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A spectacular blend of creativity and aesthetics...

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 Art and Culture

 A spectacular blend of creativity and aesthetics 

Rangoli, also known as alpana or kolam is a traditional household decoration art. Made of a powder of rice flour, lime and other vegetable dyes, it is used mainly by the women of the house to draw ritualised and intricate designs either m the household courtyard or around deities during religious festivals. One doesn't need formal training in rangoli art, and it is drawn mainly with fingers, which impart to floral motifs a unique distinction every time.

Rangoli is a perfect example of the place, art has in Indian life and culture. It shows the creative expression that is a part of the Indian persona. Whether religious ritual or serving food, a measure of creativity and aesthetics is omnipresent.

The sub-continent has enjoyed a virtually uninterrupted history of developments in the realm of art and architecture and many classical art forms are rooted in a folk or tribal base and connected to religion, not only in its mystical aspects but even the secular. From their folk base, Indian art, architecture and culture evolved into classical forms, and reached their zenith during the Gupta empire.

Buddhist art flourished during the Gupta period, which has often been described as a golden age. As in all periods, there is little difference in the images of the major Indian religions Buddhist, Hindu, and Jam-though from simplified structures, art also took on ornamental details.

The Ajanta caves, built around 650 AD, contain beautifully crafted Buddhist frescoes. The Kailash temple at Ellora consists of a huge courtyard 81 m long, 47 m wide and 33 m high at the back, with the main structure rising up in the centre. The temple itself is an engineering feat in itself, carved out of a single monolithic rock.
Under the Kushans, conquerors from central Asia, two of India's most important artistic styles were developed between the 2nd and 5th centuries AD: Gandhara art and Mathura art. Gandhara art presents some of the earliest images of the Buddha, profoundly influenced by 2nd century Hellenistic art and was itself highly influential in central and eastern Asia. (In fact, the famous Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan were striking examples of Gandhara art). Stupas and monasteries were adorned with relief friezes, showing figures in classical poses with flowing Hellenistic draperies.

Around the 11th to 13th centuries, the Dilwara Jain temples on Mount Abu exhibited filigree carvings in marble as to appear almost transparent. Although there were innumerable hill-top forts constructed by the Rajputs, it wasn't until later that these rulers learnt to build enormous palaces within these forts and evolved techniques of insulating them from the heat, and palace architects found ways of ensuring optimal ventilation and exposure to light. Most of these palaces were richly decorated and provide tremendous insight into the artistic and decorative choices that were favoured by the royalty.

A distinctive feature of the Rajput forts was the fanciful use of colour, mirror-work, mother-of-pearl and gilt in the decoration of their fortress-like palaces. Although not remarkable in architectural terms, the Jharokhas and Aangans, and richly decorated gateways make these palaces unique and interesting. Indian art has been strongly influenced by the rich tradition of rational and spiritual philosophy that informed Indian thought. Stupas and temples incorporated a symbolic language based on visual representations of important philosophical concepts, like the Chakra - the revolving wheel of time; the Padma - or the lotus embodying creation; Ananta symbolizing water, the life-giving force; Swastika - representing the four-fold aspects of creation and motion; Kalpavriksha - the wish-fulfilling tree that symbolizes imagination; Mriga - or deer symbolic of erotic desire and beauty; and lingam and yoni- the male and female fertility symbols.
Therefore, Indian temples and stupas were also cultural centres, which explains the numerous images of everyday life. After the 10th century, erotic themes begin to make their mark. Sensuality and sexual interaction is displayed in the temples of Khajuraho, Konarak and Bhubaneshwar and in the Kakathiya temples of Palampet. These depicted that, in that particular period of Indian history, there was complete compatibility between human sexuality and human spirituality.

Hindu temple architecture exhibits masterpieces of sculptural decoration. The famous shore temples of Mahabalipuram and Kanchipuram near Chennai built by the Pallavas are examples of such decoration, though the Cholas of Thanjavur took it further with the magnificent Brihadeshwara temple. Bengal has been the home of several great civilizations. The temples in Bankura and Burdwan, with their terracotta reliefs adorning the entire brick surface, serve as lavish decoration but also a realistic depiction of rural Bengal life through the ages, all the way up to the British empire.

