Although the poetry and philosophy of India were discovered by Europeans over a hundred years ago, and had the most important influence, the visual arts of India remained unappreciated. While 'Sakuntala' and the 'Sermons of Buddha' were recognized as having the same stature as the writings of Sophocles or Plato, and were incorporated into every European literary tradition, the plastic arts of India were treated as if they were a pictorial supplement to the history of religion or the anthropology of a remote and alien country, of a mysterious, sensuous, exotic world.
The discovery that the arts of India have their proper place in the universal history of art remained to be made. One may, without any fear of exaggeration, claim that this book is the first in the field.
That this should be the case is due to scholars having devoted so much of their attention to problems of chronology, regional distinction, and religious content that they were never able to demonstrate that Indian sculpture and architecture had the same value, judged by purely artistic standards, as Greek sculpture and the medieval cathedrals.
The 180 reproductions which illustrate this book give a general survey of the art of Hindu and Buddhist India.
These photographs, most of which have never been published previously, have been collected during extensive travels and many years of research Complex temple towers, gracefully swaying bronze figures, splendid, rock-hewn images of gods and beasts, frescoes, decorative reliefs, monumental statues, and busts are included in this selection. The student will find the detailed photographs of buildings and sculptures (some of which were taken in exceptionally difficult circumstances) as well as the eight colour reproduction of paintings, which supplement the monochrome, photogravures, particularly valuable.
About the Author
STELLA KRAMRISCH, previously Professor of the history of Indian Art at the University of Calcutta for many years, is now Professor at the University of Pennsylvania and Curator of Indian Art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Her Most distinguished books-the two volumes on the Hindu Temple, for instance-and her monographs have long been known to specialists. The lucid text of this book and the illustrations which she has selected from a vast collection of material provide the best introduction to one of the most neglected chapters of the history of art.
AN ANCIENT INDIAN TREATISE says that art conduces to fulfilling the aims of life, whose ultimate aim is Release. The compendium opens with a conversation between a king and a sage. The king desires to learn the whole meaning of art, but is told that he must first know the theory of dancing. To this he agrees because the laws of dancing imply the principles that govern painting. But the sage further insists that the king shall begin by studying music and song/ for without a knowledge of all the arts, their effect in space and time cannot fully be understood, nor their purpose be achieved.
In India, the ultimate aim of life is Release (moksa), and art is one means of attaining this aim. What is meant by Release? On the negative side, it is a state of inner detachment from subservience to life in all its contingent aspects. Positively, it is the state of detachment itself, irradiated by the realization of the Absolute. The Absolute, the Supreme Principle, is beyond definition. It is known by inner realization. Moksa is a reintegration into the Absolute. There are many different modes of reintegration, and many ways of achieving detachment. All ways lead beyond civilization, but at the same time they take for granted the entire social structure, with its Dharma or laws of human righteousness and cosmic order, its Artha or accumulated wealth, and Kama, the fountain springs of love and passion.
Upon this foundation, art and yoga erect a superstructure of many paths leading to the solitary peak where realization of the Absolute is imminent. From this single point of awareness of life's essential unity objects and thoughts take on a new perspective. For whether they be directed towards the summit, turned away from it, or engrossed in the pursuit of one of the three other aims, all thoughts and actions are governed by the Presence and Position of this, the ultimate aim in the structure of Indian life.
Moksa (Release) is not itself the Absolute. It is the realization of the Absolute within one's own living body, a mature communion which some attain (Plate 41) and of which all are aware in some degree, even although their time has not yet come (Plates 96, 26). Those who would reach it must endure a discipline, for the living, breathing human body is the place where moksa is realized. It is thus that the body is represented in Indian art (Plates 95, 81), and its scale taken as a module in Indian architecture (Plate 74, see Note). Thousands of years before they were given verbal expression in the Veda (the Scripture), and in Vastu sastra and silpa satra (the textbooks on the arts) the traditions of India were embodied in the form of Indian art (Plate 1 and Figs. I, 2, 4).
