Wednesday, October 31, 2012


            Sri Vinayagamurthy is one of the chief deities of worship (Upasanamurthis) among the Hindus. From the Himalayas to Cape Comorin wherever we go in India, we meet with this deity, in Siva or Vishnu temples, on the roadsides, on the tank bunds, at the foot of trees, Banyan, Asvatha or Margosa. There is no village without the image of this deity, carved in stone or granite. Every ceremony should be begun by the Hindus with invocation and worship of this deity.  Every author, in Sanskrit, Tamil, Malayalam, &c., used to begin his work with a stanza or two in praise of this deity, because he is the remover of all obstacles or evils that may stand in the way of our business. So universal and compulsory is the worship of this Deva, that when we cannot have the regular image of the deity, any improvised cone of sandal paste, saffron powder, or even cow-dung, is made to serve as the object of worship.

            Various are the versions of His history. He is the Son of Siva and Parasakti. As one Purana says, Siva and Parasakti looked at their images in a mirror, and when the two images coincided with each other, this mighty Deva, Vinayagar appeared at the point of junction. There is also a Upa Purana about the exploits of this deity; which also recites how Upasakas – worshippers of this Deva, acquired psychic powers (Siddhis) and also attained Mukti or salvation.

            Such a universally worshipped Deva is described as having a peculiar form, half man and half beast – elephant’s head and trunk placed upon a human body, with a big belly, and holding in His hands chakram (wheel or circle), Sulam (trident), Sangam (conch) and Pasangusam (goad) riding on a mouse with an army of ants, fond of eating mothangams (sweet cakes) and called by different names. Vinayagar, Ganapati, Vigneswara, &c. Let us see whether there is any esoteric meaning intended to be conveyed by this deity.

            First, as regards the form – the trunk of the elephant serves as the face of the Deity and the body is human. Vinayagar is considered by our Maharishis as Pranava “AUM.” This syllable “AUM” is indicative of Brahman. Although there are many names of Gods, but AUM is regarded as the most appropriate of all names. In the first place AUM has several meanings. Secondly it is made of three parts, each of which conveys various meanings expressive of Brahman. Thirdly it has been sung in all the Upanishads and Yogasastras. Fourthly, it is uttered before the commencement of the reading of the Veda Mantras. Fifthly it is eternal and unchangeable as Brahman Himself since the component letters AUM of which it is composed are eternal; lastly because it is the soul of the Vedas. This one is the best support for a worshipper. There cannot be any better support than this. Those who realize the essence of one become great and attain Brahman. Such being the case, we worship Vinayagar. Besides the syllable AUM is written alike in all Indian languages and has the same form. This letter resembles elephant’s face with its proboscis. The sound of AUM and of an elephant are also alike. So His form of an elephant’s face with human body illustrates His Pranava Srupa or form and the want of one tusk in His face makes it appear as the Shuli of Pranava.

            Another explanation for this peculiar form is said to be this: “In our religious literature Manas (mind) is compared to the elephant’s proboscis – in the peculiarity of restlessness. For Manas is restless, impetuous, strong and difficult to bend. It is as hard to curb as the wind. Manas is the separative principle in man, always moving from one object to another and making differences. The vehicle of Manas is the cerebro-spinal nervous system, in the human body. The greater the development of this nervous system, the greater is the manifestation of mental powers – intellect. High intellectual powers are generally associated with the large development of the head. The Indo-Aryan forms the first substance of the 5th root race. It is in him that the intellect – rather manas began to develop itself, to a great extent. The cerebro-spinal nervous system in man is in its shape like the elephant’s head and trunk; or it may be that the Rishis said in their inner vision the prototype, i.e., thought form, of the cerebro-spinal system in the form of the symbol of the deity. This became the chief characteristic of the race – as the development of the sympathetic nervous system was the peculiarity of the 4th race – the Atlantean. This characteristic became an object to be sought for, then an object of worship.”

            Secondly, as regards His big belly: His big belly illustrates that the whole universe is contained in it, so says the Sruti.

            Thirdly, as regards having a circle (chakram) in His hand; Just as a circle is contained only by one line, which has no beginning or end, so Vinayagar is the only one having no beginning or end. He surrounds the whole world just as circle envelops the whole space within it.

