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Books > Language and Literature > Saundarya: The Perception and Practice of Beauty in India
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Saundarya: The Perception and Practice of Beauty in India
Saundarya: The Perception and Practice of Beauty in India
Description
Foreword

The inaugural issue of Evam: Forum on Indian Representations had a triple launch in three continents between July and October 2002. On the opening day of the Infinity Foundation-Columbia University Colloquium on "Completing the Global Renaissance: The Indic Contribution" (24-29 July 2002) at the Menla Centre in the Catskill mountains, upstate New York, Tenzin Robert A.F,. Thurman released the first issue in North America. A large number of eminent India-scholars from different parts of the world received copies. The European launch took place in Saarbruken, Germany, as a part of another international conference on "Peripheral Centres, Central Peripheries: Anglophone India and Its Diaspora" organized by Martina Ghosh-Schellhorn of the Universitat des Saarlandes. Kiran Nagarkar, one of our Contributing Editors, introduced the journal and presented a copy to Girish Karnad, internationally acclaimed playwright and Director of the Nehru Centre, London. Ironically, the Indian launch, owing to various reasons, was delayed to October. But that proved to be providential because Dr. Lokesh Chandra, one of India's greatest living scholars, did the honours on the 8th of October at the India International Centre. Lokesh Chandra-ji was kind enough to offer a number of pertinent and encouraging remarks on the first issue.

With our modest print run of 500, was find that we have few copies of the inaugural issue left. It is not that the market response has been spectacular or that we have been flooded with subscription offers. Rather, we have tried to reach the journal to a number of India-related scholars and intellectuals all over the world, either gratis or for a modest payment. We believe that we have a quality product and, given time, there will be a substantial support for it. However, sales in bookshops have been rather disappointing and the much-needed subscriptions are yet to materialize in numbers that would make a difference. We hope that each person who reads this will help us in whatever way he or she deems fit.

It is hard to believe that this is the second issue of Evam. It seems as if we finished working on the inaugural volume just yesterday. The journal is also two years old as both these issues are double numbers. While it has been an exhilarating experience to work on the two issues, the labour has been severe, almost daunting. Though all those who believe in the project, especially the Contributing Editors of the journal. Have pitched in, the actual work of soliciting, reading, selecting, copy-editing and then of typesetting, proof-reading, designing, and finally producing the journal, has devolved upon a very small group of us. I must thank them for their patience and commitment, especially those who choose to remain unnamed. Above all, I would like to thank Rajiv Malhotra of the Infinity Foundation, without whose encouragement and support we would never have been able to realize our dream. Evam remains the only journal of its kind in the world which attempts to understand the cultural and intellectual traditions of India from a variety of linguistic, regional, international and disciplinary perspectives.

In the meditation on the meaning and sources of the world evam in the Foreword to the last issue, I forgot to mention how in many Assamese, and Hindi too, the primary meaning of evam is "and." Such a connotation is not available in Sanskrit (or even in a modern Indian language such as Marathi). So it would be interesting to find out where this originates from. We would, in fact, be happy to receive short essays on the word evam and its various meanings and associations. Right now, I'm happy that one of them is "and," suggesting an endless plurality and multiplicity, so characteristic of India which is the subject of the journal.

II

If the market response to the first issues has been muted, the reader response has been generally enthusiastic. Most readers have appreciated the contents and the quality of the production. Among the many responses, there is one I shall especially cherish. It is the brief letter of 29 October, 2002, from Swami Ranganathananda-ji. It may, at first, seem difficult to understand why this letter means s much to me. I can only say that through it I feel connected to the inspiring and uplifting narrative not just of the Ramakrishna Mission itself, but to the lives and thought of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, the Holy Mother, and Swami Vivekananda. But firs letter, which is reproduced below:

Signed in his own hand, this brief encomium brings to mind my own contact with Swami Ranganathananda-ji.

The present President of the Ramakrishna Math, Swami Ranganathananda, is particularly dear to lakhs of Indians and to people all over the world. Swamiji, who is now ninety-four has for the last seventy years or so led the exemplary life of a modern scholar-sannyasi. What is more, he is also a dedicated and able administrator. He is also a dedicated and able administrator. He has toured, lectured, and worked tirelessly in different parts of the country and abroad. I would venture to guess that there is scarcely a middle class India of the last three generations in one of our major cities and towns who has not heard him or of him.

Swamiji's numerous books are well known, but those who have come in contact with him cannot forget his simplicity, directness, clarity of mind, and sharpness of memory. A very well-read scholar and excellent speaker, he is admired for his liberal views and catholic outlook.

