WITH the usurpation of Aurangzîb in 1658, Mogul architecture practically ceased to exist as a separate school, though the master-builders, whose occupation at the Delhi court was gone, carried with them into Rajputana the influence of the later Mogul style which was assimilated by the local Rajput schools, not always to their benefit.
There could hardly be a stronger proof that the inspiration of Muhammadan architecture in India came from the Buddhist-Hindu building tradition, and not from any Saracenic sources, than this, that immediately the co-partnership between the Musulmân and Hindu craftsmen—fruitful in great achievements and advantageous to both sides—was broken by the bigot Aurangzîb, so that the orthodox Musulmân builders were thrown upon their own artistic resources, there was not another Musulmân building in India rising above the level of mediocrity. From that time to the present day the living architecture of India has been represented by the continuity of the indigenous tradition, Buddhist-Hindu in its origin and development.
Aurangzîb revived the iconoclastic orgies of the early Muhammadan invaders, but did not imitate their wise example in enlisting the Hindu builders into their own service. The fine arts were banished from his court, and very few architectural works were undertaken under his auspices which were not tame imitations of earlier buildings. The tomb of his wife, Rabia Daurâni, which is a feeble copy of the Tâj, has been alluded to above.1
The tomb of Safdar Jang—one of the Nawab Vazirs of Oudh—near Delhi, a pretentious, ungainly structure built about 1750, shows how mediocre Mogul architecture became as soon as Muhammadan rulers allowed sectarian prejudices to dictate the choice of architect-craftsmen for their buildings.
The stage architecture of the European dilettante began to show itself in India about the end of the eighteenth century. La Martinière at Lucknow, a creation of General Claude Martin, a Frenchman who rose to a high position in the service of the Nawabs of Oudh, is a specimen of it, neither better nor worse than the average in India. The Indian builder in the service of the Nawabs began also to imitate this foreign fashion, and though the immediate result, as shown in a number of palaces at Lucknow, was sometimes bizarre enough, there is no doubt that Indian craftsmanship, if it had been allowed to experiment as freely with European fashions as it had done with the fashions of Muhammadan rulers, would sooner or later have evolved a new tradition of building practically and æsthetically more worthy of Anglo-India than that which Anglo-India has made for itself. The palace of Madura described in the last chapter illustrates one of the most successful efforts of Indian builders in this direction on a large scale, but there are still to be found, all over India—even in the suburbs of Anglo-Indian cities—many minor buildings in which the Indian craftsman when left to follow his own instinct has succeeded in putting life into the dead styles of Europe by grafting them on to his own living tradition. An excellent illustration of this is shown in Pl. CVI, the entrance gateway to the Sikandara Bagh at Agra, where the native craftsman, with only the banalities of our public works “classic” for models, has built in a classic style which has all the vitality and freedom of a real Pompeian villa.
Outside the atmosphere of the Mogul court, and away from the tutorship of the European dilettante, the indigenous building tradition maintained its native vigour beyond the middle of the nineteenth century, and even now is astonishingly alive, in spite of all the depressing influences which have been brought to bear upon it.
Modern Rajput architecture may be said to have begun with the building of the city of Jaipur in 1728. The palace, built at different periods in the eighteenth century, cannot be compared architecturally with many others in Rajputana, but excellent examples of the modern Indian master-builder’s art are found in the city, as in every part of Rajputana and the neighbouring States.
The plan of the city of Jaipur (fig. 49) is especially interesting at a time when town-planning is regarded as a recent invention of European science, for this Indian city is one of those which has not grown up irregularly by gradual accretion: it was laid out at its foundation on a scientific plan according to the traditions of Hindu city builders and the direction of their canonical books called the Silpa-sâstras.
The plan given by Râm Râz called prastara2 is very similar to that of Jaipur. The city leans upon the neighbouring hill, defended by the Nahagarh Fort, its main streets running approximately from east to west and north to south, following the directions laid down in the Silpa-sâstras.
The palace of Sûraj Mall at Dîg, the capital of the Bharatpur State, was commenced by the chieftain of that name, the founder of the dynasty, about 1725. It consists of a number of detached palatial residences enclosed in a splendid formal garden, with fountains and watercourses, which were intended to rival in magnificence the imperial palace at Agra, which was looted by the Jâts in 1765; but the whole scheme was left incomplete on the death of Sûraj Mall two years earlier.
The principal block, the Gopâl Bhawân, was finished about 1750. It combines the elegance of Shah Jahân’s palaces with the more robust character of Rajput architecture, and being better adapted to the amenities of modern life than the earlier fortress-palaces of Rajputana, it is especially interesting to the modern architect; but few, I think, would agree with Fergusson’s judgment that it surpasses other Rajput palaces “in grandeur of conception and beauty of detail.”
The Gopâl Bhawân contains the great Dîwân-i-âm, or public reception-hall, which faces the garden front in the south, shown in Pl. CVII. The terraced roof is given more than its usual importance as a place of promenade in the cool of the evening by the omission of domes and cupolas and by being extended on all four sides beyond the walls of the building by a bracketed parapet of pierced stone-work. The combination of this parapet with the usual wide dripstone beneath it, which protects the walls from rain and sun, forms the strikingly characteristic cornice of the whole building—more original and beautiful in form than the useless “designed” cornices of Italian Renaissance palaces, which only serve the purpose of providing constant employment for the plumber, plasterer, and paperhanger by diverting the flow of rain-water from the exterior to the interior of the building.
