Crispin Branfoot, editor of the book, Traditional Arts of South Asia: Continuity in Contemporary Practice & Patronage, introduces key topics and authors in this ground breaking new publication, published by Saffron:
What are the proper subjects for a study of the arts of India? If we were so bold as to define ‘the canon’ of South Asian art, even when the very idea of the canon has been subjected to so much deserved criticism, scholars would probably agree about the main elements. We would want to examine the historical development and meanings of architecture for the varied and interwoven religious communities of South Asia beginning in the third century BC—Buddhists, Hindus, Jains. Sculpture in stone, terracotta and metal would be central, discussing the numerous images of deities and superhuman beings that animated these buildings and were the focus of ritual. The formation of Indo-Islamic art and architecture after 1200 would be an important theme. We would want to examine the early paintings on walls or palm-leaf for use in religious contexts, and the refined, court paintings on cloth and paper for the Mughals and their contemporaries from the sixteenth century and later. Perhaps we would also include the architectural legacy of the successive European colonial powers, and some other aspects of the dialogue between Europe and South Asia, such as ‘Company’ painting in the early nineteenth century. If space in the book or curriculum permitted, perhaps some metalwork, jewellery or textiles might be mentioned (Figure 1.1). With such visual riches, surely nothing is missing?
It is curious therefore that in most recent academic discussions of the visual arts of South Asia produced in the past two centuries, there is little mention of the material—the temples, sculptures, religious and court paintings—that had been so important in the history of the arts up until 1800. Have no temples been produced in the last few centuries? Are the sculptures made in this period simply not worth studying? Have historians of South Asian art assumed that another discipline is studying this material? This book aims to take another view of the traditional arts of South Asia produced in the past two centuries and assess their role in both the understanding of the past and in current practice. The contributors come from a variety of disciplines to reflect the different aims and approaches currently pursued toward South Asian traditional arts and include art historians, practising artists and architects, and anthropologists. The broad aim is to juxtapose material often examined in isolation, if at all, and emphasise the plurality of approach and diversity of visual media produced and consumed in the dynamic and varied cultures of South Asia over the past two centuries.
The authors’ contributions address to varying degrees three key themes: How can a historical and theoretical understanding of traditional South Asian arts inform contemporary artistic and architectural projects, both within and beyond South Asia? How can an understanding of contemporary practices and design issues inform the study of art and material culture in the past? How have changing conceptions of art and craft influenced the study, understanding and practice of South Asian traditional arts?
The terms ‘tradition’ and ‘traditional’ have the English meaning of handing down knowledge or passing on a doctrine. Tradition is often considered to be something deserving of reverence where conscious or deliberate innovation is not present. The implied opposite is modernity or modernisation, where change is considered to be inherent. But as Roxanna Waterson has stated, “‘Tradition’ really describes a process of handing down, and as such is just as dynamic and as historical as any other social process. … Tradition, like history, is something that is continually being recreated and remodelled in the present, even as it is represented as fixed and unchangeable.” (Waterson 1990: p232). While it is an active process, ‘tradition’ retains a sense of the age-old, of ceremony, duty and respect, even when something becomes ‘traditional’ in only a few generations. The Sanskrit term paramparā, literally ‘uninterrupted series, succession’ implies this sense of lineage, heredity and genealogy when used in the context of artists and religious figures handing down knowledge through successive generations.1
Even without a detailed examination, it is nevertheless important to reflect upon the formation of the disciplines in which scholars have studied South Asian visual arts and material culture—history, art history, anthropology, design history—and the terms and classifications that have been used—art, artefact, traditional arts, industrial arts, folk art, vernacular arts, craft, design. Craft, folk art and decorative art are all categories that evolved in late nineteenth and early twentieth century English usage to differentiate objects made by hand from those made by machine, and to distinguish from ‘fine art’ objects of notable aesthetic or visual interest that were not considered art in the strictest sense (Bean 2003; Dormer 1997). But the use of such terms can be problematic in a South Asian context. ‘Folk art’ is similarly complex to define and categorise, as Joanna Williams has discussed (Williams 2003). Folk art may be defined in the negative: it is not élite or high art, and does not belong in an art museum. Definitions may also stress the self-taught, non-professional status of the folk artist, but in South Asia many are hereditary professionals. Neither are folk artists necessarily poor. Perhaps ‘folk’ art is cheaper, requiring less time to make and lasting for shorter periods. But the same artists may make work for different patrons and markets, and a distinction between ‘classical’ and ‘folk’ art in the South Asian context is hard to define. As Williams notes, the problems are compounded by the loaded word ‘art,’ sometimes equated only with the élite or objects that have an exclusively aesthetic function. Using the term ‘material culture’ seems more all-embracing but the emphasis may be on practical function rather than aesthetics and appearance (Figure 1.2).
Scholars interested in the arts of the nineteenth and twentieth century have tended to turn away from the material that dominates discussion of pre-modern South Asia. Detailed studies have examined the nineteenth-century construction of knowledge of South Asia’s earlier art and archaeology (Chakrabarti 1988, Guha-Thakurta 2004, Leoshko 2003, Mitter 1977). We are now more acutely aware of the legacy of early scholarship in, for example, the way in which South Asian art has often been perceived as developing from an early period of excellence to later stagnation, decadence and decline. But while we freely acknowledge and discuss the historiographic biases of criticism and omission, do we change our scholarly behaviour and teach and research more widely to challenge the bases of such earlier scholarship?
The architecture of colonial and modern South Asia has been the subject of a substantial body of literature in the past thirty years, and much is now known about the secular monuments of the British Raj and the development of modern architecture in the region.2 With the exception of palaces, which survive in sufficient number from the fifteenth century to merit detailed study, the study of South Asia’s secular and domestic, vernacular architecture is largely limited to the past two centuries simply because so little has survived from before that. But this does not explain the absence of religious buildings, the staple of histories of architecture before 1800, from discussions of the architectural history of the nineteenth and twentieth century.