            Fourthly, as regards His Sulam or trident: A trident is an instrument having one ending at the bottom and three endings at the top i.e., the one becomes three. His having this trident implies that He is the only one that He is the cause of the Universe possessing the three gunas or qualities, Satva (goodness), Rajas (wickedness) and Thamas (ignorance), that from Him appeared the triumurthis – Brahma, Vishnu and Rudra, that He is the Pranava Srupam AUM and that He is the creator, the protector and the destroyer.

            Fifthly, His Sangam or Conch: If we place the conch topside the other way, it will appear as Aum. If we blow the conch, it will have the same sound as that of pronouncing Aum. The one who knows that Vinayagar is Pranava Srupa can alone attain salvation. No sound can be made without this Aum sound.

            Sixthly, as regards Pasangusam: Just as an elephant is curbed or ruled by goad, so the ignorant souls though bound by pasa – bond or impurity – are directed by His angusam and are made to enjoy happiness or misery according to their deeds or karma.

            Seventhly His riding on a mouse with an army of ants: It shows that He is the triflest of the trifles and the greatest of the great, that He pervades through all beings-low and high and that He is the lord of all creation and thus all beings live under His control.

            Eighthly, He is fond of mothagams or sweet cakes, mothagam means Ananda. People eat sweet cakes &c., during the time of merriment. So this is a sign of mirth and gladness. This illustrates that Ganesha is Ananda – mirth and hence bliss and that He gives bliss to all the beings in the universe.

            Thus we see from the above that great truths lie hidden in these symbols. Let us next enquire into the meaning of His several names.

            Vinayagar means one without a master. He is the efficient cause of all.

            Ganapathi is the pathi or God of Ganas i.e., all beings. He is the protector of all beings. Another explanation is: “Ganapati is the Pathi i.e., lord of Ganas i.e., names and forms. It is by Manas (mind) that names and forms (Nama Rupa Prapancham i.e., the world of names and forms) are produced. In the location of the several chakras or whorls in the human constitution, Ganapathy is placed at the lower end of the cerebro-spinal nervous system – called the muladhara. The force on energy or life of the cerebro-spinal nervous system is focused there, control of this center or conquest of this center as it is called enables one to go to the highest state of bliss; i.e., if manas be conquered, you attain the summum bonum of life. It may be here noted that the flag-staff called Dwajasthamba in a Hindu temple (which itself is only a huge symbology of the Microcosm and Macrocosm) represents the spinal column. The three-colored yarn (red, white and black) wound round the flag-staff, especially during the Mahotsavam – the big festival – represents the three-fold vital air of Kundalini sakti which are made to rise through the hollow of the special cord by yogic process. At the foot of the flag-staff, you have the image of Ganapathy marked.”

            Vigneswarar: (Vignanam Eswara) means one who removes or conquers all obstacles in the way of good and one who puts obstacles in the way of bad deeds. That is why we first insert Pillaiyar shuli whenever we begin to write or invoke the blessings of this Deva whenever we begin any work or ceremony. By worshipping this deity and getting his grace, we are enabled to obtain our wishes. His subtle form is Pranava. We must practice Pranava Upasana. Pranava is the life potential of the manifested and manifesting Universe. What it is and what it signifies is explained in the Mandukya Upanishad. By this Upasanai or worship we transcend the form side of nature – we transcend the three lokas, Bhu, Bhuvar and Swarga. If we succeed in this, we become the lord of our mind (manas) – whatever we think, whatever we wish, every Sankalpa, every thought or every desire, becomes transmuted into action, reality on the physical plane.

            The image of the deity is frequently found at the foot of the asvatha tree along with the serpent symbol. The Asvatha tree represents the stream of Samsara. The deity is the fountain, the source of the form side of nature. The serpent represents the serpentine Kundalini.

            We also find in  some of our temples an image of this deity with a vessel at the folded end of the trunk and a beautiful damsel by his side, sometimes on the lap of the deity. The vessel indicates the Amrita kalasa – pot of immortality; the beautiful female by the side is an aspect of shakti, i.e., Kundalini shakti which is located near the Muladara Chakra in the human body. The pot of immortality is the bundle of interminable potentialities of names and forms which form the bijam or seed of the manifested and manifesting worlds.

