Indian Room measures 18 feet square and 10 feet high. It is constructed throughout of Malabar teak and is a strongly built structure. Probably the feature that will first attract the attention of the visitor will be the painted ceiling and frieze. The ceiling consists of a circular central panel and eight surrounding panels, four triangles, and a decorated border.
The subject of the painting on the ceiling is the Sun God Surya and eight planets. Surya plays a very important part in Hindu Mythology and is here shown in his chariot drawn by seven horses symbolising the seven rays of the sun.
The planets represented are, Soma (the Moon) on an antelope; Mangal, (Mars), the flame coloured figure riding on a goat; Budha, (Mercury) on a lion; Brihaspati, (Jupiter) on a swan; Rahu, (Uranus) with serpent’s tail; Shukra, (Venus) on a white horse; Ketu, (Neptune) on an eagle; and Shani, (Saturn) mounted on a bullock.
The mural panels on the wall represent efforts of the senior students. They are seven in all, including a “Ganpati Procession” by Mr, A.A. Bhonsale, which has received the special gold medal presented by Sir George Lloyd, the late Governor of Bombay and “Piety” by Mr. N.L. Joshi, which was awarded His Excellency’s Silver Medal. The remaining subjects are Painting, Sculpture, Music, Industry, and Agriculture, On the floor is a carpet woven by the students of the Carpet Weaver’s Class with Arabesques on a gold ground which though designed in the class are of Persian inspiration.
The furniture consists of a “Gadi” carved and upholstered in rose-coloured silk and bearing its “Chutra” of the same material; a “Chaurang” of beaten brass with relief taken from the paintings in the Ajanta Caves: a carved table, and cabinet; and two statuettes in white marble, and bronze. These statuettes portray the God “Siva”, and an ideal figure entitled “Harmony”, both executed by the students of the Modelling Class.
The latter class is also responsible for the Silver Statuette of a Goddess riding upon a tiger, and destroying a demon.
The Shrine itself is of carved woodwork, and a Canopy of Indo-Sarasenic style is affixed to the wall. In front of it, on a stand, are two silver lamps, a rose-water sprinkler, and attar-dan, and a salver;—articles which are used for worship. A fine brass lamp, by the Iron Worker’s Class, hangs just above the doorway between the perforated carved windows.
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In his book on Hindu Iconography, Mr. Gopinath Rao tells us that “the nine planets, Surya, Chandra, Bhauma, Budha, Sukra, Brihaspati, Sani, Rahu and Ketu are also worshipped by the Hindus and their images are generally found in all important temples in South India”. It was natural therefore that in their selection of subjects the students of the School of Art should take these well-known Divinities and enthusiastically portray them on the ceiling, in traditional sequence, and with their respective symbols and “vehicles”. The centre panel represents Surya the Sun God standing in his chariot and driven by Aruna the lame charioteer of the Gods. The pose, the hands raised shoulder high, the ruby earrings, the necklace over his chest, the garment he wears, and its colouring; and the halo, the lotuses, and the magnificant “Kirita” (head dress) are prescribed by rules of most ancient origin. Some idea of the vast burden of ceremonial data with which the Indian Art Student has to store his mind may be gathered from the following passage.
“According to the Amsumabbhedagama and the Suprebhedagama the figure of the Sun God should be sculptured with two hands each holding a lotus. The hands should be so held up as to enable the fists holding the lotuses to reach the level of the shoulders. His head is to be surrounded by a halo (Kantimandalu) and his person should be adorned with many ornaments; on his head there should be a Karanda Makuta, and the garment worn by him should be red in colour. He should wear a pair of ruby ear-rings (Kundalas) and on his chest there should lie a hara (Necklace).
“The figure of Surya should be placed on a hexagonal chariot drawn by seven horses fully caparisoned. The chariot should have only one wheel and be shown to be driven by the lame Aruna, On the right side of Surya there should stand Ustra, and on the left Pratyasha, etc., etc.”
When we reflect that by far the greater number of the gods of India are described with even greater particularity, we may well be astonished at the careless ease with which the “illiterate” Indian art students pursue a path that one would think the greatest pundit would find it hard to follow walking as delicately as did Agag.
On the occasion of the visit of H.R.H. The Prince of Wales to India in November 1921, the Schoo of Art was commissioned by the Reception Committee to paint the pylons which decorated the streets with 170 figures of Deities each seven feet in height. Then indeed it was a portentous spectacle to see the marshalling of multifarious emblems, tokens, ornaments, “vehicles”, and other insignia of an interminable line of Celestial Incarnations. Some of these were endowed with only the usual complement of limbs, while others flourished arms like windmills. There were triple-faced, monkey-faced, vulture-faced Deities. There were some who rode on tigers, on lions, on eagles, on snakes, and some who used the lotus as a spring board for the stars. There were some who wore the most elaborate head-dresses, carkanets, toe rings, nose rings, bracelets, armlets, skins, and draperies, while garlands were adjusted with a bewildering fitness about arms, necks and torsos already profusely adorned, and dignified by insignia as scrupulous in its accuracy as it was ornate. The emblems and ornaments of the Gods far from being a complex burden seemed in this instance a pure joy and solace to their delineators.
