Monthly Archives: June 2016

Focus on art: Indian aesthetic theory (rasas), murti and concepts of art

krishna 576px-Indischer_Maler_um_1710_001

Today’s blog post will take us to India भारत Bharat, and to Indian art, कला kala, and aesthetic theory.

Indian art is based on the ancient aesthetic theory of rasa रस (Sanskrit lit. ‘juice’, ‘extract of a fruit’ or ‘essence’) which, by extension, refers to the finest quality of an object. The term rasa रस  generally refers to the ‘essence’ and emotional qualities crafted into a work of art (or a performance) by the maker and to the response the contemplation or perception of the artwork evokes in the viewer, or sahṛdaya सह्रदय. So it is a viewer-response theory. Rasas are created by bhavas भव (or states of mind). The concept of rasa has its origins in performance theory. Emphasis is therefore always on the spectator, and the artwork or performer only serves as a means for the viewer to experience the different rasas. That is the reason why in Indian paintings and sculpture a narrative mode predominates: a narrative gradually unfolds over the area of a painting or the length of a wall or even building.

Author: Bodleian Library Oxford

Author: Bodleian Library Oxford; Krishna (with blue complexion and yellow garments) moves through the painting, thereby telling a narrative

The concept of rasa is fundamental to many forms of Indian art, and can be found in dance and performance, music, musical theatre, literature as well as cinema.

The Rasas were first described by Bharata Muni भरत मुनी, an ancient Indian musicologist and theatrologist, in the Nāṭya Śāstra (Sanskrit: नाट्य शास्त्र, Nāṭyaśāstra), a Sanskrit Hindu text on dramatic theory and the performing arts, written between 200 BCE and 200 CE. According to this text, there are 8 original rasas, each of which has an associated deity and a specific colour. Later authors have added a 9th rasa, plus some additional rasas.

  • Shringaram (शृङ्गारं) Love, attractiveness, erotic. Deity: Vishnu. Colour: green; the erotic rasa is blue-black. Considered the ‘king of rasas‘.
  • Hasyam (हास्यं) Laughter, mirth, comedy, comic. Deity: Ganesha. Colour: white.
  • Raudram (रौद्रं) Fury. Deity: Rudra. Colour: red.
  • Kāruṇyam (कारुण्यं) Compassion, tragedy, pathetic. Deity: Yama. Colour: dove-coloured (grey-white).
  • Bībhatasam (बीभत्सं) Disgust, aversion, abhorrent, shocking, odious. Deity: Shiva. Colour: blue
  • Bhayānakam (भयानकं) Horror, terror, fear, terrible. Deity: Kala. Colour: black
  • Vīram (वीरं) Heroic mood. Deity: Indra. Colour: wheatish brown (yellow, ochre)
  • Adbhutam (अद्भुतं) Wonder, amazement, wonderful, wondrous. Deity: Brahma. Colour: yellow
  • The 9th rasa is Śāntam (शांता) Peace or tranquility, quiescent. Deity: Vishnu. Colour: perpetual white (silvery, the colour of the moon and of jasmine)

The 9th Shanta-rasa is simultaneously seen as an equal member of the rasas, but also as distinct, since it represents the clearest form of aesthetic bliss and has been described as “as-good-as but never-equal-to the bliss of Self-realization experienced by yogis”.

In Indian art, the rasas become apparent, for example in the colour in which a certain deity is depicted which hints at the predominant character trait associated with this deity, or in the colour of the aura of a person. For instance, a black aura indicates a frightened person, and a red aura indicates that the character is angry. The god Krishna, who is the archetypal lover and hero, is always depicted with a blue-black complexion and yellow garments.

Two additional rasas appeared later on, in particular in Indian literature. These are:

  • Vātsalya (वात्सल्य) Parental Love
  • Bhakti (भक्ति) Spiritual Devotion

However, a specific deity or colour has not been assigned to these two rasas.


