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The Quest for Perfect Form

20th Nov. 1988 - 15th Feb. 1989

5, Dr. R. P. Road, IGNCA


Photograph from Akara exhibition

'For every form,
He has been the ideal,
His form,
visible everywhere.'
Rig Veda VI.47.18

From the mind, emanates AKARA

A considerable volume of work has been done in the areas of content of the written word: its semantic structure; its linguistic interconnections; its etymology and grammer. But the spiritual and philosophical aspects and the physical manifestation of the letter (akshara) need to be examined. The letter needs to be viewed as an organic whole. The visual power and the inner strength of otherwise innocuous-looking letters (aksharas) should be felt, experienced, realised. Our core concern is to probe into the inner processes. We explore the emergence of sound (nada); of speech of writing which gives form (akara) to language.  This leads to ideal form -- the ultimate objective of calligraphy. We examine the universality of using the written symbol for meditation, ideation, cognition and communication at various levels, from the mundane to the sacred.

Such an attempt would help to create an awareness of the metaphysical (adhyatmic), aesthetic (saundarya), structural (rachana), spatial (akasha) and technical (upayojana) considerations of the aksharas.

The psyche dimensions of Akara deal with aspects both inherently metaphysical as well as intellectual conceptual, simultaneously encompassing the world view and inquiring into the mind's eye-view of what emerges as an aesthetic experience: the written symbol which begins as the vibration in every breath drawn from the primal energy-source, the nada, that imbues the calligrapher's mind and guides his hand to express beauty in dot and stroke, shape and form.

Calligraphy has been defined variously, as the art of beautiful writing; a picture of the mind; the geometry of the soul; the kinetic act of written expression. We take these definitions and look deeper.


'As the one (inner) Fire pervading the world takes the endless forms of things, the one soul within all beings fills their forms and the space around'

Kathopanishad, 5-9

 From the unmanifest, the seed-source (adya), begin the initial stirrings of consciousness (chetas).

Suggested in parallels of external and internal experience, the seen and the unseen, the desire to articulate is ignited in the microcosm of the mind, and moves through inner-outer space (akasha), into all-pervading universal sound (nada). Sound beyond-hearing (anahata) and heard sound (ahata) vibrate within the human mind, awakened by the sense perceptions -- hearing, vision, touch -- balancing inner and outer relationships at various levels of sentience. Innate connections emerge: the unvoiced to the voiced; the biological evolution of sound into speech; the human urge to express to communicate, to give speech structure, as language; and shape, as writing.

As the perfect form of writing, calligraphy may be seen to emanate from the seed-syllable (the bijakshara); through sound (nada) made visible; speech made immutable in writing through the letters (aksharas); finding aesthetic expression.

Living as we do, in perhaps the only culture where the phonetic tradition has continued unbroken through many centuries, it seems fitting to consider the parallel value of the spoken word to writing; being aware that writing is a graphic counterpart of speech, and that an accumulation of wisdom would necessitate its being recorded in written characters.

We are also aware that systems of writing did, and do, often differ vastly across time and cultures. yet, in the fundamental principles of the origin, the how and why of the configuration of letterforms, their intrinsic attributes, and in perceptions of their necessity and purpose, there appear uncanny cross-cultural likenesses. Practically all cultures, particularly those of ancient origin, have held the act of writing in great, and justifiable, reverene.

The value placed in the written record of a letter, a syllable, a word, a concept, is not limited to the writing alone; it also includes the form that the recording takes in expressing the impulse within -- of sound, idea or inspiration. This is where calligraphy establishes its identity, as the perfect or ideal form for communicating a sound or a concept. In the care and concern with which it is written, the sign becomes symbol, the unmanifest is made manifest. And the form transcends the act of writing to become an act of spiritual dedication: Calligraphy.











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