(The Six Limbs of Indian Art and Paintings)
Art has had a very long life in India. It is still in its momentum. From the cave paintings of the pre-historic times to the contemporary creations of today, it has come a long way and matured gracefully.

Who would deny the mesmerism present in the paintings of the Ajanta Caves, in the artwork of Raja Ravi Verma, or even in a modern-day Hussain? This game of colours is an incredible craft, which is difficult to fathom. Maybe that’s why we call it ‘gandharva vidya ’ - a knowledge which can never be forcefully imparted.

Now, India of the 1st century BC had seen the evolution of the ‘Sadanga’ or the Six Limbs of painting, which are considered as the prime principles of the art even today. So strong were these principles, that they have found a place even in Vatsyayana’s Kamasutra.

“Roopabhedah: pramanani: bhava: lavanya-yojanam: |
Sadrishyam: varnakabhangam: iti chitram shadangam: ||”

The Sadanga (Six Limbs) are:

Roopbheda - The knowledge of looks and appearances.

‘Roopa’ means the outer form or appearance of the subject. The perception is visual as well as mental. ‘Bheda,’ on the other hand, means difference. In other words, to create a painting, an artist needs to have a sound knowledge about the different forms that exist. He has to know how a form of life differs from a form of death. Both have their own characteristic features and sublimity.

‘Roopabheda’ enables an artist to perceive and depict things as they appear. Of course, this knowledge cannot depend solely on the power of sight. Experience is as much important as the former.

Pramana - Accuracy and precision of measurement and structure.

This principle is governed by certain laws, which give us the capability of proving the correctness of our perception and delineation. ‘Pramamani’ teaches us the exact measure, proportion and distance of the subjects. It provides an insight into the structural anatomy of objects, too.

For instance, if someone asks you ‘how blue’ is the sky, a measurement as such can be futile. We can never possibly depict in on a mere piece of paper of a few inches. Oceans cannot be depicted in a few wavy strokes of the brush. A sense of proportion has to be imbibed oneself to measure the ‘blueness’ of the sky and the depth of the water in an ocean.

Bhava - The feelings on forms.

‘Bhava ’ means an emotion, a feeling, an intention, or an idea. This aspect of art is depicted in the form of feelings expressed by the subject. Take up any Indian art, and you will notice how no painting is complete without a bhava .

In fact, in an entirely lifeless depiction, it is only this aspect which can bring about a sense of life and passion. You can imagine an artwork as a vessel full of water. It shall remain still and without ripples as long as it doesn’t get a push from an external factor like a gush of breeze. A bhava is like a breeze of air ; it gives the painting the much-needed motion.

Lavanya Yojana - Blending grace in an artistic representation.

Your painting should be gracefully high in its artistic quality. The pramanani is for stringent proportions, and bhava is for expressing movement. But, lavanya yojanam is for controlling the over-expression of both. The motive is to bring about a sense of beauty in a dignified and organised manner.

Abanindranath Tagore, the famous artist from West Bengal, has described lavanya yojanam as a ‘loving mother,’ who is also careful about the rules of raising up her child. We can also imagine the aspect as a round pearl without its luster. It won’t attract buyers, anyway.

Sadrisya -  Resemblance.

This is perhaps the most challenging task of creating a painting. Sadrisyam suggests the degree to which a depiction is similar to an artist’s vision or the subject itself. In a way, it is also a way of depicting similitude.

Why do poets often compare a woman’s locks of hair with a snake? Why is a beautiful girl called ‘moon-faced’? Why are her lips like rose petals and eyes like those of a deer? Well, THIS is similitude in a literal sense. Of course, artists cannot draw snakes instead of a lady’s tresses or a moon instead of her face. The delineation must come from their artistic way of painting.

Varnakabhanga - An artistic way of making use of the brush and colours.

The term translated means the way a subject is being drawn and coloured. So, obviously, there shall be the use of brush and pigments. What this principle focuses on, is the way the strokes are being applied to a canvas, and the knowledge of the artist about the different colours.

Here is a very interesting piece from mythology, where the great Lord Shiva speaks about the knowledge of varnas to his wife, Parvati. He says, “Everything is futile - the repeating of mantras and the telling of beads, austerities and devotion, unless one has gained the knowledge of Varnas -the true significance of the letterings and the luster and virtue of figures.”

Indeed, you will tremble, or only end up applying meaningless strokes on your canvas until you have learnt how to use the brush right. While all the above five principles can be mastered simply via perception, you can never learn varnakabhangam without some real, hands-on practice.

Wrap up:

The Sadanga is an inevitable part of every great Indian masterpiece. From the ancient paintings of Ajanta to those created by Raja Ravi Verma, and Hussain of today, you will observe that every notable artist has silently put to use all the six principles. And, it is only when you have known inside out, these prime principles, can you become an artist in every true sense.