Is there a branch of philosophy in Hinduism about aesthetics? By aesthetics I mean the western notions of the term as we currently understand to be one of the main branches of western philosophy. I do not know the equivalent terminologies in Hinduism, but I am interested in comparable notions dealing with questions of aesthetics and value judgements. Is there an active scholarship in this realm of Hinduism?
There is most definitely a theory of Aesthetics in Hinduism. Chapter 6 of the Natyashastra defines the “rasa” theory on aesthetics.
“No poetic meaning proceeds from speech without any kind of Sentiment (rasa).”
In the following excerpt, the Sanskrit word “rasa” is equated as both the concept of ‘taste’ (as in, tasting delicious food), as well as the concept of ‘sentiment’, or ‘aesthetics’, which the learned people ‘taste’ in their heart.
Now one enquires, “What is the meaning of the word rasa”? It is said in reply [that, rasa is so called] because it is capable of being tasted (āsvādyate). How is rasa tasted? [In reply] it is said that just as well-disposed persons while eating food cooked with many kinds of spice, enjoy (āsvādayanti) its tastes, and attain pleasure and satisfaction, so the cultured people taste the Durable Psychological States while they see them represented by an expression of the various Psychological States with Words, Gestures and the Sattva, and derive pleasure and satisfaction. Thus is explained [the Memorial Verse ending with] tasmān nāṭyarasā iti.
For in this connexion there are two traditional couplets:
Just as connoisseur of cooked food (bhakta) while eating food which has been prepared from various spices and other articles taste it, so the learned people taste in their heart (manas) the Durable Psychological States (such as love, sorrow etc.) when they are represented by an expression of the Psychological States with Gestures. Hence these Durable Psychological States in a drama are called Sentiments.
Note: “Psychological States” translates in Sanskrit to ‘bhāva’, which is discussed in the following chapter of the Natyashastra. Accordingly, there are three kinds of states (bhāva) defined:
1) sthāyibhāva (durable psychological states),
2) vyabhicāribhāva (complementary psychological states),
3) sāttvika (involuntary states).
These following is a compilation of responses written for my own clarity. Please edit, append, or add more comments as you see fit:
- We do have alankara sastra
- All Hindu art forms are a study of rasa (or the essence of life and its supreme form), and attaining the ultimate through art such as music and dance. ref. Bharata Muni's natya sastra, and other ancient texts on sangeetam (music). Upanishads extol "raso vai saha"
- Mimamsa is an advanced study of epistemiology
- Anandavardhana and Abhinavagupta are two very popular Hindu aestheticians
- Beauty in hinduism is likened to prakriti which is in turn a form of the divine. All human endeavor according to Hinduism is for the attainment of the divine and to revel in the divine while inhabiting the physical world. Hence, Hindu study of art is spread across the graphic arts, literature , religious practice (worship, ritual etc.), prescribed way of life, prescribed training for the mind etc.
There is nothing in the Western world that has not already been studied in great detail by Hindus millennia ago.
Not according to the user Swami Vishwananda, who suggests even closing this question!
The user yogi provides links in the comments to this question to Mahalakshmi Stotrams, which praise divine beauty but provide no normative basis for valuing beauty or the more general aesthetic quality. At least none that I could find. Links to Leela and Brahman are unrelated to the question hand. (please correct me if I'm wrong, thanks).
Final comment (for now):
After several months of thinking about this and following up on references (yes it took this long), I have concluded that Vineet Menon's response below gives the best starting point for understanding aesthetics. Most of the comments except for one or two seem to miss the whole point, especially those who insist on closing this question. The worst was an answer with a warning that "...it is impossible to grasp".
Anyway, Vineet Menon's link to one paper opens a whole source of modern Indian literature, Indian authors, and easily accessible references. More importantly, it addresses the question about aesthetics and the value judgements that are vastly broader than in western philosophy.
Anyone searching for such topics in future, please give it some time for the right answers to show up.