The concept of Nava (nine) Rasa (essence) is at the heart of most traditional Indian art forms. The word rasa is difficult to translate, as it signifies a flavour, an essence, an emotion or mood that is evoked in the audience by the artist through the work of art. Today’s post is about the evidence of navarasa (the nine essences) in Indian shilpa vidya or sculpture.
The picture above is a bas-relief in stone, the carved figures stand out in relief from the background. The base of a statue is called a pedestal.
Indian sculptors (those who carved the statues) had to think about the density and brittleness of their material, the weight and balance of the statue, and its 3-dimensional appearance.
Indian Sculpture not only studies the science of the three-dimensional through art, but also different locally available materials and textures. Statues were made of stones like granite, marble, sandstone, and soapstone; metals like copper, bronze, iron, silver and gold; and also of wood and clay or terracotta.
Depending on the strength of the material used and its resistance to climate conditions, some ancient statues survived intact, while others were broken and damaged. Some damaged statues were restored and repaired. Note the differences in the statue below, before and after its restoration:
The Navarasa of Indian Sculpture explores the theme of the composition and the emotion it expresses and evokes. The original concept of rasa is found in Bharat muni’s Natya Shastra, which had eight rasas. More emotions were added to the original eight, later in history. This post explores 12 rasas depicted in Indian sculpture.
1. Śṛngāram – the rasa of beauty: These statues are from different ages of Indian history and built of different materials, yet they express in common, the essence of beauty and grace. Do you agree? What do you find beautiful or graceful in these statues? If you have an ‘artistic eye’ then you can spot a few.
2. Kāruṇyam, the rasa of compassion: Pity and mercy, as well as tragedy and grief, are the emotions of this rasa. Can you identify these emotions in the statues below?
3. Hāsyam, the rasa of laughter: Life was incomplete without its comic relief and sculpture captures this essence in these statues. Can you identify hasya in these statues?
4. Vīram, the rasa of valour: Courage was a suitable mood for sculpture, depicting heroes and divinities:
5. Adbhutam the rasa of wonder: How do these statues express and evoke wonder?
6. Raudram, the rasa of anger: Anger, or destructive and negative emotion is evoked by this rasa.
7. Bībhatsam, the rasa of disgust: The emotion of repulsion and dislike were portrayed in this rasa.
8. Bhayānakam, the rasa of fear: This is a complex rasa of conscious and subconscious fear.
The raudram, bibhatsam and bhayanakam being closely allied emotions, are portrayed together in the pictures below. Can you tell them apart?
9. Śāntam, the rasa of peace or tranquility: The most positive and stable of emotions was depicted by this rasa:
10. Vātsalya, or the rasa of parental love: This usually depicted the bhakta or devotee’s emotion for god as a child. It could also reflect a parent’s love for a human child.
11. Bhakti, or the rasa of devotion: This rasa embodied a devotee’s absorption in divinity.
12. Madhuryam, or the rasa of love: This rasa embodied either spiritual aspiration or earthly love.
Vatsalya, bhakti and madhuryam, being allied emotions in the spiritual sense, are shown together in the sculptures below.
Indian sculpture focuses on the beauty of the human form, using it to symbolise the various rasas or emotions in different stances and postures. When you look at sculpture, of any region in the world, belonging to any period of history, try to understand the symbolic meaning underlying the composition of the human figures in it.