The Gopâl Bhawân is built of red sandstone, and the foliated Hindu arches, hitherto rarely used in Rajput palaces, show that Sûraj Mall gave employment to the craftsmen who since the time of Aurangzîb had ceased to work at the Mogul court. The construction of these wide openings on the bracket principle, in two blocks of stone, instead of by radiating voussoirs, is usually attributed by the Western critic to an obstinate Hindu prejudice against the Western arch. Really it is the simplest, most practical, and most artistic way of dealing with such a form when good building stone of sufficient size is easily procurable. No intelligent craftsman would go out of his way to build up such a complicated arch in several dozen different wedges when he had good stone at hand for making it in two pieces. Only the European stylist, trained by books and paper methods, who tries to teach the practical craftsman his own business, would be so foolish.
The private apartments of the Gopâl Bhawân occupy the north, east, and west sides of the building. The north front (Pl. CVIII) faces a large bathing-tank, and is charmingly diversified by a number of balconies and two large open pavilions with typical Bengali roofs. Placed on the side of the Grand Canal at Venice, it would be acclaimed as the most delightful of Venetian palaces. We have already noticed how Bengali craftsmen had left their mark upon the buildings of Shah Jahân at Agra and Delhi. The Dîg palace evidences their migration into Rajputana, where the characteristic bent roofs and cornices of Gaur were adopted by the Rajput builders and still belong to the local craft tradition.
Pl. CIX shows a representative palatial building in Udaipur belonging to the modern period, or the early part of the eighteenth century. Modern architecture in Rajputana presents many varied local types, racy of the soil and of the sturdy independence of the Rajput people, who, though steadfastly loyal to the British Raj, are still proud of their past history and attached to their own culture and living traditions. For though a “progressive” Prince may assume the architectural fashions of Stratford atte Bowe when he builds a new palace, so that his master-craftsmen are employed for the time being in copying the paper patterns prepared by the European “designer” or by the Indian engineer who has learnt the regulation designs by heart at a technical college or perhaps in a London architect’s office—this is a mere episode in the life of the people, like the occasional visit of a European burra-Sahib.
The domestic architecture of Rajputana remains, on the whole, a strong, living craft. Not only in Rajputana and Central India, but over the greater part of India, it is still true, what Fergusson wrote thirty years ago, that if Indians of the upper classes could be persuaded to take a pride in their own art, their master-builders could even now rival the works of their forefathers: for building is one of the master-crafts which is most closely bound up with the real life of the people, and consequently always retains its vitality longer than the sumptuary arts, which, being less essential to life, are more subject to the caprices of fashion. Pl. CX, a rich merchant’s house in Bikanîr, is a superb example of the modern domestic architecture of Rajputana, which often shows a much finer architectural quality than the palatial buildings of the ruling Princes. This one, which probably belongs to the early part of the nineteenth century, is truly as fine as any Mogul Emperor’s palace. The Rajput builder of the present day builds almost as well when he is given similar opportunities.
Only within the last few years has it dawned upon the more enlightened of the art critics of Europe that up to the middle of the nineteenth century a great national tradition of painting survived in Northern India. The existence of an even stronger school of building craft in many parts of India is still as much unknown to the Western architectural scholar and practitioner as it is to Anglo-Indian departmentalism. For over fifty years the Public Works Department has made an official monopoly of State buildings in British India, applying to them its own dryasdust formularies culled from Macaulay’s bookshelf, and the products of this system loom so large in the life of Anglo-India that the very existence of the Indian masterbuilder is sometimes forgotten.3 But the life of the great caravanserais at Bombay and Calcutta and that of the smaller camps scattered over British India is so remote from the real life of the Indian people that these fashions of the West, though generally adopted by “progressive” Princes and other Englisheducated Indians, cannot affect Indian art and craft so as to wholly destroy them until all India has become a suburb of London and Paris; and as that is never likely to happen, there is no reason to expect that Indian civilisation will become extinct or cease to fulfil its great mission in the world.
But there is a real danger, that through ever-increasing facilities for travelling and the over-centralisation of administrative methods, the present gulf between the rulers and the ruled will continue imperceptibly to grow wider and wider.
The Indian craftsman is banished from the court, as he was in the days of Aurangzîb; but it is the art of the court, not the art of the people, that suffers most thereby. For architecture may be a profession, a business, an amusement, or a fashion, but it can never be a living art unless it is deeply rooted in the soil in which it grows. In this deeper sense there is no architecture yet within the confines of Anglo-India, nor even a promise of any development beyond parasitical growths which are sapping the vitality of the real Indian art which lies outside the camp life of the rulers of India. There is nothing at all surprising in this fact. The Muhammadan rulers of India had no architecture they could call their own until they had sat at the feet of the Indian master-builder for several centuries. We have not yet admitted him into the fellowship of art or understood how to make use of the Indian craftsman except in the relationship of master and servant.