During this temporary restoration of the Golden Age, the students would discuss with one another details of the iconography, and one gathered that there was sometimes room for argument, but that books were rarely required to be referred to for details.
The Indian is the incomparable example of the man who “draws out of his head”. Be it understood here that he does not (as did the old Byzantine artists too often,) merely reiterate endlessly a cut-and-dried convention; but shows inexhaustible resource in adapting his composition to the exigencies of the space he has to fill, ringing the changes with “infinite variety” in spite of well defined limitations, sometimes of pose, and nearly always of colour, and accessories.
THE EIGHT PLANETS.
The figure on the antelope to the South East of Surya, the Sun God represents Chandra, or Soma, the Moon. He must partake of the nature of both sexes; and reconciles in his dual entity the Western Diana and her Endymion. This God’s complexion is of silvery whiteness—the hue of Wonderment, Awe, and Mystery.
His pose has a hint of the effeminacy of Praxiteles’ lizard-hunting Apollo. In his left hand he rears a banner with the device of a rabbit. Instead of a halo his head is relieved by:—
“Astarte’s dediamonded crescent Distinct with its duplicate horn.”
The Gazelle (the Black Buck of the Deccan), a delicate mount for its dainty rider, breaks the web-like clouds with its feet, giving one glimpses of distant starless profundities.
“There is no light in Earth or Heaven.
But the pale light of Stars.
The first watch of the night is given
To the Red Planet Mars.”
In this panel we see the Hindu image of the “Red Planet “in fiery hues riding upon his “Vehicle”—the goat. One of his four hands is drawn in its traditional pose while another holds a “Sakti” or mace. The two left hands brandish the “gada” (Club) and “Sula” (trident).
Next comes Brihaspati on the Swan. He is represented as yellow in colour, with corresponding draperies; and appears to relish his aerial journey.
Rahu is next in the circle. There are different ways of presenting the image of this planet. Here he is shown carrying in one hand the “pustak” (book) and with the other waving a fine woollen garment.
Very different from Western legend is this conception of ‘the planet” Venus. In his left hand Sukra holds the “Nidhi” (a bag full of jewels), and in the other a sacred book. The glistering silvery tones of this Divinity, his charger, and the ornaments are all essential parts of the ancient convention.
This planet is forcibly represented by the “gada”—bearing figure mounted on the typical Indian Kite, who appears bout to hurl his weapon into space. He is always shown dark in colour and is a conspicuous figure among the nine “Grahas”. Behind him lowers the gathering storm.
Holding the “Khadga” (scimitar), the “Khetaka” (shield) and the “gada” (club), Budha is depicted riding on a fierce lion. His colour is that of the “Karnikara” a beautiful flower of the Indian Jungle.1 He is purposely decked with ornaments of a special type.
This planet, the last of the circular procession, is black in colour, diminutive in size, and somewhat deformed. He rides a black bullock, and flourishes a “danda” (staff) and “Kamandalu” (sacred vessel).
THE CEILING TRIANGLES.
The four triangles of the ceiling formed by the gaps between the circle and its surrounding square are the work of the same hand. They represent a style of Mural Painting essentially the same as the Indian Mural work of the 5th century, and still immensely popular with the general public.
Mr. B. V. Hatulkar—the student responsible—originally designed and painted four different panels, which were however found to be useless owing to a defect in the measurements. In no wise discouraged, he began again and painted the present series; all four being executed with great speed and certainty, from his pencil sketches.
For this act of sustained energy the young artist was awarded a certificate of Honourable Mention by the Governor of Bombay. The four panels are grotesque renderings of familiar animals, buffaloes, elephants, dogs, and monkeys. The latter are perhaps the most interesting and whimsical in design. There is humour in the two monkeys dealing with the piece of watermelon, and the facility with which students can seize upon common facts and convert these into decorative material, no less that their inherent gift for filling wall spaces can be studied in this and its corresponding triangles.
THE CEILING BORDER.
The floral border also conveys a good idea of the style of Indian Decorative painting, that was already an established tradition of perhaps Vedic2 antiquity when the Moghuls brought into India their Persian methods of painting. The great traditional style of which this border is a modern example has resisted and survived all the weight of extraneous influences, and is understood by, and dear to the hearts of Indians.
Although the Ajanta caves furnish the earliest examples of the decorative methods illustrated by this border, yet the border is quite an original work. It was designed in pencil, then cartooned in charcoal, traced on to the canvas, and painted by the students. It has the boldness, brightness, and delicacy which are of the cult of Ajanta.
The square corners of the ceiling border—the elephants—indicate even better this particular natural gift. The vigorous brush work of the flowers and leaves in these small square panels gives an idea of that deftness of touch which so often delights us in the charcoal and chalk cartoons, and in the water-colour drawings of Indian students, and which is better exemplified in their decorations in “guache” than in the heavier medium of oil.