‘Rasa’ can be explained as the emotional state of mind, and has formed an important aspect of Indian aesthetic understanding for centuries. The Navarasa, a confluence of nine emotions or rasas, has often been depicted in indigenous contemporary practices over the years. Emotions are, ultimately, deeply subjective and complex human characteristics that shift and change.
The concept of the Navarasa originates from the treatise of Bharata Muni, the Natyashastra, wherein the chapters detail the aesthetically determined practice of diverse arts recognised as part of drama, containing within it dance, music and poetics, along with general directions of form and expression.
Being deeply embedded in narrative styles of visual depiction, Navarasa lend themselves to sculptural panels, mural paintings or performative pata chitras. There are several salient and ancient histories of sacred and secular storytelling that reflect almost every aspect of human life through the nine emotions: Shringara (love/beauty), Hasya (laughter/mirth), Karuna (sorrow/empathy), Raudra (anger), Veera (heroism/courage), Bhayanaka (terror/fear), Bibhatsya (disgust), Adbutha (surprise/wonder) and Shantha (peace or tranquillity); and all the interconnecting states of feeling.
It is this range of emotions which is showcased in the exhibition, Enduring Legacy– Navarasa in indigenous contemporary practices presented by Artspeaks India Heritage and curated by Lina Vincent. Artspeaks India continues its commitment towards cultural expression, and reiterates the importance of streams of artistic practice that do not fall within the mainstream.
The curatorial standpoint as conceptualised by Curator Lina Vincent arises from an investigation into the practices of selected artists, whose oeuvres showcase both a technical expertise and ability to visualise and communicate vast amounts of ancestral knowledge through distinct styles. While they are deeply embedded in regional histories; each of them is also making an attempt to step outside the established framework of that history, either technically, aesthetically, formally and/or conceptually, allowing them to respond to these curatorial conversations and present fresh views of existing themes and formats. The framework of the show also identifies with the current times; the experience of the past two years of the pandemic and what it has taught one about life experiences, human relationships and emotions, across all layers of society.
The artists brought together for this show come from various vernacular traditions and lineages of artistic practice. While some of them have chosen to elaborate on pre-existing expressions of recognised narratives, whether mythological, or historical, others have provided altered perceptions and experimental responses to the themes from personalised experiences. Each visual language explores the rasas in different ways, creating numerous journeys into both – the artists’ imaginary worlds and the tactility of the practice. So closely connected are the expressions, that sometimes the emotional response for a viewer might be multi-layered – it is possible to feel happy but cry at the same time; it is plausible to feel disgust and empathy at hearing a particular story. Love spars with hate in the heart, and courage arises from fear. These many variations of experience and response become visible as the artists interpretations come together.
Each Rasa has been represented with selected artworks which combine the creations of different artists, balancing and contrasting the essence of the emotion and its depiction. For instance, Venkat Shyam’s intensely articulated narrative of the tiger in the forest pairs with Naresh Bhoye’s beautiful rendering of the Warli Tarpa dance, to share the emotion of ‘Adbhut’ or wonder. ‘Shrungar Rasa’ finds its expression through the work of miniaturist Chirag Kumavat along with Gopi Chevayur’s ode to love, both working beyond the regular frameworks of their style. Dulari Devi’s magnificent Durga figure, and Mahesh Bhatt’s photo document of a Yakshagana figure represent ‘Raudra’ rasa. ‘Veera rasa’ comes together with Janardhana Havanje’s graceful yet powerful Veera Ganapati, and Kalayan Joshi’s heroic narrative piece.
Dilip Bahotha’s ode to birds, and Suresh Muthukulam’s finely constructed piece that depicts ardhanareshwara -or the balance of Shanta and Veera, come together in the depiction of ‘Shanta rasa’. The empathetic love of parents for a child resonantly portrayed by Saroj Venkat Shyam and Pratik Prabhakar, speak of ‘Karunyam’. Shaji Jaleel’s portrait of a Kathakali dancer portrays the essence of ‘Bhayanaka rasa’ along with another evocative piece by Janardhana Havanje. ‘Bibhatsa rasa’ finds visualisation in Shaji Jaleel’s portraiture and a social narrative by Bahadur Chitrakar. Gopi Chevayur presents a combination of the navarasa, in combination with Kalam Patua’s depiction of mirth for ‘Hasya rasa’.
As the art comes together, it is meaningful to see the similarities and differences that are revealed in the depiction of the same rasa by a different artist as well as a variation in the contextualisation.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Ashwini Pai Bahadur is an editorial consultant for arts, culture and heritage publications. As an independent fine arts strategic advisor and purveyor she specialises in arts procurement for individuals and institutions with special focus on building collections.
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