That which is called architecture in the Anglo-Indian caravanserais is merely a mechanical process, originally invented by the dilettanti of the Renaissance in Europe, for tricking out the business arrangements of the Anglo-Indian administration in tinsel adornments called “styles.” The official architect sits in his office at Simla, Calcutta, or Bombay, surrounded by pattern-books of styles—Renaissance, Gothic, Indo-Saracenic, and the like—and, having calculated precisely the dimensions and arrangement of a building suited to departmental requirements, offers for approval a choice of the “styles” which please him or his superiors, for clothing the structure with architectural garments in varying degrees of smartness, according to the purpose for which it is intended, at so much per square foot.
When these preliminaries are settled, a set of paper patterns is prepared and contractors are invited to undertake to get these patterns worked out to proper scale and in the regulation materials. Then, at last, the Indian craftsman is called in to assist in the operations, under the supervision of the contractor and subordinate Public Works officials, who check any tendency the craftsman may show to use his imagination or his intelligence in anything beyond copying the departmental paper patterns.
Inevitably under this system, the evils of which are now clearly recognised by architects in Europe, a special type of artisan is created—in India as in Europe—a mechanic who works listlessly for the wages he earns and has no interest in anything beyond his earnings. The craftsman inevitably becomes (as the Consulting Architect to the Government of India recently declared) master of one art only—the art of scamping. The same might be said of the ordinary artisan produced by the same system in Europe. Inevitably, also, the system tends to the gradual destruction of Indian industry in materials and processes connected with building. Chained to an office at Simla or Calcutta by the traditions of departmentalism which he is powerless to alter, the architect can calculate the cost of steel girders and framework, order them through an Anglo-Indian agency, and get unskilled Indian labour to fit them in position. But it is impossible for him to study thoroughly Indian methods of construction in stone, brick, or wood, and to co-operate with the intelligence and skill of the hereditary Indian craftsman in applying them on the actual site of the building. Similarly, it becomes more “progressive”—in the departmental sense, but no other—to use European wallpapers, Portland cement, and Messrs. Blank & Co.’s patent paints in place of Indian fine polished chunam, stencilling, or fresco painting.
The Indian craftsman known to Anglo-India belongs almost exclusively to the type of labourer created in the last fifty or sixty years by this departmental system of making architecture a by-study in mechanical engineering. From their experience of him and his work the characteristics of the Hindu craftsman—his patient, plodding labour, his slovenliness, lack of energy, imagination, and creative power—have been drawn by Anglo-Indian critics. From the same narrow field of observation has been formulated the historical theory of Indian art, formulated by Sir George Birdwood and other writers, that it is a mixture of foreign ingredients—Turanian, Egyptian, Chaldæan, Assyrian, Greek, and Saracenic—received by the Hindu craftsmen and patiently compounded century by century with the same assiduous, unpractical, uninspired plodding, under the direction of their foreign masters. The popular idea that Indian architecture began with the Muhammadans and died with the last of the Mogul dynasty comes from the same source.
A practical illustration will make the working of this system more clear than any general statements. The new Military Secretariat offices in Calcutta were one of those buildings in which Lord Curzon took a keen personal interest. The building of it was arranged departmentally in this wise: The plans were, as usual, drawn up by the Public Works Department in consultation with the Military Department; but a new departure was made in this case, by means of a public prize competition, to invoke the aid of extra-departmental talent in the process of fitting a façade to the departmental plans. No instructions were given as to the “style” required, but on account of Lord Curzon’s public declarations of sympathy with Indian art, nearly all the drawings sent in were more or less oriental in character. Lord Curzon, however, selected one of the very few which were in the Renaissance “style,” on the ground that it was the only “style” suitable for an Anglo-Indian city.
After a certain amount of revision and elaboration under Lord Curzon’s personal direction, the usual working drawings were prepared in the official architect’s office, and Indian craftsmen of the Public Works type were called in to construct the building accordingly. A difficulty, however, arose with regard to the sculptured ornamentation of the façade. The Renaissance “design” provided for a number of nondescript classical heads connected with Renaissance ribbons and festoons. The official architect wanted to give the sculpture a symbolical touch by repeating the heads of Mars and Venus alternately throughout the length of the façade, but unfortunately the Indian masons, who could carve finely the Hindu war-god and goddess—Kârttikeya and Durgâ—did not know what Mars and Venus were like. The difficulty was solved by indenting on the School of Art for two antique plaster casts as models. Mars was out of stock, so Juno took his place, and eventually a long row of the Græco-Roman militant goddesses, carved by Indian masons, adorned the façade of the Military Secretariat offices. But the cost of the building was greatly augmented by the “style” adopted. An Indian mason can carve Durgâ and Karttikeya well for fourpence a day without European supervision4; for copying Juno or Venus badly he must be paid eight times that sum and must be carefully watched by European expert “designers” paid much more highly.
