Alekhya Sampradaya (SUN) — A study of the historical, spiritual and cultural elements of Vedic design.
Today we begin another new Feature series in the Sun – India Design Motifs – which will rotate along with our other current serial Features. We have a great appreciation for Vedic design in all forms: architecture, painting, sculpture, textile, etc., and while the Sun archives are full of past articles on Indian art, we have only scratched the surface of the content we would like to share with our readers.
This series will attempt to make a categorical study of motifs traditionally found in Vedic art, tracing them back to their earliest known historical appearances and to their spiritual roots. The earliest examples of many stylized motifs can be found in temple art and deity iconography, and many designs are mentioned in sastra.
The 64 transcendental arts of Srimati Radharani, enumerated in Sri Brahma-samhita (Text 37 purport) include numerous skillful pursuits in which Radha employs traditional Vedic motifs, such as in the art of painting (alekhya), the art of applying or setting ornaments (bhusana-yojana), the art of kaucumara (kaucumara), or the art of needleworks and weaving (suci-vaya-karma).
Throughout sastra there are many descriptions of the artistic skills of Radha, Sri Krsna, and the gopis. Sri Krsna is famous for His supreme creativity of design in arts and crafts. He creates designs while braiding Radha's hair, or drawing artistic symbols on her face with musk, kunkuma, sandal paste, etc., and the gopis also ornament one another with such art.
Over the ages, the artists of Bharata have duplicated these sacred designs, which represent important spiritual elements found in sastra and religious practice, and the rendered motifs have been propagated over the ages in everything from textile designs to temple ornaments and deity paraphernalia. The ornamental styles of India are the most sophisticated in the world, and they have been incorporated into so many other cultural art forms, often without proper attribution.
Throughout this series, we will explore how various design motifs have been rendered in different mediums, and particularly how they are rendered in a Vaishnava context, in art, architecture, Deity clothes and ornaments, etc. In the area of textiles, naturally we'll also include examples of devotional attire – saris, dhotis, etc. that feature distinct motifs and patterns. In fact, one could make a lifelong study just in the field of sari borders, pallus and fields, which are a natural canvas for traditional motifs.