Comparative aesthetics in India has its roots in the postcolonial movement of the 1950s when comparing the aesthetic concepts and practices of different cultures seemed to resonate with the aspirations of a new nation and its cultural sovereignty. After a decade and a half, the euphoria was over, as the discourse around comparative aesthetics could not extricate itself from colonial notions of representations such as around naturalism and catharsis in art (K C Pandey, P J Chowdhury and Ramendra Kumar). In the wake of globalization, of decreasing distance between cultures and the gradual erosion of the nation state, world literature and world art studies are emerging as new areas of research and inquiry within which the discipline of comparative aesthetics has received a fresh impetus.
The conference on comparative aesthetics intends to reflect on this present constellation of disciplines in which comparative literature becomes exemplary in the way it reinvents itself along the lines of a possible hospitality as opposed to hostility between cultures (Gayatri Spivak, 2003). Today this notion may seem newly precarious and Samuel Huntington’s model of clashing civilizations an ominous possibility in our world threatened by violence, intolerance and religious fundamentalism. How does comparative aesthetics reshape its concerns and disciplinary thinking to become relevant in contemporary times? Taking a broad view of aesthetic concerns across disciplines, it explores comparativism in art history, aesthetics, literary studies, theatre and performance, cinema studies and invites participants to bridge the gap between aesthetics and politics and revisit the Indic aesthetics from the lens of politics of aesthetics and aesthetics of politics, bringing open the questions of class, caste, gender and religion. Does Indian aesthetics only signal Sanskrit aesthetics? Under what conditions of knowledge production is there a formation of a canon that is largely dominated by classical Sanskrit aesthetics in India? Is this domination relational when we posit a larger frame of inter-cultural comparative aesthetics between Western and Indian aesthetics? How do we problematize comparativism itself as a method when there prevails a vast asymmetry between the state of research in, say, Greek or Western aesthetics and Sanskrit aesthetics? Is it valid to talk about tribal aesthetics that lack textual formulation and can its aesthetic agency be deduced from practice?
Is there a place of Indo-Islamic aesthetics and can this be regarded as a site of a cultural translation between, as for example, classical Sanskrit aesthetic concepts like the nine rasas and the Deccani Sultanate sensibility (Adil Shah II’s Kitab-e-Navras) ? How indic is “Indian aesthetics” in medieval period that witnesses new forms of patronage where “Hindu” artists and craftsmen cater to a Deccani or a Mughal taste? Can comparative aesthetics be performed between the regional deśī and classical mārgī aesthetics and do they map on to the local and the cosmopolitan constituencies (Sheldon Pollock)? How does this intra-comparativism of deśī and mārgī differ from inter-comparativism, say, between Sanskrit and Greek aesthetic theories? Can comparativism be applied to praxis of imagination in Greek and Indian thought through a complex web of language and understanding of “the real” and “more than the real” respectively (David Shulman)?
The term ‘aesthetics’, first used by Baumergarten in his Meditationes (1735), is derived from Greek aesthetikos or aesthanomai, the root aesth signifying ‘perceiving’. Etymologically, therefore aesthetics is explained as ‘belonging to the appreciation of beautiful’ and ‘appreciation in accordance with the principles of good taste’. As for ‘aestheticism’, it is supposed to have started as a movement in Europe in the latter part of the 19th century with its roots going back to Germany where Kant (1790) proposed a theory that aesthetic contemplation is ‘disinterested’. In its disinterestedness it is appropriately indifferent to both reality and to utility of a beautiful object. Or is its claim of disinterestedness and autonomy complicit with modernism that disallows us from grasping the relationship between the rise of aesthetics as a discipline and the age of colonialism? After all, both the terms ‘aesthetics’ and ‘fetish’ were coined at the same time as almost two sides of the same coin in 1750s in Germany and France respectively. (William Pietz)
Indian theorization of aesthetics emerged from a different starting point. What goes under the name of aesthetics in the West is generally proposed in terms of saundarya-śāstra or rasa-śāstra in Indian studies on Poetics and Dramaturgy, with its canon understood mainly through composite formulations synthesized in it on beauty and taste, and their experience and delights which inform all arts— visual or performing. How does this take us into the problem of translation of terms that lack a one to one correspondence between English and Sanskrit? This question itself may be centrally germane to the pursuit of comparative aesthetics as the absence of adequate translation may work as a crucial conceptual pointer in theorizing cultural difference.
