FIGURES in bronze and marble, and a group in silver are the contributions of students of the Modelling Class, and of the Silversmiths’ Class in the Department of the School of Art founded by Lord Reay, Governor of Bombay. The bronze statue of a Hindu girl playing her sittar represents what must have been a familar Indian spectacle in the early mornings when the young women seated themselves before the Temples to play matutinal airs in honour of the Gods. The statuette in marble of Shiva is a realistic presentment of the great moon-crested Deity: its pose, its type, and its expression are those of the yogis or holy men who have abandoned the world in order to spend their lives wandering from shrine to shrine, subsisting on the simple alms of the villagers, and blazoning on the rocks or caves where they resf the crimson trident of Siva.
This statuette furnishes an instructive hint of the possibilities for a revival of Indian sculpture on realistic lines. Any such revival must be based upon the art of the indigenous modeller (as he may be termed) of India. There are many of these in Bombay, and South Western India in whom the sense of plastic form has descended from father to son, and who spend their lives modelling in clay life-size figures of the Gods, and national heroes and heroines. They exhibit these in the bazaar; and at periods of high festival scores of men, women and children flock to these miniature “Madame Tussaud’s” to pay the two annas entrance fee which will-entitle them to a wondering view of Krishna playing his magic flute before the enraptured Radha, of Ganpati in his wrestler’s suit, of Sivaji the great Maharatta hero swearing to devote himself to his country’s cause, or of some national ceremony, a bethrothal, or a wedding. These modellers evidently do not work for the sake of posthumous glory, for they usually destroy their models at the close of a season and spend several months in executing new ones. The modeller is also greatly in request on certain festivals as the purveyor of portable images to the public. At Benares the writer watched such an artist modelling with great dexterity innumerable little clay images of Shiva and Krishna. These were to be sold at the ensuing festival of Sankranti after which they would be unobtainable until the next annual occasion came round. It is a frequent sight in the Deccan (or South) to see such clay models laid out by the wayside to dry in the sun. Unfortunately they are easily broken. The Indian Artist is usually a spendthrift of his genius. He is not a business man, and generally makes a bad contract with Fate. One of the most beautiful and suggestive sights that Bombay has to show is that of the Pathare Prabhu women making their delightful but evanescent sand pictures in brilliant colours on the floors of their houses on the occasion of the festival that is known as Diwali Holidays. The silver statuette shows the Goddess Mahishasur Mardini—the Demon-killer—slaying a terrible “Asura,” “who having performed penance and obtained blessings from Brahma (the Creator of the Universe) grew so mighty that he conquered the three worlds and dethroned Indra and the other Gods. The Gods in their distress appealed to Shiva, who, pitying them, desired Parvati, (his wife) to go and destroy the giant. She accepted the commission willingly. When the battle began, the Goddess assumed a thousand arms and produced a number of weapons from her body. The Demon took the shape of an elephant as large as a mountain and approached the Goddess; but she tied his legs and with her nails tore him to pieces. He rose again in the form of a buffalo and with his horns cast stones, trees, and mountains at his adversary; “tearing up trees by the breath of his nostrils.” After a terrible combat full of Protean changes she plunged her spear into the breast of the Fiend who perished miserably, much to the great joy of all the Gods.
The carpet was also made in the Reay Art Workshops at the School of Art, whose staff and students besides being responsible for the Silversmith’s part in the statuette of “Mahishasura Mardini” executed all the furniture, carvings, and ornaments and constructed the walls and ceiling of the room. The carpet was woven in the Carpet-weavers’ Class, one of the classes which always seems to arrest the attention of visitors to the Applied Arts Section of the School. The operation of weaving is certainly an entertaining one. Behind the loom on which the numerous colours are slowly taking shape and design, squat a row of very small boys with very bright faces and sparkling eyes. The master crouches on the ground in front of the loom poring over the squared cartoon of the carpet design which is spread before him, shouting aloud the colours and numbers of the threads which must be counted by the little gnomes, invisible of course to him. All he can see of his assistants is the puncturing of deft little fingers between the threads of his loom, (which his trained eye watches closely,) fingers that work with amazing rapidity, selecting and twisting the vegetable-dyed threads into their proper places, while a chorus of little voices echo the master’s instructions. This carpet is Persian in design and woven with 200 stitches to the square inch. Carpet weaving in Bombay is unfortunately one of those beautiful Indian crafts that has fallen into the sere and yellow leaf. The class at the School of Art is the only one where it is still taught. Most of the carpets from Southern and South Western India are made in the jails. The present foreman in the Vellore Jail (Madras Presidency) is an old student of this class.
THE DIVAN OR GADI.
