A few years ago in an article in the “Indian Review,” 1 on the masterpiece of Mogul art, the Taj at Agra, I ventured to draw attention to the importance, from an imperial point of view, of Englishmen studying and trying to understand the artistic ideals of the East, for, I said, the Indian Question, which then seemed smaller than a man’s hand, might fill the Eastern horizon to-morrow. I may, perhaps, without posing as a prophet, quote this as an example of how in the East the unexpected is always happening, for to-day Indian and Eastern questions loom in our political sky as large as Home Rule for Ireland—which to stay-at-home politicians, who make no attempt to grasp the significance of Eastern problems, may seem a monstrously overdrawn comparison.
To many others whose education and environment have taught them to regard art as external to the serious affairs of life, and only a pleasant amusement for hours of leisure, it may not be easy to understand the connection between art and politics, or to trace the coming of the Japanese into the front rank of modern nations to their marvellous artistic instinct. Yet a mere cursory view of history will show that the nations with the greatest artistic record have always been those whose political Empire has been the greatest and most lasting. Their rise and decay may be traced without any other documents than those their art has left in marble, stone and brick, in metal, wood and clay. Unless, therefore, we are right and all the centuries wrong, or unless the natural instinct for beauty hitherto inherent in human nature is going to be satisfactorily replaced by something else not yet manifested, it is evident that art is an index to national vitality, and cannot be left out of account by politicians whose ideas rise above a county council or the exigencies of party manoeuvres.
No Anglo-Indian statesman has fully understood the administrative uses of art. Akbar, whose rule presents many analogies to our own, showed his marvellous political genius more conspicuously in his understanding of art than in the organisation of the machinery by which he collected his revenues, or in his measures for securing justice and social order. Wherever the monuments of Akbar’s reign exist, Hindu, Jain, Buddhist and Muhammadan alike testify to the gladness and contentment which his benevolent despotism brought to the people. In this record of national art those who have eyes to see can see that Akbar achieved—what so far we have not succeeded in winning—a sincere understanding between the rulers and the ruled, a sentiment deeper than respect or astonishment. It is just that note of gladness which we have failed to evoke. We bring with us into India the dull, grey northern skies, and in spite of all that we have done we are still looked upon by most Indians as stern and strict schoolmasters, rather than as friends and fellow citizens of the Empire. This comes chiefly from our failure to grasp the fundamental fact that art is a far more important matter of State policy in India than it is in Europe—just because in India art is still the voice of the people. To be out of touch with a people’s art is to be out of touch with the people.
The discipline which we hare imposed upon India has been—at least for the time being—a great blessing, but the dulness is not an essential part of the discipline. Our Indian Empire is now held by a departmental machinery so immense and so complex that no administrator in modern times has been able to do what Akbar did. Lord Curzon attempted it and might have succeeded, were it not that by the peculiar system through which we govern , our Indian Empire India is deprived of his services just when his work was beginning. His wonderful energy and intellectual powers have done much to improve the machinery, but that welding of the administrative system on to the national life, which Akbar achieved and which we must achieve before we can regard India as an integral part of the British Empire, has still to be done. Lord Curzon, moreover, is, unfortunately for India, an ardent archæologist. I say this without disrespect and without the least intention of depreciating the splendid work which he has done in restoring Indian monuments. It was a work to which Lord Curzon devoted the best of his great intellect and artistic sympathy, and no artist can have other than the most sincere admiration for the results. But in seven years Lord Curzon had not time to realise what no Anglo-Indian administrator has yet learnt in a life time—that in India art is not archæology. What Lord Curzon failed to do in seven years his successors can hardly hope to do in five; so, although the Taj, the palaces of the Moguls, and many other splendid monuments of India’s past bear the mark of Lord Curzon’s great personality, Indian art remains where it was—on the road to ruin—unless ‘Swadeshi’ should come to the rescue.
It says much for the thoroughness and enthusiasm with which Lord Curzon did his work that at the end of his seven years’ labours he succeeded in digging through the surface layers on which most of our Indian administrative system is built, and struck against the bed-rock of what we may call Indian nationality, though that word fails to express exactly what Swadeshi is. It may be that he did so unconsciously, but, nevertheless, if through his action he has prepared the way for a more solid and enduring foundation on which the administrative fabric may be built, Lord Curzon deserves well of the Empire.
