Written by Kinnari Thakker
The idea of Beauty isn’t superficial, it is deep rooted. In the common use of the word, it is used to express externality. It is also associated with consumption - we covet what we find beautiful. But here, the quest is for a deeper beauty, one that doesn’t make us feel inadequate but instead makes us feel alive, be less self centred and celebrate the experience.
Endless number of poets and philosophers have written about beauty. Some lives have so far as been consumed by the search for beauty. Because it is such a thing that when we encounter it we want to make it last forever. That moment, that feeling, that thing. We never want to lose sight of that beautiful bird we see or that architectural marvel that tells us stories from time past.
In everyday language, the word beauty is always used as a way to express the superficial. She looks beautiful. This looks gorgeous. It is perhaps a reaction to symmetry in form, harmony, originality, environment and more. But for the moment, let’s not limit ourselves by that definition of beauty.
Elaine Scarry in her book, "On Beauty and Being Just” , describes how the first flash of a beautiful bird incites in us the desire to keep experiencing it. We feel sheer joy by continuing to see the bird for five seconds, twenty-five seconds, forty-five seconds longer—as long as the bird is there to be beheld.
With its direct appeal to the senses, beauty stops us, transfixes us, fills us with a “surfeit of aliveness” (in Scarry’s words). In so doing, it takes the individual away from the center of her self-preoccupation and prompts a distribution of attention outward, towards others. We no longer feel that we ourselves are at the centre of the world, we willingly cede our ground to the thing that stands before us, like the bird or a majestic temple.
Skyspaces by James Turell: Turell manipulates light in the same way a sculptor molds clay. His work amplifies perception while coaxing viewers to reflect on art and beauty.
Afghan Girl, National Georgraphc Magazine: The beauty of Sharbat Gula’s piercing green eyes made her an instant icon.
Gopuram of a temple in Karnataka: Ancient Indian architecture is full of symbolism and details, this is often what entices devotees and tourists to better understand them and discover their hidden meanings.
Untitled 1979: V.S. Gaitonde
Beauty enables us to come alive, not be self centered and celebrate another, something outside of us
Seeing a beautiful object makes an artist want to draw it, a photographer, photograph it. We want to capture it, copy it, covet it. Beauty gives rise to exact replications, sometimes resemblances and other times to things whose connection to the original site of inspiration is unrecognizable.
Beauty sometimes causes a contagion of imitation, as when followers begin to style themselves like a particular actress or influencer, but it’s important to recognize that this is just an imperfect version of a deeply beneficent momentum toward replication.
Beauty can also give rise to material love and possessiveness; but here, too, we may come to feel we are simply encountering an imperfect instance of an otherwise positive outcome.
Beauty brings copies of itself
The quest for beauty is at least as old as the Vedas. In the Rigveda we see the use of the word aramkrti which is associated with the later word alankara or the sanskrit name for aesthetics, Alankarasastra.
Ya ya prakrtirudara
Yo yo’ pyanandasundaro bhavah
Yatkimcid ramaniyam vastu
(Commentary on Atharvasira Upanisad)
‘Whatever is striking in Nature, that feeling of pure joy or beauty, are all manifestations of God himself.’ Such is the religio-philosophical theory of beauty reflected in Indian sacred texts.
We see beautiful things and get consumed by them. As if subservient. We want to be near them, we want to own them, we want to love them. We want to live on the street that we find beautiful so as to be near it and be in its presence. We go on holidays and we don’t want to come back because what we experience is all consuming. We all seek beauty.
There is a difference in submitting to beauty and to have it rejuvenate you. This beauty is not external, it is deep rooted.
Many poets, western and Indian alike; Keats, Kalidas have described beauty that is unadorned and real. But somehow, when we refer to it (ironically even on this website) it refers to adornment as a way to make us look and feel beautiful.
Ancient Indians were highly cerebral and richly sensual people. They insisted that their sensuality be refined with thought. One of the cardinal principles of life that is described is that there is no dividing line between the mind and body. The mind is the body and body, mind. Therefore, those who seek to cultivate a deep rooted beauty, will also cultivate a beautiful soul.
To seek a deeper beauty we need to be aware of ourselves and our feelings when we see something beautiful. We need to question and examine these feelings and motivations. Why do we want to buy this? Why do we need to have this? If we peel these, like the layers of an onion, we will discover that we almost never just stop and see the beauty in things and let it simply rejuvenate us. But that really is the true purpose of beauty, isn’t it?