Burn in Trikkur, a small village in Kerala, on 15 December, 1908, he joined the Ramakrishna Order in Mysore in 1926, when he was just eighteen years old. He was formally initiated into sannyasa in 1933 by Swami Shivananda, one of the direct disciples of Sri Ramakrishna and the second President of the Order. Swami Ranganathananda-ji spent the early years of his life as a sannyasi doing seva of various kinds, including cooking, washing dishes, and keeping house in Mysore and Bangalore. He was also warden of a students hostel. From 1939 to 1942 he was the Secretary and Liberarian of the Ramakrishna Mission at Rangoon, after which he served as the President of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission, Karachi, from 1942 to 1948. In a conversation, Swamiji once told me how the entire work in Karachi had to be abandoned and left behind because of the Partition.

From 1949 to 1962, Swamiji worked as the Secretary of the Ramakrishna Math, New Delhi. After this very successful stint, he moved to Calcutta, as the Director of the School of Humanistic and Cultural Studies of the Ramakrishna Institute of Culture and the Editor of their monthly journal. Swamiji then undertook a variety of assignments, among which were the long, years he spent in Hyderabad as the President of the Ramakrishna Math at Domulguda. Indeed, he was responsible for setting up the whole institution there. After his stint in Hyderabad, he moved back to the headquarters in Belur Math, first as one of the two Vice-Presidents of the order, before becoming the President a few years back. From 1946 to 1972, he has lectured all over the world, traveling to over fifty countries including five of the former communist bloc.

His many publications include The Message of the Upanisads, A Pilgrim Looks at the World, Vols. I to IV; four Volumes of Eternal Values for a Changing Society; Our Cultural Heritage and Its Modern Orientation; Women in the Modern Age; Social Responsibilities of Public Administrators; The Science of Human Energy Resources; Science and Religion; Vedanta and the Future of Mankind. Swamiji has also recorded a verse by verse exposition on the Gita, Srimad Bhagavatam, and Shankara's Vivekachudamani.

Two people who I respect enormously, facilitated my contact with Swamiji. I lived and taught for several years in Hyderabad when Swami Ranganathananda-ji was the President of the Ramakrishna Math there. During those days, I was fortunate to be in close tough with Swami Brahmastananda-ji, who was then in charge of the library and the Institute of Languages that the Hyderabad Math ran. While Ranganathananda-ji, as the President of the Math, seemed somewhat remote. Brahmastananda-ji, as the President of the Math, seemed somewhat remote, Brahmastananda-ji was more accessible. The latter was originally from Maharashtra, so we often talked in Marathi. His quiet and unostentatious learning always impressed me. An impenetrable calm seemed to surround him though he was always busy. His actions were measured and unhurried, quite in contrast to mine, which were frequently marked by trivial anxieties. I found that I always ran out of time when I went to meet him or visit the Math. I would think that an hour would be ample, only to discover that I should have scheduled two! Swamiji, however, graciously "arranged" it so that I was never late or inconvenienced for my next appointment. Many years later, it was with Swami Brahmastananda-ji that I visited the Kankhal centre of the Ramakrishna Mission. We drove up to the centre in my car at the fag end of the Kumbh Mela in April 1998 and stayed on the Mission premises. Swami Ranganathananda-ji, then one of the two Vice-Presidents of the Order, was also in Kankhal. Swamiji gave the keynote address in a conference of sadhus held to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Ramakrishna Mission. I was lucky to have his darshan and also a brief conversation. In my journal entry of Wednesday, 8 April I record my impression of that meeting: "At ninety he looks so sharp and distinguished, sort of like an international movie star!"

The other person who "re-introduced" me to Swami Ranganathananda-ji was my teacher Professor Girdhari Lal Tikku. Giri, as he is fondly remembered by his friends and admirers, was one of the thousands of people whose lives Ranganathananda-ji had touched. This encounter occurred during those heady early days of India's independence, when Swamiji was the Secretary of the Ramakrishna Math in Delhi and Giri was still a young man, unsure of his way in the world. Giri would later join the Indian Foreign Service, get a Ph.D in Persian from Tehran, before moving to the US as a professor of Comparative Literature. When Giri was teaching at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, he became a member of my Doctoral Dissertation Committee. I was working on Mysticism in Indian English poetry. One of the first books he asked me to read was The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna by M. or Mahendranath Gupta. Giri kept us his contact with Swami Ranganathananda-ji whenever possible through his ubsequent visits to India. On one of these visits, he took me to Swamiji. After that, Swamiji always remembered me as the student of Girdhari Lal Tikku. When I first took Giri to the Ramakrishna Math, Hyderabad, I introduced him to Swami Brahmastananda-ji. The latter was a much younger man than Giri. Yet Giri unhesitatingly feel at Brahmastananda-ji's feet. It was a lesson to me about the sanctity of the ochre robe in our culture.