            Let us now consider the necessity of this worship of this deity on all occasions. The Hindus knew the power of Manas or thought. What we think, so we become – says the Chandogya Upanishad. Therefore every ceremony should be first commenced with a Sankalpa, i.e., with will to do a thing in a particular manner for a particular object in view. This is preceded by Pranayama or restraint of breath. The object of Pranayama is to still the restless mind and to bring it to quietude. The view of the Raja Yogis is, “Where mind is, there Prana or breath is.” Conversely it is held by Hatha Yogis, “Where the prana or breath is, there the mind is.” Therefore it is enjoined on the worshipper on the physical plane that he should restrain the pranic current  and thereby still or calm down the agitations of the mind. Yoga is Chitta Virthi nirodham, i.e., yoga is inhibition of the agitations of Chitta-manas. When this is attained, i.e., when manas attains calmness, its power is at its height and hence its sankalpas, i.e., wishes, become easy of realization. When our mind is reduced to quietude, then if we invoke the devas for any help or for any object to be gained you promptly succeed. When the mind is subjugated by Pranayama or restraint of breath, the favor of the deity presiding over mind is said to be assured. Ganapathy is therefore the deity to be worshipped on all occasions.

            We pray to Vinayagar – the Almighty Lord – the remover of obstacles in the way of our work, the pati of all souls – and invoke His blessings upon our brethren for peace and harmony among them.

Monday, October 29, 2012



Lotus, tender flower

Of the crystal wave,

Whence thy magic power

Say, for thou dost save

Anon from chilling thoughts and Sorrow’s wretched slave.


Young when Phoebus rises

Through the misty veil,

Under his flaming kisses,

Like an approving green with passion trembling frail.


Yet how coy and distant

To the languid moon;

Whose bloodless beams extend

To embrace thee soon.

But thwarted by thy shrunken frown do pining swoon!


Can the green and diamond

Paving soft thy floor,

Dance, thou spirit jocund,

Laughing evermore

Dance, dance and laugh for pain did never reach thy shore,


Like a naiad lovely

With her sister nymphs,

All the day full gaily

To celestial hymns

Still dancing stately measures unwearied in her limbs.


As thy breath delicious

Overflows the air,

Heavenward rising wishes

Free from guilt or care,

Inspire the soul till it sparkles as thy water clear


Sweet as is thy fragrance

Holy, deep, serene

Never sensuous joyance

Wild and gross and keen,

Thy pious petals breathe, for godly is thy mien.


Like a saintly maiden

Clothed in purest thought,

Whom passions never madden

With vexation fraught,

Thy sister white communes with Heaven that rains the peace she sought.

Like a mild beamed star

Of the clear azure,

Sending from a far

Her tranquil light and pure

When clouds, like evil thoughts, do not her orb obscure.


Sounds of war or strife

Shaking souls that bloom

On the vale of life,

Do not yell their bloom

To mar the sacred calm that reigns within thy home!


Nature’s heart unfolded,

Shedding love and bliss,

Till the world be moulded

Into a soul of peace

Where tenderness wells up and furious never hiss!


Music sweet unearthly

From thy presence rains

Heard by mortals hardly

But whence their spirit reigns

In ecstasy upraised from lulled corporeal trains.



Sunday, October 28, 2012


            At the opening of the Session held in the Town Hall, Calcutta on Friday, the 9th April 1909, H. H. the Maharaja of Durbhanga, who occupied the chair, said:-


            It is with feelings of very great pleasure that I find myself called upon to preside over this great and representative gathering – an assembly consisting of men belonging to all the principal religions of the world, met together in friendly conference, to exchange their views with each other, with the main purpose of finding out, not how far separate they are in creed or ritual but how near they are to each other, when they penetrate through all the outward forms and come face to face with the eternal verities which lie at the inner heart of hearts of all the great religions of the world.

