‘The artist in India is synonymous with Prajāpati (the creator)’ (Kalyanasundaram, 2018, p. 159). Within the Indian tradition there is a philosophical acceptance that art creation is ‘sacrosanct’ and the focus of inquiries has largely been in relation to aesthetic experience rather than the artistic process itself. ‘The essence of creativity or artistic inspiration is termed pratibhā and ‘signifies a burst of enlightenment’. The Kāśmīr Śaiviteliterature articulates human creativity as an act born of bliss in re-enacting the nature of the universal consciousness’ (Dehejia, 2000, p. 4; Kalyanasundaram, 2018, p. 159). This idea is echoed in the words of Ganapathi Sthapathi, the architect-sculptor (Śilpi) who traces his lineage back to the tenth-century architects of the Brihadeesvara temple (Kailasam, 2004). Irrespective of profession or disciplinary boundary, creativity is an integral element of consciousness. Consciousness is individual at one level, universal at another, but what interests me is how it is porous. It is in porosity that consciousness allows for new relationships to emerge between the human and the more-than-human worlds. In the activating the porous principle, creativity is enacted as performance. But what are the ethical boundaries of creativity in the context of the natural world? What is its expanse within freedom and responsibility? What is its essence within the realm of human compassion in relationships? How does it bind us in a shared cosmic ecology?
The Vedic conceptualisation of the divine being lies in the concept of ṛta, or cosmic order, which is seen as the organising principle of life at three levels: the natural, the social-moral, and the spiritual (Khanna, 2004; Panikkar, 1977; Sivaramamurti, 1969). Further, in the conceptualisation of Puruṣa as a universal being — as interpreted in the Puruṣa Suktam (Hymn 10.90 of the Rigvedā) (Swami Krishnananda, n.d.) — the view of all life as one integral being takes shape.
Puruṣa Suktam is not without problems, however. Ambedkar, one of India's constitution builders and part of the historically lower-caste category of untouchables (Dalits), has been a key leader in fighting against injustice and inequality of this community by other upper castes. He critiques verse 12 of Puruṣa Suktam as a religious sanction of the caste system in India (Ambedkar, 1970). This remains a key socio-political critique of the text. However, several other researchers, while acknowledging the historical injustice meted out to Dalits, point out issues with this reading of the suktam (Nadkarni, 2003; Venkataraman, 2016; Hardikar & Dhar, 2016).
The translation of these cosmic laws into artistic traditions in terms of form, technique, experience, and aesthetics is of critical importance if we wish to understand the integral vision of an ecologically grounded consciousness that pervades the Indian cultural and aesthetic ethos. Further, it provides us with an alternative worldview to construct ideas of creativity, its roots, and its practice as embedded within larger laws or path— dharma. The philosophical dictum Sarvaṃ Sarvātmakam (Yoga sutra Bhashya III.14), meaning ‘everything is related to the totality’, is a central idea in Indian culture (Vatsyayan & Baumer, 1996, p. xi). This idea is extended by the Tamil saints (cittars), who state Andamē pindaṃ, Pindamē andaṃ —the universe is the individual body and the individual body is the universe.
"Modern physics has shown the idea that the subject is forever apart from what it surveys to be wrong. The Vedic view goes further and claims that consciousness provides a means for subject and object to become one, a process in which the cognitive centres are transformed into doorways of holistic perception" (Kak, 2000).
According to the ‘Hindu’ tradition, the creative process is viewed as a means of ‘suggesting or recreating a vision, however fleeting, of a divine truth’. This is a sādhanā, a practice that opens the means to experiencing ānanda or transcendence. The tradition requires that the rasikā or the aesthete also be in a state of preparedness to respond and receive the nuanced vision of the artist, thereby becoming a sahṛdaya, sharing oneness of spirit with the artist (Vatsyayan, 1977, pp. 3-7). The training and initiation of the spectator is considered equally critical as the training of the artist (Vatsyayan, 1977, pp. 3-7). In this exchange between artist and rasikā, and the experience of transcendence by contemplating on the divine truth of oneness, lies an alternative vision of creativity.
A balanced worldview located in the panchabhūtas, or five elements, creates a deep awareness of the cosmic and earthly rhythms that impact human lives. An ecological understanding that emerges from these aspects of the traditional worldview could offer critical ways for building a harmonious interrelationship with nature in today’s context. ‘The arts serve as a bridge between concepts, myths, ritual, and life forms and hence they particularly express and mediate on ecological consciousness’ (Vatsyayan & Baumer, 1996, p. viii).
While Indian philosophical traditions were grounded in a cosmic ecology, much of today’s practices have become human-centred religious rituals divorced from their ecological roots. The philosophical and spiritual basis bound in ṛta (cosmic natural law) has been reduced to ‘dialogues and debates around human salvation, abstracted and far removed from the ethical, social, and spiritual order that was woven around natural laws’ (Kalyanasundaram, 2018, p. 162).