Vijayanagara takes us deeper into the past and to a predictable conclusion--that the city was laid out so as to resemble a cosmic design and executed to shastric specifications (although the city cannot be shown to represent any specific set of shastric prescriptions). Cosmic cities, in general, display four common characteristics: the orientation of roads and gateways to the cardinal directions; a clearly defined central area; "specification of a spatial framework for human society by placement of occupationally specialized groups in more or less auspicious locations"; and, in the case of royal cities, a central location for the seat of the ruler. A text central to Fritz's discussion is the medieval Manasara. In the end Fritz reaches much the same conclusion as Erdman, namely, that city planning is a process that goes far beyond the implementation of a single shastric model: "Future research may show that such all-embracing models were pan-Indian, or local adaptations of more widely held norms. It is not unlikely that this research will demonstrate that the forms and meanings of built environments were complex adaptations in which local conditions, previous building practice and the prescriptions of architectural commentators were all relevant". Starza-Majewski's brief essay on the sacred geometry of Puri argues that the city matches the puranic description of the ancient holy city of Purusottama, imagined as a giant conch-shell divided into seven concentric circles. I was struck by how much more archaeological investigation may be required to uncover the earlier stages of Puri's development amid the shifting sands and river beds of the Mahanadi delta in coastal Orissa. Readers lacking a firsthand acquaintance with the city and the region will have difficulty in following the author's dense guidebook. Vergati's article on city planning in the Kathmandu Valley of Nepal during the Malla dynasties (1200-1768) is based on contemporary rituals, with the claim that the residents of the city of Bhaktapur still regard their environment as a sacred mandala. It struck me as somewhat speculative to conclude that twentieth-century rituals (described in extremely interesting detail by the author) still represent concepts of spatial control reached as early as 800 years ago, and I had the impression that her evident enthusiasm for her theory was getting in the way of her objectivity. The field of literature is represented by five articles. The most impressive was Julie H. Hiebert's "Tradition and Innovation in Sanskrit Mahakavya: The Harem Sunset." The essay includes both a study of the relationship between theory and practice in the medieval tradition of ornate court poetry (especially with regard to concepts of plot), and an evocative analysis of one literary trope--the description of sunset and moonrise in the sixth-century Janakiharana of Kumaradasa and the seventeenth-century Raghunathabhyudaya by the poetess Ramabhadramba of Tanjore. Hiebert outlines a number of contrasts between the traditional and "historical" (biographical) mahakavyas, contending that "historical poets were able to substitute men as heroes in a literary genre that had previously spoken only of gods . . . |thus uniting~ the language of history with the language of poetry". Any reader with even the slightest interest in Sanskrit poetry will enjoy her translations and analyses of typical themes. Indira Viswanathan Peterson's article, "Playing with Universes: Figures of Speech in Kavya Epic Description," is an examination of simile (upama) and related figures of speech in the literature of alankarasastra (literary criticism) and the kavya tradition. Her central thesis, which seems unremarkable, is that "most descriptive verses in kavya . . . refer simultaneously to objects from two universes, the objective universe of the particular stanza and the figurative universe of kavya poetry." Her main contention is that the relationships between the two "universes" are fluid and subject to considerable variation:

The ease with which objects move between the objective and figurative universes expresses a vision in which these universes are seen, not as being arbitrarily linked through the imposition of a coupling in the form of convention, but as being intrinsically related to each other. The Vedic conception of the human, natural, and divine worlds as parallel and related orders of reality "of equal antiquity and permanence" eventually led to the idea of the ultimate identity of these worlds. . . . The shifting universes might also suggest the Vedanta philosophical assumptions underlying the poems of many of the great poets and critics: The blurting of distinction between the objective and the subjective or figurative, the phenomenal and that which is beyond the phenomenal (i.e., that which is ultimately real).

