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Himalayas in Indian Art (An Old Book)

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Item Code: NAY210
Author: E. B. Havell
Publisher: Book Faith India
Language: English
Edition: 2000
ISBN: 97881730322888
Pages: 92 (Throughout B/W Illustrations)
Other Details 8.50 X 5.50 inch
Weight 160 gm
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This monograph, which represents the Forlong Bequest Lectures given at the School of Oriental Studies, 1924, offers a new approach to the study of Indian art, by way of the Himalayas-certainly the surest and most direct path for arriving at the central ideas of the Indian artist and craftsman. Public interest for the moment is concentrated on Himalayan scientific exploration. The Himalayas offer equal opportunities for artistic research: they have always been the pivot of Indian religious art. The Indian order of architecture, the design of Indian temples, and the symbolism of the principal figures in Indian iconography are all focussed on the Himalayas. Since the publication of my Indian Sculpture and Painting in 1908 the literature of Indian art has been constantly growing; the present work is partly a completion of my previous studies.

It presents concisely the leading ideas of the Indian temple builder, sculptors and painter and connects the artistic traditions of India with Indian daily life and work. In preparing the illustrations I have to acknowledge the assistance kindly given me by Dr. Annie Besant, Mr. Stanley Clarke, curator, India section, Victoria and Albert Museum; Messrs, F. Davidson and co. Mr. O.C. Gangoly; Mr. H.V. Lanchester, F.R.I.B.A. Messrs. Macmillan & Co. Ltd. Sir John Marshall Director General of the Archaeologist survey of India; Dr. Abanindra Nath Tagore. C.I.E. and Dr. F.W. Thomas Librarian of the India Office.


The Western artist who strives to penetrate into the inner sanctuary of Indian thought has first to clear the ground of many misconceptions, obscurities, and historical fallacies, for Indian art, though very old in itself, is from a Western point of view a new subject of study. It is hardly more than fifteen years since it began to emerge from the category of ethnology and to be taken seriously into account by modern art critics as belonging to the do-main of asthetics, from which we generally exclude all the art of uncivilised peoples. Ruskin, in the mid-victorian era, brought his heaviest artillery to bear upon it, and attributed to the Devil and his myrmidons all the ideas of the Hindu sculptor and painter as he understood them. Even James Fergusson, who: great pioneer work aroused European interest in Indian architecture, attributed to Pathans, Arabs, and Mongols a special genius for building which did not belong to Indians. Though the beauty of the Ajanta paintings compelled admiration, they were, he thought, to be explained as an offshoot of the Early Persian school, and therefore distantly connected with Greek art. He used the term "Pauranic art," in which category most of the great masterpieces of Indian sculpture are contained, in a depreciatory in which the creative inspiration of Greece was lost and Indian art reverted to its own Primitive barbarism.

Ruskin's influence prevailed when art teaching was made a part of our educational programme in India schools of art were to resume, less violently, but more effectively, the iconoclastic propaganda of Aurangzeb and bring the light of South Kensington to shine upon the darkness of Indian imagination. The same influence ruled for more then half a century in the administration of our national art museums. The British and other leading museums of Europe for a long time classified all Indian art in which Greek influence could not be detected as " ethnological," that is, as a scientific rather then artistic study. Although later on Sir George Birdwood at South Kensington made a cult of Indian decorative design in textiles, jewellery, pottery, and domestic utensils, his Handbook to the Indian section of the museum, which was the official guide until a few years ago. Peremptorily excluded Indian sculpture and painting from the category of 'fine art." In 1884 when the Indian Institute was opened at Oxford to facilitate and foster Indian studies at the University, the word "art" was carefully avoided by the promoters of the scheme. The Institute was dedicated to Eastern sciences and to the honour of Indian learning and literature. The founders expressed the pious wish that both Englishmen and Indians would appreciate better than they had done before the languages, literature, and industries of India. It was too much in those days to ask a man of culture to admire the art of India without considerable reservations.

We have travelled far from the nineteenth-century standpoint since then. The vital and all-important quality of Indian art- its livingness -is still regarded either with intolerant scepticism or with indifference as an inconvenient and rather annoying subject. But it has been gradually recognised that India for many centuries was the centre of a dynamic asthetic impulse which profoundly influenced the whole art of Asia. Probably, when the study of Indian art has grown out of its infancy, we shall also discover that it had a far greater influence upon western art than we are now inclined to admit.

A very important book by professor Josef Strzygowski on the Origin of Christian Church Art' (10xford University Press) points in that direction. I shall not, however, in this monograph invite the reader to follow up that line of research, more arcaeological then artistic, which limits the analysis of art to the enquiry as to how far one school borrowed forms and fashions from its neighbours, like the modern tailor and dressmaker. This is after all, only a kind of inventory of the artist's stock-in-trade, of his tools and accessories. It is a line of research which is interesting and important for the historian, but it helps very little to discover the inner thoughts and motives of any art. If archaeological methods and inferences were applied as dras-tically to English art as they have been to Indian, we might be forced to the conclusion that there has been little if any art in England which we can call our own.

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