The present age in India is one of revival and reawakening. India is looking forward to a general uplift in nationalism. Old ideas are being recast into new ones to keep pace with the changes that are taking place. Our reformers are facing the situation and attempts are being made for a full organisation in all the phases of activity that form the basis of true nationalism. And it is very cheering to find that aesthetic culture is not altogether neglected ; nay, it is recognised as playing an important part in the struggle for national advancement.
The necessity for art-culture has not yet been fully appreciated. The sudden resuscitation of oriental and Indian arts based upon past traditions that have come down during ages is being treated at present more or less as an enigma by casual and indifferent observers. But putting the prejudiced or the thoughtless people on one side, the number of thoughtful and cultured people who recognise the deep significance of our efforts for the revival of our national art and thereby reviving the aesthetic sense of the nation is steadily growing. It is high time that we had a general resuscitation of all arts in our country, and some of us, at any rate, are beginning to hope that the day is not distant when there will be a complete renaissance in India and she will produce things of beauty which will be a joy forever to the whole artistic world.
We believe until now the necessity for a re-generation of art-culture in India has never received serious consideration. A few years ago it hardly occurred to anyone that aesthetics should have an important place in national regeneration in India. The inner significance of art was almost forgotten and its existence was not felt to be either essential or important. The culture of art had already been neglected and its share in nation - building was nearly forgotten.
In these circumstances it is scarcely to be wondered at that inferior modern art found ready acceptance and a market in this country. Our people did not remember that it was in this country that the primitive conception of aesthetics quickened into life and it is still in this country of ours that we have some of the greatest and the noblest achievements of art. In every part of India relics of art are still to be found which rank amongst the highest art- treasures of the world. In the north we have in the dreamland of Kashmir the ruins of Martanda, which takes us back into the pre- Buddhistic age and still stand as emblems of pure Aryan art arrived at a stage of high perfection. The relics of Indraprastha and Hastinapur- the ancient Hindu cities near Delhi- are still full of a living and a glorious memory. Every stone there has a story to tell and a lesson to teach if only we had the ears to hear and the mental receptivity to learn. The city of the great Moguls- Delhi- is singularly suggestive of the grandeur, which a flourishing art could achieve under imperial patronage. The Taj - pure and beautiful as a drop of dew on a lotus leaf- stands on the Jumna which flows murmuring and rippling past, telling the simple story of a woman whose memory was passionately cherished and adored by her Imperial lover. No lovelier or more imperishable monument of a deathless love has ever been erected anywhere in the world to delight and amaze generations past and present and yet unborn, and fill them with tongue- tied wonder. Not only in the imperial magnificence of its conception but also in the vestal and virgin purity of its design does the Taj stand a dream in marble, without peer and beyond compare.
The Buddhist temples and monasteries of Nepal are radiant with a glory of traditional art which will ever be a striking example of the development of art under the influence and patronage of the faith and religion of the people.
In the south we have the remains of the old city of Anuradhapura in Ceylon which are still majestic in their beauty. The extreme south of the peninsula is decked with innumerable shrines which are places of great attraction to pilgrims. The shrines at Madura, Rameshwaram, &c. , are specimens of highly finished architectural sculpture.
In the east we have the whole of Orissa dotted with the finest examples of high class architecture and engineering skill. The black pagoda at Konark stands as mammoth conception of unique antiquity and is probably the only sun- temple extant in India, if we except the Martanda Temple in Kashmir. It towers high and above the surrounding sandy waste as a landmark of a lost art. The temples at Bhubaneshwar, at one time numbering thousands, are still numerous and cover an area of some miles.
They are all characterised by the exquisite elegance and fineness of detail of sculpture which are the special features of Orissan art. It can safely be said that no finer carvings on stone can be seen anywhere.
Then we turn to the west where the boldest and the grandest culture of art was achieved. The Buddhist abbey at Ajanta, the rock- cut temples of Ellora, the caves of Bhaja, Karli and Elephanta are marvelous specimens of monumental sculpture. The fresco paintings in the Ajanta caves are not only unique in style but they head the list of all finest old paintings of the world. Nowhere exist paintings so old and so beautiful, so bold and yet so impressive. Each and every drawing is wonderfully perfect and will inspire the artist and the art student for all time to come. What must have been the gifts of the men who made these paintings with a freedom, boldness and sureness of touch unsurpassed in the annals of art-culture in the world! Each grouping is absolutely perfect and equally effective. Each decorative painted panel is a triumph and a glory; any artist of any age would long to copy them. It is an inexhaustible library of paintings of the highest order, finished in an age when men were thoughtlessly supposed to be primitive and uncultured.
