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ART AS THERAPY
Relationship between Medicine and Aesthetics in Ancient India and Ancient Greece
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© Bharat Gupt 2009
Medicine and the arts were interdependent in ancient India as they were in ancient Greece. This fact has not been given due recognition by the scholars of ancient history. For this reason, the most significant relationship between art and medicine, which was once the cornerstone of medical and artistic faith in these two cultures, has remained in the dark. In ancient times, not only the physician but also the artist was also very much aware of his responsibility as a healer. There was little or no room for aesthetic theories, which could argue that art was for art’s sake.
The artist and the physician were both involved in the common purpose of healing. They could exchange notes and share a common vision of life. It was not like the present times, when the two work in different, and sometimes in opposite directions, one professing to be rational and scientific, while the other claiming to be inspired and intuitive. The unity of art and medicine was then, taken for granted. It was supported by institutional and social activity. This is reflected so well in the presence of theatres in found in every ancient healing site in Greece. Most of the sixty-three ancient temples of Asklepios excavated by now, have theatrons near them, and the most famous of them all at Epidauros has the finest theatre.
In modern times, when there is a continuous increase in the destructive powers of Man, when the entertainment value of culture has totally obliterated its therapeutic function, the need to heal society is greater than ever before. Now unless art combines with medicine to work for a common aim of creating a violence-free society, there little hope for world health and peace. An example of ancient unity of medicine and art can be of much help.
Bharat Gupt Associate Professor, CVS, Delhi University. Founder member and Trustee International Forum for India's Heritage. Born in 1946 in Moradabad, a small town in the Uttar Pradesh province of India of mixed Hindu-Muslim population, best known for its engraved art on brassware and a little less for Hindustani music and Urdu poetry. Parents moved in early fifties to Delhi, the new capital of modernity and political intrigue, where I went to school and college and studied English, Hindi, Sanskrit and philosophy, but spent every summer in the district town. Spent a year in the US at the end of Counter-Cultural days and took a Master's degree from Toronto. I learnt to play the sitar and surbahar under the eminent musician Uma Shankar Mishra and studied musicology , yoga sutras and classics under Acarya Brihaspati and Swami Kripalvananda.
Trained both in modern European and traditional Indian educational systems, I have worked in classical studies, theatre, music, culture and media studies and researched as Senior Onassis Fellow in Greece on revival of ancient Greek theatre. As a classicist I came to realise that ancient Greek drama and culture as a whole, was given an unduly empirical color by the modern West. Looking at things from my own location I saw that Greek theatre was closer to ancient Indian theatre as an ethical and religious act or hieropraxis. Instead of being seen as Western and Eastern, Greek and Indian theatres should be seen rooted in the Indo-European cultural beliefs, myths and idolatory and the aesthetics of emotional arousal. I have lectured on theatre and music at various Universities in India, North America and Greece. I am on visiting faculty at the National School of Drama, Delhi and the Bhartendu Academy for Dramatic Arts, Lucknow.