In the realm of the pictorial arts, scholarly attention remains on the new and the innovative: the establishment of western-style art schools across South Asia from the 1850s, the development of élite studio art alongside the rise of Indian nationalism, the foundations of Indian modern art in the early twentieth century, and the development of the contemporary art scene post-Independence (Guha-Thakurta 1992, Mitter 1992, 2007, Ramaswamy 2003). A disciplinary shift within art history towards visual culture more widely has resulted in a wider range of media discussed, including photography, video and film, and mass-produced prints or posters (Figure 1.3).3 These are all new art forms, in terms of technique, content or consumption. However much they may draw upon traditional precedents, there is a sense in which these subjects are separate from the ‘proper’ or canonical Indian art history, in part because they have often been studied by scholars from a background in anthropology.
Absence, taste and disciplinary chasms
Three related factors may explain this comparative neglect of the traditional arts of South Asia in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, material that evolved in a pre-industrial environment: the perceived absence of material to study, the negative aesthetic assessment of material, and the disciplinary gaps between art history and anthropology in their treatment of material culture.
The first reason why there are few studies of nineteenth and twentieth century traditional arts, such as temples, sculpture, court or religious paintings, is because there is a perceived lack of material to study: the decline of the Indian courts and the expansion of colonial authority resulted in the loss of patronage for the traditional arts, and changed patrons’ tastes in favour of European-inspired work. This is the oft-cited reason for the development of ‘Company’ painting. This is work by local artists that adapted the subject matter and depiction of traditional Indian painting for new European patrons in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries because of the loss of court patronage. Later nineteenth century India has sometimes been presented as being dominated by European aesthetics, with virtually all colonial artists coming from the western-educated strata and no significant interest in earlier Indian art forms. Such a view of the decline of the traditional arts stems in part from a dynastic view of art that classifies temples, sculpture or painting by the name of the ruling polity and assumes a model of patronage that relies on wealthy royal or courtly patrons to sponsor monuments. In this view, when political authority is at its height, the arts flourish; when it is weakening there is little will, resources or patrons to support the arts.
But if we cast our prejudices aside and start looking, it is clear that the traditional arts of religious architecture and sculpture, and earlier forms of painting did not disappear: they either continued as before from the later eighteenth century or were transformed through exposure to new patrons, materials, techniques or genres. A view of colonial and modern Indian art primarily from the perspective of Bengal, the most deeply anglicised region of India in the nineteenth century, ignores the large areas of the Princely States never directly ruled by the British—around a third of South Asia—or the vast swathes of rural India beyond the immediate impact of the great colonial cities. In Rajasthan, for example, court painting continued to flourish in conservative, traditional Udaipur into the early twentieth century alongside the introduction of western academic naturalism, photography and chromolithography.4 In the far south of India, monumental Hindu temples with richly detailed architectural sculpture continued to be built in the nineteenth century and early twentieth centuries by the Nakarattar (or Nattukottai Chettiar) business community and the Setupati rulers of Ramnad in the southeast of the Tamil country, along patterns established in the Nayaka period of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It is clear then that these traditional arts with a long history continued into the present rather than disappearing in the nineteenth century in the shadow of colonialism, be it temples and sculpture for the Hindu and Jain communities, mosques, dargahs and palaces, and the many forms of ‘folk art’ and textiles.
Given that there is material to study, then its neglect must be a matter of taste rather than ignorance. Indeed it is often implied that nineteenth and twentieth century temples, sculptures and paintings are just not very good quality and are poorly made, repetitive or degenerate compared with the earlier examples. With limited time to teach or travel, and limited space in a single book to write, why spend time on the later examples that are not as good quality as the earlier ones or do not seem to add anything to the story of Indian art? However justified many feel in making such a claim, this is one of the enduring legacies of nineteenth century scholarship on India, which locates ‘tradition’ and the authentic vernacular in the past and not in a present, adulterated by colonialism or modernity. India was often presented in the nineteenth century as a culture in decline, the architecture and sculpture degenerating from a ‘golden age’ in the early centuries AD to its present state. This is made explicit in some early authorities, such as James Fergusson’s History of Indian and Eastern Architecture (1876), or in the writings of A M Hocart, archaeologist in Sri Lanka in the 1920s following earlier ethnographic fieldwork in the Pacific (Mitter 1999). But such a view continues implicitly in the absence of temple arts dating from after the sixteenth or seventeenth century in well-read histories of South Asian art, such as J C Harle’s The Art and Architecture of the Indian Subcontinent (1986) or Christopher Tadgell’s A History of Architecture in India (1990). The Arts and Crafts movement in Britain developed out of condemnation of industrialised art practices and the valorisation of the vernacular, the hand-made and the traditional. In South Asia, the narrative of decline is clearly expressed in the later nineteenth century discourse on the traditional arts in the art schools, museums and industrial exhibitions. The perceived decline in quality in this instance was a more recent one, attributed to colonial industrialisation and commercialisation, and a concern with hybridity that undermined indigenous traditions.
A further factor is the nature of the academic disciplines in which the arts of South Asia have been studied. In the hierarchy of art established in the West from the sixteenth century, most South Asian traditional arts were demoted to the status of decorative, applied or industrial arts in the later nineteenth century, or more recently as ‘craft’ or ‘folk art.’ While the history of these terms is beyond the scope of this discussion, it is important to note the way in which the use of such terms affects the ways in which scholars have approached or chosen our subjects of study. South Asian traditional arts may also be incorporated into the category of artefact, the realm of ethnography and the utilitarian, a field of enquiry for the anthropologist. But as noted above, anthropologists working on material culture have tended to avoid examining precisely the kinds of material or indeed questions favoured by art historians. The material and visual turn within the discipline of anthropology, so welcome in developing new approaches to the study of material culture, has been selective in its subjects of study. There remain traditional art-historical genres—sculpture and religious architecture, for example—that the anthropology of art may either overlook, or neglect the object and its formal qualities. This is evident in some museum practice too: a Buddha image or painting of a Hindu deity can be ‘art’ if it dates before the nineteenth century but becomes ‘ethnography’ after that and is discussed and displayed appropriately. Such objects are only ‘art’ if they are explicitly ‘modern.’ From around 1850, ‘Indian art’ seems to become the work that can be easily assimilated into the western category of ‘fine art,’ the material produced in South Asia from within the western tradition, such as signature paintings and drawings for the galleries and academies that emerged from the new art schools.