            2.         Such conferences have been held from remote antiquity. The Brahmans, in the remote period of Indian History did not, it is true allow other people to participate in their conference, but a great change came upon Hindu society with the rise of Buddhism in the 6th century, B.C. The first religious conference in a recognized form was held by the Buddhists at Rajgir (Bihar) in 548 B.C. under the auspices of King Ajatasatru. The next conference was held by them at Vaisali (in Mozafferpur in 443 B.C.) Similarly a third conference was held by the Buddhists at Pataliputra (Patna) in 255 B.C. under the auspices of Emperor Asoka. The fourth conference was held in Jalandhra (Punjab) under the auspices of King Kanishka about 78 A.D. As late as in the 7th century A.D. King Harshavardhana of Kanyakubja used to hold religious conference at the interval of every five years. Similarly the Jains used to convene religious conferences of which the most notable one was held at Mathura in the 2nd century A.D. Kumarilabhatta and Sankaracharya were perhaps the first batch of Brahmanic reformers that advocated religious conference in proper forms. Though their aim was a religious conquest they convened conferences of the followers of all religious existing in their times and entered upon healthy discussion with them. Even during the reign of the Emperor Akbar, we hear of conferences, of the followers of different religions, and in more recent times religious conferences, better known as Parliaments of Religions, have been held in Chicago and Venice, and occasionally similar conferences are held in different parts of Europe. Even on Modern India our religious gatherings, periodically held in almost all parts of the Empire, call forth vast congregations of which the greatest is the Kumbh Mela. These melas provide us with opportunities of exercising practical piety and spirituality through the advantages they afford of being filled with magnetism of the greatest saints of all sects and creeds and permeated through and through with the vibrations of the spiritual atmosphere by which the assemblies are generally pervaded.

            3.         Man has been classified as a religious animal. For go anywhere you like throughout the world, you will find even amongst tribes lowest down in the scale of civilization, some acknowledgement of a higher power than themselves, good or evil, of whom they stand in awe and worship after their various fashions of religious ritual.

            4.         We are met today as a Parliament of Religions. This reminds me of the meaning which lies at the root of the word “Religion.” It signifies a “binding again” – a binding of man to his brother man, and they again to God. This us, I trust, the spirit which lie at the back of all our thoughts in the discussion about to take place, and if so, we will find ourselves at the close of this Session, companions-in-arms, although belonging to different regiments of that great army, whose leader and commander is God, against all the opposing forces of evil which surround us in this world.

            There are as many religions in the world as there are modes of worship of the Divine Being. Brahmanism, Buddhism Jainism, Christianity, Mahomedanism, etc., area all religions inasmuch as they prescribe divine worship in some forms or other. Sree Krishna says in The Bhagavadgita:

            “I serve men in the way in which they approach Me. In every way, O son of Pritha, men follow in my path.” (Bhagavad gita, Chapter IV, verse II).

            A poet says in Persian:-

            “A Mussulman is the slave of Thy face, a Brahman is a prisoner of Thy locks Thou art in the Kaaba and in the Mosque and Thou art also in the Fire-worshipper’s Shrine and in the Temple of the Hindu.”

            5.         The various religions of the world represent in their votaries the cry in diverse ways of human hearts hungering after their God, if haply they might find Him and become acquainted with His character. But God is in them all, and is leading His children through all their religions, and by disciplinary education according as they are able to bear it into full light of His gracious Fatherhood towards all the children of men.

            The time may not yet be near at hand, but the human race, through diverse ways, are all marching on towards one universal religion, viz:- “The Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of Man.”

            We are met here to recognize this great truth and to help to bring it about.

            6.         We may worship at different earthly shrines, and express our ecclesiastical creeds by differing formulas, and worship through the various modes of ritual and symbols by which our forefathers have worshipped God. But while we differ and sometimes differ largely in these outward forms of creed and ritual; in the things of the heart and the spiritual life, we find ourselves in the haven of peace. In the other courts of Ecclesiasticism there has always been war, but in the interior we find that Sainthood is one and the same all the world over.

            7.         Creeds and Rites and outward Ceremonials and Symbols doubtless expressed some spiritual meaning when they were first instituted and were meant to be helps to the inner life, but it is the almost invariable history of all these things that through the lapse of time these symbols largely become emptied of their original interior significance and people keep on worshipping the husk when the kernel is gone. This is true in all religions. As I have already said we may dispute about the outward vestures of our faiths, but when we get into the inner sanctum sanctorum, we are all at one. There is no dispute about the great characteristics of the spiritual life, such as love, purity, truth, righteousness, goodness gentleness, helpfulness, forgiveness, brotherly kindness, hope, joy, peace, and all those other qualities which blossom and bear fruit in the highest human character. In this realm we are all at one.

            In taking a glance at some of the great religious represented in this Parliament, time will only permit me to touch on them in a somewhat cursory manner. Nor is more necessary, seeing there are friends here who will severally give expositions of the Faiths to which they individually belong.