The European dilettanti who rule India do not generally know that any other system than this is possible or desirable, and the more interest they take in architecture as an archæological study the more they appreciate the opportunities for selecting “styles” which departmental methods afford them. The European architect in India who has followed the trend of the best European practice in the last twenty years knows not only that a better system is possible, but that no real architectural progress can be made under present conditions. He is helpless in the toils of a vicious system, for which the education of the British public schoolboy and University undergraduate is primarily responsible. Knowing little or nothing of Indian craftsmanship outside the official area—for he has been trained entirely in Europe, and is put into official harness directly he lands in India—he naturally looks for a remedy in more European supervision, more European teaching, and a closer imitation of European methods.
And so long as the Government of India continue to hold out to architects in Europe tempting commissions by which a fortune can be made in a few years, suggestions for reform of the present system in India are not likely to originate in the united professional opinion of Great Britain, however much interest may be taken in architectural reform in this country.
Meanwhile the Indian master-builder outside the Anglo-Indian gate, though scorned by many of his own countrymen as “uneducated,” keeps up, as far as he is permitted to do so, the splendid traditions of the practical school of craftsmanship, like that which existed in Europe a century and half ago, in which his forefathers learnt. He is now seldom allowed—except under the cramping processes of European dictation, or under the supervision of “educated” Indian engineers whose architectural qualifications are acquired by copying a few sheets of “classic” orders in Anglo-Indian technical colleges—to build the palaces of “progressive” Princes or to undertake any public works of importance. But the Indian field is so immense and varied in character that the school of practice which is still left open to him is sufficient to keep up a standard of craftsmanship infinitely higher than that which passes muster in the Public Works Department throughout British India.
As I have already stated, the Archæological Survey of India, through the initiative of Lord Curzon, has for some years past given temporary occupation to many Indian craftsmen in the restoration of the monuments their ancestors built. The Director-General, Mr. Marshall, has frequently testified to their intelligence and skill in work of this kind, and it was a great misfortune for India that Lord Curzon’s interest in craftsmanship did not extend further.5
There has been in the last few years considerable activity in temple building in Southern India, owing to the large donations made by wealthy Hindu merchants for that purpose. Plate CXII shows a South Indian stapathi, or hereditary temple architect, engaged in preparing drawings for the masons working under his direction (Plate CXIII). Many of the great Hindu temple foundations give permanent employment to master-builders learned in the Silpa-sâstras, and the donations of pious Hindus towards the building of new temples or the repair of old ones, for constructing rest-houses for pilgrims, bathing-ghâts, wells, etc., as well as those of orthodox Muhammadans for the building of mosques, help to keep alive the traditions of Indian architecture and of many of the crafts dependent on it.
This is a factor of extreme importance for the future of Indian architecture, because religious works of this character have always provided the best school of craftsmanship in India. Temple craftsmanship is the foundation of all the great architecture of India, secular as well as religious. Under modern conditions, however, temple building gives little opportunity for structural experiments on a large scale, which are indispensable for the free development of the whole science and art of building. In domestic architecture, the Indian master-builder over the greater part of the country, outside the Anglo-Indian cities, still remains in undisturbed possession.
Even under these restrictions the work of the Indian master-builder during the Victorian period—now being commemorated in Calcutta by a building which appears to be an archæological essay on Kedleston Hall and the Radcliffe Library at Oxford—would, if a complete survey of it were made, need no comment to convince expert opinion in Europe of the vitality of Indian craftsmanship, and silence for ever the calumnies so often heaped upon the real Indian craftsman by the incapacity of the Public Works mistri. At present I am unable to attempt such a task as thoroughly as I should wish, but I believe that the typical examples which illustrate this chapter will be sufficient for the purpose, though they do not cover a tithe of the whole field. They have not been specially prepared for this work. Any cold-weather tourist in India, whose interest lay in the direction of living craftsmanship as distinguished from archæological dilettantism, could without much difficulty, and without going far from the beaten track, make an album of similar types.
Pl. CXIV is the mansion of a Rajput nobleman of the Jodhpur State built about 1840. His ancestral castle which crowns the hilltop behind belongs to the stormy days before the pax Britannica gave the people of Rajputana the security they now enjoy. It will be noticed that the structural details, taken separately, are similar to those which were employed in the Dîg palace, a century earlier; but the architectonic design as a whole is charmingly fresh and original.
The unprejudiced critic who compares the many different types of Indian buildings, in different localities and different periods, which illustrate these pages cannot fail to be struck not only by the variety of “styles,” but by the strong individuality which each building possesses. And the fertility of Indian invention is just as conspicuous in buildings of the Victorian period as it is in those of Muhammadan times.
Nothing can be more unjust than the charge so often brought against the Indian master-craftsman that he follows blindly a stereotyped tradition which he cannot adapt to the changing conditions of the times in which he lives. Such an imputation, coming as it generally does from those whose ideas of creative art never get beyond the readjustment, under very close restrictions, of a limited number of antique conventions, is singularly ill-judged.
It is reallythe modern Anglo-Indian buildings, “designed” according to the archæological rules of the paper-architect—often ignoring conditions of climate, site, local materials, arid local craftsmanship—which are deadly in their monotony and lack all the essentials of real architecture. Fergusson, who is so unreliable in his classifications of Indian styles, had a clear intuition of the truth of this matter when he wrote that in India alone at the present day can the real principles of the art of building be observed in action.