Thus, the chapters in this book present a view of South Asian art that sees no fundamental separation between the pre-modern and modern, terms that seem to have been validated by persistent use. The advent of the colonial and modern era marks not a break with the past but only a transformation of earlier practices. The traditional arts practised in the modern age are to be seen as part of South Asian modernity, not separate from it, or necessarily in deep decline as a result of recent changes. Amongst the aims of this book are to stress the following needs: for scholarship that combines contemporary analysis with historical depth, for historians of South Asian art to understand contemporary transformations of tradition, and for the study of modern art to embrace a greater depth of knowledge of the past.
Investigating the Traditional Arts
All of the essays in this collection engage with issues of tradition and modernity. But rather than seeing these as polar opposites, with a dominant modernity replacing tradition in the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, these essays show that it would be better to see these as points on a continuum. The state of scholarship in the last decade of the twentieth and the start of the twenty-first century seems to emphasise the ‘modern’ in South Asia’s visual arts—mass reproduction, photography, studio art, Modern architecture. This collection seeks to view colonial and modern South Asian art from the ‘traditional’ end of the continuum, for ‘tradition’ does not disappear with the arrival of an assumed dominant modernity. Instead traditions may be transformed through the selective adoption, adaptation and appropriation of new forms, styles and materials.
It must be emphasised that other writers have been interested in the traditional practices and material culture of the present or recent past; but there is clearly more of great interest to learn. The founding scholarship on South Asian art was written in the nineteenth century and while the greatest attention was placed upon the past and the historic monuments, some observers were recording traditional practices even as they were being transformed through the europeanisation of tastes and the introduction of art education on a western model in the new British-sponsored art schools from the 1850s (see Chapters Two and Three by Jones and McGowan). The Journal of Indian Art and Industry, published between 1884 and 1917, is one manifestation of this interest in the contemporary world of the traditional arts. Articles on metalwork, architecture, textiles and regions of South Asia were written by many of the key figures in art education and museums in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, including John Lockwood Kipling, George Birdwood, E B Havell and Ananda Coomaraswamy (Dewan 2003). The aims of the well-illustrated journal were both to record current practices at a moment of perceived decline or disappearance, and to provide a basis for the promotion of traditional arts.
The ideals of the Arts and Crafts movement are reflected in Ananda Coomaraswamy’s earliest research on South Asian art, as Robin Jones discusses in his contribution to the volume. Coomaraswamy’s aim in Mediaeval Sinhalese Art (1908) was to record the traditional arts of highland Sri Lanka as they survived in the first years of the twentieth century in order to reflect upon their earlier historic manifestations in the region. As he noted, “… any study of Indian arts and crafts needs to take into account their contemporary forms …” (Coomaraswamy 1908: v). In a long and prolific academic career, his interests turned away from contemporary practices, to initiate the study of Rajput court paintings, analyse the evidence for the earliest architecture in India, and write so perceptively on the underlying philosophy and the mystic, universal qualities of Indian art, and its relationship with the western tradition. These later interests came together in his 1927 publication, A History of Indian and Indonesian Art. However, both Islamic art and the art of the contemporary colonial period were excluded in this book, thereby establishing a vision of South Asian art that only at the end of the twentieth century began to be broader and more inclusive.
Through the middle of the twentieth century studies of the traditional arts of South Asia were focused on the ancient-mediaeval past. The breadth of research on South Asia has expanded across all disciplines in the last few decades and several innovative studies of traditional arts have transformed the perception of the available materials for study and the approaches that can be taken to the understanding of their production and consumption. Of particular interest are studies that examine contemporary traditional arts in specific contexts, but with a long historical view and an awareness of art historical methodology.
The work of two scholars is worth highlighting. Joanna Williams’ early work on the sculpture and temple architecture of the Gupta period from the fourth to sixth centuries across central and eastern India was followed by a consideration of paintings on palm-leaf and other illustrated narratives of the Ramayana in Orissa (Williams 1982, 1988, 1991, 1996). From a deep understanding of earlier, ‘classical’ Indian art her research in eastern India contests the perception of an increasing dominance of a western aesthetic in this period from the late eighteenth century onwards across South Asia, the scholarly polarisation between élite and ‘folk art,’ and enabled her to examine the working methods and choices made by the artists themselves. Challenging the separation of temple, court and village, and the distinction between ‘classical’ or ‘fine’ arts and those usually classified as folk art or craft, is a central theme in the 2007 exhibition that she curated on the art of Mewar in Rajasthan (Williams 2007).
In a similar manner, Tryna Lyons (2004) has studied the painters of Nathdwara in Rajasthan, the main pilgrimage site of the Vaishnava Pushtimarg from the late seventeenth century. The work of a community of artists was closely related to the Mewari court painting tradition at nearby Udaipur. Lyons demonstrates the ways in which these artists adapted their traditional practices to the new colonial and modern environment, rather than simply abandoning them. As the community preserves patronage patterns, didactic methods and modes of workshop practice that were established over a period of several centuries, it makes an excellent place to study the practice of art in pre-modern India. In reply to Partha Mitter’s rhetorical question in his influential study of art and nationalism in colonial India, “Why did academic naturalism oust earlier Indian art in the colonial period with such ease?” Lyons pointedly states that it did not (Mitter 1994: p7; Lyons 2004: p26). Much of her compelling work is concerned with challenging the notion of the anonymous traditional artist, and reinstating the artist as a real individual with a personality and the freedom to make certain choices about what he will make and where he will work, for in Nathdwara the artist was not a puppet of religion, patronage and economic forces beyond his control (Lyons 2004: p24). While challenging some well-established notions of pre-modern artistic practice in South Asia, she also demonstrates that the painters of Nathdwara in Mewar were not at work in a provincial backwater out of step with the wider concerns of colonial India. The work of two artists from Nathdwara, for example, was mass-reproduced from the 1920s as the popular prints or chromolithographs that are now found across the region, and now also the subject of scholarly study (Lyons 2004: p27, p155, p307; Pinney 2003: pp79-104). As Chris Pinney has noted, it was the mass-reproduction of images from this Brahman painting community “that precipitated a revolution in popular aesthetics and would place Nathdwara painters at the centre of the commercial picture production industry for the rest of the century” (Pinney 2003: p81).