            8.         In Zoroastrianism we have an actual theological dualism. Two Spirits – once a God creating all that is good, and the other an evil being creating all evil. The pious Zoroastrian, after an honorable toil, goes to an immortality of blessedness in thought, word and deed. According to the later avastas if not pious he falls to Hell in passing over the Judge’s Bridge, and this Hell consists of evil thoughts, words and deeds, as well as physical torment. His body rises and he dwells on a rejuvenated earth, through the instrumentality of a Savior born of Virgin. No religion has so clearly grasped the ideas of guilt and of merit. On the works of men here below a strict reckoning will be held in Heaven according to the deeds entered in the book. Zoroastrianism knows nothing of the remission of sins but an evil deed can be atoned for by a good one. The end of all things will be one undivided kingdom of God in Heaven and on earth.


            9.         I now briefly glance at the religion of Buddhism in India. In answer to a question as to what he considered the summum bonum, Gautama is reported to have said:-

            i           “To serve wise men, and not to serve fools, to give honor to whom honor is due, - this is the greatest blessing.

            ii.         To dwell in a pleasant land, to have done good deeds in a former birth, to have right desires for one’s self, - this is the greatest blessing.

            iii.        Much insight and much education, a complete training and pleasant speech – this is the greatest blessing.

            iv.        To succor father and mother, to cherish wife and child, to follow a peaceful calling – this is the greatest blessing.

            v.         To give alms and live righteously, to help one’s relative, and do blameless deeds – this is the greatest blessing.

            vi.        To cease and abstain from sin to eschew strong drink, not to be weary in well doing, - this is the greatest blessing.

            vii        Reverence and lowliness, contentment and gratitude, the regular hearing of the law, - this is the greatest blessing.

            viii.      To be long suffering and meek, to associate with members of the Sangha, religious talk at due seasons, this is the greatest blessing.

            ix.        Temperance and chastity, a conviction of the four great truths, the hope of Nirvana, this is the greatest blessing.

            x.         A mind unshaken by the things of the world, without anguish or passion, and secure, - this is the greatest blessing.

            xi.        They that act like this are invincible on every side they walk in safety, and theirs is the greatest blessing.

            Self-conquest and universal charity, these are the foundation thoughts, the web and woof of Buddhism, the melodies on the variations of which its enticing harmony is built up.


            10.       The word Islam implies pious resignation and submission to the Divine Will. The Great Arabian Prophet enjoined upon all Mussalmans the observance of five duties: First, the belief that there is but One God; Second, the observance of five daily prayers; Third, the giving of Sadka or alms; Fourth, the fasting for one month during the holy month of Ramazan; Fifth pilgrimage to Mecca once  in a Mussalman’s lifetime. A belief in a judgment to come is an essential part of the creed, teaching men that they ought to live their lives seriously and not to waste them in follies. Every Moslem is every other Moslem’s brother. In social graduations the rich man is considered to be the natural protector of the poor and the poor man takes his place at the table of the rich. No here in Mahommedan society is there any invidious distinction between rich and poor, and not less than one-fortieth of their goods is given to the benefit of the poor. The above is the pure and true essence of the great Mussalman religion.


            11.       I would now briefly refer to Christianity. Jesus Christ lived in Palestine nearly 2000 years ago. Here we tread on historical ground. Jesus Christ lived to the age of 33 years. He claimed to be the Son of God and the Son of Man. His great distinctive message to His own countrymen and through them to the world, was that God was not only the Creator, the Upholder, and Ruler of all things, but that above all these, He was a Father seeking to bring His human family back to Himself in order that they might live the Blessed life in this world and afterwards in the Eternal home above. Jesus Christ lived up to His own teaching. He wrote nothing, but imbued His own immediate followers with His wonderful sayings and with His own spirit. These men in turn lighted up the then known world with the words of their Master and so the religion of Christ spread until we behold the Christendom of today. Jesus Christ, after a three years public ministry, was put to death on the Roman Cross, but His followers believe that He rose again on the third day to die no more; that His Spirit now pervades all things; that the attractive power of His Cross was never felt so much as it is today, and that the law of His life of sacrificial love was maintained by simply doing the will of His Father and in placing implicit trust in Him. The great principles of the kingdom which he wished to set up on earth was the Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of Man. Christianity holds out the forgiveness of sins and the sure hope of an eternal life after death.


