Bharata Muni’s Natyashastra first spoke of the rasas in the context of theatre. B.N. Goswami, the art historian and professor emeritus at Punjab University, Chandigarh, brought alive the nine rasas mentioned in India’s classical canons with particular reference to paintings and miniatures in a talk organised by the Ladies Study Group on September 26.
He began by explaining the nature of rasa, which can roughly be translated into “sentiment” in this specific context.
Goswami referred to a Mughal painting with an accompanying verse by Saadi in Persian, which he recited as it was a clue to understanding the miniature. The man, his arms raised in ecstasy, was actually infused with rasa, which “takes us out of ourselves” as we are transfigured for a moment in the presence of a great work of art.
Goswami, through many beautiful examples of the effect of rasa on an individual accompanied by their corresponding images, enlivened his talk. He emphasised the need for the rasik or the adhikari to possess that quality in him that would allow his emotions to be churned.
Goswami named and described the nine rasas along with detailed analyses of the images of miniatures and pichhwais he projected onscreen. He harnessed cutting-edge technology to show fascinating details of each painting, which would not have revealed themselves to the naked eye.
He stressed the need for studying each detail, for not even a single brushstroke was redundant. Even the manner in which the tree trunks branched out in the enchanted grove in which Radha and Krishna met for the first time carried a symbolic meaning.
While the illustrations of Ramayan and Geetagovinda were exquisite, the ones that accompanied Hasya, Bibhatsa, Bhayanak and Veer were truly astounding, weird and even bizarre in a way that brought back to mind the best works of Matthias Grünewald and Hieronymous Bosch. Such images are rarely seen.