Another important term in Indian art is Murti (Sanskrit: मूर्ति Mūrti) which usually refers to any solid object that has a definite shape and is made from material elements like wood, stone, pottery or metal. The term murti basically refers to any statue, or to an image or idol of a deity or person, as well as to any incarnation, embodiment, manifestation and appearance of a deity. Murti constrasts with the immaterial world of mind and thought of ancient Indian literature.

Medieval Hindu texts like the Puranas (Sanskrit: पुराण, purāṇa, lit. ‘ancient’, ‘old’), the Agamas (Sanskrit: आगम, lit.’tradition’, from the verb root गम gam meaning ‘to go’ and the preposition आ aa meaning ‘toward’ -> ‘that which has come down’) and the Samhitas (Sanskrit: संहिता, saṁhitā, lit. ‘put together, joined, union’) described the proper proportions, positions and gestures (mudra) for the murti.

The expressions in a Murti vary, but there are two major categories in Hindu iconography:

  • Raudra रौद्र (lit. dire) or Ugra उग्र (lit. fierce, violent, furious) symbolism – used to express fear, violence and destruction (deities: Kali, Durga). Typical elements include adornment with skulls and bones, weapons, and wide, circular eyes.  Raudra deity temples were invariably located outside of villages or towns, and in remote areas of a kingdom. Ugra images were worshipped by soldiers before going to war, or by people in times of distress.
  • Shanta शांता (lit. peaceful) and Saumya सौम्या (lit. gentle, benign, kind) symbolism – used to express joy, love, compassion, kindness, knowledge, harmony and peace (deities: Lakshmi, Saraswati). These temples were predominantly located inside towns and villages. Saumya images symbolize peace, sensuality, knowledge, music, wealth, flowers, etc.

Apart from anthropomorphic murti, some Hindu traditions prefer aniconism, that is the absence of figurative representations of the natural or supernatural world. Here the murti take the shape of the linga for Shiva, the yoni for Devi, and the shaligrama for Vishnu.

A murti may be found inside or outside homes as well as temples, and in some cases it can just be a landmark. A murti is often considered as an embodiment of the divine or Brahman, and may be treated as a welcome guest in homes and serve as a participant in Puja rituals.

The artist, कलाकार kalakar, or artisan who makes any works of art or crafts, including murti, is known as Shilpin शिल्पिन्, (for a male artist) or Shilpini शिल्पिनी (for a female artist). The Shilpins design the murti according to the rules of canonical manuals like the Agamas and the Shilpa Shastras. The term Shilpa Shastras (Sanskrit: शिल्प शास्त्र śilpa śāstra) literally means the Science or Discipline of the Shilpa (i.e. the arts and crafts). Shilpa शिल्प refers to any art or craft, while Shastra शास्त्र means ‘iconography’, ‘a work of scripture’ or ‘discipline’. Man-made works of art are termed Shilpani शिल्पनि. The Shilpa Shastra is an umbrella term for various Hindu treatises and manuals on the arts and crafts, which outline Hindu iconography, design principles and rules, composition, the ideal proportions for human sculptures, as well as the principles and rules of architecture.


The Brihat Samhita बृहत् संहिता (lit. ‘Large Codex’), a 6th-century encyclopedia covering a wide range of topics from astrology to horticulture to murti and temple design, and the 6th-century treatise  Manasara-Shilpashastra मनसारा शिल्पशास्त्र (literally: ‘treatise on art using the method of measurement’), specify 9 materials that can be used for the creation of murti: stone पत्थर patthar, wood लकड़ी lakadee, copper तांबा taamba, gold सोना sona, silver चांदी chaandee, earth (= clay मिट्टी mittee or terracotta टेरकोटा), sudha सुधा (a type of mortar plaster or stucco), sarkara सरकार (gravel, grit), and abhasa आभास (various types of marble or stones, which have a range of colours and opacity). Metal murti are often made from a special alloy called panchaloha, which is believed to have auspicious properties and is considered of sacred significance. Panchaloha (Sanskrit: पञ्चलोह), which is also known as Panchadhatu (Sanskrit: पञ्चधातु, lit. ‘five metals’), is an alloy consisting of 5 metals, namely gold (Au), silver (Ag), copper (Cu) iron (Fe) and lead (Pb); the lead is often replaced by tin (Sn) or zinc (Zn).