An examination of the most recent traditional South Asian art forms—their design and formal features, the working practices of the artists, craftspeople and architects, and the relationship between patron and practitioner—is of inherent interest in demonstrating the continuity of forms and practices into the present. Such a study of the present may also shed light on our understanding of the past, as suggested by Lyons’ study of Nathdwara painters. The study of the traditional arts of South Asia must encompass not only the origins and historic development up to a shifting date between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries, but also their contemporary manifestations. Similarly, studies of twentieth century and contemporary design and practice must include some degree of historical depth and encompass an examination of what, why and how traditional design and practice has adapted to changes in materials, methods and aesthetic choices in the past century or more.
A further strand in this book is an attempt to demonstrate how a historical and theoretical understanding of traditional South Asian arts can inform contemporary artistic and architectural projects, both within and indeed beyond South Asia. Earlier projects and individuals in the later nineteenth and early twentieth century aimed to do just that, influenced in part by the Victorian pioneers of the Arts and Crafts movement. The documentation and collection of crafts in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries are important now in assessing the historical development of traditional arts, such as textiles, that may not survive in modern use or whose design and use has been transformed. Furthermore, theoretical knowledge of traditional artistic theory and its application to contemporary projects does not necessarily have successful results, and it is important to consider what problems are involved in applying traditional knowledge to contemporary design and practice.
South Asia and the Arts and Crafts Movement
The two chapters in the first section of this volume examine colonial attitudes to the traditional arts of South Asia in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, focusing on the British government’s establishment of art schools on a western model from the 1850s and the role of the Arts and Crafts movement in shaping policy and scholarship. The initial scholarly emphasis on Bengal, the most deeply colonised region of India, has been balanced more recently by studies of the art schools in other areas of British India, such as Madras and Lahore, and also in the Princely States, such as Jaipur or Travancore.5 Robin Jones’ chapter is important for this reason, extending our understanding of European conceptualisations of the traditional arts of South Asia to the separately administered island of Sri Lanka. He analyses British attitudes to the arts, crafts and architecture of Kandy and the Kandyan Districts, as well as the ‘discovery’ of the ancient cities of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa in the north of the island which led to a reappraisal of indigenous art and architecture. He comments on the British conception of Sri Lankan arts as static or in decline, a theme common in other regions of Asia. British administrators were also concerned about the perceived hybridity of contemporary craft products. This lack of authenticity led to direct British intervention to ‘preserve,’ and indeed define, the traditional arts through the establishment of industrial schools from the 1850s to the 1930s by the colonial government and missionary societies, to train the local population in varieties of handicraft. Jones concludes with an examination of the writings of A K Coomaraswamy and his wife Ethel Coomaraswamy/Mairet on the traditional arts and crafts of Ceylon contextualised within the ethos of the Arts and Crafts movement.
Abigail McGowan’s chapter similarly traces shifts in the ways of perceiving and evaluating Indian crafts and artisanal traditions, drawing attention to a critical change in the 1880s, when a new emphasis on individual artisanal creativity and expression emerges. The Arts and Crafts movement powerfully influenced a whole range of British and native officials involved in collecting, presenting, and writing about crafts. Working from the movement’s celebration of the aesthetic and moral superiority of handcraftsmanship over industrial production, officials and scholars in India saw the artisanal industries of the Indian subcontinent as examples of a valuable and vanishing alternative to industrial society. But in its interpretations in India, Arts and Crafts idealism underwent several important changes. On the one hand, India had yet to undergo rapid industrialisation, which made it difficult to draw oppositions between industrial and handmade goods. On the other hand, crafts enthusiasts in India were forced to contend with a growing nationalist critique of colonialism, which argued that British rule had destroyed Indian indigenous industries. Those two facts helped shape the particular expression of Arts and Crafts ideals in South Asia, focusing attention on personal creativity in opposition to commercial piecework, and creating an obsession with individual artisans rather than artisanal networks. McGowan emphasises that these, in turn, had long-lasting effects on craft development efforts in India, both before and after Independence.
If volume of production was any measure of the importance of an art form in a society, then textiles should have pride of place in any study of South Asian traditional arts. An enormous variety of textiles—woven, dyed and embroidered—have been produced for local consumption, and South Asia has been an important exporter of cloth for well over two millennia: for example, fragments of western Indian block-printing have been found in Egypt dating to between the eleventh and fourteenth centuries and other textiles from the same region, such as the double-ikat patola, have long been prized in Southeast Asia as heirloom cloths (Figures1.4, 1.5) (Barnes 1997, Guy 2002). The trade in textiles and cloth was an important component of European trading activity in South Asia from the sixteenth century. In the nineteenth century competition with western textile production and the introduction of industrial dyes and techniques led some to consider traditional industries to have disappeared. This is clearly not the case, and European competition affected only some parts of the textile industry while other traditional forms of weaving, printing, embroidering and dyeing continued or adapted to the new materials, techniques and markets of the colonial and modern periods.
Despite their centrality in South Asian material culture over a long period, textiles have tended to be marginalised as an art form within the recent study of the region’s traditional arts. Although there is plenty of research on the history of the textile industries, and more recently good anthropological studies of dress and identity (Tarlo 1996, Banerjee and Miller 2003), the objects themselves, their form and design, and their social lives are seldom examined in detail.
