GOD, RELIGION AND OTHER THINGS- PART 3
RELIGION AND ART
I have received some very thoughtful observations and views from my friends which I intend exploring to take me to the next level in my quest to understand the role of God and Religion in our lives. I reproduce a part of one of the comments, which I feel has a great significance on the way the human civilisation has evolved and for me in particular of great interest -
“In personal and social life the role of religion has been so profound that if you take it away, little will be left of what we call of our culture by way of food, festivals, music, poetry, art and implicit design which are religion suffused.”
Very true, what we are today can be traced back to the evolutionary process that we have undergone as a people over the centuries. History is the progress in the consciousness of freedom. The spirit of a people, says Hegel is its culture – language, religion, art, music, poetry, architecture, morality, philosophy, science and law, this is what unifies them into an organic totality. Religion has had a large part to play in the culture of a people.
Long ago I went to
Ajanta and Ellora and came face
to face with the magnificence of the sculptures and wall paintings over there.
At Ellora especially the monolith took my breath
away, I stood staring at it for a long time. When I came back I still carried
the images of all that I had seen, I did not have a camera then so I captured
what I saw in verses. I reproduce a few lines of what I wrote in my poem called
There I saw Lord Shiva’s dance,
I was drowned in divine trance,
And my head in veneration bow,
To the Lord who rules above.
I marvel at these men who mould,
Stones that speak of ages old,
All the fervour of their heart,
Has poured in through their supreme art.
This was a place where the confluence of three great religions, Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism took place by way of great art. When I speak of the fervour of the artist’s heart I speak of the religious fervour which they exhibited, without which it would not have been possible to bring life to these stones centuries afterwards. When I visit temples, I marvel at the architecture and sculptures, which are of Gods and depictions of the various manifestations and religious themes from the epics. It is not a question of whether I believe in God or not, but when I go inside these temples I am overcome by a sense of awe and reverence. The temples are scattered all over the countryside. The temples have been a sustaining factor in the life of the people for not only did they give them an identity and a place of solace, the temple was the centre point around which the economy of the village or town revolved and served to provide livelihood. This is where our classical dances, which still hold centre stage and represent the culture of our country, evolved. What about our classical music, bhajans, abhangs etc? I get carried away by Subbalakshmi’s bhajans or a Bhimsen Joshi’s abhangs. It is religion that has had a large part to play in the development of these arts and in all of them, God has been there in which ever form you conceive him. The foundations of our classical music of which we are so proud, has its foundations in religion. The bhakti bhav that percolated throughout the course of our history produced great composers who were also considered as saints, we can talk of a Meerabhai, Tulsidas, Kabir, Purandaradasa or the trinity of Carnatic music whose compositions have been purely religious, or the mystical quality of Sufi music. These continue to have great relevance even to this day. They were composed and sung with a fervour and a love to a divinity which they could visualise through their music.
One has to look at the magnificence of the paintings in the Italian section at the Louvre in
religious paintings depicting episodes from the bible and the religious wars,
or the sheer transcendent quality of Michelangelo’s sculptures at the and his
paintings on the ceilings of St. Peter’s cathedral to realize the religious
fervour with which these artists created their works of art. One can recall the
film ‘The Agony and the Ecstasy’ based on the book of the same name by Irving
stone depicting the life of Michelangelo’s life and the important part played
by the church in the creation of his masterpieces. Vatican
The relation between art and religion dates back to as early as the
Indus Valley and Harappan civilization, in . Herbert
Read in his book ‘The Meaning of Art’ writes “The relation between art and
religion is one of the most difficult questions that we have to face. We look
back into the past and see art and religion emerging hand in hand from the dim
recesses of pre history. For many centuries they seem to be indissolubly linked
and then, in India Europe, about five hundred years
ago, the first signs of a definite breach, appears”. Art then slowly moved to a
more individualistic representation with the artist aiming to express nothing
beyond his own personality. Read
continues to say “The answer to the question whether great art can exist
independently of religion will therefore depend on our scale of values. The
artist to achieve greatness must in someway appeal to a community-feeling.
Hitherto the highest form of community feeling has been religious: it is for
those who deny the necessary connection between religion and art to discover
some equivalent form of community-feeling which will, in the long run, ensure
an historic continuity for the art that is not religious.”
Religion played its part during the Medieval period and till the Renaissance when the patrons were the Church or the ruling aristocracy who commissioned the building of magnificent Gothic cathedrals. Similar is the case elsewhere with all religions. In
the rajas of the Hindu
dynasties built magnificent temples while the Muslim rulers built mosques and
similarly with the Buddhist and Jains. India
When we trace the history of art from the primitive stage to what we call the most civilized achievement in Classical or Gothic art or from the cave paintings to the magnificent temples and sculptures of the Indian civilization we marvel at the evolution of the human mind. Herbert Read says that this depends on “the parallel evolution of man’s emotional attitude towards the universe – the evolution from magic and animism to religion”.
All the great civilizations whether it is the Greek, Egyptian, Indian and Chinese they all have had their Gods and more importantly religion which sustained their growth and held them together. After all, religion has been defined as an organized collection of beliefs, cultural systems and world views that relate humanity to the supernatural, and to spirituality.
As per Herbert Read, the first breach between art and religion started towards the end of the European Renaissance. In fact the modern era started sometime towards the end of the sixteenth century with the Reformation movement and the dilution of the hold of the church in
Europe. Even this breach can be felt in Indian art. From
a patronage given by the church to art when religious themes were the order of
the day, art moved slowly into being patronised by the royalty and ultimately
it came down to the individual artist who saw nothing beyond his own perception
and understanding of the world around him.
Though much more can be said about the role of religion in music and art, I reserve this for a subsequent posting. But here again I would like to end this posting, again quoting from Herbert Read “Even where great artists have created their masterpieces in apparent isolation from any religious faith, the more closely we look into their lives the more likely we are to discover the presence of what we can only call religious sensibility. The life of Van Gogh is a case in point.”