“Shadang”

In the idealization of reality, the artist has to invest his inner intuitive power besides the dictates of senses. These laws are the creation of those who could churn the gems from the ocean of their evolved consciousness empowered by the sublime. Be it Chitrasutra,Kamasutra or Natyashatraall such laws have been formulated by the saint in all these Indian texts. Art enables the unification with the eternal, the indefinable. It is the journey beyond the tangible and the absorption of the universality. As Thomas Merton rightly said, “Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time”.

A work of art is more than the visual manifestation, the paint daubs and the empty spaces. It is not just the form but the formless (the vayanjana) that completes the aura of an artwork. Indian aesthetics believes in this dual inextricable relationship of the Sensuous and volitional. And to achieve such transcendental duality, ancient Indian liturgical texts lay the most important canons of Indian Art in the form of Shadang. 

                                                      Six Limbs of Indian Paintings

‘Shadang’ or the six limbs of Indian Art find their first mention in Vatsyayana’s celebrated text Kama Sutra.  Shadang weaves the language of an art work. It defines the principles of creation of an artwork. It mirrors the limbs of art, without which an art work is deficient. 

“Roopabhedah pramanani bhava-lavanya-yojanam |
Sadrishyam varnakabhangam iti chitram shadakam ||”

This Shloka enumerates the six limbs of Indian Art- Rupa-bheda (secrets of form), pramanani (proportion), bhava (emotional Disposition), lavanya-yojanam (gracefulness in composition), sadrisyam ((‘similitude’)and varnika-bhanga (colourdifferentiation)The following principles explicate the theory of. Traditional Indian Painting.

  • Rupa-bheda (secrets of form)
  • Rupa – bheda presupposes accurate draughtsmanship and the importance of Form. It stresses on the Physical typologies of form. It not only stresses on the knowledge of form (Rupa) but also on the subtle and stark difference of forms. For instance a work must be articulate enough to let the ordinary eye decipher between a dead man and a sleeping man.
  • Pramanani (proportion)

The manifestation of form must be guarded by the power of Pramanani (proportion). It emphasises on perception, measurement and structure. It provides an insight into the structural anatomy of objects.

Bhava (emotional Disposition)


Bhava- yojana speaks about the emotion, a feeling or an intention. It eulogizes the expression of emotions; the formless. Bhava are of two types, covert i.e. the hidden emotions and overt i.e. revealed emotions.

Celebrated Indian artist Ravi Varma is particularly noted for his paintings that most delicately depict the veiled emotions. One of his most famous paintings show Shakuntala, who pretends to remove a thorn from her foot, while actually looking for Dushyantha, as her friends call her bluff.

The present article deals with the first three limbs of Art. The journey into Shadang will continue as we delve deeper into the next three limbs in subsequent articles.

Vatsayan enumerates the Shadanga or Six Limbs of Indian Painting in his Kamasutra, laying down the main principles of art. The first 3 limbs; Rupa-bheda (secrets of form), Pramanani (proportion), Bhava (emotional Disposition) were discussed in the last article, the present one explores the remaining three; Lavanya-yojanam (gracefulness in composition)Sadrisyam (similitude) and Varnika-bhanga (colour differentiation).

  • Lavanya-yojanam (gracefulness in composition)
  • Lavanya, an extremely essential limb of Indian art stands for ‘Grace’. Its importance can be illustrated through the example of a meal/curry rich in all flavours and spices save the salt. Just as the curry loses its charm without the salt, so does a painting without lavanya.  The Indian Yakshi sculptures at Kajhurao and Konark are a hallmark of Lavanya. Here the Yakshi of Didarganj deserves a special mention for its unparallel beauty and poise. This life size statue is one of the most remarkable pieces of Mauryan art.  It is an ideal example where its creator has truly infused grace in her beauty.

      Yakshi of Didarganj

Lavanya blooms in the bodily postures, bhaav- bhangima and of course in the ornaments and robes that add to the beauty of bodily contours. Another striking example of Lavanya is the sculpture at Sun temple Konark, of a heavenly nymph writing a love letter. One can experience the fragrance of grace in every visual modulation of her inner love, be it the posture, the expressive eyes or the way she holds the pen and the pad.

An artist cannot justify a character unless this grace is achieved for it is this lavanya that enables him to show the beauty that resides not in appearance but essence.

  • Sadrisyam (similitude)
  • Sadrishyam means Similitude. An artist strives to achieve similitude in his creation. Sometimes he derives this similitude from the forms, sometimes from the attributes and sometimes from the virtues. In Chitrasutra of Vhishnudharmottara purana there is a mention of 5 types of eyes that have sadrishyam in the forms like fish, conch, lotus petals etc. In Indian poetry, just as in Indain paining, the black lustrous curly locks of a woman are compared with the snake or dark clouds. Even in the asanas like the bhujang asana, mayur asana and lotus asana one find sadrishyam of certain animal postures.

                                                         Chitrasutra of Vishnudharmottara

  • Varnika-bhanga (colour differentiation)
  • This limb pertains to ‘colour’ that lends soul to an artwork. The beauty of colour is not in the colour but in its application. A master painter magnifies the splendour of different shades on the surface with the strength of the stroke of his brush. The myriad hues are not only an aspect of appearance but are the expression of inner character. In the hands of a versatile artist even ordinary colours pronounces extraordinary exuberance.

These six cannons of art do not curtail artistic freedom rather aids it. The Chitrasutra of Vhishnudharmottara purana mentions that the artist needs to experience the mysteries beyond cognitive intellect. He mustn’t restrict himself to understanding the work, but also experience it directly. That is where the real rasa is. It states that, valuable as these various instructions are, they are derived from and subservient to practice .The artist has the freedom to work according to his own intellect.

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