The next two chapters by Ismail Mohammed Khatri and Eiluned Edwards discuss the production and consumption of resist-dyed and block-printed textiles in western India. Eiluned Edwards’s chapter examines the different textiles produced by the Khatris, a hereditary caste of printers and dyers in the Kachchh district of Gujarat. Particular cloths are associated with a specific caste or community in this region, and have played an integral part in the construction of caste identities. The Khatris have made particular cloths for the farming and herding groups of this arid region, both Hindu and Muslim, and their clients include Rabaris and Fakirani Jats, the two remaining groups of pastoral nomads. As she notes, encoded in the block-printed, tie-dyed and embroidered textiles produced in this district are a host of details about a person’s caste, religious affiliation, gender, age, marital status and economic standing. Since Independence in 1947, however, industrialisation, changes in the environment and the decline of nomadism have affected the consumption of locally produced textiles. New materials and technologies, particularly of synthetic manufactured cloth that mimics traditional design, have also had an impact on these traditional textiles. But some of the Khatri communities have responded to this challenge by revitalising their traditional natural dye technologies and seeking new markets for their traditional art beyond the immediate locality and communities, not only in India but also overseas.
In the subsequent chapter Ismail Mohammed Khatri, a member of the Khatri community with whom Eiluned Edwards has worked since 1991, narrates the role of his family in the production of Gujarati textiles, particularly the prestige cloth ajrakh. This is a resist-dyed and block-printed cloth traditionally dyed with indigo and madder, which is worn as a turban, lunghi or shoulder cloth almost exclusively by the Muslim cattle-breeding clans of Kachchh, particularly to mark religious festivals and weddings. The strength of these chapters lies not only in the treatment of the detail of the cloths of Gujarat, well known to textile connoisseurs and the tourist industry, but in the contextual discussion of their consumers, both local and global, and the adaptation at a local level to the wider historic challenge of modernity. Furthermore, in both these chapters, and indeed in the final two, we have the practitioner’s voice which is often absent from debates about the nature and practice of art, and from the documentation of its processes.
Divine Images in a Commercial World
For the past two millennia, images of divine and superhuman beings have been a central part of artistic production in South Asia, creating the stone and bronze sculptures that ornamented temples and have now found their way to museums and salerooms as art objects. But traditions of image production and consumption continue to this day in modern South Asia, and three of the following chapters examine the impact of colonial culture and modernity on traditional artistic practices of Hindu image production. Following a brief survey of traditional Hindu practices of image making before the nineteenth century, Jyotindra Jain surveys the proliferation of modern images in new materials, media and contexts in the ‘age of mass reproduction.’ Cheap, mass-produced ‘calendar art’ is one of the striking ways in which traditional iconography has been adapted since the 1870s. These images and ones produced in new materials such as plastic or concrete are now displayed in a far wider range of contexts—homes, shops, vehicles, markets—than the temples and shrines of earlier periods. Jain goes on to briefly discuss the political uses of religious images in modern India, citing Walter Benjamin’s famous observation about the freeing of works of art from a dependence on ritual in an era of mechanical reproduction.
The metal images made in parts of southern India represent one of the oldest continuous artistic traditions in South Asia. The bronzes produced in the tenth and eleventh centuries in the Tamil region are often considered among the finest artistic expressions from the region. This tradition survives in places such as Swamimalai in Tamil Nadu, and in Chapter 7 Sharada Srinivasan seeks to explore the changes over a millennium of this traditional artistic practice. Her chapter has two principal aims: firstly, she explores how a study of icon making as practised today can inform an understanding of these practices in the past. Srinivasan provides a detailed account of the process of production from wax image to finished product (Figures 1.6, 1.7). She comments on the perceived decline in the quality of image-making noted by nineteenth-century European commentators and, from her own observations, unfavourably compares the workshop practices of today with both the recent past as recorded in the 1960s and the fine bronzes cast in the Chola period. Secondly, she discusses the way in which the transformation of objects originally for ritual veneration and processional worship but now sold as mantelpiece curios is shaping artistic trends.
Several of these chapters touch on the role of traditional arts and crafts in community development, whether in the later nineteenth century or after Independence in 1947 (McGowan 2003). Many studies of these arts imply the relevance of what James Clifford has termed the ‘salvage paradigm’ in ethnography: “authenticity in culture or art exists just prior to the present, but not so distant or eroded as to make collection or salvage impossible” (Clifford 1987: p122). The role of the traditional arts in community development has resulted in new training opportunities and new markets for the resulting objects. The commodification of south Indian bronzes illustrates these processes as Srinivasan here, and indeed Samuel K Parker in an earlier study (1992), have indicated. The two different markets—commercial and ritual—have resulted in artists stressing the importance of tradition, and of the proper use of materials and iconography for ritual images. However for the commercial market, they may be more imaginative in their range of subject matter, and finish objects with a dull patina to suggest greater age compared with the bright, shiny appearance of new images for ritual use (Figure 1.7). Srinivasan notes the creation of a ‘Hoysala’ style bronze, created from a study of photographs of stone sculpture on the well-known twelfth- and thirteenth-century temples of the Hoysala dynasty in southern Karnataka. In contrast to the bronzes of the adjacent Tamil region, very few reliably dated Hoysala bronzes are known to exist, so such images seem to be an ‘invented tradition.’ The process by which traditional artists ascribe authenticity to their production and work from photographs of older objects, often from sources compiled by colonial ethnographers, has been noted in other regions such as the Pacific and West Africa (Ivory 1999, Steiner 1994).