12.       The Hindu Religion to which I belong is one which stretches far back into antiquity. Today it is the religion under various forms, of two hundred seventy millions of the people of India. Hindus are divided and marked off into manifold interior diversities of worship belonging to different ages and different grades of society, and the rites vary with the places at which they are practiced and the incarnations to which they are addressed. Like nearly all the older religions of the world, it has a set of forms for the common people, and a different inner meaning for the educated and initiated. The inner meaning is that all the great elemental forces of Nature are manifestations of the all-pervading divine energy and that man himself is but a vessel which contains the divine particle giving thought and utterance to visible humanity. The Hindu doctrine is that God pervades all Nature, so that in worshipping Nature, you actually worship the Divine Spirit in every atom of matter. Manu, the well-known founder of Hindu socio-religious institute, speaks of ten injunctions as follows:-

            “Resolution, patience, self-restraint, honesty, purity, restraint of the organs, devotion, knowledge, truthfulness and absence of anger are the ten constituents of Dharma. Brahmans, who study these ten, and having gone over them act up to them, attain a supreme course of existence.” (Manusamhita, Chap. VI, verses 92, 93).

            Similarly, Manu speaks of ten prohibitions as follows:-

            “Covetousness, malice and skepticism constitute the threefold evil act of the mind. Abuse, untruth, back-biting and frivolous irrelevant talk are the fourfold evil act done by the voice. Stealing, killing without the sanction of law, and adultery with another’s wife are called the threefold evil act of the body.” (Manusamhita, Chap. XII, verses 5, 6 and 7.)

            13.       The ultimate good revealed through the Hindu religion is the freedom of the soul from the body to anything that has sensation, and its return through a succession of existences to the infinite Spirit whence it came. The books of Hinduism are full of moral precepts and virtuous maxims enjoining piety, austerity and the abnegation of self for the conduct of life in this world. A good Hindu is a good man. He claims that a pure Hinduism is the spirit of true religion, Santana Dharma, a definition which proclaims its catholicity and universality. According to the Vedas and Shastras there are seventy-two divisions and innumerable sub-divisions of Sanatana Dharma, and these sub-divisions are again divided in numerous branches which I will not trouble you to name, but will put them in an Appendix to this address for future reference.

            14.       I must now draw these remarks to a close. Delegates and representatives of the various religions of the world who have come from far and near to attend this great Congress, I extend to you a most cordial welcome, and our heartiest thanks are due to all who have come prepared to read papers on their own distinctive faiths and otherwise to take part in the proceedings of the Session. I trust you will return to your homes feeling that you have had a real pleasure in being here, and that you will carry away with you the reward of having contributed in no small degree to a better understanding of one another and of the several faiths to which we belong.

            Gentlemen, in conclusion, I have to thank you for the patience with which you have listened to me. I have great hope as to the results which will follow this Parliament of Religions. The grand ultimate test of the value of any religion is its ability so to mould its worshippers as to turn out good men of high spiritual character. A religion that fails to do this is of little use to humanity. Amid all our diverse faiths there is only one end in view and everything is moving on, independent of our wills, to –

                        “One God, one law, one element,

                        And one far-off Divine event,

                        To which the whole creation moves.”

            In the end there will only be one religion which will express itself in Love to God, in Love to out Brother Man. May this Parliament be the means of helping on that glorious day in the history of the world



Ananda K. Coomaraswamy.* D. Sc., (Abstract)

[* See also A. K. Coomaraswamy, The Aims of Indian Art, Campden, 1908]

            Three outstanding phases of the relation of art to religion are recognizable: art in the service of religion (religious art); art rejected by religion (asceticism); and art despised by religion (puritanism). The first two of these positions are properly characteristic of Hinduism and Buddhism, the third of Islam. The possibility of reconciling the two first is found in the fact that Hinduism does not seek to lay down for all men, or for all parts of a man’s life, the same course of action, or point to one only method of spiritual progress and means of salvation.

