Out of India, since time immemorial, have come the most beautiful wares of the world; and their excellence has for centuries been unquestioned. Egyptian mummies have been discovered draped in Indian muslins, and into ancient Assyria went Indian Cottons. The earliest Greek writer on India refers to the superiority of such cottons and Megasthenes, another writer on India, describes the clothes worn by the Indians as "flowered garments made of the finest muslins" and robes "worked in gold and ornamented with precious stones."
Our ancient literature, as far back as the Vedas, points to the high level of material production of that time, and to the knowledge of the processes of weaving, tanning and metallurgy. Kautilya in his Arthashastra gives a detailed account of the arts and crafts of the day and mentions of the extensive foreign trade in cottons and silks. The accounts of many foreign visitors point to the huge trade of India which extended in the West, from Arabia and Egypt into the Mediterranean End, and in the East from Malacca across the Pacific to the Phillippines and Mexico. For more than a thousand years, Indian cotton goods, silks, woollen shawls, ivory and steel found their way to all the markets of the world. The Romans coveted Indian fineries so much so that Pliny (79 A.D.) complains about the drain on the Empire and records that the Indian wares "are sold among us at fully one hundred times their cost."
Besides literature, antiquity has bequeathed to us a rich heritage of lasting monuments to India's unsurpassed skill and artistic achievements in clay, wood and stone, in iron, copper and brass, in cotton, silk and wool. The earliest earthen pottery discovered at Mohen-ja-daro, the brass and copper ceremonial wares of the later period, the wood and stone work. in the Hindu, Jain and Buddhist temples, and in the mosques and palaces of the Moghuls,-every article of domestic and ceremonial use, every monument big and small, may leave us spell-bound at the superb beauty and excellence of its design and craftsmanship. Only a deep sense of beauty could have moved the artist to mould such a simple and graceful form as the Ghata-the earthen pot-out of mere clay! Beginning from the Vedic period and passing through the Mauryan, the Buddhist, the Gupta and the Chalukyan times upto the sixteenth century, the cultural development is definitely marked. The Buddhist period marks the great height of cultural and artistic achievements of ancient India. The great `Stupas' at Sanchi, Amaravati and Sarnath, the rock-cut temples of Ellora and Ajanta, the excavated cities of Taxila and Nalanda testify to the fine sense of form and colour as well as to the great skill and knowledge of our people in metallurgy, planning and building. The famous iron pillar of Delhi belonging to fourth century A.D. is a lasting monument of the metallurgical skill of that time.
Such a country naturally drew to its shores a large number of foreign visitors, traders and adventurous exploiters. Repeated foreign invasions since Alexander of Macedon first broke in upon the long peace of India in 327 B.C., greatly impoverished once prosperous country. Before the final economic disaster that befell the country, the indigenous arts and industries received a fresh impetus from the impact of a new culture. The Moghuls, who established their courts at Delhi, not only brought with them great artists and craftsmen from their own land but encouraged and engaged the local talents. The Kutub, the Taj, the Moghul paintings, the textiles, jewellery, arms and thousand other things of that time are the result of the healthy impact of the two cultures. However, the economic condition of the country was fast deteriorating. At this critical time in the history of the Indian industrial decline, appeared the European traders. It is known to every student of Indian History, how the rapacious policy of the East India Company as testified by accounts of English-men like Warren Hastings, William Bolts, Harry Verelot and others, bled the country white, completely ruined its industries and made it into a dumping ground of cottons and woollen stuffs still used by the peasantry and the remnants mastery, craftsmanship lingering on in our folds. The taste and demand for artistic designs in textiles in metal and in is developing fast. It is however no to seek out the old skilful artisans, who made no demand for the traditional wares, find-retired to remote villages or have taken cheap ugly imitations of fore: goods. To preserve the fast disappearing crafts our country, to give fresh impetus to our artists and artisans, is our immediate and urgent need. The twofold task, firstly of reviving the indigenous crafts and making them aril. able to consumers ; and secondly of trail and preparing our artists to enable them to create designs founded on our traditions and fulfilling our present wants, must be accomplished if Indian wares are to find a proper place in the world market. For folk and traditional designs, we have ample material in our villages, museums, private collections, ancient monuments and hooks on art. These should be collected and compiled in small inexpensive but well illustrated booklets and f made easily available to the artists and crafts-men and to the people in general. Small units should be established all over the country in centres, famous for particular am and crafts. At these centres, weavers, metal workers and other craftsmen should be engaged and made to produce wares of Indian traditional and folk designs under the guidance of artists who are not only well trainedwith, e particular craft, but are conversant of the past and have an eye for the pres d For example, an Orissa Sari produce little worn by the peasantry could be changes in size or in design and attractive furnishing material and English products. It is only against this historical background that we can understand and explain how a nation which for centuries Produced the most beautiful of wares, turned from its traditional designs to ape and imitate cheap, coarse designs imported by the foreign masters. Gone were the days of the finest Muslins and chintzes, the exquisitely designed Baluchar and Patola Sarees, the gorgeously flowered Kinkhabs and the fine Kashmir Shawls, the bronze and brass wares! Instead appeared designs of ugly Victoria Memorial and aeroplanes on our Sarees!
Fortunately, the realisation of the greatness and simplicity, the strength and beauty of our ancient wares has dawned on us together with the understanding of our present pitiable condition. Our eyes are struck in wonderment at the beauty of the colourful small bell-metal measure used in the villages could be made into fine ash-trays. Our artists should be made familiar with the various styles in paintings and decorative designs, should be trained regarding our present social needs and equipped with the mostup-to-datetheoreticalknowledgeof the crafts pursued. Our houses, our furniture, thousand and one things of our daily use need to be revolutionised. Standing on the firm ground of our traditions, our artists and artisans will produce works that will be the creative expression of our own age and not a blind imitation of the past or of foreign design. In design and colour, in the skill of workmanship, and artistic and cultural achievements, India held an assured place in the past. It is a common belief that artistic things are necessarily expensive and expensive things necessarily artistic. How erroneous is this view is proved by putting an inexpensive Orissa Sari worn by the peasant woman along with a costly brocade Sari of cheap foreign design. Inexpensive, yet artistic wares can be seen among the articles of daily use in the remote villages. To produce skilled and artistic wares which should be accessible not to the rich only but to all, it is imperative that our artists and artisans should create new forms and new designs built on the sound foundation of India's artistic traditions.
Published in the Academy Annual by the Academy of Fine Arts, Indian Museum, Calcutta, December 1950, pp. 2-7