The rock cut temples of Ellora stand as records of the boldest achievements in architecture and sculpture. They are crowned with a halo of glory that has never been claimed anywhere else in the world. The whole idea is heroic. The very conception of chiseling an exceptionally fine temple out of a rough rugged hill and making the whole fabric quite separate from the mother hill, is a marvelous tribute to the ingenuity and inventiveness of the human brain. And then the unparalleled skill with which every single and minute detail was executed is quite inconceivable when one sees that the whole finished thing- with all the fine projections and details of sculpture - is still a single solid block of stone which was a part of the adjacent hill !
The great and high halls of worship- Chaityas- the beautiful Biharas, bear eloquent testimony to the energy and skill required to bring out such results. The artists were devoted to their religion and they were yogis whose persistent energy - Sadhana - created an achievementpureand grand and truly worthy of the religion they followed.
These are some of the important centres of Art - Culture in India. There are many others of less renown but by no means of inferior quality. But in spite of the presence of all these, the culture of Art in India at present is in a state of marked decadence. We are told that architecture and sculpture are living arts in India. This remark holds good of painting as well and it has very recently been demonstrated by the new school of Calcutta founded by Mr. A. N. Tagore whose idea is to revive oriental painting on the traditional basis of the past. This school is still in its infancy and will take some time to show more of the scope and attainment to which it aspires. But if arts do live in India they are in a moribund condition and badly want encouragement and patronage both from the Government and from the public. The neglect by the Government as well as the wealthy men of the country is starving by inches the spirit of the fine arts in India. The practical side of how this revival may be effected is matter for separate treatment but it will not be out of place here to say that there are still artists, painters, architects and sculptors who if properly encouraged are capable of producing things which would be entitled to be placed on the same level as the glorious achievements of the past.
The princes and people of India can easily recall to life the vanished glories of art in India. But how can this be effected? How is the Government to be approached and asked to encourage the cause of art- culture in India? How can the wealthy classes be convinced of the fact that it would be glorious on their part to patronize the native arts of India and thus raise the country in their own estimation and in that of others? This is a problem, which badly wants a solution. The solution will be coming of itself only when the people are better educated and are capable of realising the interests of the country better. The appreciation of art depends on continuous culture and the development of taste. But unfortunately such application as exists does not tend in the right direction. All the indiscriminate patronage goes to the so called European art and the hideous daubs which are an outrage to the aesthetic sense and are uncomplainingly and even vaingloriously endured.
As long as this want of discrimination on the part of public exists, there is absolutely no hope of the real development of Indian arts. But as the ideas of the country are getting fairly advanced in many directions we may hope that we are not far from the day when the true spirit of orientalism in arts will be widely appreciated in the right way and will help to invigorate the existing arts of the country.
The nation that can sense the true and the beautiful in art is marked out for greatness. Did not Sir Edwin Arnold say that the Japanese are a nation of born artists? So were the ancient Greeks. The Japanese in their long Kimonos and with their dainty ways were believed to be effeminate and to lead a butterfly existence. What does the world think of them now? Art is not effeminate but chaste and stern and co- exists with prowess and puissance. The remnants of Indian art have been handed down to us with the treasures of Indian thought and the deeds of Indian daring. Indian literature, Indian philosophy, Indian heroism and Indian art flourished side by side, testifying to physical, intellectual and moral development of the highest order. Now that there are signs of a national awakening in India there must be a stir and forward movement all along the line and the revival of art is one of the signs of the time that is coming. Nation - building is slow and laborious process, but it is a structure in which all the parts must harmonise. Like the shawl - makers of Kashmir the builders of the nation have to work to the tune of melody and the entire movement is rhythmic, every department of activity responding to the true worker as every key of the gamut responds to the touch of a master hand. Let art find its true place in the palace of the nation and let its devotees receive the recognition they deserve. Along with sustained patriotism let us cultivate the aesthetic sense, the super-sense that raises man to the pedestal of a god, so that the nation that will be ultimately evolved in India may be a nation full of an overwhelming love for the Motherland, full of thought, full of chastity, full of the subtle sense of the beautiful in creative art, full of gentleness and full of valour.
Published in the Modern Review, July 1911