Islamic influence on Indian architecture was seen after the 11th century with the Turkish and Afghan invasions Qutb-ud-din Aibak, founder of the so-called slave dynasty built the first mosque in Delhi as well as the Qutub Minar. The Mughal emperor Akbar welded Hindu and Islamic styles of architecture in his city Fatehpur Sikri, while his grandson, Shah Jahan distinguished himself by building the magnificent ode to love, the Taj Mahal.
When the British conquered India, the Victorian Gothic style gained currency (though some Art Deco buildings were notable) which was used in public buildings in Mumbai, Chennai and Calcutta. In the early decades of the 20th century, Edwin Lutyens designed New Delhi in the neo-classical style. Modern Indian architecture has come into its own, first with the designing of the city of Chandigarh by Le Corbusier. Other notable architects now are Charles Correa, Balkrishna Doshi and Laurie Baker, who have been innovating with both material and design.
Painting
Painting in India has a very old tradition, with ancient texts outlining theories of colour and aesthetics and anecdotal accounts suggesting that it was not uncommon for households to paint their doorways or facades or even indoor rooms where guests were received. Cave paintings from Ajanta, Bagh and Sittanvasal and temple paintings testify to a love of naturalism-both in the depiction of the human form and in the depiction of nature. The most famous surviving Buddhist paintings are from the caves at Ajanta. In Ajanta, we also see the emergence of a style that appears agam and agam — the ability to draw abstractions from nature in a manner that is both aesthetically pleasing and very effective as a decorative embellishment Illustrations on palm-leaf manuscripts of Jain and Buddhist texts in Gujarat around the 12th century have strong resonances with folk paintings.

These also influence the famous Indian miniature paintings. Many of the finest Indian miniatures were based on Ragmalas - i.e. moods associated with different musical ragas. Here the emphasis was on conveying a particular sentiment or mood, or atmosphere. Through the bold use of colour, abstract touches, and deliberate flattening of three-dimensional textures, the artist succeeded in bringing out certain hidden nuances that simply would not be possible any other way.

One can appreciate the earnest lyricism of the Orissa palm-leaf miniatures, the decorous elan of the Bundelkhand wall paintings, the bold and dark colours of Lepakshi, and the vivacious renditions in the palaces and temples of Madurai, Thanjavur and Ramanathapuram. In all these varied traditions of Indian painting, an important element that infused Indian painting with charm and vivacity was the folk idiom that found its way in the art of the regional kingdoms.

The fusion of Persian and Mughal arts with Indian created a wholly distinctive art form in the 15th-16th centuries resulting in hybrid schools like the Pahari, Rajasthan and Deccan schools of painting. The British imported western classical art, which Indian painters like Raja Ravi Varma adapted to Indian religious themes Indian artists adapted Western techniques and produced gouache paintings to suit the tastes of European buyers. While the paintings of the late 19th and early 20th centuries were pervaded by a decidedly nationalist sentiment, contemporary Indian art is now a part of the international movement.
Music and Dance
Classical Indian music too has folk origins. The heart of all Indian classical music is the 'raga', a Sanskrit term, and each raga has a distinctive colour and mood Most ragas today are highly refined and grammatised codifications of tribal and folk melodies. Each raga has its own ethos, to be sung at a particular time of day, season and invokes a specific mood. The greatness of Indian music lies in the freedom given to each singer, because beyond set parameters the musician is free to innovate. This has also created the various 'gharanas' of music. There are two major traditions of Indian classical music — Hindustani (north Indian) and Carnatic (south Indian). Though both are based on the same fundamental concept, there are differences in tones, etc. The sitar is the most famous Indian musical instrument, but there are a host of others including the veena, sarod, santoor, shehnai, flute, all accompanied by percussion instruments like the tabla, pakhawaj, mridangam and ghatam. All have evolved from simple folk instruments made from reeds, bamboo and gourds.