From the images and their lives beyond the temple in the commercial market place and the political arena, the following chapters turn to the temples of modern India. As noted above, few scholars have taken much notice of the temples built or renovated over the past two centuries. In the growing body of studies of modern architecture in South Asia from the nineteenth century onwards, religious architecture has no clear place despite the continuity of temple renovation and construction throughout the period discussed in this book.6 Two regions would merit further study, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu, both with long traditions of temple construction that continue into the present. In Gujarat, the enormous success of Swaminarayan Hinduism since its inception around 1800 has resulted in new temple foundations in western India and in the locations where this ‘transnational’ religion has spread: other regions of India, East Africa, North America and Europe. For a faith that was “born at the margin between the medieval and the modern,” in the words of Raymond Brady Williams (2001: p2), it would be interesting to see how the traditional language, design and function of the Gujarati nagara temple has adapted to the nature of modern India. Potential areas for enquiry include the greater illumination and congregational space in the temples of the past few centuries, in response to the changing nature of devotional practices that resulted from the spread of bhakti modes of worship.7 Or the expanding range of functions of the modern temple might be explored, particularly in the diaspora setting, that have resulted in additional structures such as cultural centres and wedding venues being included within a temple’s precincts. An additional point of note is the use of the ‘language’ of temple architecture in a wider range of public structures than just the religious, such as government offices, university buildings or railway stations. The Tamil country in southern India merits more detailed study of its modern temple architecture, which has a better claim to continuity of temple construction from the earliest foundations to the present than northern India which was disrupted to a greater degree by the expansion of Islamic political authority in the centuries after 1200. The Tamil diaspora from the nineteenth century has also resulted in the construction of distinctive south Indian temples being built in Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Mauritius and South Africa, and more recently in Europe and North America (Figure 1.8).
Samuel Parker has written extensively on the temple arts of modern Tamil Nadu and their relationship with the past, discussing traditional artists’ understanding of the theoretical body of artistic knowledge or shilpashastra, the production of ritual and tourists arts, and the politics of temple building in late twentieth century Tamil Nadu. In Chapter 9, he continues this theme examining the construction of a ‘royal’ temple in Aruppukottai, south of Madurai. The Nadar community have been building a granite temple with gateways opening toward all four directions of the sort popularly associated in Tamil Nadu with claims of royal sovereignty. The temple, called the Amutalingeswarar, is popularly compared to the Minaksi-Sundaresvara temple in Madurai, once patronised by the Pandyan dynasty and largely expanded to its present dimensions by the Madurai Nayakas in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The Amutalingeswarar temple is designed to give literally hard evidence for a story of Nadar identity: that of a royal caste—the Pandyans according to Nadar caste histories, petty nobles under the Nayakas according to academic histories—who were allegedly dispossessed of their true status. According to caste histories, by the time they came to the attention of British census officers they were no longer recognised as Pandyan nobility, but as ‘Shanars’ or ‘Nadars’ scratching out a living as lowly toddy tappers in the desolate southwest corner of Tamil Nadu.
This temple is a good example of the continuity of temple construction and patronage into the twentieth century in the Tamil country, a practice that has continued without a substantial break since the seventh century AD. A notable feature is the presence of large-scale portrait images of donors that line the entrance aisles and the bold deployment of inscriptions on the walls, in Tamil as earlier but now also in English, declaring the Nadar community’s status as temple patrons. The portrait sculpture is a distinctive feature of the early modern Nayaka period, a genre of sculpture also found in many later nineteenth- and early twentieth-century temples in southwest Tamil Nadu, such as those built under Chettiar or Setupati patronage. Even at a time when other forms of portraiture, including photography and studio oil painting, were becoming more common in South Asia, traditional artistic forms are still in use but are updated, as the striking inclusion of wristwatches to the portrait sculptures suggest.
Innovation and adaptation of Tamil temple arts is also the theme of Anna Dallapiccola’s discussion in Chapter 8 of the temple murals and vibrant coloured brick and plaster sculptures representing deities, their attendants and devotees, gracing the towers and parapets of sacred buildings. This new imagery is such an integral part of contemporary life in India, that it should not be ignored, or dismissed as mere ‘kitsch.’ Furthermore, despite the many concessions to modern ‘filmy’ aesthetics, the images have strong formal links with the traditional iconography of deities and of themes drawn from classic mythology and literature. During the last two decades, the steadily expanding economy has led to the building of a substantial number of new temples, and the refurbishing of existing ones. Local Tamil painters and sculptors have been working for the ever-growing and financially prosperous Indian expatriate communities abroad, especially in Malaysia and Singapore, thus disseminating their style throughout the world. The aim of Dallapiccola’s chapter, in a manner not dissimilar to Jyotindra Jain’s, and based on the developments in Kumbakonam in Tamil Nadu is to present the new trends in Indian temple art, showing how present-day imagery and aesthetics are influencing temple murals and sculpture, adding a wealth of new elements to age revered forms.
In several of the case-studies presented here it is evident that traditional artists from the late nineteenth century are working in a wider and more diverse visual culture than earlier. As Chris Pinney has noted, there was a ‘conversation’ between the idioms of chromolithography, theatre and photography in late nineteenth and early twentieth-century India. “These different visual fields crossed each other through processes of ‘inter-ocularity’—a visual inter-referencing and citation that mirrors the more familiar process of ‘inter-textuality’” (Pinney 2004: p34). But this spillage between genres goes wider to include the visual worlds of the cinema, film posters, studio painting, comic books, temple murals and stucco-work. Dallapiccola’s example of the stucco figure of Shiva on a temple parapet standing to receive Ganga in the same pose as that in the mass-reproduced lithograph of Ravi Varma’s late nineteenth-century oil painting of the same subject is a good example.
In the final two chapters, the tension between tradition and modernity in the practice of architecture in South Asia is discussed by two architects. As noted above, studies of modern architecture in India have tended to avoid religious architecture, and when contemporary architects have looked to traditional sources, it is the vernacular domestic traditions or more recently to the indigenous body of architectural theory (vastushatra). In part this is a reaction to Victorian historicism, and the perceived failure of ‘Indo-Saracenic’ architecture in the late nineteenth century to satisfactorily adapt South Asian architectural traditions to the forms, materials and functions of modern architecture (Figure 1.9). But for many patrons, adherence to tradition is still required—especially in religious architecture—and both authors argue for a modern South Asian architecture that remains true to the design principles and underlying meanings of the traditional past.