To follow the history of Indian architecture in the nineteenth century one must visit the famous cities of pilgrimage, like Benares, Brindâban, Hardwar, and other sacred places of the Hindus. Benares is singularly rich in modern buildings; few of the fine palaces and monasteries which line the banks of the Ganges are earlier than the eighteenth century, or the time of Aurangzîb, who made havoc of the older Hindu temples and built a mosque out of their remains. Not many Anglo-Indians or European tourists who come to admire the wonderful scene which the Ghâts present on some great Hindu festival realise that two of the most stately of these palaces—those at Munshi Ghât (Plate CXV) and Ghuslâ Ghât (Pl. CXVI)—are not, as they well might be, contemporary with the famous buildings of the great Moguls, but belong to the latter half of the nineteenth century. The last named was built by the Rajah of Nagpur about 1860, and the other by one of his ministers about the same time.
To find anything to compare with them in Europe for largeness of design combined with perfection of craftsmanship one would have to go back to the early days of the Renaissance in Rome or Florence, when the fine craftsmanship of the Middle Ages gave vitality to the classical conceptions of the painter-architects of Italy. In Anglo-India there is not a single building to be placed in the same class with them; none of the Mogul palaces display such a stately front—only the fortress-palaces of the Rajputs compare with them in this respect. It was a strictly practical purpose, and not mere academic “design” or the love of display, which determined the distinctive character of these buildings. They are built on the steep slope of the high bank of the river, so as to allow access to the sacred stream, both in the dry season when the water is below the foot of the Ghât steps, and in the monsoon when the flood rises well above the basement line of the palace itself. In the latter case the inmates of the palace can perform their ablutions in safety from the central staircase within the walls of the building. The principal apartments are placed high up, both for the sake of ventilation and so as to be easily accessible from the main street at the level of the high ground behind the palace.
The competent critic will recognise at a glance the essential difference between these native buildings and the “Indo-Saracenic” of the British engineer-architect. The latter clothes his engineering with external paper-designed adornments borrowed from ancient buildings which were made for purposes totally foreign to those which he has in hand. The engineering is more or less real (according to the skill of the designer); the “style” is purely artificial. The artistry which may be shown in the building is entirely dependent upon the vitality which the Indian craftsman can put into it: if he is compelled to follow mechanically the “Indo-Saracenic” paper patterns, in the designing of which he has no share, according to the usual departmental system, that cannot be of much account. In other words, the engineer supplies the mechanics, the Indian craftsman, so far as he is permitted, the art.
From an artistic point of view the only advantage which this “Indo-Saracenic” has over Renaissance or any other European “style” is that it gives Indian craftsmanship a somewhat better chance of life. Imitation is said to be the sincerest form of flattery, so it has the negative merit of not being a standing insult to Indian culture and civilisation. As architecture it is no better and no worse than the ordinary departmental product. The engineer-architect does not come, as the Moguls did, to learn the art of building from the Indian master-builder, but—on the false assumption that art in India vanished with the last of the Moguls—to teach the application of Indian archæology to the constructive methods of the West, using the Indian craftsman only as an instrument for creating a make-believe Anglo-Indian “style.”
The merits or demerits of Anglo-Indian buildings, from an academic point of view as “designs,” is an irrelevant question which need not be discussed, since they all fail in different degrees in the essentials of real architecture; and this not so much from want of ability or good training in the architects as from the inherent vice of the system by which the buildings are constructed. Michelangelo or Sir Christopher Wren would have done quite as much injury to Indian craftsmanship as any Public Works engineer has done if he had been given the same responsibilities and had been compelled to follow the same method of fulfilling them. When an organ-grinder is playing Mozart or Strauss, it is idle to discuss which of the three is the best musician.
In these two Benares bathing-palaces the Indian masterbuilder followed no fixed archæological formulary. He built according to the science and art of building, and was not consciously reproducing a “style.” The engineering difficulties which have to be met in building a large palace on the sloping bank of a great river subject to heavy floods are much greater than those which must be considered in ordinary Anglo-Indian departmental buildings. The excellence of the craftsmanship in these two palaces is proved by the present condition of the masonry, which shows no signs of flaw or settlement. In engineering there are few Anglo-Indian buildings to compare with them; in art, none.
The Indian master-builder’s engineering and art are one, and both are adequate for the purpose. Hence his artistic resources have always been sufficient for the practical objects he had in view. The style of these buildings is truly beautiful, like the spontaneous growth of trees and flowers, a quality inherent in their growth and structure, determined by the soil in which they are built, by the materials of which they are made, and by the purpose for which they are intended. The fortress-palace of Datiyâ (Pl. XCVII), and the pleasure-house of Sûraj Mall (Pl. CVII), are so widely differentiated from these two modern bathing-palaces of Benares, not by change of “style,” but by changes of time, place, men, and conditions of life—vital things, not the unrealities of fashion and of taste. And just because they all belong to real life and to the soil on which they are built, the bathing-palace of the nineteenth century is in every way as great in art as the seventeenth-century Rajput fortress or the eighteenth-century garden-palace.
