Friday, April 30, 2021

Ananda Tandava Of Nataraja-3

Dr. K S Kannan,
SRSJM Chair Professor,
IIT-Madras, Chennai.
Respond to (

Negative Criticisms of Indian Art before Coomaraswamy

It may be desirable to cite some of those negative criticisms here, at least as a sample. Coomaraswamy himself cites some typical cynical opinions current during his own times. Thus, B. H. Baden-Powell (1857-1941) had remarked: 'In a country like this [India], we must not expect to find anything that appeals to mind or deep feeling'! (italics ours). This quotation is cited by Coomaraswamy in his book entitled The Dance of Śiva: Fourteen Indian Essays [first published in 1918, New York, Publisher: The Sunwise Turn;] (reprinted 1974 Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal), p.195). It must however be noted that the critic modified his views considerably in later years, presumably being influenced by Coomaraswamy.

 The famous British historian Vincent A. Smith (1848-1920) had the nerve to remark thus in The Imperial Gazeteer, (Volume 2, 1910): 'Indian sculpture properly so-called, hardly deserves to be reckoned as art. The figures of both men and animals become stiff and formal, and the idea of power is clumsily expressed by the multiplication of members. The many-headed, many-armed gods and goddesses whose images crowd the walls and roofs of medieval temples have no pretensions to beauty, and are frequently hideous and grotesque' (italics ours). (How absurd or shocking should the awe-inspiring Virāṭ-puruṣa of the Puruṣa-Sūkta of the R̥gveda, or the Viśva-rūpa-darśana of the Bhagavad-gītā – with a thousand heads, thousand eyes, or a thousand feet - must then have appeared for them! What can look so grand and appealing for us can look so grotesque and appalling for them!)  Similarly, Alfred Maskell speaks of 'these hideous deities with animals' heads and innumerable arms' (Refer: A. Maskell, Ivories, New York: G. P. Putnam, 1905, p.332). Sir George Birdwood (1832-1917), though sympathetic to many Indian causes, considered that 'the monstrous shapes of the Puranic deities are unsuitable for the higher forms of artistic representation; and this is possibly why sculpture and painting are unknown as fine arts in India' (italics ours). (G. Birdwood, Industrial Arts of India, London: Chapman & Hall, 1880, p.125 cited in Coomaraswamy, The Dance of Shiva, p.96).