In this art, the shape of man and all subsidiary figures are ordered in accordance with a living myth. They serve as its symbols and carry out its rhythms. Architectural proportions are governed by its concepts (Plates II6, 121), which underlie the relation- ships of builder, patron and worshipper. There is nothing accidental in these concepts. They are known and lived, are projected and given shape, at various levels, and in varying degrees of statement and elaboration. Confronting an Indian work of art, a beholder ignorant of the tradition sees merely its form; its quality awakens in him only a vague response to the total awareness that has gone into its making. Indian temple architecture, in the fullness of its development, establishes in spatial terms an intellectual and actual approach to the Supreme Principle of which the deity is symbolic. The statue is the manifestation (arca-avatara) of the deity through a concrete work of art (murti), and the building is its body and house. Images are given shape by sculpture and painting, whose inter-relationship expresses in line, proportion and colour the love (bhakti) to which gods and myths owe their existence as aspects of the Absolute.
The temples and statues are so many stages in the approach to moksa. They are halting places, providing rest and support for the one unanimous Tradition, that flows through the word of the Veda and is borne along by the ritual in inviolable and multifold patterns. The various phases of Indian art correspond to such stages and, from the third century B.C. to the present day, more than two millennia of their history can be traced against a background remote by yet another two thousand years.
In the second half of the third millennium B.C., Indian art had passed a zenith (Plate I, Figs. I, 3, 4) in the large towns of the Indus valley. Between this, the most ancient art of India, and the cosmopolitan art of the third century B.C. (Plate 4), with the Mauryan Court in Pataliputra (Patna), on the Ganges, as its centre, lie about two millennia wherein few monuments (Plates 2, 3) have been excavated as yet. Into this void falls the age of the Veda. Its hymns are rich in imagery, whereas (although accompanied by signs of a script) the images and figures of India's more remote past have no known verbal equivalents (Fig. I). The tradition, however, remains unbroken, for the themes and forms of the art of the Indus valley during the third and second millennia B.C. are continued in Indian art when it re-emerges in the third century B.C.
The art of India is neither religious nor secular, for the consistent fabric of Indian life was never rent by the Western dichotomy of religious belief and worldly practice. Every aspect of this life is incorporated into a known hierarchy of values in the physical, psychological and metaphysical realms. In this ordered body of values, each member with its own particular function is placed in accordance with a transcendental Norm.
At the height of its architectural development (Plates 121, 87, 70 and Fig. 14), the temple was the spiritual centre from which religious and social life was regulated. It set the standard for all other buildings, which were related to and derived from its proportions, and were orientated and grouped with respect to it. Similarly, the images on temple walls represent the gods, whose proportions are based on the idealized figure of man (Plates 52, 94), while, on the other hand, the celestial countenance is reflected in the various forms of art, of which portraiture is one (Plate 1 1 I, Colour Plate VII).
Inherent in the perfected types of Indian art, including the most abstract, is the residuary essence of a profound participation in life, experienced and given form by the artist (Plates 100-102). In India, nature is violently active or overwhelmingly torpid and similarly human emotions are strong or apathetic. This parallel between external nature and the inner nature of man is reaffirmed by art. Indian art is fundamentally naturalistic. In the logic of the various schools it works like nature herself, expressing the vitality of her shapes (Plates 24-26, 94, 112; Fig. 4), evoking their very body and breath in impassioned plastic sculpture and painting, while ever forming afresh the female figure according to her stone-age type of potential motherhood. The ancient art of the Indus valley was preoccupied with life and recaptured its surge in a modeling that was both firm and resilient. The massive male torso, in Fig. 4, is in the throes of an inner movement unfolding from the core of the body. On the other hand, when outer movement is represented in the slender figure of a dancer (Plate I) gliding curves and clear-cut planes are intertwined in space, and follow the movement of the dance as their perpetual function. These two modes of sculpture are characteristic. In the first, the figure appears to be modelled from within, and although actually at rest, is instinct with plastic movement. In the second, the volume of the figure is distributed round its axis, and is self-contained in the inter- section of the planes within the space created by the movements of the body. The massive torso gives shape to the internal life that moves within the form, keeping it tense when it is at rest. The dancing torso expresses the body's external movement that governs the unit of space and volume in which the torso exists. In other words, these two modes of sculpture, the one recording the inner unconscious movement of life within the plastic walls of the body, and the other the outer movement of the body by an act of will within the space encircled by that movement, are typically and perennially Indian. The first is the sculpture of the modelled mass, and the second that of lines and planes curved in space.
Contents and Sample Pages