Architects working in the Islamic world have been engaged with the issue of creating a modern and traditional Islamic architecture for decades; the Aga Khan Award for Architecture initiated in 1977 highlights the success of this project.8 A central issue for many architects working in South Asia today is the degree to which they combine the regional tradition with the best features of modern design. In Chapter 10, Kamil Khan Mumtaz discusses two current building projects in Pakistan, one of a tomb complex and the other a mosque. Since his architectural training in London in the 1960s, he has been at the forefront in seeking to understand the traditional architecture and working practices of Pakistani craftsmen and use this knowledge in contemporary practice. In both projects, Kamil Khan Mumtaz engages with an understanding of past architecture across the Islamic world, to both to the east and the west. For the Mughals in the later sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the choice was to create an architectural tradition that was clearly Islamic, drew on Timurid precedents in order to emphasise their lineal connection to this Central Asian dynasty, but remained South Asian and distinct from earlier Islamic architecture in the immediate region. In modern Pakistan similar issues are evident in the aspiration of architecture to be modern and Islamic, traditional and regional. If an architect in Pakistan were to turn to the past for inspiration, which past should it be? Perhaps the Indo-Islamic past of the various sultanates or the imperial might of the Mughals; or should the architecture gesture west to the Islamic heartland of the Middle East, the Timurid or Safavid past, for example. Or perhaps the past should be rejected in favour of the globalised present of an ‘International Saudi’ style of architecture.
The concluding chapter by Adam Hardy examines the underlying design principles of Indian temple architecture. Rather than looking at the theoretical treatises on architecture, Hardy seeks to elucidate design principles through a careful examination of the development of temple traditions over a long period from the seventh to the thirteenth centuries. He emphasises that the fundamental compositional element of the Indian temple is the aedicule, the image of a shrine, and that a temple design is conceived as composed of numerous smaller temples or shrines, arranged hierarchically at various scales, embedded within the whole or within one another. When a temple is seen in this way, according to Hardy’s compelling analysis, its whole compositional structure can be understood at once. This leads him to discuss how the design principles deduced from historical monuments might inform and improve different kinds of traditional temple architecture being built today, both in India and in the Hindu and Jain diaspora. Hardy’s discussion is of particular note given his involvement in a number of temple-building projects in Britain. In conclusion, he addresses the question of why architects should learn from historic architecture and he offers several suggestions from a conviction that traditional art, architecture and design matters as one alternative to uniform globalised culture.
1 For some interesting reflections on the nature of tradition in the discussion of West African arts, see Picton 1990. Thanks to Charles Gore for the reference.
2 The excellent literature on these topics includes Nilsson 1968, Davis 1985, Metcalf 1989, Tillotson 1989, Lang, Desai and Desai 1997. A discussion of this literature with a more substantial critical bibliography is included in Scriver and Prakash 2007.
3 On photography see, for example, Pinney 1997, 2006 and Pelizzari 2003; on chromolithography Pinney 2004 and Jain 2007.
4 For example, Andrew Topsfield’s study of the patronage of painting by the Maharanas of Mewar continues up to 1948 (Topsfield 2002).
5 On the Mayo School of Art in Lahore see Chonara 2003, on Jaipur see Tillotson 2004 and 2006, pp138-185, on Madras see Dewan 2001.
6 Catherine Asher has studied eighteenth- to twentieth-century temples in Delhi and Jaipur (Asher 2002, 2007), but the modern temple as an object of study still tends to lie in the purview of anthropology and religious studies.
7 The Govindadeva temple in Vrindavan, built c1590 under the patronage of the Mughal noble Man Singh, is a notable example of this trend in early modern north Indian temples.
8 Buildings in South Asia have won Aga Khan Awards: four out of the seven awards for 1998 were for buildings in Pakistan or India. The Bhong mosque complex near Rahingar Khan in the Punjab, built between 1932 and 1983, won in 1986, a design rooted in popular Pakistani visual culture and the product of a local landowner’s patronage. See Holod and Khan 1997, pp29-32.
Asher, Catherine B 2002: ‘Piety, Religion and Social Order in the Architecture of the Later Mughals and their Contemporaries,’ in Richard B Barnett, ed, Rethinking Early Modern India. New Delhi: Manohar, pp193-228.
— 2007: ‘From Rajadharma to Indian Nationalism: Iconographies of Pre- and Post-Independence Jaipur,’ in Richard H Davis, ed, Picturing the Nation: Iconographies of Modern India. New Delhi: Orient Longman, pp117-143.
Banerjee, Mukulika, and Daniell Miller 2003: The Sari. Oxford: Berg.
Barnes, Ruth 1997: Indian block-printed textiles in Egypt: the Newberry collection in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Bean, Susan 2003: ‘Craft,’ in Peter J Claus, Sarah Diamond and Margaret A Mills, eds, South Asian Folklore: An Encyclopaedia. London and New York: Routledge.
Chakrabarti, Dilip K 1988: A history of Indian archaeology from the beginning to 1947. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal.
Chonara, Samina, ed 2003: ‘Official’ Chronicle of Mayo School of Art: Formative Years under J L Kipling (1874-94). Lahore: National College of Art.
Clifford, James 1987: ‘Of Other Peoples: Beyond the “Salvage” Paradigm,’ in Hal Foster, ed, Discussions in Contemporary Culture. Seattle: Bay Press, pp121-130.
Coomaraswamy, Ananda 1908: Mediaeval Sinhalese Art. Broad Campden: Essex House Press.
Davies, Philip 1985: Splendours of the Raj: British Architecture in India 1660-1947. London: John Murray.
Dewan, Deepali 2001: ‘Crafting and Knowledge of Crafts: Art Education, Colonialism and the Madras School of Arts in Nineteenth-Century South Asia.’ PhD thesis, University of Minnesota.