We will turn now for a moment to another great place of Hindu pilgrimage, Brindâban, which contains some important temples built about the same time as these Benares palaces. They are described but not adequately illustrated in Mr. F. S. Growse’s manual of Mathurâ. The great temple of Rangunath, (Vishnu), founded by two wealthy Hindu merchants, the Seths Gobind Dâs and Râdha Krishna, was commenced in 1845 and finished in 1851 at a cost of forty-five lakhs of rupees (Plate CXVII). It is one of the largest of modern Indian temples—the outer walls measuring 773 feet in length and 440 feet in breadth—and is interesting for having brought together in one group of buildings the South Indian and the North Indian building traditions. The central part, including the shrine itself and its lofty pyramidal towers, or gopuras, was designed by a South Indian temple stapathi, or architect; but the pavilions at the east and west entrances were the work of the local master-craftsmen. The Indian master-builder now, as in former days, leads a wandering life, and railways give more facilities for travelling than the Indian bullock-cart. When I visited Gayâ in 1905 a Hindu temple was being built there by Jaipur craftsmen, and two dharamsâlas for pilgrims by craftsmen from the United Provinces.
Mr. Growse also mentions two other modern temples at Brindâban— the temple of Radha Indra Kishore, completed in 1871 at a cost of three lakhs, and the temple of Radha Gopâl, built by the Maharajah of Gwalior about 1860, of which he remarks that the interior arrangement is an exact counterpart of an Italian church and would be “an excellent model for our architects to follow, since it secures to perfection both free ventilation and a softened light.”6
The same gifted civilian, while in charge of the Bulandshahar district of the Punjab from 1878 to 1884, exerted himself greatly in the interest of the local building craft, with the result that all the official buildings required in the district were planned and carried out successfully by the Indian master-builder without the intervention of the Public Works “experts.” But the department would not tolerate this encroachment upon its prerogatives, and Mr. Growse was called upon for an official explanation, and this being considered unsatisfactory, he was summarily removed from the district.
In his apologia written afterwards, Mr. Growse says:
“What I had still more at heart than the artistic education of the wealthy was to improve the status of the poor local artisans by securing them regular and lucrative employment, either with private individuals, or as Government servants under the District Board. I certainly demonstrated their fitness and the economy that would result from their substitution for certificated engineers, but the demonstration was unavailing. The men who were working for me at the time of my transfer have, I fear, derived injury rather than benefit from my exertions on their behalf. I was removed so suddenly that it was impossible for me to wind up their accounts, and since I left they have experienced the greatest difficulty in getting paid for the work which they stayed on to finish. They have too much respect for their art to undertake the clumsy and grotesque erections in which the local squirearchy delight, and they are consequently debarred from private service, while—to complete the frustration of all my hopes for their advancement—a circular has lately been issued which peremptorily forbids their employment under Government. Under this departmental ukase all posts of even Rs. 50 a month in the gift of any District Board must be reserved for the holders of a certificate from the Rurki College of Engineers, where no orientalism has ever been tolerated. The mistri or indigenous architect thus superciliously excluded from competition may be a skilled craftsman whose work is of sufficient merit to be transported at great expense across the sea and set up for admiration in New York or London; but in India he cannot be trusted to design or carry out the most petty work in the smallest village: the reason being that he has spent the whole of his life in acquiring a practical mastery of his art, and therefore he had no time to study English and in due course obtain an engineering certificate; having done so, he is at once qualified for an appointment of Rs. 250 a month, in which he will be freely entrusted with the design and execution of local works, though he may know nothing of architecture beyond the hideous ‘standard plans’ provided by the Public Works Department. Is it not an insult to common sense to be thus liberal to bungling apprentices while a master in the art is not allowed even Rs. 50 to supplement his exhibition medal, and then to expect architecture to revive and flourish? The higherpaid employee can speak English and keep accounts in the European fashion; but in the real work for which he is engaged he is immeasurably beneath his underpaid brother.”7
It would be difficult to explain more tersely and accurately the method by which English-educated Indians are led to assist in the extinction of their own art, since the arch-Philistine Macaulay—who was less fit to legislate for the education of Indian youth than a Brahman pandit would be for the British public schoolboy—laid the foundations of modern education in India. This little incident will throw light upon the astonishing ignorance regarding the Indian master-builder and his work which is shown by many Anglo-Indian district officers of long experience.8
We will return now to Benares. The modern temples of Benares are not, as a rule, architecturally interesting, but a fine porch added to the temple of Durgâ, popularly known as the Monkey Temple, about 1865 is an exception (Pl. CXVIII).
The beauty of some of the architectural sculpture of Benares temples executed in the middle of the nineteenth century is, however, very remarkable—as will be evident from the illustrations given in the plates. The front of the temple in the suburb of Ramnagar which was built for the Maharajah of Benares and completed about 1850 might easily be mistaken for a fine example of the Byzantine School; and one would search in vain in modern European architecture for anything to compare with the delightful row of the heavenly Apsaras discoursing sweet music under the cornice of the Ahmêty temple, which was also built about 1850 (Plate CXX). Yet Anglo-Indian writers will solemnly aver that after the third century A.D. there is little Indian sculpture that can be called art,9 and in the name of progress, education, and art Indian revenues make provision for costly “Renaissance” sculpture to adorn the Secretariats of Calcutta!