The wood carvers’ class is responsible for the carving that enriches the furniture and windows. A conspicuous example of the work of this class is the “Gadi” or seat of honour, which the Rajha or the Head of the Household might use. The back of this seat, carved in Hindu style, is one of the best pieces of carving in the room. This throne is covered with rose-coloured silk, over which is the canopy or umbrella (“the Chutri”), which forms so customary a feature in the old paintings we see of the Mughal and Rajput schools.
THE WRITING TABLE.
The carving of the writing table is in the Gujerat style. The joinery is skilful and the dome flanked by “Butcha” (literally “Baby”) domes, is a well known pattern, which the students thoroughly understand and delight in.
The stand which is usually utilised to hold vases, salvers, and the usual ornaments of an Indian home, is also carved with Gujerat designs of & very simple type carefully executed.
The foot-stool like object, with the top of beaten brass, is in reality a low table and is used for articles of “Puja” (worship). The brass work has been designed from details among the Ajanta frescoes, whose elephants and birds have been transposed from ceilings, and from panels and adapted by the designers to their new setting, and new medium of metal instead of paint. The lotus, birds, and animals have been executed by the metal workers with the same loving skill with which the old-time Buddhist Painters were so abundantly gifted.
THE HEXAGONAL “TEAPOY” (TABLE).
The little table of a design almost as familiar in England as in India is carved in better style than the numerous examples which are offered for sale in the bazaar of Bombay; and nowadays it would not be easy to purchase one as well finished.
One of the carved pedestals which sports four Indian parrots shows considerable variety of carved decoration. The joinery also acclaims the diligence of the workers. The other stand is of simpler design.
HANGING CABINET OR SHRINE.
In this attractive piece—so typical an adjunct to an Indian Room—we are reminded of Bijapur, that marvellous medley of domes, and minarets, of ruined shrines of saints and of kings’ sepulchres. The proportions of this piece are interesting and suited to its main purpose which is to be the receptacle of the Deity before whom the family will duly perform their “Puja.”
WINDOW AND PANEL FRAMES.
Other interesting examples of carving are to be seen in the perforated windows, with their interlaced foliage in the style of Ahmedabad, which are worth study; and also in the crisply carved frames that enclose the wall panels, each one of which has a different design—Gujerati and Mahomedan.
THE HANGING LAMP.
The beautiful brass lamp suspended outside the entrance is the result of six months’ painstaking work by the Iron and Brass Workers. The separate pieces are closely finished and fitted.
SILVER ARTICLES, THE SALVER, SPRINKLER, ATTARDAN, ETC.
The large salver is a recent specimen of modern Indian silver work. How largely India is still indebted to her antiquities for inspiration is an arguable question, but that Ajanta is again the fountain from which the designs on the tray have had their source is very clear. The salver is an important item in the ritual of worship because the Attardan, Gulabdan, Chawfulla and other articles used for “Puja” are placed upon it. The Rose-water Sprinkler (Gulabdan) is also a piece that can claim many kindred in Indian collections. The design in this exhibit is also based on Ajanta. The Gulabdan plays an important part in the Wedding Ceremony, Thread Ceremony, and other national festivals. It is a symbol of affection in a gathering. The Attardan (a fascinating receptacle for holding Attar of Roses applied to the wrist by the dainty dipper) is among the prettiest and most Oriental of trinkets. Sometimes the perfume it contains is sprinkled on cotton dips which are then placed in the outer part of the ear. The silver box (Chawfulla) with its five mango-shaped compartments (a very antique pattern) is used in religious ceremonies. It contains powder pigments in which the finger is dipped preparatory to tracing the sacred characters upon the forehead. The colours which the separate cavities contain are saffron, cunku, gulal, abeer, and shendur. The five compartments cannot be opened until the central screw is turned.
“SUMAI,” TABLE LAMPS.
The two silver lamps of Cutch design have pedestals shaped like Indian corn-cobs with enveloping leaves; with their seven wicks fed by the clear oil of the cocoanut. Lighted, these lamps are much in evidence at worship and Darbar meetings.
The little enamel trays, very daintily designed and finished, are destined to hold fragrant spices; or the delicate varied sweet meats which the Indian ladies have not yet lost the art of preparing with their own wonderfully skilful hands.
The Indian side-board contains some specimens of vases produced by the Pottery Department in the School of Art. They are Persian in shape, but in decorations adhere to the Sind style—itself an adaptation from the Persian. These pieces are composed of practically the same ingredients as ordinary English Earthenware; but Indian material only has been utilised. Part of the material used in the glaze is of foreign manufacture, such as White Lead, Red Lead, and a few other chemical products. The School of Art Potteries use all the processes for the production of glazed Earthenware that are in use in England, though more hand labour is perforce employed.