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Romancing the `heroine'

Dr. Harsha Dehejia explores the various interpretations of the romantic heroine in Indian arts.

LOVE IS an emotion, which has provided inspiration to poets, writers, dancers from time immemorial. When one thinks of love, Radha and Krishna immediately come to mind. Their dalliance is part of Puranic lore. The concept of the nayika too figures especially the romantic heroine or the shringara rasa nayika. It is this nayika, which is central to Dr Harsha Dehejia's recent work - A Celebration of Love: The Romantic Heroine in the Indian Arts published by Roli Books. A compendium of articles on various aspects by about 40 scholars, this book edited by Dehejia, is visually endowed with colourful images. Dr. Dehejia, a medical practitioner in Ottawa, Canada, with an immense interest in the Indian art and aesthetics, was in the city recently to launch his book and give an illustrated talk on the subject as well.

Dehejia prefers to call himself a "philosopher of the arts rather than an art historian." This professor of Religion at Carleton University in Ottawa has to his credit The Flute and the Lotus (published by Mapin), which won him accolades and awards. The Celebration of Love... has a gamut of articles on the nayika like B.N. Goswami's The Things Unsaid, Walter Spink's The Quest for Krishna, Jagdish Mittal's The Romantic Heroine In The Paintings of the Deccan, and Patricia's Uberoi's Wife, Widow, Renunciant, lover: The Mirabai of Calendar Art to name a few. Besides the introduction, Dehejia has written the first and last articles: Udipan Vela As We Light The Lamps and Vidai As We Float Our Lamps On The River.

An interest in Sanskrit poetry led Dehejia into the world of literature, sacred literature (the Puranas) and then to painting and sculpture. He finds time to pursue both passions - medicine (he specialises in asthma) and art. He studied Indian art and thought and obtained a Ph. D too.

"The shringara rasa nayika is central in Indian art and cuts across various forms like poetry, painting, music and dance and goes from purely sensual to the spiritual, secular to the sacred. Nayika holds an important metaphor - all jivatmas are essentially nayikas, the only male is god. The nayika is the paradigm of the human soul in search of the divine and epitomises that metaphor. Unless this is sustained and understood one gets a distorted picture of the nayika. If one severs her connection with the jivatma then she becomes an object," introduces Dehejia. The lecture accompanied by slides (on paintings - ragamala and others) proceeded on these lines. Through the portrayal of the romantic nayikas in paintings (which also depict the link with nature, the seasons and the associated colours) Dehejia explained the path of transformation from mere beauty to bhakti. The talk also dwelt on the definition of beauty and beautiful through the study of the romantic heroine. Dehejia journey with Indian art continues. He is working on recreating the Dashama Skanda (tenth book) of the Bhagavata Purana through image, calligraphy and translation and on aesthetic interpretations of some important Hindu myths and symbols.


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