Author: Ananda Coomaraswamy
I didn’t know what this book was really about when I bought it. I picked it up at the airport bookshop for multiple reasons. I like the way Rupa and Company had made the book. I liked the title “The Dance of Shiva”. I liked the fact that it belongs to a series called “Rupa Antiquities Series’. I was curious to know what a person who lived till India’s independence thought about art, culture and his times. But in reality, I was extremely surprised and delighted by what I read, as I started my journey with the book.
The book is actually a collection of 14 essays, of which one essay bears the title of the book. That particular essay tries to look at the meta physical meaning of the cosmic dance of reality. It no doubt is a brilliant exposition on the dance form. Every one of the other thirteen essays looks at the Hindu view to art, duty, culture and society. The one aspect that runs through all these essays is the deep intellectual analysis into what art actually means and how it differs from modern day reproduction of art. While every essay is independent and can be read without the other, each goes to great depth bearing art, culture and philosophy as the basis. There are references to trends being viewed in the early part of the 20th century, how India was losing her greatest asset, which is spiritual integrity and what could this degeneration actually mean for India’s future.
While I did enjoy all the essays, my favorite was the one titled “That beauty is a state”. The extent to which beauty as a subject can be thought of and how it differs from the view point of the creator, the enjoyer and the art itself was mind boggling. Throughout the book there are triggers to kick start the philosophical thinking of the meta-physical in life and there is enough to encourage the reader to consider art both as creator and enjoyer. There are numerous references to ancient texts which makes me wonder why the education system fails to capitalize the enormous and in-depth store house of wisdom created by our fore fathers. More than learning about the dance form of Shiva, popularly called as Nataraja, I received fresh perspective to the way I will view art and beauty. I received a very different approach of using art as a way to understand philosophy. In my journey of trying to be an artiste, this understanding will enable me to practice art more fully.
Though it is not an easy read, I would urge every person interested in art and life in general to read these essays closely.