The canon of beauty and its essence and appreciation is embedded in dramaturgy with a continued theorization of its principles across the board from pre-Bharata times (Śilanin: 6th century BC, and others till Jagannātha of Rasagaṅgādhara fame, in the 17th-18th century), but Bharata Muni’s Nāṭyaśāstra is supposed to be its pervasive corpus (sangraha). If not a repository of all the consummate ideas on rasa and aesthetics, this integrated compendium on drama, music, dance—precisely, a treatise on representation—is regarded as the reference point in different works of Poetics and literary criticism including the diverse schools anchored around the discourses on rasa, dhvani, alamkāra, guņa, riti and vakrokti. Its conceptualization in terms of its dṛśya and śravya mode, its krīḍanīyakam purpose and its claim of universal validity in terms of bhāvānukīrtana or avasthānukīrtana, ‘representation’, of the ‘state of three worlds’ tend to invest it with unmatched legitimacy. In that configuration it claims a universal validity of the dramatic mode and serves as a representation of activities of man as well as of gods and demons: devānāmcāsurānāmca rajñāmathakuṭumbinām/kṛtanukaraṇamloke nāṭyametadbhaviṣyati (NS I.118 GOS Vol.I.p.42).
The Nāțyaśāstra integrates music, dance, drama, abhinaya, puruṣārtha, alaṃkāra, gestures, movements, action and what not in defining the techniques, action and enjoyment of delight relevant to dramatic mode. It theorizes on representations where, among other things, bhāva, ‘mental states of being’ with its myriad auxiliaries, their interrelation, and their ultimate fruition into rasa through ‘imitation’, are all reconciled within the temporality of a formal structure with a moral purpose. It is also a moral, normative tool in that it is ‘instructive.’ In what sense does the text touch upon the caste question when it presents itself as the fifth Veda? Is this question taken up further or repressed by the later commentators? No wonder, the formulations in the Nāṭyaśāstra of Bharata muni produced much churning in the commentators and commentaries (e.g., Bhaṭṭa Lollaṭa, Śankuka, Bhaṭṭa Nāyaka), and in the digests (Dhanaňjaya, Dhanika, Sāgarnandin, Rāmachandra and Guņachandra, Simhabhūpāla) written on the Nāṭyaśāstra. The aesthetic drive resonated patently and ceaselessly in the works on Poetics where a major departure from the erstwhile formulations surfaced in the dhvani theory of Poetics. In brief, in Anandavardhana the nāṭya connections merged with alamkāra strand within the concept of rasa and dhvani which defined dhvani as the essence of poetry. Its great proponents, besides him, were BhaṭṭaTauta and Abhinavagupta. Theorizations in the fields of rasa-dhvani-alamkāra (Rājaśekhara, Kuntaka, Mammaṭa, Hemacandra, Viśvanātha etc), and in the Style (guṇa-rīti) theory (e.g., Dandin and Vāmana) and Rhetoric (Vakrokti) theory (e.g., Bhāmaha, Udbhaṭa and Rudraṭa) followed suit.
From the viewpoint of politics of representation, the discourses in poetics, drama and visual arts can be revisited in terms of their aesthetic regimes, (Jacques Ranciere, 2004). What is the aesthetic regime of the Śilpaśāstras that define what may and may not be represented in art or what are the different iconometrical norms through which various social groups are represented in painting and sculpture? If the producers and consumers in case of the former came from a similar social background, in case of the latter two, class and caste divisions separated them. As for śilpaśāstra, with more references to artisanal practice rather than contemplative theorizations, the question of technique (preparation of colours, ground etc) took on prominence even if they gestured towards the question of visual representation and aesthetics via the usage of more discursive terms such as anukṛti, rūpa-pratirūpa, chhandas, lakṣaṇa, chhāyā.