Sheldon Pollock's second contribution to the volume is an article entitled "Playing by the Rules: Sastra and Sanskrit Literature" This essay develops in an interesting way the metaphor introduced in Kapila Vatsyayan's inaugural address: sastra as "cultural software." Pollock's goal is to analyze the nature of the rules that sastra seeks to establish, the modalities of these rules, and the basis of the claims to authority that they assert. His argument, based on examples from several of the dharmasastras, is difficult to summarize, so I shall rely on his own conclusion:

It appears that the traditional Mimamsa and the Kantian categories for the comprehension of cultural rules are necessary and complementary; both tell us something real and essential about the nature of norms in cultural practices. The shastric tradition--above all, it would seem, a tradition of rule-governance--does not as such differ from the implicit or articulated normative codes of other cultures. What seems to distinguish the Indian case to some degree is the intervention of normative discourse into areas we might not normally associate with strict rule-governance--such as the substance and style of literary art--and the peculiar degree of authority (deriving from the Vedic prototype) to which this discourse, by its pedigree or explicit declaration, lays claim.

David Smith's article on "The Dance of Siva and the Imagination" is an extensive analysis of Ratnakara's ninth-century epic description, in the second sarga of his Haravijaya, of Siva's tandava dance. Smith's apparent goal was to determine whether the poet had an actual dance performance in mind, but the only conclusion I can find in the article is that "Ratnakara does not feel himself constrained by the texts of the sastra in his presentation of dance, but reconstructs the dance out of the mannerisms of kavya. In fact, in attempting to recreate the dance the poem achieves a parallel process in which the poet's imagination dances round the subject matter". Since the author never gets around to saying just how the descriptions deviate from shastric precepts, I am afraid that readers will be unable to evaluate this contention, but they will surely enjoy the many quotations and translations. Smith evidently was so wrapped up in his material that he lost sight of his original purpose. I wish I could say something positive about Kapila Vatsyayan's unrevised paper on "The Natyasastra--A History of Criticism" (in 5 1/2 pages?), which offers many insights and interesting details, but I found it disorganized, unfocused, and superficial. It struck me as a brilliant improvisation from a set of note-cards, but scarcely a serious discussion of the critical history of the Natyasastra.

I shall pass more lightly over the three remaining topics. Of the three contributions under the category of ritual, I found the most meat in Richard Davis' article on "Enlivening Images: The Saiva Rite of Invocation," in which he takes issue with A. K. Coomaraswamy's influential 1929 article on "The Origin and Use of Images in India" and demonstrates how "the dualistic, realistic, and ritualistic Saiva Siddhanta . . . rite enacts an alternate conception of image-worship, clearly differing from the neo-Vedanta notion presented by Coomaraswamy and others". For all its brevity, the article contains a detailed "theological portrait" of Siva in the Saiva Siddhanta philosophy and a valuable analysis of the ritual of invocation in which Siva in his highest state is drawn into the "differentiated body that has been constructed for him." Davis concludes that

Invocation explicitly aims to make Siva manifest in an object, and the actions of the rite make sense only when seen as a means of gaining the real presence of the deity in a support that is external to and apart from the worshipper. . . . The worshipper must employ the powers of mantra and visualization to bring Siva from his highest state outside the worshipper's body, into a specially-prepared "divine body" which is itself a model of Siva's active presence in the world. The remaining papers in this section include Bettina Baumer's essay, "Unmanifest and Manifest Forms According to the Saivagamas," in which the author analyzes the agamic background of the three levels of meaning that Stella Kramrisch identified in her classic interpretation of the Elephanta cave: (1) avyakta (transcendent, unmanifest), linked with the linga; (2) vyaktavyakta (partly manifest, partly unmanifest), linked with the great sculpture of Sadasiva/Mahadeva; and (3) vyakta (manifest), represented by the eight sculptures of Siva in different manifestations. S. S. Janaki's article on "Indian Classical Dance and Temple Tradition" will disappoint specialists who look for specific information on the relationship between the gestures (the mudras) of the classical dance tradition and the ritual gestures described in the Saiva agamas, particularly because of the fragmentary nature of the article and its total lack of documentation, but it is at least one article in the volume that offers an accessible introduction for general readers. A. A. Shapiro's cryptic paper, "Salagramapariksa and Salagramasilalaksanani" is one of the curiosities in this volume--a textual study of two treatises describing the properties and proper ritual use of the sacred salagrama stones (fossil ammonities) found only near Muktinatha in western Nepal. Of the four papers addressed to the performing arts, I was most impressed with two: Sharon Lowen's study of "Contemporary Issues of Sastra in the Classical Dance of Orissa" and David B. Reck's personal memoir of music study in India, "The Invisible Sastra." Lowen's lucid account of the reconstruction of Odissi dance in the 1940s and 1950s details the problems involved in "creating a modern sastra for a dance form that is still actively growing." She concludes

The remarkable difference between the new sastra of the O. R. C. |the Odissi Research Centre~ and the traditional ones of the past is not so much the approach to the subject as the methods employed. The written word has been superseded by audio-visual materials illustrating and documenting the dance in ways only recently made possible by modern technology: photographs, audio-recordings, videotapes and films. . . . Thus the shastric tradition in classical Odissi dance continues, but has entered into a dynamic new phase transformed and amplified by modern technology.