Swami Ranganathananda-ji turned ninety-four on 15th December 2002. I was favoured to have his darshan the very next day. All the flowers offered to him by his admirers were still fresh and on display. My visit was brief because of the long line of devotees and pilgrims who had come to Belur Math to get his blessings. I was ushered into the darshan room, where he sat on a chair, his feet, in thick grey socks, stretched out on a pedestal. Swamiji hardly said anything to me directly. I was later told that his hearing had weakened with age, so he might not have heard what I had said to him.

Later on, with notion of saundarya still uppermost in my mind, I asked his personal assistant, Sudarshan Maharaj, whom I had seen since his days in Hyderabad, what he understood by it. He said, "Everything in God's creation is beautiful. Every leaf is perfect-have you taken the trouble to observe it carefully? There is such remarkable artistry in every aspect of creation. It's all light, all there to inspire you and for you to enjoy/"

"But Swamiji," I asked, "what about all the negativity, all the horrible things that are a part of our world, all the poverty, disease, and wars, what about the ugliness and degradation of daily lives, what about these monstrous cities, with their noise, pollution, congestion, and filth…?"

Swamiji paused for a moment, then said more softly, "All of it is for our own good, so that we can understand who we are….There is nothing bad here, everything is good, only good. It's for us to see it and know it…"

Surrounded by supplicants, Sudarshan Maharaj excused himself from what was turning out to be a conversation not only too profound but too demanding to sustain in the present environment. Just then I found that a senior devotee, who had come all the way from Hyderabad, had lost one of her sandals. She had came out beaming after having met Swami Ranganathananda-ji, but was now nonplussed. Sudarshan Maharaj smilingly assured her that he would do something. Before we had "finished" our conversation, an assistant of his brought a pair of slippers from upstairs. The lady departed with a sigh of relief and a glow on her face.

Before I left, I noticed another senior Swamiji entering the premises. Aided by two helpers. Looking closely at him, I could recognize him as Swami Sarvagatananda-ji, also well past ninety years of age. In May 1993, I had spent two days and a night at the Ramakrishna Vedanta Society of Boston, where he had been Director for several years. He had allowed me to stay in a guest room right above the shrine. During a conversation, he told me that he had learned all there was to know of the spiritual life when his guru had asked him, soon after his initiation, to travel on foot from Karnataka, in South India, to the ashram in Kankhal near Hardwar. During this trip he had had a variety of experiences, some pleasant and others, unpleasant. But what the trip really taught him was to rely only, and totally, on God. As Swami Sarvagatananda-ji put it: "I understood that God alone is in charge and makes everything happen: individual agency is a great illusion." As if to illustrate, he told me how during one cold night, someone had stolen his blanket; the person who had done so could see that Sarvaatananda-ji was asannyasi, but had still not spared him. After surviving that night without food, shelter or proper clothing, Swamiji arrived in a very sorry state the next morning at the outskirts of a village where he was warmly welcomed and looked after. I remembered all this when I saw him again at Belur Math after almost ten years. When I introduced myself, he not only remembered me, but permitted me to offer pranaam.

Outside, it had grown dark. Most of the visitors had left, while some lingered in the main shrine that housed the relics of Sri Ramakrishna and his magnificent white image in marble. I have always marveled at how regal Sri Ramakrishna looks in those surroundings, truly reflecting all the qualities of lordliness. The Ganga flowed quietly, separating these sacred precincts from the rest of this overcrowded city. Life in Calcutta was always lived in extremis, but the air of deep peace that pervaded the Belur Math effaced that toil and torture, if only for a few moments. I visited the shrines of Swami Vivekananda, Sharada Ma, and Swami Brahmananda. At this time of the evening their only visitors were the monks of the order, making their obeisances before the shrines closed. I watched from a distance the utter devotion of even very elderly monks doing a complete sashtanga namaskar on the cold marble floor, as they slowly made their way from shrine to shrine. Immersed in their objects of devotion and in-drawn, they were oblivious of the outside world. I was reminded once again of how the mind of traditional India, unlike the modern mind which is self-conscious and critical, still retains a devotional and emotional bent.

