Artists: Notes on Art Making

Published in the Indian Culture, Journal of the Indian Research Institute, Vol-1, 1935, pp.327-332

Culture and scholarship are illustrations of two ultimate mysteries of existence-the individual and the universal. In the individual there is an entity differing from all other entities conceivable, and not merely that. The entity comes to be looked upon as the only thing in the universe having an absolute value. Whether it is the lover in pursuit of his ideal or the yogi intoxicated with devotion to an ishta-devata, nothing else will suffice. As an ancient Welsh prophet said, in words that might have been uttered on the banks of the Jumna, ‘within God, without anything: God is enough’.

It is the same on another plane of thought. Culture, and there could be no better example than Indian culture, is always individual. It is all that is peculiar to one people, all their ideals, frustrations, and hopes and achievements, all that gives love of country its value, and cause its people to salute it as their mother.

There is another aspect of the love of country. It may be so blind as to cause a pessimistic philosopher as Schopenhauer to call patriotism as the most foolish of passions and the passion of fools. But it need not be blind. The truest love is that which is so convinced of the worth of its object that it is eager to accept and understand all. Not that it can ever understand all. In the life of a people as in the life of an individual ‘the abysmal depths of the personality appear. That is but a stimulus to the students of any culture who wishes to understand the past and to grasp the significance of the actual life of a people in its mysterious origins and growth.

I have called the individuals and the universal mysteries. They are mysteries in the sense that no one, since Plato first spoke of the one and the many, has ever succeeded in winning general assent to any attempt to harmonize them. The philosopher may, as Mr. R. Das has recently told us [1], emancipate his mind from the tyranny of objective facts, but there are others who think this process itself tyrannical. Any reduction of empirical facts o no facts would extinguish the student of culture himself, but yet he has to admit the universal. He studies the facts on universal principles, and uses scholarship. He is sure that if he has really got at the facts every other thinker will see the sense of what he says. The principles of scholarships are universal, and their applications requires universal co-operation. This was stated emphatically by the German classical scholar, the late Professor Wilamowitz Moellendorff: ‘The co-operation of all civilised nations is a necessary consequence of the activity on the large scale. He who does not see that does not understand what science is. He who in spite of this tries to hinder it commits the sin against the Holy Ghost’. [2]

The co-operation of the ancient scholarship of India with the scholars of the west may be said to have begun a century and a half ago, when in 1784 Sir William Jones founded the Bengal Asiatic Society. More exactly speaking the beginning was a circumstances not so easily notices, the intercourse of Sir William Jones and his colleagues with his pandits. The initiation of the new journal, have welcomes. How has Indian scholarships fared in the last 150 years, and what are its present tasks? Happily that is a question that Indian scholars are able to answer, and to Indian culture we look for much. But it is interesting to notice how Sir William Jones looked at the matter, and what appeared to him the outstanding problems. His list of Desiderata is no doubt well known. It was published by Sir John Shore when he gave a memorial discourse before the Asiatic Society, May 22, 1794, two months after the lamented scholar’s death. [3]

The Indian section contains fourteen items.

1. ‘The ancient geography of India, etc. from the Puranas.’

Evidently when this modest proposal was made special work, like Dr. B.C. Law’s Geography of Early Buddhism, will be needed before we get what is really wanted, a dictionary that will tell us all that is known of ancient Indian topography, and Indians must do it.

2. ‘A botanical description of Indian plants, from the Kosas,etc.’

The information from the Kosas is now embodies in the dictionaries, but who can guarantee the botanical information? There is a recent history of India which confuses the Asvattha or pipal (Ficus religiosa) with the Nyogrodha or Banyan (Fiscus indica)it is not Indian scholarship that is to blame there, but how many of the identification in the dictionaries can be trusted? Rhys Davids once told me that the material in the dictionaries depends on H.H. Wilson: but however good his work was over a century ago, we evidently need a trained Indian botanist to do the work again.

