Devotion and Contemporary Art in India- part 1

Devotion and Contemporary Art in India- part 1

 In India, religion or Bhakti in art is as old as the history of art. According to the scriptures (as they are the eldest writings, not any theory) the first creator of the world is Bhagavan Vishnu. We can find the description of paintings and sculptures in Vedic Literature like in Bhagavata Purana there is a story of Bhakta Prahlad worshipping lord Vishnu’s deity when Lord Vishnu took Narsigha avtaar.  In Rama avatar, there is a story of Sitaji praying Goddess Durga deity. There are many stories in ancient Indian Literature which mention deities. However, not much is said about paintings.

As we have for too long disregarded the achievements of early civilizations in India because of mysteries that surrounded it as Indus valley (26 BCE) Mohan Jodaro (2nd BCE). 

About art Vincent van Gogh has said-

“The emotions are sometimes so strong that I work without knowing it. The strokes come like speech.”

 And you will find similar quotes in devotion, the devotee surrender himself, and magic happen in life. So although art in itself is devotion (Bhakti) yet here we will talk about Bhakti (devotion) movement in Indian literature and then touch on a little in the visual arts.

Art is a continuous journey with civilization. Just as science invented many things and provided a lot of convenience to the people, similarly art helps in the development of the mind of the people and unknowingly it affects society and culture. In ancient times people made some kind of tribal or folk type of paintings in caves or later in homes.

Bhakti or Bhakti in art in India is as old as the history of art. According to the scriptures (as they are the oldest writings), Brahma is believed to be the world's first artist. We can find descriptions of paintings and sculpture in Vedic literature such as in the Bhagavata Purana, the story of the devotee Prahlad worshiping the deity of Lord Vishnu when Lord Vishnu incarnated as Narasimha. There is a story of Sita praying to Goddess Durga in Rama avatar. There are many such stories in ancient Indian literature in which deities are mentioned. However, there is a description of the painting of Aniruddha in the Mahabharata by Chitralekha and not much is known about the paintings other than this.

Here we will first try to understand the Bhakti Movement in literature –

Bhakti Movement

  An important milestone in the cultural history of medieval India was the silent writing revolution in society brought about by a galaxy of socio-religious reformers, a revolution known as the Bhakti movement. The movement was responsible for many of the rites and rituals associated with the Hindus of medieval India (800–1700) and the Muslims and Sikhs.

The movement is traditionally regarded as an influential social revival and reformation in Hinduism and offers a personal-centered alternative path to spirituality regardless of one's birth or gender. The Bhakti movement started with the aim of reforming Hinduism. Postmodern scholars question this traditional view and whether the Bhakti movement was ever some kind of reform. He suggests that the Bhakti movement was a revival, reworking, and re-reference of ancient Vedic traditions.

The texts of the Bhakti movement include the Bhagavad Gita, the Bhagavata Purana, and the Padma Purana, etc.

As we have long neglected the achievements of the early civilizations in India because their secrets surround it from the Indus Valley (26 BC) to Mohenjodaro (2 BC).

Shankaracharya, the leader of the Hindu revivalist movement, was a great thinker and eminent philosopher.

Although the Bhakti movement originated in Tamil Nadu during the 6th to 8th centuries, spread northwards from Tamil Nadu through Karnataka, and gained widespread acceptance in Bengal and northern India in the fifteenth century. The Bhagavata Purana, the emphasis on devotion by the South Indian Alvar sages, has been attributed by many scholars to South Indian origin, although some scholars question whether this evidence excludes this possibility. A parallel development took place in other parts of the Bhakti movement. Like the Alvars, the Shaiva Nayanar poets were influential. Tirumurai, a compilation of rhymes on Shiva by sixty-three Nayanar poet-saints, developed into an influential treatise in Shaivism. Early Tamil-Shiva Bhakti poets influenced Hindu texts that were revered throughout India.

An important thread of the Bhakti moment is the Radha Bhallabha sect which is based on Radha Krishna's spiritual love. To this day in Brijbhumi, you can find many murals and songs of this cult.

According to historian Wendy Doniger, the nature of the Bhakti movement may have been influenced by the daily practices of Islam "surrender to God" upon arrival in India. This in turn influenced devotional practices in Islam such as Sufism, and other religions in India from the 15th century onwards, such as Sikhism, Christianity, and Jainism.

This literature includes the writings of Kabir, Nanak (founder of Sikhism), Tulsidas, Nabha Das, Gusainji, Ghanananda,] Ramananda (founder of Ramanandi sect), Sripadaraja, Vyasatirtha, Kanakadas, Vijay Das, the six Goswamis of Vrindavan, Raskhan. Huh. Teachings of saints like Ravidas, Jayadeva Goswami, Namdev, Eknath, Tukaram, Mirabai, Ramprasad Sen, Sankardev, Vallabh Acharya Narasimha Mehta, Gangasati, and Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Writers from the 7th to the early 10th centuries are known to have influenced the poet-saint-driven movement. Sambandar, Tirunavukkarasar, Sundarar, Nammalvar, Adishankar, Manikvakakar and Nathamuni. Several writers of the 11th and 12th centuries developed different philosophies within the Vedanta school of Hinduism, which were influential to the Bhakti tradition in medieval India. Include Ramanuja, Madhava, Vallabh and Nimbarka. These authors supported a spectrum of philosophical positions ranging from theistic dualism, qualified monism, and absolute monism.

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