ABSTRACT

One of the lines of query that a seminar on ‘Cultural Studies in the Indian Context’ can lead us into is how classical Indian aesthetic theories and propositions may be relevant to the discipline of culture studies in general and with regards to contemporary popular culture studies in particular. An initial speculation in this direction can yield some ready answers. I can think of three ‘obvious’ lines of connection between classical Indian aesthetics and contemporary popular culture studies. First, there can of course be an ‘instrumental’ connection, where classical Indian categories like rasa, bhāva, dhvani, etc. may be used as critical tools to analyse certain texts of contemporary popular culture. A second and less instrumental, but equally obvious, connection may lie in the fact that the classical Indian tradition was, in its articulation and circulation, primarily ‘oral’ in nature, and the focus in contemporary popular culture studies is also often on non-literary, extra-literary or para-literary modes of discourse, with orality being one of its major areas of inquiry. A final and more categorical connection can lie in the fact that within the classical Indian tradition a lot of emphasis has been put on the loka – with the laukika being an oft-repeated topic of discussion in the tradition, lokadharmī texts being considered as appropriate subjects of academic deliberation and the lokāyata being one of the primary branches of classical Indian philosophy – and this paradigmatic engagement with the folk or the popular may well make classical Indian aesthetics fit to accommodate within it a study of popular culture. However, like all things 36obvious, if these three points alone were to constitute the connection between the two, the link indeed would be rather tenuous, and probably not able to withstand the load of the two heavy universes that hang on either side of its slender fabric. There is a need therefore to go beyond the three points made earlier – the oral nature of the classical Indian tradition, the focus in it on the loka and the possibility of using its analytical categories – as the sole grounds of connecting classical Indian aesthetics to contemporary popular culture studies, and look for how instead of these generalities, the very ontological and methodological bases of the latter may have strong resonances in postulations of the former.