Art Experience (Part 2)

3. Kāvya

This has three stages too.

1. Manaḥ-prasāda – The nāndī-padyas in a kāvya, the description of city, country, mountains, forests, rivers, forts, palaces – these establish a context for the story; these are the embellishments and charming aspects.

2. Bhāvāveśa – The core flavour lies in the scenes of the story and in the human characters. Tyagaraja  in one of his lyrical melodies narrates this story:

Mārīca appeared as a magical deer in front of Sītā, didn’t he? She was deluded into believing that it was a real animal and was attracted towards its colour and brilliance. Let us keep aside rest of the story for now. Śrīrāmacandra remembered that desire of Sītā. Once, after the killing of Rāvaṇa, when Rāma and Sītā were wandering about in a forest casually, Rāma sees a fawn. By the brilliance and tenderness of its body it appeared like the one that Sītā had desired earlier. He shot an arrow at it assuming that Sītā would want to possess it. Out of fear for its life, the fawn began running with its neck stretched. Upon seeing this, Sītā  was overcome with compassion and requested Rāma not to harm a life. But by that time, the arrow had been shot. What could have been done? But isn’t he Rāma after all? So he immediately shot another arrow that destroyed the first one before it could hit the animal. The life of the fawn was saved; that beautiful tender life was saved.

What an exquisite imagination this is! Tyagaraja composed it as a song and sung it. Another poet may delineate the same theme elaborately with conversation and descriptions in an entertaining manner. Yet another poet may adapt this theme to a play. Through the questions and answers of various characters or their bodily gestures, the same episode can be manifested through a visual medium. In whatever form it is presented, owing to its inherent beauty and emotionally rich content, it is kāvya. Here we will be rapt in observing Rāma’s care for his wife, Sītā’s tenderness of heart, Rāma’s ability to grasp the other’s desire, and his martial skill. This is rasa-samṛddhi [richness of aesthetic experience].

3. Tātparya-cintanā – Now the mind begins the process of manana, introspection. That is the third stage of experiencing kāvya. Which is greater – Rāma’s adherence to dharma or Sītā’s compassion? Bharata’s detachment or Lakṣhmaṇa’s attitude of service? And where do we place āñjaneya? In this manner, we think over and over again, filling our thoughts with all those characters; thus, we are absorbed by them. And even after that, we will be left with a final question – What did Rāma and others achieve ultimately? What sort of pleasures did they enjoy? What was the wealth they earned? Old age, just old age. They struggled and they left – thats all, isn’t it? Should one live for this fortune? Wasn’t it same even for the Pāṇḍavas? 

ajayo’yaṃ jayākāraḥ jayākāro hy-apajayaḥ
[This is defeat that looks like victory]

After all, what Dharmarāja got is the authority over the final rites of his kinsmen. Is this the essence of life?

From the perspective of the individual, the lives of Yudhiṣhṭira and Rāma was difficult, fruitless, purposeless. But from the broad perspective of the world, their life was a fulfilling one. Their life has everlasting influence and worldwide appeal. Thus a life dedicated to dharma is life; a life of justice is life; a life of courteousness is life. 

This is the conclusion we draw, the siddhānta we realise, when we contemplate upon the great epics. It is a siddhānta that we cannot do away with. Because of this, a kāvya becomes life-sculpting. This is the ultimate accomplishment of art experience.



As part of an appendix, there arises a question:

I mentioned that ‘Art’ means experiencing beauty, grandeur. Are we getting the same experience from modern pieces of art getting imported in bulk from Europe and America these days?

As far as I am concerned, it is not so. May be I am blinded by traditional constraints and limitations of perspective. There are people who consider themselves disciples of Jakaṇācāri, Tyagaraja, Vālmīki et al.; if they don’t perceive beauty in a work of art, does that mean others cannot perceive beauty in it?

Then what does beauty mean?