To obtain an insight into the actual condition of the Indian building craft of the present day—outside the departmental enclave—one could not do better than wander through the streets of a modern Indian town in Rajputana or Central India and realise at once its vitality and gradual decadence. Lashkar, the present capital of the Gwalior State, is a typial one. It is a town of about 80,000 inhabitants, founded only a hundred years ago, in which until quite recently the Indian master-craftsmen have built without the supervision and teaching of the European engineer-architect.
There they have built such fine bridges as that shown in Pl. CXXI; many shops and private houses for rich and poor (Pl. CXXII); temples and secular public buildings and chhatris to commemorate the death of the ruling Princes (Pl. CXXIV), for though a progressive Indian ruler may employ an architect to design buildings for ceremonial purposes in the latest Western fashion, in matters which concern his religious and intimate private life he will generally call upon the Indian master-craftsman.
Though compared with former times the native master-builder in the present day works everywhere under very depressing conditions, his circumstances in a town like Lashkar are infinitely better than they generally are elsewhere. In the Public Works Department—should he ever gain employment there—he is an insignificant cypher in the sum-total of the departmental system. When he works for the “curiosity” market of the great Anglo-Indian cities he is under the screw of a grasping middleman. Here he is an artist who, even in his poverty, can take pride and pleasure in his work. His employer will testify a personal interest in the master-craftsman’s work in various ways. A progressive Prince will not now retain master-builders in his service as Court architects, or bestow honours upon them for the successful completion of a fine building, but the “uneducated” public of Rajputana will still find pleasure in the skill of the local craftsmen and reward them according to its means.
Mr. J. L. Kipling throws some interesting light on this subject in his report of the Panjab Exhibition of 1881-2. “In building a house,” he writes, “the workpeople are all paid wages more or less regularly, but for any extra spurt, or during the execution of delicate or difficult details, they are often liberally treated with sweetmeats, tobacco, sherbert, etc. In some districts when a carpenter has made a carven chaukut for door or window, he takes a holiday to exhibit it, and spreading a sheet on the ground, lays it in front of the house it is to adorn, and sits there to receive the congratulations and gifts of his admiring townsmen. As much as Rs. 100 have in one day been thrown to the carver of a particularly good piece of work.”
Unfortunately, if a clever young craftsman should attract the attention of an “educated” Indian nowadays, the benevolence of the latter sometimes takes the form of paying for the lad’s training in an Anglo-Indian technical college, or he may be despatched to Europe to learn “styles” more thoroughly at the Royal Academy or in a London architect’s office. The attractions of an assured income and a small pension in Government service also tend to draw away the sons of the most intelligent and successful craftsmen into the minor posts of the Education or Public Works Departments, or to swell the overfilled ranks of clerical labour.
Under such conditions the deterioration in modern Indian craftsmanship needs no further explanation; the fact that it retains so much vitality might be a greater cause for wonder. One of the signs of its vitality which can be noticed in many modern buildings in Lashkarand elsewhere—the attempts to assimilate the structural forms of the West with those of the indigenous building traditions—is, curiously enough, generally cited as a proof of its utter decadence by the very critics who deny the modern Indian craftsman’s capacity for adapting himself to the needs of departmentalism. The serious architectural student will be deeply interested to observe in India of the present day exactly the same process of hybridisation which constantly recurred in the history of European architecture when a new style was in process of evolution.
The free use of the Western column and classical details in combination with the forms of indigenous Indian “Gothic” affords an exact parallel to the change which took place in English architecture of the sixteenth century, when English master-builders were trying to adapt the fashionable “classical” taste of the period to their own Gothic tradition, and eventually created the Elizabethan and Jacobean “styles” of the archæologist.
It is most interesting to see how a clever Indian master-builder will sometimes convert his own “Saracenic” or Hindu capital into a quasi-Byzantine one, not by the archæological process of imitating ancient Byzantine capitals, but by the same artistic mental process by which Byzantine architecture was originally created. A modern purist would check any possibility of further evolution by teaching the craftsman the correct “style.”
The archæological pedant who is thus blighting the life of Indian craftsmanship has lately started work in the town of Lashkar. As one wanders through the town admiring the work of a century of Indian craftsmanship, one is suddenly confronted by a group of “classical” official buildings, including a brand-new, spick-and-span, Greek-temple British Post Office (Plate CXXV), which might have been imported ready-made fom Bloomsbury or St. Pancras together with the telegraph wires, telephones, and railway engines. Lashkar in the year of grace 1908 became architecturally “progressive,” and the craftsmen of Central India are now learning “styles” under the supervision of the British engineer, who took infinite pains to ensure that the Ionic volutes were correctly drawn and that the classical mouldings were cut according to the rules of the proper classical textbooks. The “uneducated” master-builder who does not care for these things has no longer any occupation in the State buildings of Gwalior.
