Meera Lives On in Voice of Bhakti

Indian art has one overriding purpose: to achieve communion with the Divine for salvation. Whatever the art form, it is an offering to the Almighty. The artist takes great pains to practise and make perfect her offering.
    M S Subbulakshmi’s musical renditions, however, came straight from the heart, transporting the listener to sublime levels of consciousness. So the entire aesthetic experience is considered to be no different from that of experiencing Brahmn. That’s why the aesthetic experience is called Brahmananda sahodara — the brother of the bliss that is experienced on attaining Brahmn. So the artform is a training in spirituality. This training is given rigour by the grammar of the arts. All treatises on art beginning with Bharata’s Natyashastra are, in effect, trying to delineate and deliberate upon the various techniques that can be employed by the artist to reach that state of pure joy. As Wordsworth said, poetry is emotion recollected in tranquillity.
    A similar concept is found in Indian classical treatises, which says that an artist should have hridayavisranti, enabling her to communicate tranquillity. She needs to have experienced all the emotions — of love, hate, fear, sorrow — to be able to portray it with a sense of detachment, to evoke the rasa. At one level, both the artist and rasika or audience are led towards the spiritual goal; at another level is the perfecting of the technique to do so. In any true work of art, the two go together, the latter enhancing the former.
    Symbolism is used in art to evoke the dominant emotion. In a simple rangoli the lotus flower represented the seat of Lakshmi, symbolising prosperity and auspiciousness. The same lotus when visited by the bee came to symbolise the lover and the nayika or the lovelorn maiden. Sringara bhava lent itself beautifully to the purpose of the final goal of art, for both amorous love and art yearned for union: in the arts, God became...