Author: +rex, via Wikipedia Commons, a Panchaloha Murti (a metal alloy made of 5 elements)

Author: +rex, via Wikipedia Commons, a Panchaloha Murti (a metal alloy made of 5 elements)

References: Indian Art, by Vidya Dehejia, Phaidon Press, London, 1997

Focus on culture: Turkish coffee/Türk Kahvesi

Author: Silverije via Wikipedia Commons

Author: Silverije via Wikipedia Commons

Today’s blog post is taking us to Turkey (Türkiye) and to the tradition of Türk kahvesi or Turkish coffee, which is recognized as an Intangible Heritage of Turkey by UNESCO.

Türk kahvesi is a special method of coffee preparation (i.e. not a special kind of coffee bean) in which coffee is generally prepared unfiltered from roasted and finely ground coffee beans (kahve çekirdekleri; sing.kahve çekirdeği) which are simmered (but not boiled) in a cezve, a special Turkish coffee pot. The term cezve derives from the Arabic term جذوة‎‎ ’ember’. The coffee is served in a cup, fincan, where the coffee grounds (kahve telvesi) are allowed to settle. If prepared well, the coffee has a thick layer of foam at the top (köpük). The word for ‘coffee’ kahve comes from the Arabic word قهوة qahwah. The importance of coffee in Turkish culture is also reflected in the word kahvaltı, breakfast, which literally means ‘before coffee’ (kahve + altı ‘under/before’.

Cezve, a special Turkish coffee pot

Cezve, a special Turkish coffee pot

To prepare Turkish coffee, finely ground coffee powder is immersed in hot, but not boiling, water. For each cup, 1 – 2 heaped teaspoons of coffee are used, which along with some sugar, are usually added to the water rather than first being placed into the coffeepot. The mixture is then heated until it starts to boil – at this point it is taken off the heat source. When prepared properly, a layer of foam called köpük forms on the surface of the coffee.

Author: Oliver Merkel, via Wikipedia Commons Preparation of mocha coffee (Turkish Coffee). 1: Ground coffee, water, sugar, and heat source. 2, 3: heat the water till it starts bubbling. 4: add coffee. 5: continue heating and mixing. 6: heat until the mixture starts to rise, then take off the heat source to settle it down while mixing the upper part (repeated many times). This creates a foamy top. 7: pour and serve hot

Author: Oliver Merkel, via Wikipedia Commons
Preparation of mocha coffee (Turkish Coffee). 1: Ground coffee, water, sugar, and heat source. 2, 3: heat the water till it starts bubbling. 4: add coffee. 5: continue heating and mixing. 6: heat until the mixture starts to rise, then take off the heat source to settle it down while mixing the upper part (repeated many times). This creates a foamy top. 7: pour and serve hot

Turkish culture distinguishes between four degrees of sweetness of the coffee, depending on the amount of sugar, şeker, that is added:

  • sade (plain; i.e. no sugar added)
  • az şekerli (little sugar; about half a level teaspoon of sugar)
  • orta şekerli (medium sugar; about one level teaspoon)
  • çok şekerli (a lot of sugar; 1.5 – 2 level teaspoons).

The coffee grounds left in the cup after finishing your fincan (cup) of Turkish coffee can be used for fortune-telling, called kahve falı or tasseomancy: the cup is turned over on the saucer to cool down and the patterns left by the coffee grounds, kahve telvesi, can then be interpreted to tell one’s fortune.