Music and dance before the birth of classical dance forms revolved around the activities of rural and tribal people. Rural communities even today celebrate the rhythms of daily and seasonal life with dances and music, which have great similarities to each other. While in the Himalayan belt men and women hold each other and sway gracefully, in Punjab, dancing is more vigorous, called the Bhangra (performed by men) and Giddha (performed by women.) In Rajasthan, women with covered faces, whirl round and round in the Ghoomar while their counterparts in Gujarat perform the Garba.

There are many existing forms of dance drama or folk theatre such as Nautanki in Rajasthan, UP and Bihar, Bhavai of Gujarat, Tamasha in Maharashtra, Jatra in Bengal, Yakshagana m Karnataka and Theyyam in Kerala. Martial art forms have been stylized to quasi dance forms in the northeast, Lazin dances of Maharashtra, Kalaripayattu of Kerala and Chhau of Orissa. Classical dances in India too have their own variety. There are six major classical dance styles in India — Bharatanatyam from Tamil Nadu, Odissi from Orissa, Katbak from Uttar Pradesh, Manipuri from Manipur, Kathakali and Mohini-attam from Kerala and Kuchipudi from Andhra Pradesh. They all adhere to the canons of classical dance as laid down in Natya Shastra, written by sage Bharata in the second century BC. Over the centuries, a complex repertoire of hand movements, rhythms, facial gestures and body movements have been developed to convey subtle meanings.
Handicrafts
Fabric weaving and printing in India is regarded as an art form by itself. From the fabled gossamer muslins of Bengal to thick, earthy tribal shawls, shimmering silk embroidered with gold thread to simple cottons with block prints, jamavars to mirror-work, Indian textiles are a treasure trove. As an example, zari is the fine glittery thread of gold or silver and the embroidery made using them. The stitches are extremely fine and are worked with dexterity and skill, with the embroidery starting from the centre and proceeding to the outer edges in a circular fashion. Zari designs are used for table linens and also for making articles of personal wear.
The famous pashmina shawls of Kashmir are made of the finest wool and have a luxuriant silky texture. Indian shawls depend on embroidery or on weaving for their ornamentation. The Kashmiri embroiderer takes great pride in embroidering shawls which have a pattern identical on both sides. The motifs used for embroidery or weaving in shawls follow Indian traditions, and include the motifs of an elephant, mango, lotus and others.
Cinema
Motion pictures came to India in 1896, when the Lumiere Brothers' Cinematographe unveiled six soundless short films in Mumbai). India's first feature film—Raja Harishchandra—was released in 1913. It was made by Dhundiraj Govind Phalke, popularly known as Dadasaheb Phalke (1817-1944). This was a silent movie. By 1920, film making had taken the shape of an industry.

The first talkie made in India was Alam Ara (produced by Imperial Film Company) released in 1931. Until the 1960s, film-making companies, many of whom owned studios, dominated the film industry. Artistes and technicians were either their employees or were contracted on long-term basis. Since the 1960s, however, most performers went the freelance way, resulting in the huge escalations in film production costs. India today has the world's biggest movie industry in terms of the number of movies produced (around 800 movies annually), mostly in the Hindi language, besides Tamil, Telugu, Bengali and Malayalam languages.
A shift from popular to creative cinema came after Independence, as social realities and injustices were highlighted. But this gave way in the 70s to chocolate box films with tired, repetitive content and lots of music and dance. This also saw the genesis of the blockbuster and the growth of superstars like Amitabh Bachchan and Rajesh Khanna. In reaction, a parallel cinema movement grew and was very successful.

Satyajit Ray made movies like Father Panchali, and he was the first Indian to have won the Palm D'Or in Cannes and an Oscar award for lifetime achievement. Today, the technology of film-making m India is perhaps the best among all developing countries.

However, the popular culture purveyed through films has a strong influence on Indian people. It is also one of India's enduring exports to countries throughout Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Since films are almost wholly centred around songs, a whole new genre of popular film music now dominates the popular music scene.


 

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