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Indian Aesthetics Revisited

Parul Dave Mukherji

By Shakti Maira
Penguin/Viking, New Delhi,, 2006, pp. 289, Rs. 395.00


The study of Indian aesthetics came to the forefront following the publication of K.C. Pandey’s work around the mid 20th century but subsequently it suffered from neglect. Several sporadic attempts have been made to revive interest in the subject quite recently. The Journal of Arts and Art Criticism in the mid 1950s had devoted a special issue to Indian aesthetics and had contributed to facilitating a lively debate around Indian aesthetics in comparison with western aesthetics. Those were the heydays of the comparativist approach which seems to have resurfaced in a new guise and in the context of globalization. Just as Gayatri Spivak has recently gestured towards a new Comparative Literature while mourning the death of disciplinarity, perhaps it is time for a new Comparative Aesthetics to emerge that will be relevant to our times. So it was with great interest I turned to this book with a profound title and a promising subtitle. In today’s age of multiculturalism, perhaps it is time to both rethink Indian art and aesthetics from a contemporary framework and question modes of comparison between eastern and the western aesthetics in resonance with contemporary global reality.   In the very introduction, Maira places himself squarely as a practising artist distancing himself from any scholarly discourse and use of heavy Sanskrit terminology. He looks upon his book as healing the divide between a misunderstood past and a misled present and he offers to act as a cultural interpreter between the two. This picture is further complicated by the presence of a third entity which is the contemporary West. As one moves ahead in the book, it is fairly evident that this is represented primarily by Conceptualism, one of the contemporary art forms, which the author sees as a symptom of moral debasement and alienation that continually provokes his tirade for its undue influence on modern Indian artists.   If one turns to this book with the hope of learning about a new framework of approaching Indian art and aesthetics from a contemporary location, one is disappointed. But if one follows the main title Towards Ananda as a personalized understanding of Indian philosophy and aesthetics from the point of view of a practising artist, the reader is less likely to feel cheated. Fitting in quite well with the genre of a travelogue, the narrative takes us through a personal journey as much via the ancient art ...

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