Author: Eaeeae via Wikipedia commons, A Turkish cezve coffeepot

Author: Eaeeae via Wikipedia commons,
A Turkish cezve coffeepot

For more information:

Is there also a special beverage in your country or are there any special customs or superstitions associated with a beverage in your country? Tell us about it in the comments! 🙂

Vocabulary: ‘The weather’ in Celtic languages

Today’s blog post is continuing our series on the comparison of vocabulary of closely related languages and is taking us to the British Isles again, as well as to Brittany (Bretagne) in France, and to the various Celtic languages spoken there, namely Welsh, Irish and Scottish Gaelic, as well as Cornish and Breton. Our topic today is the weather and the most important words related to it. Both Welsh (Cymraeg) and Cornish (Kernewek) belong to the Brittonic group of the Celtic languages (to which also Breton Brezhoneg belongs), and Irish (Gaeilge) and Scottish Gaelic (Gàidhlig) belong to the Goidelic group (to which also Manx Gaelg  belongs).

weather celtic

The terms for these weather-related words in Cornish/Kernewek:

weather – kewer, sunshine – Howl, wind – gwyns, rainbow – kammneves, rain – glaw, clouds – kommol, thunder – taran, thunderstorm – hagarawel derednow, lightning – lughes, snow – ergh, hail – keser

and in Breton/Brezhoneg:

the weather – an amzer, sunshine – Heol, wind – avel, rainbow – kanevedenn, rain – glav, cloud – koumoul, thunder – taran, thunderstorm – arnev, lightning – luc’hed, snow – erc’h, hail – grizilh 


Focus on culture: A calçada portuguesa (Portuguese pavement)

Author: Krzysztof Żwirski, via Wikipedia Commons, Padrão dos Descobrimentos, Lisboa (Belém).

Author: Krzysztof Żwirski, via Wikipedia Commons, Padrão dos Descobrimentos, Lisboa (Belém).

Today’s blog post is taking us to western Europe and to South America, namely to Portugal and to Brazil and to a characteristic feature of public spaces in Portuguese-speaking towns and cities, a calçada portuguesa or mosaico português , or Portuguese mosaic pavement. This type of mosaic pavement can also be found in other Portuguese-speaking countries (=former Portuguese colonies).

Author: Miguelgouveia71, via Wikipedia Commons

Author: Miguelgouveia71, via Wikipedia Commons

The most characteristic feature of this type of pavement is that the paving stones are arranged in geometric or figurative patterns. These patterns are often, though not always, in black and white,  and are made up of small stones, the so-called tessera, which are often irregular, and usually consist of black and white limestone (calcário negro/preto and calcário branco) or basalt (basalto). The stones are arranged on the ground according to either a linear sequence (friso, or frieze) or two-dimensional patterns (padrões). They are then hammered into place and are finally finished by a cement mix that is poured on them.




The workers who lay the pavement mosaics are called calceteiros. Once a profession performed by thousands, the number of craftsmen is dwindling nowadays, since low wages and the hard work fail to attract new apprentices. Traditional Portuguese mosaic pavements are therefore increasingly becoming restricted to conservation areas and other high-profile architectural  projects due to the high cost involved in laying the stones, and the reduced longevity of the paving in comparison with other materials such as concrete (o betão) or bitumen (o betume). Another disadvantage of traditional paving is that the stones are prone to become very slippery when wet and that they may become loose and so constitute a hazard to pedestrians. However, in Brazilian cities like Rio de Janeiro traditional paving remains popular and can be found in nearly all wealthier areas.

Author: Carlos Marques da Silva, via Wikipedia Commons

Author: Carlos Marques da Silva, via Wikipedia Commons

Author: Miguelgouveia71, via Wikipedia Commons

Author: Miguelgouveia71, via Wikipedia Commons

Rio de Janeiro

Rio de Janeiro

Author: rdrs, via Wikipedia Commons

Author: rdrs, via Wikipedia Commons

Is there also a distinctive feature to be found in the public space of towns or cities in your country or place of residence? Tell us about it in the comments!