— 2003: ‘Scripting South Asia’s Visual Past: The Journal of Indian Art and Industry and the Production of Knowledge in the Late Nineteenth Century,’ in Julie F Codell, ed, Imperial Co-Histories: National Identities and the British and Colonial Press. London: Associated University Presses, pp29-44.
Fergusson, James 1876: History of Indian and Eastern Architecture. Two volumes. London: John Murray.
Guha-Thakurta, Tapati 1992: The Making of a New ‘Indian’ Art: Artists, Aesthetics and Nationalism in Bengal c1850-1920. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Guy, John 1998: Woven Cargoes: Indian Textiles in the East. London: Thames & Hudson.
Harle, James C 1986: The Art and Architecture of the Indian Subcontinent. London: Penguin.
Holod, Renate and Hasan-Uddin Khan 1997: The Mosque and the Modern World: architects, patrons and designs since the 1950s. London: Thames & Hudson.
Ivory, Carol S 1999: ‘Art, Tourism, and Cultural Revival in the Marquesas Islands,’ in Ruth B Phillips and Christopher B Steiner, eds, Unpacking culture: art and commodity in colonial and postcolonial worlds. Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press, pp316-333.
Jain, Kajri 2007: Gods in the Bazaar. Durham, North Carolina and London: Duke University Press.
Lang, Jon, Madhavi Desai, and Miki Desai 1997: Architecture and Independence: The Search for Identity—India 1880 to 1980. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.
Lang, Jon 2002: A Concise History of Modern Architecture in India. Delhi: Permanent Black.
Leoshko, Janice 2003: Sacred Traces: British Explorations of Buddhism in South Asia. Aldershot: Ashgate.
Lyons, Tryna 2004: The Artists of Nathdwara: The Practice of Painting in Rajasthan. Bloomington & Ahmedabad: Indiana University Press & Mapin.
McGowan, Abigail 2003: ‘Crafts and Development, India,’ in Peter J Claus, Sarah Diamond and Margaret A Mills, eds, South Asian Folklore: An Encyclopaedia. London and New York: Routledge.
Metcalf, Thomas 1989: An Imperial Vision: Indian Architecture and Britain’s Raj. London: Faber & Faber.
Mitter, Partha 1977: Much Maligned Monsters: A History of European Reactions to Indian Art. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.
— 1992: Art and Nationalism in Colonial India 1850-1922. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
— 1999: ‘“Decadent” art of south Indian temples,’ in Catherine King, ed, Views of Difference, Different Views of Art. New Haven and London: Yale University Press and The Open University, pp95-118.
— 2007: The Triumph of Modernism: India’s artists and the avant-garde 1922-1947. London: Reaktion.
Nilsson, Sten 1968: European Architecture in India 1750-1850. London: Faber & Faber.
Parker, Samuel K 1992: ‘The Matter of Value Inside and Out: Categories in Contemporary Hindu Temple Arts,’ Ars Orientalis 22: pp97-109.
— 2003: ‘Text and Practice in South Asian Art: An Ethnographic Perspective.’ Artibus Asiae 63.1: pp5-34.
Pelizzari, Maria Antonella, ed 2003: Traces of India: photography, architecture, and the politics of representation, 1850-1900. London and New Haven: Yale University Press.
Picton, John 1990: ‘Transformations of the Artifact—John Wayne, plastic bags and the eye-that-surpasses-all-other-eyes,’ in Clementine Deliss, ed, Lotte or the Transformation of the Object. Graz: Akademische Druck-u. Verlagsanstalt, pp36-65.
Pinney, Christopher 1997: Camera Indica: The Social Life of Indian Photographs. London: Reaktion.
— 2004. Photos of the Gods: The Printed Image and Political Struggle in India. London: Reaktion.
— 2008. The Coming of Photography in India, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Ramaswamy, Sumathi, ed 2003: Beyond Appearances? Visual Practices and Ideologies in Modern India. New Delhi: Thousand Oaks and London: Sage.
Scriver, Peter and Vikramaditya Prakash, eds 2007: Colonial Modernities: Building, dwelling and architecture in British India and Ceylon. London and New York: Routledge.
Steiner, Christopher B 1994: African Art in Transit. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Tadgell, Christopher 1990: The History of Architecture in India: From the Dawn of Civilization to the End of the Raj. London: ADT Press.
Tarlo, Emma 1996: Clothing Matters: Dress and Identity in India. Chicago: University of Chicago Press and London: Hurst.
Tillotson, G H R 1989: The Tradition of Indian Architecture: Continuity, Controversy and Change since 1850. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.
— 2004: ‘The Jaipur Exhibtion of 1883.’ Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society 14.2: pp111-126.
— 2006: Jaipur Nama: Tales from the Pink City. New Delhi: Penguin.
Topsfield, Andrew 2002: Court Painting at Udaipur: Art under the patronage of the Maharanas of Mewar. Zurich: Artibus Asiae Publishers.
Waterson, Roxanna 1990: The Living House: an anthropology of architecture in Southeast Asia. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Williams, Joanna G 1982: The Art of Gupta India: Empire and Province. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
— 1988: ‘Criticizing and Evaluating the Visual Arts in India: A Preliminary Example.’ Journal of Asian Studies 47.1: pp3-28.
— 1990: ‘From the Fifth to the Twentieth Century and Back.’ Art Journal 49.4: pp363-369.
— 1996: The Two-Headed Deer: Illustrations of the Ramayana in Orissa. Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press.
— 2003: ‘Folk Art,’ in Peter J Claus, Sarah Diamond and Margaret A Mills, eds, South Asian Folklore: An Encyclopaedia. London and New York: Routledge.
— ed 2007: Kingdom of the Sun: Indian Court and Village Art from the Princely State of Mewar. San Francisco: Asian Art Museum of San Francisco.
Williams, Raymond Brady 2001: An Introduction to Swaminarayan Hinduism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, second edition.