by Sri Ajit Halder
’Beauty lies in the eye of the beholder’, so said Plato many centuries ago. Ever since that remark was made, many distinguished commentators have been making wise utterances through the ages on the subject of beauty. John Keats said: ‘A thing of beauty is a joy for ever; its loveliness increases, it will never pass into nothingness… ‘. Keats words extend the idea of beauty beyond the physical manifestation; it touches the innermost corners of our hearts.
In ’Ode on a Grecian Urn’ Keats wrote ‘Beauty is Truth, Truth Beauty - that is all ye know on earth, that is all ye need to know’. Truth is eternal, and this profound saying of Keats adds an element of timelessness to Beauty that is supposed to give us perennial pleasure. What is important to note is that Beauty being an attribute of a person, an object or of a thing links the observer’s senses - visual and hearing in particular - to the object he/she is casting a look at or listening to. Nature offers a host of beautiful sights: a blue sky with white clouds floating under the blue canopy is beautiful and brings in a sense of vastness. Colourful flowers, the grasshopper hiding behind the blades of green grass, and sweet music made by chirping birds - no doubt these are beautiful sights and pleasant sounds that bring joy to our hearts. Then one admires a beautiful smiling face of a baby or the bashful pretty face of a young girl.
Beauty is an abstract concept; for ease of understanding, it may be described as an attribute of a person or an object of the world around us. In the worldly sense, the objects to which the adjective ‘beautiful’ is applied include humans, living beings, plants, sights, sounds, paintings, sculptures, literary works and events. A person can gain the pleasure of viewing beautiful sights and enjoy the nice feeling of listening to a melodious song.
As has already been mentioned: ‘Beauty is an abstract concept’; in order to ‘focus on the idea of beauty’, the best we can do in this article is to mention a range of beautiful objects. We start by providing examples of paintings.
Looking at a famous painting provides glowing visual experience, and food for the mind and soul. So we view paintings for the illumination of our minds with noble thoughts. There are many varieties of Indian painting; all deserve a careful introspection. I will discuss the much admired Mughal and Kangra paintings before mentioning some modern Indian painters.
Mughal paintings are eye catching miniatures exhibiting a blend of Indian and Persian arts, developed with the patronage of the Mughal Emperors. Themes from the Mahabharata and Indian landscapes were depicted in many Mughal paintings. The Mughals considered golden colours to be the symbols of prosperity - hence, a variety of colourful shades began to be used increasingly in Mughal painting which reached its climax of glory during the reign of Jahangir. Some of the finest Mughal paintings are to be found in the illustrations of ‘Akbarnama’.
Kangra paintings (collectively called Pahari paintings) flourished between the 17th and 19th centuries. These are an extensive range of delicate and beautifully detailed paintings, patronized by Rajput rulers who had fine sensibility and good taste. The Kangra school became widely popular with the advent of Jayadev's ‘Gita Govinda’ of which many extant manuscripts feature exquisite Kangra illustrations. Kangra paintingswere influenced by the Bhagavad Purana. Artists were commissioned to paint subjects based on the loves and life of Lord Krishna.
The world famous fresco paintings of Ajanta and Ellora caves must receive our accolade because of the beauty, serenity and religious connections they display.
Coming to the modern age, I first quote the name of the celebrated Indian painter Ravi Varma who is considered among the greatest painters in the history of Indian art. His works are held to be among the best examples of the fusion of European techniques with a purely Indian sensibility. One picture of Ravi Varma I saw hung in the foyer of the High Commission of India’s London office.
At Tagore’s Santiniketan, the famous artist Nandalal Bose was the head of the art school named Kalabhavan, literally meaning the home of creative arts. Kalabhavan produced many of the greatest artists of Bengal including Jamini Roy.
I have visited art galleries in some cities and here I narrate my admiration of the paintings I have seen. Appreciation of the beauty of those paintings has been a tremendous experience. True, I have not been able to enjoy the beauty of the many pictures hung in galleries I have not visited; however I have viewed many famous paintings online, and have felt as being virtually present in front of these paintings as I saw them on the computer screen.
Europe can justly boast of many distinguished artists, and their paintings are widely praised. Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa in the Louvre, Paris is one painting that has attracted viewers over several centuries. What did strike me as a mesmerized observer with my vision fixed on Mona Lisa was her bewitching, seductive smile. I saw in the Louvre other visitors clicking their cameras to take the picture of Mona Lisa home and enjoy the beauty of it sitting comfortably in the lounge.
Michelangelo's ceiling paintings in the Sistine Chapel of the Vatican in Rome are widely recognized as beautiful works of art. I was told the artist had to paint the ceiling lying down on his back, a very uncomfortable body position made by laying on a platform erected just below the ceiling. The artist’s discomfort was much worse than my aching neck leaning backwards to scan the ceiling frescos of the Sistine Chapel
I admired the artistic beauty of the Night Watch by Rembrandt displayed in subdued light at the Amsterdam gallery. The dimming of the room light was done purposely to create partial darkness of a night scene in the room.
Dürer of Germany painted The Four Apostles on larger-than-life-sized panels displayed in the Munich art gallery. As I was entering the gallery, the huge panels at the rear of the entrance hall depicting The Four Apostles burst upon my view. I was overwhelmed by the portraits of the four disciples of Jesus, radiant with Biblical flavour, which added to my enjoyment of the paintings.
Picasso is regarded as one of the most influential artists of the 20th century. I saw his many paintings, figure studies and sketches displayed in the Picasso museum at Barcelona.