Belur Math, is of course, a modern site. It was built in the last decade of the waning empire. Its grounds are immaculately clean, as are its toilets, which operate on a "pay and use" system. Dakshineshwar, on the other side, remains, however, a more traditional centre of worship and spiritual seeking. It was here that much of Sri Ramakrishna's Leela had been played out. I visited the famous Kali temple, and went around the premises – the performance hall facing the main temple, all the Shiva shrines on the opposite side, and the Radha-Krishna temple closer to the entrance. But it was in Sri Ramakrishna's old room that I most felt his presence. A simple bedstead in the middle of the room, covered with a white cloth, and all the photos of the Gods, Goddesses, and Mahatmas on the wall – the room was full of holy presences. God with form; God without form; God as Mother and God as Father; God as Kai and God as Krishna's the way of devotion, of knowledge, and of works; traditional and modern ways of worship; God as experienced in Christian, Muslim, and other religious traditions; God as peasant; God as King; God as nation; God as nation; God as river, tree, and beast; God in every atom and molecule of matter; God, only God – all this swirls and fuses in our imagination giving rise to a sense of beauty, joy, and peace.

Perhaps, my most moving moment was in the small shrine to Sharada Ma, in the Nahabat chamber. On the little stairway leading to the room upstairs, the Holy Mother had cooked many a meal for Sri Ramakrishna and his innumerable devotees. The utter simplicity of the surroundings contrasted with the grandeur and piety of the life of the great saint. The Holy Mother who initiated all those who took shelter at her feet, who offered refuge to thousands, had herself spent so many years of her life in this cramped space. Truly, the spiritual was never to be perceived merely at the surface. Before leaving Calcutta, I also visited the Kashipur Udyan Bati or garden house in which Sri Ramakrishna spent his last days and also the cremation ground named after him on the banks of the Ganga, not too far from there.

Swami Ranganathananda-ji's brief letter therefore has great symbolic import. It puts Evam in contact with whole tradition of spiritual seeking and finding, with an important current of contemporary Indian culture, and with some of the makers of modern India.

CONTENTS

Foreword1
Preface: Satyam, Shivam, Sundaram
Karan Singhx
Introduction: Evam Saundaryam
Harsha V. Dehejia1
Essays
Saundarya and Indian Aesthetics
Kapil Kapoor11
Some Images of Totality
Richard Lannoy20
Transcending the Subjective-Objective Duality in Indian Philosophy and Aesthetics
Vijaya Subramani28
Beauty as Anandashakti in Kashmir Shaivism
Devangana Desai44
Beyond the Body:
The Idea and Production of Saundarya in classical Indian Dancing
Mandakranta Bose53
Panditraja Jagannatha's Aesthetic Theory:
A Modern Interpretation
Indra Nath Choudhuri60
Beauty in the Human Form in Sixteenth Century Hindi Poetry and The Evolution of Ek Chashma Chehra in Rajasthani Painting
Anand Krishna69
Aesthetic and Formal Imperatives in Indian Painting
J.P. Losty76
In the Flow of Modernity:
Some Reflections on Tirtha and Murti in Hindu India
Madhu Khanna99
ILLUSTRATIONS115
Notes
Saundarya and Saundarya Lahari
Swami Vinaya Chaitanya135
"Saundarya and Ananda are not different…"
Sonal Mansingh141
Saundarya and Sancharibbavas in Dance
Sunil Kothari146
The Unheard Melody
Vidya Rao151
Beauty as a Certain Stillness
Arpana Caur153
A Collector's Eye for Beauty
Jagdish Mittal155
Saundaryabeen Saundarya?
Saundaryabeen Saundarya?
Shaila Parikh168
Gandhi and Saundarya: Towards an Aesthetic Swaraj
Sudhir Kumar171
"The Very Embodiment of Beauty…" A Dialogue with J. Prabhkar Raman Srinivasan179
ESSAYS
Aesthetics of Lokrachna
Haku Shah191
Celebration of Life: Saundarya in Indian "Folk" Art
Narendra Bokhare200
Saundarya O Shringar: Beauty and Love in Rabindra Sangeet
Reba Som210
The Last Sign? Aesthetics and Semantics in Recent Art Theory
And Agud 216
The Art of Despair: The Sense of the City in Modern Bengali Poetry
Sudipta Kaviraj228
Re-inventing the Idea of Beauty
Geeti Sen248
Experiences Parallel to Beauty: Some Reflections on Atul Doditya's Man with Chakki
Ranjit Hoskote255
The Aesthetics of the Ordinary: Evoking Narrative Wonder Within the Linear Grammar of Modernity
Rukmini Bhaya Nair 266
The Artist and the Modern Pubic Sphere
Rajeev Bhargava289
Death in Aesthetic Experience
Wagish Shukla300
Saundarya, Modernity and the Aesthetics of Duality
Makarand Paranjape 305