3. ‘A grammar of the Sanskrit language from Panini etc.’

Little remark is needed here. This is perhaps the section in which the desideratum has been most fully filled. It may be noticed that the Sanskrit grammar of most reputation in the West tries to ignore as much as possible any specially Indian grammatical features. But perhaps that was due to Whitney’s peculiar temperament. Anyhow, perhaps that was only temporary, for the respectful study of Panini still goes on. Only this year a sympathetic and penetrating investigation of Panini’s method and system has been published by a Dutch Scholar [4]. I need not speak of weighty Indian works, still keeping up the Indian method, like the Citraprabha [5] of Bhagavata Hari Sastri.

4. A dictionary of the Sanskrit language, from the thirty-two original ocabularies and Nirukti’.

Here also far more has been done than ones could have imagined, but something more will be needed when the geographical, botanical and other scientific sections can be revised.

5. ‘On the ancient music of the Indians.’

This is, too, technical a subject for one far from the sources to speak with profit. As far as my knowledge goes I have never seen anything more authoritative than Contribution to the study of ancient Hindu Music, by Rao Sahib Prabhakar R. Bhandarkar in the Indian Antiquary, 1912. He points out that Ouseley, J.D. Paterson, W.c. Scafford, Capt. Willord, col. French, Carl Engel, Raja S.M. Tagore, J. Grosset, S.J. Ellis, A.W. Ambros, and Capt. Day were all wrong about the position of the shrutis, and all for the same reason -they followed the original mistake of Sir. William Jones himself in his article on the musical modes of the Hindus. Grosset, who edited the text of Bharata, thought Bharata was wrong. Raja S.M. Tagore even discovered the error the modern arrangement. Here surely is a province specially for Indian scholars. There is another instance which shows how the most complete technical and grammatical knowledge is required. In 1913, Mr. E. Clements publishedIntroduction to the study of Indian music. He speaks of the text of Bharata, but seems to have used a modern Indian (Marathi?) translation. It sometimes differs from the published Sanskrit text is not final, as is shown by the corrections that Rao Sahib P.R. Bhandarkar had to make. But Clements has to remark that is worth quoting: ‘that English orientalists and educationists have so ling ignored tis music is the measure of their misunderstanding of India’. I am making no attempt to record what has already been done in India, but the introduction to Mangesh Ramakrishna Telang’s edition of Narada’s Sangitamakaranda (1920) is notable as giving materials for a history of Indian music. It contains a list of over fifty manuscripts of work on music in Sanskrit.

6. ‘On the medical substances of India, and the Indian art of medicine.’

Here gain is further material for the dictionary, especially when we remember the shaky basis on which this part of our present dictionaries rests.

7. ‘On the philosophy of the ancient Indians.’

Sir William Jones would probably be surprised to find how this subject has developed. His parallels between Greek and Indian thought have all vanished. Yet thought is universal, and human experience is the same, but can it be said that East and West have found a common standing ground? We now have three Indian histories of philosophy, complete or in progress. In the West the only works of account are in French and German, and here, if the truth must be told, scholarship has not yet reached and the community of thought which we may some day expect. This only means that the work has not yet gone far enough. But there is one aspect of this subject which probably never entered into Sir W. Jones’s head. Indian philosophical thought is still alive and capable of holding its own. Here we touch on a deep question. Philosophy is ultimately religion, and religion is an expression of the soul. That was outside the thought of Jones, but not outside the thought of India.

8. ‘A translation of the Veda.’

