Tuesday 22 October 2013

Mastering the 64 arts

In Indian religion and culture, we have sixty four distinct arts or kalas or arts and each is distinct from the other. The arts cover a wide spectrum of  talents and if some come under fine arts, others come under physical feats such as yoga, walking on water or the art of levitation.
Magic is also considered an art as is juggling and so is a task as simple as covering a bed and cleaning one’s teeth.     
Apart from these 64 kalas, our texts also distinguish fourteen different kinds of vidyas or sciences.
The credit for clearly distinguishing 64 arts goes to Vatyasayana. Many other writers have followed him in naming them. However, some have come up with numbers greater than 64.
In the Chandogya Upanishad, sage Narada tells Sanatakumara that he has learnt the arts and he mentions their names too. However, he admits that he has not been able to learn the atma vidya or science of soul.
    “Sarvam Nara Vara Sresthau  
      Sarva Vidya Pravartakow
      Sakrin Nigada Matrena
      Tow Sanjaghrihautar Nripa
      Ahoratraris Catau Shastya
      Samyattau Tavatih Kala..”

This is what the Bhagavath Geetha says in chapter 10. It says both Krishna and Balarama mastered the 64 arts in 64 says at the ashrama of Sandipana in Ujjain or Avanti. This ashrama can still be seen in Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh.
The 64 arts are:

          (1)            Geeta vidya or the art of singing.
(2) Vadya vidya—playing on musical instruments.
(3) Nritya vidya—art of dance.
(4) Natya vidya—art of theatricals.
(5) alekhya vidya—art of painting.
(6) viseshakacchedya vidya—art of painting the face and body with color
(7) tandula kusuma bali vikara—art of preparing offerings from rice and flowers.
(8) pushpastarana—art of making a covering of flowers for a bed.
(9) dasana vasananga raga—art of applying preparations for cleansing the teeth, clothes and painting the body.
(10) mani bhumika karma—art of creating the groundwork of jewels.
(11) sayya racana—art of covering the bed.
(12) udaka vadya—art of playing on music in water.
(13) udaka ghata—art of splashing with water.
(14) citra yoga—art of applying colors.
(15) malya grathana vikalpa—art of designing wreaths.
(16) sekharapida yojana—art of setting a coronet or crown on the head.
(17) nepathya yoga—art of dressing.
(18) karnapatra bhanga—art of decorating the tragus of the ear.
(19) sugandha yukti—art of practical application of aromatics.
(20) bhushana yojana—art of applying or setting ornaments.
(21) aindra-jala—art of juggling.
(22) kaucumara—a kind of art.
(23) hasta laghava—art of sleight of hand.
(24) citra Sakapupa bhakshya vikara kriya—art of preparing delicious food.
(25) panaka rasa ragasava yojana—art of preparing palatable drinks.
(26) suci vaya karma—art of needlework and weaving.
(27) sutra krida—art of playing with thread.
(28) vina damuraka vadya—art of playing on lute and small drum.
(29) prahelika—art of making and solving riddles.
(30) durvacaka yoga—art of practicing language which is difficult for others to answer.
(31) pustaka vacana—art of recitation.
(32) natikakhyayika darsana—art of enacting short plays and anecdotes.
(33) kavya samasya purana—art of solving enigmatic verses.
(34) pattika vetra bana vikalpa—art of designing shield, cane and arrows.
(35) tarku karma—art of spinning by spindle.
(36) takshana—art of carpentry.
(37) vastu vidya—art of engineering.
(38) raupya ratna pariksha—art of testing silver and other jewels.
(39) dhatu vada—art of metallurgy.
(40) mani raga jnana—art of tinging jewels.
(41) akara jnana—art of mineralogy.
(42) vrikshayur veda yoga—art of practicing medicine or medical treatment, by herbs.
(43) mesha kukkuta lavaka yuddha vidhi—art of knowing the mode of fighting of lambs, cocks and birds.
(44) suka sarika prapalana - art of maintaining or knowing conversation between male and female cockatoos.
(45) utsadana—art of healing or cleaning a person with perfumes.
(46) kesa marjana kausala—art of combing hair.
(47) akshara mushtika kathana—art of communicating  with fingers.
(48) dharana matrika—art of the use of amulets.
(49) desa bhasha jnana—art of knowing provincial dialects.
(50) nirmiti jnana—art of knowing prediction by heavenly voice
(51) yantra matrika—art of mechanics.
(52)mlecchita kutarka vikalpa—art of fabricating barbarous or foreign sophistry .
(53) samvacya—art of conversation.
(54) manasi kavya kriya—art of composing verse mentally.
(55) kriya vikalpa—art of designing a literary work or a medical remedy.
(56) chalitaka yoga—art of building shrines.
(57) abhidhana kosha cchando jnana—art of the use of lexicography and meters.
(58) vastra-gopana—art of concealing clothes.
(59) dyuta-visesha—art of gambling.
(60) akarsha-krida—art of playing with dice or magnet.
(61) balaka-kridanaka—art of using children's toys.
(62) vainayiki vidya—art of enforcing discipline.
(63) vaijayiki vidya—art of gaining victory.
(64) vaitaliki vidya—art of awakening master with music at dawn.

If we look at the list closely, the first one is music. This shows the importance that our ancestors attached to this art. In the Mahabharata, we find that Krishna has exhibited many arts at different times. Though the occasion in Krishna using these arts expertly may have been different, the end result was to enlighten the people that God is One and that He is the supreme being without whom nothing in the world  moves.
All these arts were taught at Hindu Universities and Gurukulas. The Nalanada University had experts in each of the field as was the university at Taxila. Several gurukulas and centres of education such as Ujjain, Benaras, Kanchi, Hampi taught these arts.  
Hindu, Jain and Buddhist texts mention these arts and sciences frequently. Patanjali, the author of Mahabhasya and the compiler of yoga shastras, also mentions these 64 arts. The Sutras of Jains also mentions 64 kalas apart from mastery of 18 dialects, which they say one of their Theerthankara, Mahavira, was proficient. Gauta, Buddha was also said to be proficient in several arts.  Buddhist texts also mention the kalas, particularly those relating to
that a king has to master if he has to rule his kingdom efficiently.
Among our seers, the best known exponent of these 64 arts was Vijendra Theertha (1514-1575), the paramaguru of Raghavendra Swamy and one of the leading lights of the Madhwa parampare in the sixteenth century.
A renowned astrologer, this Madhwa seer could also foretell events. When he was invited to Vijayanagar at the invitation of Aliya Rama Raya, he foresaw the fall of the great empire and warned the Emperor but to no avail.
He prayed at the Brindavana of his Vidya Guru, Vyasa Raja, at Nava Brindavana and returned back to Kumbakonam and when he heard of the news of the defeat of Vijayanagar and the sacking of Hampi, he heard it with characteristic equanimity though he was deeply anguished and pained.
Vijendra Theertha also foresaw the decline of the Haridasa movement and the troubled time for Hindus that was to follow the defeat of Vijayanagar. He saw in young Venkatanatha the catalyst for revival of Madhwa way of life and the reemergence of the Haridasa movement. It was for this reason he instructed his disciple, Sudhindra Theertha, to hand over the pontificate of the Sri Matha to Rayaru after him.  
Just as Akshobya Theertha had poured his heat and soul in teaching Jayatheertha all the tenets of knowledge so also did Vyasa Raja strive to educate young Vishnu Theertha who later became Vijendra Theertha.
Many Indian Emperors, including the legendary Vikramaditya and  Bhoja were reckoned to be masters of arts.             

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