Reck's account of his early vina studies with his guru, Thirugokarnam Ramachandra Iyer, is an attractive and elegantly written personal reminiscence and an accurate description of the traditional system of teaching and learning in South India. This is another article that can be enthusiastically recommended to the general reader.

The other two articles in this section are Josef Kuckertz' "The Raga-System of South India" and another curiosity, Phillip Zarrilli's "Between Text and Embodied Practice in a South Indian Martial Tradition" (i.e., kalarippayattu, a tradition of karate practiced in Kerala). Kuckertz' article offers little that is new, and his five pages of transcriptions of popular ragas into Western staff notation are virtually unreadable. The Zarrilli paper, on the other hand, provides a fascinating glimpse into a field that most Westerners are more likely to associate with a Bruce Lee film. Zarrilli, like Reck, argues that the process of transmitting an artistic tradition is accomplished "by means of writing the techniques into the student's body," through embodied practice and oral correction.

The final topic of the seminar was "Tradition and Modernity"--an amorphous label that provided opportunity for four papers on more recent developments in the Indian arts (although several of the contributions mentioned above would fit just as well under this category). For me the highlight of this group was Ralph M. Steinmann's superb paper, "Kolam: Form, Technique, and Application of a Changing Ritual Folk Art of Tamil Nadu." Kolam signifies the tradition of floor designs in stone powder or rice flour laid down in a continuous flow by south Indian women. I have seldom read such an informative discussion. Steinmann's essay combines a description of the artistic form of this folk art with its symbolism, significance, and relationship to daily life. The tradition of kolam is deeply linked with Indian notions of femininity, fertility, hygiene, purification, and cosmic order:

The artist draws her inspiration from everyday life in the village, from nature, and temple art. She creates new forms and motifs and expresses by their choice and combination, composition, and ornamentation her artistic talents. In this respect, kolam art, and folk art in general, offers the South Indian woman a means to develop her personality and to raise her self-confidence, aspects which due to women's subordinate role in society are generally neglected. . . . This art is not only a mirror of village culture and life, but kolams, being a sort of "handwriting" of their mostly illiterate creators, bear the artists' personal stamp. In rural areas, mothers on the lookout for a prospective bride for their sons will read from the kolam a girl's maturity and suitability for marriage. . . . As with so many other customs, kolam art has become a convention detached from its original meaning and function, an art which is being transmitted through the generations in its practical aspects and which lives by mere imitation. In a traditional agricultural society which has not yet entirely lost the connection to its archaic past, as is the case with Tamil Nadu, the sacred and the profane, religion and culture are not experienced as separate entities which are exclusive of each other.

I consider that this article alone is worth the price of the book. The remaining articles in this final section are T. Richard Blurton's essay on "Continuity and Change in the Tradition of Bengali pata-Painting |narrative scroll paintings~," a superficial article by Robert J. Del Bonta on "Calendar Prints and Indian Traditions," and Partha Mitter's account of "How the Past Was Regained by Indian Artists During the Swadeshi Era" (ca. 1850-1910).

In summary, this collection offers a unique and important perspective on the arts of ancient, medieval, and modern India. Despite the uneven quality of the contributions, the strong papers decisively outweigh the weaker ones, and readers in many artistic disciplines will find source material here that they will find nowhere else. The volume could have been a lot better, but--judging from the track record of seminars such as the one that produced these papers--it is probably a minor miracle that it is as good as it is! Students of the traditional Indian arts will be grateful to Anna Libera Dallapiccola and her editorial collaborators (Christine Walter-Mendy and Stephanie Zingel-Ave Lallemant) for their efforts in bringing this project to a successful conclusion.

LEWIS ROWELL INDIANA UNIVERSITY
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Author:Rowell, Lewis
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jul 1, 1993
Words:6512
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