It is a pleasure to turn from a bêtise of this kind to an excellent pieceof modern work in a neighbouring State, in which the engineer in charge of the railway, not being burdened with a classical taste, has permitted the local craftsmen to follow their own ideas of correctness of style—namely, the State railway-station of H.H. the Maharajah of Awar (Pl. CXXVI). Here the Indian master-builder is quite up to date, and shows his capacity for assimilating foreign ideas by building a very elegant and at the same time a practical railway-station, which puts to shame the banal “Gothic” terminus at Bombay, and is by far the most artistic in all India. Being for the Maharajah’s private use only, it is of course small and more ornate than an ordinary railway-station should be; but the Oriental idea of a waiting-room on the roof which has been borrowed from Indian domestic buildings might well be adopted for the comfort of travellers in the design of larger stations in India. Roofs adapted for a temperate climate and a European rainfall are among the many weak points of Anglo-Indian building design.
A survey of the Punjab, Rajputana, Central India, and the adjacent provinces of the North in which Muhammadan influence was predominant for many centuries would by no means exhaust the subject of modern Indian building. Indeed, a great amount of the most valuable material would be found in those parts of the country occupied by the Hindu kingdoms which resisted the Muhammadan invader more or less successfully. In the former provinces, especially where Mogul influence has penetrated deeply, modern native architectural decoration is sometimes characterised by an insipidity and meretricious prettiness which European critics, who only know Indian art from museums and international exhibitions, erroneously believe to be the common vice of all modern Indian craftsmanship. This degeneracy, needing only skilful and sympathetic artistic treatment, is partly to be accounted for by the influence of modern commercialism, and partly by the restrictions which Musulmân law imposed upon the Indian craftsman, for in those parts of India where the Hindu tradition is purest modern Indian architectural decoration is very different to the emasculated commercial bric-à-brac which is justly despised by the Western critic.
Orissa, one of the ancient Hindu kingdoms which held out longest against the military power of Islâm, is practically an unexplored field, rich in the finest craftsmanship, and one of the most interesting and valuable in the whole of India, because it represents a tradition uninfluenced by Musulmân artistic prejudices.
The two illustrations I give of Orissan buildings snapshots taken by myself in a visit to Puri a few years ago. They are examples of modern work carried out by a family of masons still living there. Pl. CXXVII is the entrance to the monastery called the Emar Math, the fine carving of which will bear comparison with that of the most famous of the Orissan temples built by the ancestors of these masons. Pl. CXXVIII is the verandah of a private house built by the same family of craftsmen. During the last fifteen or twenty years these fine sculptors, who are content with earnings of fourpence to sixpence a day, have been reduced to making trifling stone souvenirs for pilgrims, owing to the lack of more profitable employment. During the same time lakhs of rupees have been, and are still being, spent in Calcutta on the decoration of public buildings with imported commercial terra-cotta and sham Renaissance sculpture.
At Jâjpur, the ancient capital of Orissa, Indian craftsmanship is being preserved in a manner characteristically Indian. A sâdhu, or religious mendicant, has devoted his life to begging for money for the restoration of the temple of Biroja in the town, and Orissan stonemasons, paid a pittance sufficient for bare existence, have for many years past devoted their pious labour to the work. As long as this spirit survives, so long will India remain, as it is at present, the finest school of craftsmanship in the world.
I will conclude this slight sketch of the modern Indian building craft with an illustration of a temple gateway built at Benares about twelve years ago by a master-mason named Mallu, from a design by a craftsman, Madhu Prasâd, in the employ of H.H. the Maharajah of Benares (Plate CXXIX).
- 1. P. 37.
- 2. “Essay on the Architecture of the Hindus,” Plate XLV. The orientation marked on the plates does not seem to correspond with the quotations from the Sâstras given in the text.
- 3. The Director of Industries in Madras, Mr. A. Chatterton, declared lately that the Indian master-builder is a figment of my imagination! I have reason to believe that many Anglo-Indian officials are of the same opinion.
- 4. Fourpence a day are the average earnings of modern architectural sculptors in Orissa, whose work is shown in Plates CXXVII-CXXVIII.
- 5. Mr. O. C. Ganguly, in an article in the Modern Review for March 1912, states that an hereditary architect of Bhuvaneshvar, since the work of the Archæological Survey in the neighbourhood was finished, sent his son to the village school to qualify for service as a clerk, as no further remunerative work was available in the hereditary craft on which his family had depended from time immemorial.
- 6. For plan see Growse’s “ Mathura,” p. 263.
- 7. From “Indian Architecture of To-day, as exemplified in New Buildings in the Bulandshahar District,” by F. S. Growse, quoted by Mr. O. C. Ganguly in the Modern Review, Calcutta, March 1912.
- 8. Mr. Vincent Smith (“ History of Indian Fine Art,” p. 419 n.) says that, in Northern India, Mathurâ is almost the only town where architecture can be described as “still a living and progressive art” a statement apparently based upon the fact that Mr. Growse’s district manual is almost the only official document referring to the work of the modern Indian master-builder.
- 9. See Mr. Vincent Smith on Archæology in the latest edition of “The Imperial Gazetteer of India.”