What makes a painting beautiful is a complicated concept, since beauty is subjective. However, there is a basic human instinct that seeks for harmony, balance, and rhythm which contributes to the concept of beauty. These elements also help towards making pieces of sculpture attractive.
Sculptures appeal to the eyes because they feature either human figures or resemble real life objects in their normal form.
I wish to begin with the true to life metal bust of the poet Rabindranath Tagore sculpted by Jacob Epstein. I admired this piece of sculptural beauty displayed in the regional art gallery in Manchester.
I once visited the art gallery in Florence, Italy and stood in amazement before Michelangelo’s magnificent statue of David. A scholarly young lady was our guide; she drew the attention of the members in our group to the details of balance, pose and the graceful proportion of the handsome statue of David. What added to my delight was her comment that Michelangelo did not actually sculpt the statue, he discovered David in a block of marble. I thought that the observation of our guide was tinged with imagery and it was a lovely interpretation of the creativity and artistic skill of the famous sculptor. This comment of our guide also indicates that while a person’s eye is looking at a beautiful work of art, his/her mind’s eye is set to work as well; interpreting the work and expressing the thought in an attractive verbal outpouring (as had been the case with our guide). More on this will be discussed later on in a paragraph headed by Beautiful Narratives.
The Thinker, a bronze sculpture by Rodin, shows a larger than life-size male figure sitting on a pedestal rock with his chin resting on one hand as though deep in thought.
Years ago as I stood facing the marble façade of the Taj Mahal, I remembered that Emperor Shah Jehan erected this mausoleum to perpetuate his love for his wife Mumtaj. While I was looking at those marbles, I felt I was seeing the tears of Shah Jehan (shed for his departed wife) become frozen forever to look like pearly marbles.
I should mention the Little Mermaid resting on a rock at the Copenhagen harbour. Tourists flock to enjoy the charming beauty of the Mermaid. Several statues that help to make cities attractive to visitors include: Manneken Pis in Brussels, the Statue of Liberty in New York and Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro.
Indian classical music is rich in melody and full of tonal varieties. Also we relish listening to Bhajans, Thumri, Gazals, Rabindra Sangeet (songs composed by Rabindranath), Najrul Geeti, Folk songs, not to forget Indian film songs which are immensely popular with the masses. In the field of Western Music, there would be millions who enjoy listening to Beethoven’s symphonies and Mozart’s famous mass recital ‘Requiem’.
Many admirers continue to muse after seeing a work of art and give vent to their appreciation in delightful prose writing that has enriched the literature on artworks. Writers and thinkers have been inspired by the idea of Beauty and have composed stunning paragraphs. Here I quote a selection of those captivating lines.
Marcus Aurelius said: “Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them”. Goethe commented: “A man should hear a little music, read a little poetry, and see a fine picture every day of his life, in order that worldly cares may not obliterate the sense of the beautiful which God has implanted in the human soul”. Kahlil Gibran quips: “Beauty is eternity gazing at itself in a mirror. But you are eternity and you are the mirror.”
We adore beautiful prose writing that reads like poetry. Additionally, if the message conveyed through the piece of writing is spiritually uplifting, then that writing is worth reading. Mention may be made of the unique literary style of the writings and the sayings of Sri Sri Babathakur. The vast literature of Sri Sri Babathakur is strewn with puns and phrases with contradictory but meaningful and thought provoking expressions. We quote here a selection of inspirational statements taken from his famous texts.
In the chapter Pancamukhi Tattva (five different viewpoints) from his book ‘Sanai Tattva’, we find that item 3 shows punning of words: SANAI means ‘SHUN I (I is Ego)’, i.e. the advice is ‘Reject Ego’. In his discourse on the Science of Oneness, Sri Sri Babathakur had urged us to live in ‘Sama Sara’ instead of ‘Samsara’ (note the ‘pun’) to attain that Oneness which is our True nature. ‘Samsara’ consists of many-ness and differentiation leading to rivalry and competition that result in unhappiness of the mind. On the other hand, if we live in ‘SamaSara’ – it will become clear to us that we all are ‘Sama’- the equals, all being the manifestations of the same Atman. I quote another saying of Sri Sri Babathakur: ‘Not wanting anything is the Supreme wanting, Not knowing anything is the Supreme knowing, Not becoming anything is the Supreme becoming’.
These statements, if read casually, may appear to be a little bizarre – but if we analyse these in the light of ‘Science of Oneness’, the veil of confusion will fade away and we will realize our Absolute nature, our Oneness with the Supreme. This is like attaining the state of Absoluteness and there is no second entity – so one cannot want anything else, know anything else or become anything else.
The examples quoted above indicate that these wise utterances contain contrasting phrases but they make such absorbing reading that the reader’s mind starts reflecting on them with a view to discover their hidden meaning. With a little contemplation, the significance of the message will become clear to a reader.
Beauty is associated with objects, artefacts and musical sound that please the mind, bring joy to the heart and make us feel happy. In this article, I’ve endeavoured to provide for the reader, an array of beautiful items created by human ingenuity and craftsmanship. This was done in order to offer a choice to the reader to select the type of object(s) he/she would like to view in order to enjoy the beauty of the chosen item.
Beauty is not just a visual experience; it is a characteristic that provides a perceptual experience to one who must allow time to look at beautiful objects. Confucius so aptly said: “Everything has its beauty but not everyone (devotes the time and) sees it”.