            Indian art is essentially religious and aims at the intimation of Divinity. But the Infinite and Unconditioned cannot be expressed in finite terms; hence the religious art of India is concerned with the representation of personal divinities. For most men the love and service of a personal deity is their religion; and it is their faith that Indian religious art expresses. These are the true citizens, for whom art is an aid to and a means of spiritual progress; ‘fine art’ an intimation of the Infinite; the ‘lesser arts’ a witness that man does not live by bread alone. True asceticism, on the other hand, is a search for a reality beyond conditioned life.

            Turning to the actual religious art of India, we find that it expresses in concrete imagery ideas that belong to the transcendental and mystic aspects of religion. Indian religious art contrasts thus with Greek, which corresponds only to the Olympian aspect of Greek religion. There are many Greek statues that may be either athletes or Apollos. In Indian religious art, on the contrary, the human form is used not for the sake of its own perfection, but to express transcendental conceptions, the ideal, non-human, and sometimes grotesque character of Hindu images is always deliberate and intentional. Nature is a veil, not a revelation; art is to be something more than a mere imitation of this maya.

            Almost the whole philosophy of Indian art is summed up in the verse of Sukracharya’s Sukranitisara, which enjoins upon the imager the method of meditation.

            ‘In order that the form of an image may be brought fully and clearly before the mind, the image maker should meditate; and his success will be in proportion to his meditation. No other way – not indeed seeing the object itself – will achieve his purpose.’

            The method of concentration in religious devotion upon the mental image of an Ishta Devata, or patron deity, is identical with the method of evoking and defining mental practiced by the imager or painter.

            This is illustrated by the comparison of Dhyana mantrams with verses from the technical books of images (Silpa sastras).

            The use of images in worship is generally misunderstood by students who belong to more or less puritanical religions. The Hindu view, not unlike the Catholic, is somewhat as follows. Except for those whose heart is set on an immediate realization of a non-mayic, unconditioned state of existence as subject without object, images are of value as a center of thought. Images obviously made with hands are often less likely to create misconceptions than purely mental concepts of divinity – they are more, or at least not less obviously symbols, and are thus less liable to be regarded as an adequate representation of the Infinite. The educated image worshipper knows that the very name of God, and the attribution of qualities to Him, are limitations imposed by his own intellect; still more that the form of the image is not really the form of the god, but only analogous with  a colored glass held before the sun.

            Religious symbolism in Indian art is of two kinds; the concrete symbolism of attributes, and the symbolism of gesture, sex, and physical peculiarities. The symbolism of gesture includes the various positions of the hands known as mudras; of physical peculiarities the third eye of Siva or the elephant head of Ganesa are instances. The subject of sex-symbolism is generally misinterpreted; but in fact, the imagery drawn from the deepest emotional experiences is a proof both of the power and truth of the art and the religion. India has not feared either to use sex-symbols in its religious art, or to see in sex itself an intimation of the Infinite.* [* Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, 4.3.21; also 1.4.3-4]

            The lingam is not properly an instance of sex-symbolism; it is probably not of phallic origin, but derived from the stupa, and is now regarded as the highest emblem of Siva, because the least anthromorphic. True sex-symbolism in Indian art of literature assumes two main forms: the conception of the relation of the soul to God expressed in terms of the passionate adoration of a woman for her lover; and the representation of the energy power (sakti) of a divinity as a feminine divinity.

            With regard to the use of sex-symbolism in Indian art there may be quoted here the words used by Sir Monier Williams in referring to the presence of words of erotic significance in his Sanskrit Dictinoary, ‘in India the relation between the sexes is regarded as a sacred mystery, and is never held to be suggestive of improper or indecent ideas.’ As much could not be said of Europe.

            Indian religious art is often, but by no means always, beautiful; it may also be terrible or grotesque. Personal gods are aspects of a pantheistic Divinity, upon whom ‘all this universe is strung as gems upon a thread.’ But nature is not always smiling; she is concerned not less with death than life. As there are three gunas or qualities in nature, sattva, rajas and tamas, images are also classified into three, sattvik, rajasik and tamasic.

