A Guru's Wisdom

The following are excerpts from the presidential address GURU GOPINANTH gave at the 54th South Indian Music Conference & Festival conducted by the Indian Fine Arts Society. 18 December 1983 TO 3 January 1987. in Madras. A rt, as you all! know, is an integral part of human life. The aim of art is to inspire the human mind with noble ideals and to fill it with aesthetic experience.

Indian art has its roots in a philosophy of life which is thoroughly idealistic. Our ancient masters considered that the aim of art is the same as that of religion or philosophy, that is to know and understand the basic reality underlying life and the various phenomena. That basic reality has been called different names like God, Truth, Brahman, etc. The spiritual reality is the basis of rasa or aesthetic experience which one gets from art. That is the reason why our ancient masters and seers considered art as a means of realising God.

The artists who through the various visual or auditory forms of art achieve this aim of art are like the yogins who realise God. No wonder therefore that the great musicians of India like Meera, Kabir, Tyagaraja, Purandaradasa and Kshetragna could realise God and attain moksha. The way to become such an artist is a hard one demanding years of learning at the feet of great gurus and spending an entire life perfecting one's art. The old gurukula system of teaching and learning was most suited for this and now that it has almost disappeared, a decline in the standard of classical art can be seen.

Time was when a student of art spent several years under a great master learning all the aspects of the art and then only coming out to perform it before the public. But today only very few artists can claim to have had such a rigorous course of learning and training with the result that classical music and dance have become diluted and mixed with their lighter varieties. It is gratifying to find that our governments and public institutions like this one are liberally encouraging the arts and the young artists, who are entering the field of art in large numbers. But it is a sad fact that very few of them can claim to have undergone intensive training which alone can help them to maintain a high standard in their performance. The various competitions in art conducted at the school and college levels reveal this truth. I have seen young men and women who had learned a dance item from some master within a month or two, exhibit it on the stage wearing colourful costumes, to the accompaniment of music provided by professionals and win prizes at youth festivals or college competitions.

While this might help in popularising art, it can never contribute towards maintaining the high standard of classical art As a person engaged in the propagation of classical dance for the past 65 years, I strongly plead for the gurukula system of learning in art. That alone, I feel, will help us to [maintain] our classical tradition in art. Please do not blame me as a diehard reactionary or staunch conservative. I am all for bringing about necessary reforms in classical art forms, in keeping with the times. Such reforms and purifications are bound to take place with changing times. Nor do I think that everything that is old is perfect and needs no change or improvement. Though art is believed to have originated from God, it is being handled by human beings and hence changes are bound to occur in each generation. It is not correct to insist that traditional methods in the art should be strictly followed as such, without caring for the tastes of the new generation, and they [the members of the new generation] should have the freedom to reform the various art forms in accordance with their system of training, the scientific knowledge they have gained and their style of presentation.

But it shall be the duty of the artist to make such reforms and changes without sacrificing the scientific basis and technique of classical art forms. On close examination, one can find that the various music and dance forms that exist in India have the same scientific basis. All of them have sprung from the same source though they differ from each other in form and presentation. The visual and auditory art forms of a particular region are moulded by the language of the people, their habits of life, their religious beliefs and the physical surroundings in which they live. Naturally, each region will have its own distinct art forms.

The rich variety that exists in the classical art forms of India, especially in music and dance, is a unique feature of our cultural heritage. It is not proper to compare the classical art form of one region with that of another and evaluate them. Instead, we should try to understand and appreciate the varied styles in classical music and dance and thereby enrich our lives. Classical dance is an exposition of the four aspects of abhinaya or action, namely angika (action through movements of the limbs) vaachika (through speech or songs) aaharya (through dress or costumes) and satvika (expression of thought and emotion through the face).

Any style of dancing which does this is great dance whether it be Manipuri, Kathak, Odissi, Kuchipudi, Bharatanatyam or Kathakali. Similarly, any style or school of music which expresses the raga-s in their pure form and presents musical compositions with proper rhythm, sruti and laya is bound to give the listeners aesthetic pleasure, whether it is North Indian or Camatic music. Music and dance are the twin daughters of the goddess of art. They complement each other to make our lives more beautiful and sublime. Let us, therefore, forget regional differences in appreciating classical art forms and strive to uphold the noble tradition of classical art in order to experience the greatest gift of mankind, namely rasanubhuti or aesthetic pleasure.