A translation may have a merely vicious effect. It is vicious when it leads historians and others to depend on it. And draw fanciful conclusions from what may be only the translator’s last attempt to give a meaning. It has been especially vicious in the case of the Rig-veda, when Wilson’s translation was used or even a material version that effected all the difficulties. Wilson in his time inevitably depended on Sayana, and those who used him were quite unable to know whether what they took was really in the Rig-veda, or whether it was only a possible interpretation some thousands of years later. I am far from disparaging Sayana, but it is poisoning the walls to confuse the two. Geldner’s translation of the first four mandalas has for some years been available in German. The rest was hindered by the World War, but the whole of it revised was intended to appear in 1933 as volumes 33, 34, 35 of the Harvard Oriental Series. The good result of a translation is that the translator is forced to face the whole, and the real difficulties get focussed. If Geldner’s work is like Whitney’s translation of the Atharva-veda and Keith’s Taittiriya Samhita in the same series no one will have any excuse for quoting doubtful or ambiguous language as evidence.

9. ‘On ancient Indian geometry, astronomy and algebra.’

The most important of these is astronomy, but expect for Thibaut’s Astronomie in German, where is there a work from which Western readers can learn anything sound abut it. How much they know can be seen from the fact that the new Pali Dictionary knows nothing of the nakshatras as twenty eight. The editors were puzzled at finding the number given as twenty-eight in the Niddesa, and supposed that one of them was reckoned twice over. Yet in two well-known Buddhist Sanskrit works, Lalitavistara and Divyavadana, the whole twenty-eight occur with Abhijit in his proper place.

10. ‘A translation of the Puranas.’

11. ‘A translation of the Mahabharata and Ramayana.’

Translation of classical Sanskrit works are not now so important as in the case of the Vedas, but both epics have been rendered into English by Indian scholars. What is now wanted is rather the study of their historical and antiquarian features.

12. ‘On the Indian Theatre, etc. etc. etc.’

Sylvian Levi and Keith have done this. The only question is, what are the problems still remaining, or perhaps, how much of it needs doing again.

13. ‘On the Indian constellations, which in itself is of minor importance. Jones was no doubt thinking in terms of Greek antiquities. All that matters would come under astronomy -or under another subject, which scarcely seems to have been in his mind’.

14. ‘The history of India before Muhammadan conquest, from the Sanskrit-Kashmir-histories’.

Here is the backbone of the undertakings. There is no doubt that Jones did not realize the difficulties and the magnitude of the task. Jones did not realize the difficulties and the magnitude of the task. Yet he did not, just because the material for Indian history have their own peculiarities, say that Indian history does not exist. There are two points here to be noticed - the fact that when we find certain periods of Indian history to be very scanty in events, we are often referring of times when other peoples had no history at all. History is not all dates, and what would the historians of ancient Greece and Rome give for anything resembling the rich social history found in early Indian works? Further, the writing of history in India began much, as it began in Greece had much the same kind of historical material as India but it was much more scanty. The difference came when two geniuses rose, Herodotus and Thucydides, and developed a new type of literature. That greatly advanced the conception of history-writing as a science in Europe. But the principles of science are not Western. They are the general possession of historical scholarship, which aims at recording the facts ‘without anger or bias’, as Tacitus said, and, in the words of another historian, making the result ‘a possession for ever’. Of the achievements of India in this province already, I will not speak. There is no need to point to the work which, even by turning these pages, we can see is being done.

It is remarkable to see how much ground Sir William Jones, with all the limitations and hindrances then before him, was able to cover. To find out what his omissions were will be even more instructive than to consider what came within his purview, for these omissions are the subjects to which modern students of the culture of India can give profitable attention.


1. Ajnana by G.R. Malkani. R.Das, and T.R.V Murti, p.90 2. Geschichte der Philologie, p.71 The sin against the Holy Ghost is the unpardonable sin. What that means in particular does not matter. The pont is that s sin which is not repented of is not forgiven. 3. I have normalised the spelling of Sanskrit words 4. Purvatrasiddham: analytisch onderzoek angaand het system der Tripadi van Panini’s Astadhayaya. By H.e. Buiskool, Amsterdam, 1934. 5. It is a commentary on Hardiksta’s Laghusabdaratna. Andra Univ. Series Published in the Indian Culture, Journal of the Indian Research Institute, Vol-1, 1935, pp.327-332
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