Saundarya: The Perception and Practice of Beauty in India

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Foreword

The inaugural issue of Evam: Forum on Indian Representations had a triple launch in three continents between July and October 2002. On the opening day of the Infinity Foundation-Columbia University Colloquium on "Completing the Global Renaissance: The Indic Contribution" (24-29 July 2002) at the Menla Centre in the Catskill mountains, upstate New York, Tenzin Robert A.F,. Thurman released the first issue in North America. A large number of eminent India-scholars from different parts of the world received copies. The European launch took place in Saarbruken, Germany, as a part of another international conference on "Peripheral Centres, Central Peripheries: Anglophone India and Its Diaspora" organized by Martina Ghosh-Schellhorn of the Universitat des Saarlandes. Kiran Nagarkar, one of our Contributing Editors, introduced the journal and presented a copy to Girish Karnad, internationally acclaimed playwright and Director of the Nehru Centre, London. Ironically, the Indian launch, owing to various reasons, was delayed to October. But that proved to be providential because Dr. Lokesh Chandra, one of India's greatest living scholars, did the honours on the 8th of October at the India International Centre. Lokesh Chandra-ji was kind enough to offer a number of pertinent and encouraging remarks on the first issue.

With our modest print run of 500, was find that we have few copies of the inaugural issue left. It is not that the market response has been spectacular or that we have been flooded with subscription offers. Rather, we have tried to reach the journal to a number of India-related scholars and intellectuals all over the world, either gratis or for a modest payment. We believe that we have a quality product and, given time, there will be a substantial support for it. However, sales in bookshops have been rather disappointing and the much-needed subscriptions are yet to materialize in numbers that would make a difference. We hope that each person who reads this will help us in whatever way he or she deems fit.

It is hard to believe that this is the second issue of Evam. It seems as if we finished working on the inaugural volume just yesterday. The journal is also two years old as both these issues are double numbers. While it has been an exhilarating experience to work on the two issues, the labour has been severe, almost daunting. Though all those who believe in the project, especially the Contributing Editors of the journal. Have pitched in, the actual work of soliciting, reading, selecting, copy-editing and then of typesetting, proof-reading, designing, and finally producing the journal, has devolved upon a very small group of us. I must thank them for their patience and commitment, especially those who choose to remain unnamed. Above all, I would like to thank Rajiv Malhotra of the Infinity Foundation, without whose encouragement and support we would never have been able to realize our dream. Evam remains the only journal of its kind in the world which attempts to understand the cultural and intellectual traditions of India from a variety of linguistic, regional, international and disciplinary perspectives.

In the meditation on the meaning and sources of the world evam in the Foreword to the last issue, I forgot to mention how in many Assamese, and Hindi too, the primary meaning of evam is "and." Such a connotation is not available in Sanskrit (or even in a modern Indian language such as Marathi). So it would be interesting to find out where this originates from. We would, in fact, be happy to receive short essays on the word evam and its various meanings and associations. Right now, I'm happy that one of them is "and," suggesting an endless plurality and multiplicity, so characteristic of India which is the subject of the journal.

II

If the market response to the first issues has been muted, the reader response has been generally enthusiastic. Most readers have appreciated the contents and the quality of the production. Among the many responses, there is one I shall especially cherish. It is the brief letter of 29 October, 2002, from Swami Ranganathananda-ji. It may, at first, seem difficult to understand why this letter means s much to me. I can only say that through it I feel connected to the inspiring and uplifting narrative not just of the Ramakrishna Mission itself, but to the lives and thought of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, the Holy Mother, and Swami Vivekananda. But firs letter, which is reproduced below:

Signed in his own hand, this brief encomium brings to mind my own contact with Swami Ranganathananda-ji.

The present President of the Ramakrishna Math, Swami Ranganathananda, is particularly dear to lakhs of Indians and to people all over the world. Swamiji, who is now ninety-four has for the last seventy years or so led the exemplary life of a modern scholar-sannyasi. What is more, he is also a dedicated and able administrator. He is also a dedicated and able administrator. He has toured, lectured, and worked tirelessly in different parts of the country and abroad. I would venture to guess that there is scarcely a middle class India of the last three generations in one of our major cities and towns who has not heard him or of him.

Swamiji's numerous books are well known, but those who have come in contact with him cannot forget his simplicity, directness, clarity of mind, and sharpness of memory. A very well-read scholar and excellent speaker, he is admired for his liberal views and catholic outlook.

