Culture, in daily doses

Doctor-author Harsha Dehejia's lecture will throw light on his award-winning book, Akruti to Sanskruti, which centres on how objects of daily use have become a part of culture

While the word culture has high-brow connotations, author Harsha Dehejia believes that it couldn't be further from the truth.

An image of a potter

In his book, Akruti to Sanskruti: The Journey of Indian Forms (2010), Dehejia has highlighted how India is a civilisation of many images where the highest truths are embodied not only in the sacred texts and rituals but also in the informal kathas and customs that have been passed on for generations.

The award-winning book will be the focus of Dehejia's lecture at Jnanapravaha in Fort. The author, who is a practising physician as well as a Professor of Indian Studies in Ontario, Canada is keen to raise awareness about folk arts, which are often considered as a low form of art as compared to classical art.

Vishwakarma, the god of craftsmen

"This is partly due to a colonial hangover where classical art was given priority. Today, folk art is also getting its due," he reasons.

The hand that rocks the cradle...
Dehejia admits his fascination lies in the folk arts, which focus on the brighter side of life. "A lot of folk arts were women-centric where the women in the household would gather in groups to create art and it would be thus passed on from mother to daughter and so on.

Those gatherings turned into special occasions and it gets reflected in the art, which is a celebration of life. On the opposite spectrum, classical art often chose to highlight the belief that the world is an illusion or maya," he states.

Samudra Manthan or the Churning of the Ocean

The images that emerge out of folk art are symbolic of prosperity, beauty and fertility. "We belong to a Krishi Sanskruti where the farmer tilled land and enjoyed the earth's bounty. Consequently, festivals are centered on seasons like Vasant or spring and Varsha or monsoon.
They would often wonder about the origins of this bounty and certain images cropped up from the collective unconscious. That led to the legend of the Samudra Manthan or Churning of the Ocean, which explains how the world was blessed with divine trees, jewels and cows among other things," he explains.

Objects of art
Some of the forms that have permeated the mundane and found an auspicious place in our culture are of the Kalasha (metal vessel) and of the Padma (lotus). "The Kalash is a primal form that is believed to have emerged during Samudra Manthan.

An oil painting depicting a collage of folk images including
elephants, trees, horses and paisley

It is an object of day-to-day use but is meaningful and can be used to store gold coins, water and grains. Though it is utilitarian, it still finds a place in the temple. Similarly, there is the concept of the Kalpavriksha or the wish-fulfilling divine tree which reveres trees that are a source of fruits and shelter.

He adds that the Padma is also a prolific theme in folk art thanks to its metaphorical connotations of emerging from mud but remaining untouched by it. "There are images across folk cultures that trace the lotus vine as a continuous element across objects.

Botanically, lotuses don't have such large vines but in folk art, it lends continuity in design and hence it is often used," he states. Other symbols that emerged from the Churning of the Ocean are the elephant and horse, goddess Lakshmi and the apsaras or celestial nymphs.

"Such cultural symbols are present everywhere, especially in Indian culture due to an abundance of visuals, thanks to the trees, oceans, rivers and mountains. We have luxuriant growth as compared to countries like Canada, which is covered in snow for most of the year or the UAE, which is covered with sand," he explains.

Dehejia was inspired to write his book after he attended Living Arts of India, an exhibition in Canada, 15 years ago: "I was touched by the concept of folk art, which is kept alive by its practitioners (mostly housewives) who spread this beautiful art that defines tradition.
Such art forms never die; they return in a different avatar. So, even in a city, an object like the Kalash has value as art that can be used to decorate your home."

From 6 pm onwards
At Jnanapravaha, Queen's Mansion, third floor, Ghanshyam Talwatkar Marg, near Cathedral Middle School, Fort.
Call 22072974

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