An Indian Analysis of Aesthetics: The Dance, the Dancer and the Spectator, published by Abhinav Publications, is authored by Madhavi Puranam, dealing with the metaphysical element in art and how the higher realms of the aesthetic pleasure is derived from classical dance. Scrutinising questions like what makes a dance beautiful or how does the spectator relishe the aesthetic pleasure and how does it physically come about, Madhavi has taken totally a different perspective based on her profound observation and understanding of “Sarira Viveka” as described in Sangeet Darpanam, a 17th century treatise by Chatur Damodara. The section Sarira Viveka of this treatise indicates that there is a refined instrument in the human body, which perceives music and dance and makes its enjoyment possible.

In the preface of the book, Madhavi has also mentioned about her “chance introduction” to Sahaj Yoga, a kind of meditation propounded by Nirmala Srivastava or Nirmala Devi/ Nirmala Mataji that led her to the vast body of research in medicine on the very same apparatus described in Sarira Viveka. A serious researcher Madhavi has been delving deep into some of the medieval Indian treatises on music and dance and the mechanism of Kundalini and Chakras that refer to the subtle body and the energy centres and their role in “Rasa-Nishpatti”, the relishing of Rasas. This book presents her findings on this intriguing subject. Inspired by the theory propounded by Sarira Viveka, Madhavi reiterates in her preface, “This book tries to substantiate the argument that the most highly encoded art depicting the indirect, implicit and the universal can be perceived and appreciated by the most ordinary of viewers through an innate subtle mechanism that all human beings are equipped with.”

Spread over seven chapters titled An Inquiry; Aesthetics Across Civilizations; Rasa Rs The Sentiment; Sangita Darpanam Rs A Treatise on Music and Dance; Yoga and Sahaj Yoga; Sharira Viveka Rs The Subtle Human Body; and Aesthetics of Indian Dance, the book covers the aesthetic theories across civilisation ranging from the ancient Greco-Roman philosophers such as Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Longinus and Augustine to ancient Indian aestheticism like Bharata, Anandavardhana and Abhinavgupta, the Japanese aestheticism of Noh and Zeami, and the later European theories like Kant and Brecht pointing to an element of the metaphysical in art. The author then discusses the concept of Rasa, the content of Sangita Darpanam, Yoga and Sahaja Yoga, describing the Kundalini and the various Chakras along with detailed pictorial illustrations. The sixth chapter deals with the Sarira Viveka, the subtle human body that reaches the Rasaswada to the level of Brahmaswada. The last chapter, Aesthetics of Indian Classical Dance, ponders over the reason for the blissful relish of Rasa being called “Brahmananda-Sahodara”, the twin brother of the mystic experience of realising the Supreme, before Madhavi concludes “Enjoyment of the beautiful is a means of absorption in the Absolute; and art, being an aid to spiritual realisation, is not just a pious generalisation of mystical aesthetics but can be actualised through the Sarira Viveka.”

The references and notes at the end of each chapter, the Bibliography, Glossary with meanings of the Sanskrit words in alphabetical order, the photographs of renowned artistes and plates of sculptures, the index and, above all, the foreword by Dr Kapila Vatsyayan are the added attraction of this book, which has been written with great profundity.