Friday, July 23, 2021

Ananda Tandava Of Nataraja - 15

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The Interpretation of Coomaraswamy (Continued)

Against the modern scourge of dividing life into water-tight compartments, the rishi-artists embraced a holistic vision, grasping and representing the fundamental rhythms of life. 'No artist of today, however great,' says Coomaraswamy, 'could more exactly or more wisely create an image of that Energy which science must postulate behind all phenomena.'  (ibid., p.94).  We must remember here that Coomaraswamy was primarily trained in science (he was a D.Sc. in Geology), and it is only out of his own predilection towards perceiving deeper meanings of things that he examined works of art, all on his own. Coomaraswamy's ability to reconcile Time and Eternity, and the alternations of phase extending over vast regions of space and great tracts of time, reveal his imposing blend of scientific thinking and artistic imagination. Alluding to the theme of cyclicity embodied in the sculpture, he succinctly remarks: 'This is poetry; but none the less, science.' (ibid., p.95.)

Returning to the Naṭarāja theme in his History of Indian and Indonesian Art, Coomaraswamy adds (nearly ten years later): 'the movement of the dancing figure is so admirably balanced that while it fills all space, it seems nevertheless to be at rest - in the sense that a spinning top or a gyrostat is at rest; thus realising the unity and simultaneity of the Five Activities.' (A. Coomaraswamy, History of Indian and Indonesian Art, New York: Dover Publications, 1927, p.12).

It could be recalled in anticipation that the same analogy - of the spinning top (called buguri in Kannada) - was provided  by Sri Ranga Mahaguru also, utterly independent of Coomaraswamy's interpretation.

           On the whole, Coomaraswamy's interpretation of the Naṭarāja image—profoundly influential on a good deal of later thinking on Indian art in general, and on Naṭarāja in particular—essentially concerns the cosmic scales of time and space, and the notions of matter and energy that scientists of his time were preoccupied with -  and indeed still are.