There is no absolute measure for it. For us, being well-dressed is beauty; for others, being in the nude may be beauty. For us if the expressions of the body are subtle and suggestive, then it is beauty; if they become literal and spelt-out, it becomes intolerable. For others it is not so. If we see the magazines that come from Europe and America, it appears that those people like gaudy colours; they delight in bare hands and legs twisted and crossed in different variations. In the West, there are new sects born like the Hippies and Beatles. To people like me, their appearance and language seems ugly and extreme. Even the painters and artists there are following this extreme path.

Can every combination of various body parts and postures—or poses—be deemed beautiful? Can twisted hands and legs or dishevelled hair be called beauty? Is there beauty in twisted fingers and lips?

It’s the same in music too. There’s a genre that they called jazz.[1] Playing different kinds of instrument simultaneously, making a lot of noise. Even in that, a great deal of chaos, clutter, noice. Is this delightful?

The same may be observed in some modern poems. Comparison of completely unrelated things.[2] Even the word order is uncertain. It is difficult to understand the meaning of this.

In sum, it appears like a certain anarchary, a certain intoxication is spreading. In my understanding, the conception of beauty in true art in endowed with two characteristics –

1. Selection
2. Proportion

1. Not all things in the world are beautiful. Not all parts of a certain thing are beautiful. Here beauty means the quality that gives us a pleasant experience, in other words, that which generates happiness. We must therefore select this quality from a given thing.

2. In the various parts of a thing, in the rise and fall of a melody, in the different sections of a poem, there must be in balance; they must complement each other; they should match with one another. Nothing should be extreme. 

In this manner, 1. the appropriateness—aucitya —of expression of something, 2. the complementariness—anurūpatā—in the proportion of the parts. These two are the characteristics of a work of art. These are learnt from the rules and limitations of nature’s creation and from our practice over a long period of time.

There is a fundamental philosophy behind the appropriateness of parts and of proportion. That is, the minds of the people should not get disturbed upon seeing a beautiful work or something of great significance; a sight should evoke joy, not perversion – this is the essence. A supporting pillar to this philosophy is the attitude of shyness, of modesty.[3] This trait of demureness is quite natural to human beings. We can see this even in children. The Vedas have appreciated this quality –

hrīṣca te lakṣhmīṣca patnyau
[Dignity and Wealth are your consorts]

Hrī’ means shyness, bashfulness, dignity, modesty, and so forth. That is honour. That is staying away from self-praise. That is the abandonment of ego. That is the fear of erring in society. Hrī is a part of internal beauty; it is an important part of one’s greatness. This is the armour of art. Without this, a work of art becomes a source of distortion in society and becomes extremely crooked. Thus, the profession of an artist pre-supposed responsibility. Just as he needs freedom, he also requires to control. His creations should not go against the philosophy of ‘hrī.’

I remember an old saying I had seen somewhere –

aṅga-pratyaṅgakānāṃ yaḥ
sannivesho yathākramam

suśliṣṭaḥ sandhi-bandhaḥ syāt
tat saundaryam-udāhṛtam

[Rūpā-gosvāmi’s Ujvalanīlamaṇi 10.31]

[When all parts and joints are appropriately built
(they are fat, thin, etc. as per the part)
and such parts and joints are put together well,
that is what is called beauty!]


This is the second part of the twenty-fourth essay in D V Gundappa’s magnum-opus Jnapakachitrashaale – Vol. 2 – Kalopasakaru. Edited by Hari Ravikumar.



[1] Here, the author seems to use the term ‘jazz’ to indicate the popular music of the West; it might as well apply to rock music and other genres.

[2] What the author says in the original is that the upamāna (the reference for comparison) and upameya (the object that is compared with the reference) in a simile are chosen arbitrarily in modern poetry.

[3] The author basically refers to the natural sense of hesitation and shame that a human being has, and how in the name of modern art, boundaries of decency and morality must not be crossed.



Devanahalli Venkataramanayya Gundappa (1887-1975) was a great visionary and polymath. He was a journalist, poet, art connoisseur, philosopher, political analyst, institution builder, social commentator, social worker, and activist.



Shreesha is a software engineer with a passion for poetry, poetics, Indian philosophy, religion, and politics. He holds a master's degree in Kannada literature.

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