Burn in Trikkur, a small village in Kerala, on 15 December, 1908, he joined the Ramakrishna Order in Mysore in 1926, when he was just eighteen years old. He was formally initiated into sannyasa in 1933 by Swami Shivananda, one of the direct disciples of Sri Ramakrishna and the second President of the Order. Swami Ranganathananda-ji spent the early years of his life as a sannyasi doing seva of various kinds, including cooking, washing dishes, and keeping house in Mysore and Bangalore. He was also warden of a students hostel. From 1939 to 1942 he was the Secretary and Liberarian of the Ramakrishna Mission at Rangoon, after which he served as the President of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission, Karachi, from 1942 to 1948. In a conversation, Swamiji once told me how the entire work in Karachi had to be abandoned and left behind because of the Partition.

From 1949 to 1962, Swamiji worked as the Secretary of the Ramakrishna Math, New Delhi. After this very successful stint, he moved to Calcutta, as the Director of the School of Humanistic and Cultural Studies of the Ramakrishna Institute of Culture and the Editor of their monthly journal. Swamiji then undertook a variety of assignments, among which were the long, years he spent in Hyderabad as the President of the Ramakrishna Math at Domulguda. Indeed, he was responsible for setting up the whole institution there. After his stint in Hyderabad, he moved back to the headquarters in Belur Math, first as one of the two Vice-Presidents of the order, before becoming the President a few years back. From 1946 to 1972, he has lectured all over the world, traveling to over fifty countries including five of the former communist bloc.

His many publications include The Message of the Upanisads, A Pilgrim Looks at the World, Vols. I to IV; four Volumes of Eternal Values for a Changing Society; Our Cultural Heritage and Its Modern Orientation; Women in the Modern Age; Social Responsibilities of Public Administrators; The Science of Human Energy Resources; Science and Religion; Vedanta and the Future of Mankind. Swamiji has also recorded a verse by verse exposition on the Gita, Srimad Bhagavatam, and Shankara's Vivekachudamani.

Two people who I respect enormously, facilitated my contact with Swamiji. I lived and taught for several years in Hyderabad when Swami Ranganathananda-ji was the President of the Ramakrishna Math there. During those days, I was fortunate to be in close tough with Swami Brahmastananda-ji, who was then in charge of the library and the Institute of Languages that the Hyderabad Math ran. While Ranganathananda-ji, as the President of the Math, seemed somewhat remote. Brahmastananda-ji, as the President of the Math, seemed somewhat remote, Brahmastananda-ji was more accessible. The latter was originally from Maharashtra, so we often talked in Marathi. His quiet and unostentatious learning always impressed me. An impenetrable calm seemed to surround him though he was always busy. His actions were measured and unhurried, quite in contrast to mine, which were frequently marked by trivial anxieties. I found that I always ran out of time when I went to meet him or visit the Math. I would think that an hour would be ample, only to discover that I should have scheduled two! Swamiji, however, graciously "arranged" it so that I was never late or inconvenienced for my next appointment. Many years later, it was with Swami Brahmastananda-ji that I visited the Kankhal centre of the Ramakrishna Mission. We drove up to the centre in my car at the fag end of the Kumbh Mela in April 1998 and stayed on the Mission premises. Swami Ranganathananda-ji, then one of the two Vice-Presidents of the Order, was also in Kankhal. Swamiji gave the keynote address in a conference of sadhus held to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Ramakrishna Mission. I was lucky to have his darshan and also a brief conversation. In my journal entry of Wednesday, 8 April I record my impression of that meeting: "At ninety he looks so sharp and distinguished, sort of like an international movie star!"

The other person who "re-introduced" me to Swami Ranganathananda-ji was my teacher Professor Girdhari Lal Tikku. Giri, as he is fondly remembered by his friends and admirers, was one of the thousands of people whose lives Ranganathananda-ji had touched. This encounter occurred during those heady early days of India's independence, when Swamiji was the Secretary of the Ramakrishna Math in Delhi and Giri was still a young man, unsure of his way in the world. Giri would later join the Indian Foreign Service, get a Ph.D in Persian from Tehran, before moving to the US as a professor of Comparative Literature. When Giri was teaching at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, he became a member of my Doctoral Dissertation Committee. I was working on Mysticism in Indian English poetry. One of the first books he asked me to read was The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna by M. or Mahendranath Gupta. Giri kept us his contact with Swami Ranganathananda-ji whenever possible through his ubsequent visits to India. On one of these visits, he took me to Swamiji. After that, Swamiji always remembered me as the student of Girdhari Lal Tikku. When I first took Giri to the Ramakrishna Math, Hyderabad, I introduced him to Swami Brahmastananda-ji. The latter was a much younger man than Giri. Yet Giri unhesitatingly feel at Brahmastananda-ji's feet. It was a lesson to me about the sanctity of the ochre robe in our culture.

