Concept of Beauty in Indian Aesthetics!!!!!

(Note: Most of my blog here is taken verbatim from Dr. Mrinalini Sarabhai’s lecture on the same topic)


When I enrolled for the conference “Brain, Consciousness and Experience: Perspectives from Art, Science and Philosophy” at the National Centre for Advance Studies, I didn’t really know that I shall get such deep insights into the way the human brain thinks. I had some questions in my mind, some well-formed, some hazy. And I think, I was seeking answers. I didn’t think I would get many answers in this conference but I wanted to know others’ perspectives. I wanted to know if someone else had same questions!!! And though the conference didn’t provide answers to most of my queries, it was an interesting experience as I got to know what others think….and being passionate about people, in general and their thoughts, in particular, this conference was a treat……there were people from diverse backgrounds, seeking different things, attending this conference for a myriad of purposes……….

The lecture that impressed and moved me the most was the one by noted dancer Dr. Mrinalini Sarabhai. It was titled: Concept of Beauty in Indian Aesthetics. At the outset, she apologized for not being much of a speaker (only to prove it false as she went along). And by the time the lecture came to an end, I was mesmerized, immobilized in my seat and my thoughts raced in all directions only to come back to BEAUTY, the eternal concept that many seem to appreciate but no one seems to be able to define really……

She gave us an insight into how the Indian scriptures and epics dealt with the concept of beauty. Instead of going on writing “her lecture” and what “she said”, I am going to adopt a strategy to write in first person so that the reading becomes relatively more interesting.

In Indian epics, beauty has been dealt with rather extensively. Women have been compared with moon, flowers etc. The fact that stands out from the description of Beauty in Indian writings is that the comparisons are invariably made with Nature and her creations. For a Physicist, moon is only a celestial body, mindlessly moving round the Earth, but for a poet, moon is his beloved’s face radiating white moonligth (where white signifies purity and innocence)……….

In Indian writings, bees have extensively been used in romantic contexts. In a description of Shakuntala’s beauty where Dushyant is just watching her lie down in a garden, bees have been termed an object of envy. The description goes as follows:

O heavenly beauty, how lucky this small bee is that can touch the nectar of the lotus of your lips, that can come close to your almond shaped eyes and feel the flutter of your eye-lashes that are like a black bow guarding the lakes of your eyes, that can hum some sweet secrets in your ears, that can experience the pure bliss of seeing this radiance of your moon-like face from so close!

As is evident, almost all the comparisons made are with that of some creation of Nature. India has always been a country that has been liberally endowed with all the miracles of Nature. There’s one more example of a woman’s beauty being compared with the creations of Nature. This one is from Nala-Damayanti story where Nala intends to woo Damayanti into marriage with him. He sends a golden swan to Damayanti’s palace to tell her much he loves her. And this is what the swan says to Damayanti (after taking her to a secluded corner of her palace’s garden):

O unparallelled beauty, I come here as a messenger of a king by the name Nala whose strength is as much as that of a river that flows untamed! He seeks your hand, the hand of that who hair are like that of a night, the face of whose is like the moon, whose laughter is like that of a waterfall, whose complexion is like that of a rose half in bloom……………

And NOW, what has happened? The poetry has conveniently been replaced by Archies cards full of quotes…..the golden swan has given way to SMSes and e-mails……..the erotic couple dances (that have been poetically described in Indian epics) have been replaced by tuneless shake-a-leg in the discos…..

The beautiful poetic heritage of Indian aesthetics has become a slave to the western influence………where noise, money, material desires dominate!!!! So, there’s still time to go back to the poetic culture of ours and abandon the culture of Valentine’s Day becoming a festival bigger than Diwali and Holi…………..




  1. February 9, 2006 at 2:17 am

    hmm..nice one..but again i dont know whether it wud be possible to just bring back ‘that ancient poetic culture’ .. rather i think that we wud have to go altogether back and accept all what was there before .. rotatethe wheel back to where it was .. and that might be a lil more difficult than letting saint valentine have his wish ..
    happy valentine’s day… 🙂

  2. Pritesh said,

    February 9, 2006 at 5:46 am

    I agree that it’s not possible to go back completely in time but one can possibly refrain from endorsing the western culture so much that one needs one day to profess one’s love…….for the beloved, mother, father etc.

    Happy Valentine’s Day to you too though…..

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