However, the textual treatises also left space for ethical self fashioning, among others where ‘self acculturation (ātmānam sanskurute), consummate delight of ‘liberation’ (nirvāṇa or siddhi) and attainment of puruṣārthas are the explicitly moral objective of citra as it encompasses both the animate and in-animate in three worlds: trailokyam sacarācaram (App.233.18). How the normative “self” gets constituted in this context and what are its procedures of inclusion and exclusion along caste and gender coordinates? With the help of qualified analogies— with ideas embedded in śilpa texts and elaborated from other sources—a coherent corpus of aesthetics relevant to śilpa may advisably be reorganized from the fields of Dramaturgy (inclusive of dance, music, abhinaya, gestures, etc.) and Poetics. The conference will explore the categories of nāṭyadharmī and lokadharmī in terms of the “partition of the sensible” and its division between what belongs to the world and what belongs to drama/citra. It will also examine the relationship between social aesthetics and Sanskrit literary theory (Sheldon Pollock). The canon on śilpa, ‘plastic arts and paintings’, seems to selectively reiterate those formulations from their own perspectives, as a part of the wider syncretistic and consummately composite tradition of representation (R N Misra 2009). Encyclopedic scope of these texts is best exemplified by The Visṇudharmottara Purāṇa in the way it deals with linguistics, grammar, dance, citra, pratimā and vastu though, in its exclusivity, śilpa seems to significantly revolve round the denotative character of representations where the essence rests in the lakṣaṇa-lakṣya, ‘mimetic or referential’, relationship, sādṛśya, (‘synvisibility’, according to Coomaraswamy), and pramāṇa which seem to redefine the relevance of the concept of anukaraņa in pre-modern Indian art. (Dave-Mukherji, 2014). It may not incorporate a teleological art history that underpins the stories of Western art inaugurated by Giorgio Vasari (James Elkins, 2002) but in its place, it lays open a sensual apperception of the phenomenological world that is deeply grounded in the grammar and linguistics of art on the one hand, and in the inequality of the social world, on the other.
Proposed topics of sessions are:
A limited number of participants will be invited for the seminar. Those interested in participating should send an abstract (500-700 words) on any one of above mentioned proposed topic to following Email ID's:
 It is explained as a “branch of philosophy that deals with problems of value arising out of the existence of works of art as physical entities; it is concerned with the process and abilities involved in the creation, use and enjoyment of art and with the response of the beholder to the qualities inherent in works of art. To a large extent it deals with the recurrent patterns and the validity of standards of evaluation. The aesthetician seeks to establish categories of thought and systematic definitions in order to express particular points of view about the arts. He is interested in various complex interrelationships of all arts—music, literature, theatre, cinema, and the dance, as well as visual arts… in so far as they illuminate meaningful historical aspects of specific works. (An) aesthetician arranges and classifies his material and hypotheses according to the theories they illuminate…; (he) tries to learn the nature of art …to define such terms as “beauty”, “aesthetic value”, “truth” and “significance”. Cf., Eugine, Klienbauer W. (1971) Modern Perspectives in Western Art History, New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc., pp.2-3.
 Compare Bhamaha: natajjhānam na tat śilpaṃ na sāvidyā na sā kalā/jāyateyannakāvyāngam aho bhāro mahānkaveḥ.
A limited number of participants will be invited for the Seminar. Those interested in participating should send title and a synopsis (500-700 words) of the proposed paper along with their C.V. to:-
The last date of submission of title/synopsis of paper alongwith abstract is 11 September 2015. Invitation letters to all participants will be sent by 24 September 2015. It is the policy of the Institute to publish the proceedings of the seminars it organizes. Therefore, all invited participants will be expected to submit complete papers to the Academic Resource Officer, Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla – 171005 by 10 November 2015. IIAS, Shimla, will be glad to extend you its hospitality during the Seminar period and is willing to reimburse, if required, your rail or air travel expense from your place of current residence in India, or your port of arrival in India, and back.
Indian Institute of Advanced Study
Phone (0177) 2831376, 2832195
Like us on Facebook
Copyright © 2019, Indian Institute of Advanced Study
Drupalized by Rupinder Singh