Swami Ranganathananda-ji turned ninety-four on 15th December 2002. I was favoured to have his darshan the very next day. All the flowers offered to him by his admirers were still fresh and on display. My visit was brief because of the long line of devotees and pilgrims who had come to Belur Math to get his blessings. I was ushered into the darshan room, where he sat on a chair, his feet, in thick grey socks, stretched out on a pedestal. Swamiji hardly said anything to me directly. I was later told that his hearing had weakened with age, so he might not have heard what I had said to him.

Later on, with notion of saundarya still uppermost in my mind, I asked his personal assistant, Sudarshan Maharaj, whom I had seen since his days in Hyderabad, what he understood by it. He said, "Everything in God's creation is beautiful. Every leaf is perfect-have you taken the trouble to observe it carefully? There is such remarkable artistry in every aspect of creation. It's all light, all there to inspire you and for you to enjoy/"

"But Swamiji," I asked, "what about all the negativity, all the horrible things that are a part of our world, all the poverty, disease, and wars, what about the ugliness and degradation of daily lives, what about these monstrous cities, with their noise, pollution, congestion, and filth…?"

Swamiji paused for a moment, then said more softly, "All of it is for our own good, so that we can understand who we are….There is nothing bad here, everything is good, only good. It's for us to see it and know it…"

Surrounded by supplicants, Sudarshan Maharaj excused himself from what was turning out to be a conversation not only too profound but too demanding to sustain in the present environment. Just then I found that a senior devotee, who had come all the way from Hyderabad, had lost one of her sandals. She had came out beaming after having met Swami Ranganathananda-ji, but was now nonplussed. Sudarshan Maharaj smilingly assured her that he would do something. Before we had "finished" our conversation, an assistant of his brought a pair of slippers from upstairs. The lady departed with a sigh of relief and a glow on her face.

Before I left, I noticed another senior Swamiji entering the premises. Aided by two helpers. Looking closely at him, I could recognize him as Swami Sarvagatananda-ji, also well past ninety years of age. In May 1993, I had spent two days and a night at the Ramakrishna Vedanta Society of Boston, where he had been Director for several years. He had allowed me to stay in a guest room right above the shrine. During a conversation, he told me that he had learned all there was to know of the spiritual life when his guru had asked him, soon after his initiation, to travel on foot from Karnataka, in South India, to the ashram in Kankhal near Hardwar. During this trip he had had a variety of experiences, some pleasant and others, unpleasant. But what the trip really taught him was to rely only, and totally, on God. As Swami Sarvagatananda-ji put it: "I understood that God alone is in charge and makes everything happen: individual agency is a great illusion." As if to illustrate, he told me how during one cold night, someone had stolen his blanket; the person who had done so could see that Sarvaatananda-ji was asannyasi, but had still not spared him. After surviving that night without food, shelter or proper clothing, Swamiji arrived in a very sorry state the next morning at the outskirts of a village where he was warmly welcomed and looked after. I remembered all this when I saw him again at Belur Math after almost ten years. When I introduced myself, he not only remembered me, but permitted me to offer pranaam.

Outside, it had grown dark. Most of the visitors had left, while some lingered in the main shrine that housed the relics of Sri Ramakrishna and his magnificent white image in marble. I have always marveled at how regal Sri Ramakrishna looks in those surroundings, truly reflecting all the qualities of lordliness. The Ganga flowed quietly, separating these sacred precincts from the rest of this overcrowded city. Life in Calcutta was always lived in extremis, but the air of deep peace that pervaded the Belur Math effaced that toil and torture, if only for a few moments. I visited the shrines of Swami Vivekananda, Sharada Ma, and Swami Brahmananda. At this time of the evening their only visitors were the monks of the order, making their obeisances before the shrines closed. I watched from a distance the utter devotion of even very elderly monks doing a complete sashtanga namaskar on the cold marble floor, as they slowly made their way from shrine to shrine. Immersed in their objects of devotion and in-drawn, they were oblivious of the outside world. I was reminded once again of how the mind of traditional India, unlike the modern mind which is self-conscious and critical, still retains a devotional and emotional bent.