            But it is best to study the relation between religion and art from actual examples. The seated Buddha may be selected as an example of one of the traditional conceptions of Indian religious art. Here conventionality and tradition are commonly held to fetter artistic imagination. But it is a modern error to associate imaginative intensity only with novelty. For, to the nameless artists who wrought the religious sculptures of India, the aim was not to prove their own cleverness, but to retell the great thing itself, which means so much to them, and which it was given to them continually to re-express. As regards the Buddha, it is not true, as is sometimes said, that there is no development, in the sense that the work of different epochs is quite uncharacterized. But it is true that the conception remains throughout almost identical. This is an expression of the fact that the Indian ideal has not changed. What is this ideal so passionately desired? It is one-pointedness, same-sightedness, control: little by little to rein in, not merely the sense, but the mind. Only by constant labor and passionlessness is this peace to be attained. What is the attitude of mind and body of one that seeks it? He shall be seated like the image; for that posture once acquire, is one of perfect bodily equipoise: ‘so shall he sit that is under the rule, given ever unto Me. In this wise the yogi … comes to the peace that ends in nirvana and that abides in Me.’ How then should the greatest of India’s teachers be represented otherwise than in this posture that is in India associated with every striving after the great Ideal?

            One other point connected with statues of the Buddha may be referred to. It relates to the statues of Dhyani Buddhas. The earthly mortal Buddha is sometimes regarded as merely a projection or partial incarnation (amsah) of a pure and glorious being functioning on some finer, more ideal plane. A statue of a Dhyani Buddha stands for this pure being, not merely for the man as he appeared on earth. Such conceptions were not unknown to the founders of the great traditions of Indian art! and it is this fact which gives so much depth and seriousness not merely to their work, but even to the last monuments of the tradition. For if it is true that the conception of the seated Buddha is one into which the genius of the greatest artist may be poured without any lack of room for its complete expansion, it is also true that this motif even in a shapeless or grotesque form remains for those whose spiritual heritage it is, a well understood symbol of eternal things. In the same way, by a study of other typical examples of Indian religious art, the relation of art and religion in India may be understood.

            This paper is thus an elementary study of the religious psychology of Indian art. Certain conclusions may be drawn. In the first place, the proper study of Indian art has hardly yet begun. By a proper study is meant not merely a close study of the weak and relatively unimportant semi-classic style of North-west India in the first few century after Christ, but a study of the development of the Indian ideal and its emancipation from foreign formulae unsuited to its expression. True Indian art is as little understood in the today, as Indian philosophy and literature a hundred years ago. This is illustrated by a recent pronouncement of no less eminent an archaeologist than Mr. Vincent Smith: ‘After A.D. 300 Indian sculpture properly so called hardly deserves to be reckoned as art. Such a statement is only to be paralleled with Lord Macaulay’s famous dictum upon the value of Oriental literature.

            It remains to be seen what value will be set upon Indian art in the West, and what influence it will have upon Western art, when it is as well known to artists as Japanese art is even at the present day. That influence should result in some real application of psychological principles in the consideration of the aims and purpose of art, and in the education of artists.

            At present the education of Western artists is an education merely in technique; the imagination is left to take care of itself, so long as the imitative powers are fully developed. Now if there is one thing which distinguishes the true artist from other men, it is not a knowledge of anatomy or a capacity for the meticulous imitation of nature, but it is the power of mental vision, of visualization, literally ‘imagination.’ Instead of being taught by meditation and concentration to cultivate this power, the Western student’s whole time is taken up with copying things that are set before his physical eyes. The true Indian artist on the other hand, who does not regard the reproduction of still life as the aim of art, is taught by memory work and practice in visualization to form a definite and perfect mental picture before he begins to draw or crave at all; his whole endeavor is to cultivate the power of mind-seeing. It is in this respect that Western art has most to learn from India.

            Further, the distinction between naturalism and idealism in art is one that is fundamentally religious. Religion, for India, is much more a metaphysic than a dogma; and it is the lack of a metaphysic in modern Western materialistic culture, and in the surviving realism of Semitic theology, that makes it possible for the Western artist now to find sufficient satisfaction in the imitation of beautiful appearances, and a sufficient aim for art in the giving of pleasure.

            It is not, however, possible for the greatest art to flourish, if men can believe in nothing more real and more eternal than the external face of nature. The true world of art is not the phenomenal world about us, but an ideal world of the imagination.
            Finally, as regards the future of art in India, two tendencies are apparent today, one inspired by the technical achievements of the modern West, the other a reaction towards the spiritual idealism of the East. If the greatest art is always both National and Religious – and how empty any other art must be! – it is in the latter tendency alone that we can trace the germ of a new and greatest Indian art, that shall fulfill and not destroy the past