Belur Math, is of course, a modern site. It was built in the last decade of the waning empire. Its grounds are immaculately clean, as are its toilets, which operate on a "pay and use" system. Dakshineshwar, on the other side, remains, however, a more traditional centre of worship and spiritual seeking. It was here that much of Sri Ramakrishna's Leela had been played out. I visited the famous Kali temple, and went around the premises – the performance hall facing the main temple, all the Shiva shrines on the opposite side, and the Radha-Krishna temple closer to the entrance. But it was in Sri Ramakrishna's old room that I most felt his presence. A simple bedstead in the middle of the room, covered with a white cloth, and all the photos of the Gods, Goddesses, and Mahatmas on the wall – the room was full of holy presences. God with form; God without form; God as Mother and God as Father; God as Kai and God as Krishna's the way of devotion, of knowledge, and of works; traditional and modern ways of worship; God as experienced in Christian, Muslim, and other religious traditions; God as peasant; God as King; God as nation; God as nation; God as river, tree, and beast; God in every atom and molecule of matter; God, only God – all this swirls and fuses in our imagination giving rise to a sense of beauty, joy, and peace.

Perhaps, my most moving moment was in the small shrine to Sharada Ma, in the Nahabat chamber. On the little stairway leading to the room upstairs, the Holy Mother had cooked many a meal for Sri Ramakrishna and his innumerable devotees. The utter simplicity of the surroundings contrasted with the grandeur and piety of the life of the great saint. The Holy Mother who initiated all those who took shelter at her feet, who offered refuge to thousands, had herself spent so many years of her life in this cramped space. Truly, the spiritual was never to be perceived merely at the surface. Before leaving Calcutta, I also visited the Kashipur Udyan Bati or garden house in which Sri Ramakrishna spent his last days and also the cremation ground named after him on the banks of the Ganga, not too far from there.

Swami Ranganathananda-ji's brief letter therefore has great symbolic import. It puts Evam in contact with whole tradition of spiritual seeking and finding, with an important current of contemporary Indian culture, and with some of the makers of modern India.

CONTENTS

Foreword1
Preface: Satyam, Shivam, Sundaram
Karan Singhx
Introduction: Evam Saundaryam
Harsha V. Dehejia1
Essays
Saundarya and Indian Aesthetics
Kapil Kapoor11
Some Images of Totality
Richard Lannoy20
Transcending the Subjective-Objective Duality in Indian Philosophy and Aesthetics
Vijaya Subramani28
Beauty as Anandashakti in Kashmir Shaivism
Devangana Desai44
Beyond the Body:
The Idea and Production of Saundarya in classical Indian Dancing
Mandakranta Bose53
Panditraja Jagannatha's Aesthetic Theory:
A Modern Interpretation
Indra Nath Choudhuri60
Beauty in the Human Form in Sixteenth Century Hindi Poetry and The Evolution of Ek Chashma Chehra in Rajasthani Painting
Anand Krishna69
Aesthetic and Formal Imperatives in Indian Painting
J.P. Losty76
In the Flow of Modernity:
Some Reflections on Tirtha and Murti in Hindu India
Madhu Khanna99
ILLUSTRATIONS115
Notes
Saundarya and Saundarya Lahari
Swami Vinaya Chaitanya135
"Saundarya and Ananda are not different…"
Sonal Mansingh141
Saundarya and Sancharibbavas in Dance
Sunil Kothari146
The Unheard Melody
Vidya Rao151
Beauty as a Certain Stillness
Arpana Caur153
A Collector's Eye for Beauty
Jagdish Mittal155
Saundaryabeen Saundarya?
Saundaryabeen Saundarya?
Shaila Parikh168
Gandhi and Saundarya: Towards an Aesthetic Swaraj
Sudhir Kumar171
"The Very Embodiment of Beauty…" A Dialogue with J. Prabhkar Raman Srinivasan179
ESSAYS
Aesthetics of Lokrachna
Haku Shah191
Celebration of Life: Saundarya in Indian "Folk" Art
Narendra Bokhare200
Saundarya O Shringar: Beauty and Love in Rabindra Sangeet
Reba Som210
The Last Sign? Aesthetics and Semantics in Recent Art Theory
And Agud 216
The Art of Despair: The Sense of the City in Modern Bengali Poetry
Sudipta Kaviraj228
Re-inventing the Idea of Beauty
Geeti Sen248
Experiences Parallel to Beauty: Some Reflections on Atul Doditya's Man with Chakki
Ranjit Hoskote255
The Aesthetics of the Ordinary: Evoking Narrative Wonder Within the Linear Grammar of Modernity
Rukmini Bhaya Nair 266
The Artist and the Modern Pubic Sphere
Rajeev Bhargava289
Death in Aesthetic Experience
Wagish Shukla300
Saundarya, Modernity and the Aesthetics of Duality
Makarand Paranjape 305

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