In discussing Swadeshi it is necessary to distinguish between the true Swadeshi and the false, and it may be said at once that Manchester can laugh at the false one, and need not fear the true, for a happy and prosperous India is Manchester’s best friend. India has need of the method of Manchester as well as the artistic sense of Swadeshi. The false Swadeshi is just now the most conspicuous, for it is noisy and self-assertive. It preaches thinly-veiled sedition and talks largely of patriotism, though it is as absurd to talk of patriots of India as it would be to talk of patriots of Europe. It will help a decaying national industry when it can be used as a political lever, but will leave it to starve and die out when it does not serve that purpose. Its methods are generally hollow, unpractical and insincere; but though it justly deserves our contempt we should never forget that it is largely the product of our own educational system.
The true Swadeshi keeps aloof from the official administration, and neither joins in the scramble for official favours nor apes the noisy manner of the Western demagogue. It lives its own life apart from ours, and many Anglo-Indians spend a lifetime in India hardly conscious of its existence. You may see its various outward manifestations on the ghats at Benares, and learn that though there are many formularies—Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Buddhist and Muhammadan—it has one ideal. That ideal is so different from ours that few Europeans attempt to understand it, and few would succeed in less than a cycle of transmigrations. It is something more than nationality. It is the Eastern way of thinking. This Swadeshi is not disloyal, though it has its sinister aspect, which it revealed in 1857. It is not for us; but it is grateful for the pax Britannica, and realises its value. It bides it time; it has faith in the centuries—and unless all Indian history lies, the centuries are on its side.
It is this Swadeshi which, from the time the Aryans entered into India, has absorbed one conquering race after another without materially altering its way of thinking. It is an immense political force, now passive on the whole, but getting more active every day, for its strength, which was dissipated by a long period of anarchy and misrule, is being slowly recruited under our firm and stable government. We, to a certain extent, like Akbar, found our Indian system of revenue, law and police upon it, but in many vital matters in which art is concerned, such as industrial development, public works, and national education, we almost completely ignore it. It is in the matter of industrial development that Swadeshi has lately shown a remarkable activity and drawn European attention to the fact of its existence. How little our Anglo-Indian departmentalism has been aware of this side of Swadeshi is shown by the fact that until a few years ago official statistics referred to Anglo-Indian cotton mills, which give employment to only 350.000 people, as representing the most important industry in India after agriculture. Not long ago an official, considered a high authority on industrial matters, lectured to an Anglo-Indian audience in London and described the hand-weaving industry of India as almost driven out of the market the fact being that it still supports directly and indirectly, not thousands, but millions of Indian villagers. The hand industry is not only of far greater importance than the whole of the steam-power factories put together, but contributes largely towards their support by purchasing the greater part of the yarn which the Indian steam mills produce.
The concentration of labour and machinery rendered necessary by the use of steam power, the struggle of the agricultural labourer for ‘bettering’ himself, and of the capitalist to add to his capital, have given Lancashire its steam mills in which, according to a competent authority, the weaving industry is carried on under conditions unhealthy and dangerous, bad for mind and body, making women unfit for motherhood, cursing the children and causing the people to deteriorate. The remarkable development of handloom weaving in the last twenty years does not support the popular belief that the power loom will drive out the hand-loom altogether even in Europe. In India, after 150 years of fighting with obsolete weapons against all the resources of European mechanical science, the almost forgotten hand-loom industry is still a highly organised and very formidable industrial army. This is because in the first place heredity makes the Indian caste weaver a highly skilled artisan, and secondly, because his Swadeshi way of thinking does not give the Indian labourer that passion for mere money-making which the West calls laudable ambition. The Indian people, the true Swadeshi, are at heart philosophical and deeply religious. Every peasant believes that if he is faithful to his dharma (his duty to God and the State) in this life, his karma (his place in the cosmos) may make him a king in the next re-birth. Why then should he struggle for mere wealth in this? So the high wages of modern industrialism—which in Europe draw the life-blood of nations to the great cities—in India attract only the scum of the population. Only when starvation drives him to the famine-camp or to the cities will the peasant leave his plough and the skilled weaver his loom.
The agitation against the partition of Bengal has brought to the aid of the Indian handloom weaver all the forces of Swadeshi, both the real and the sham, and bids fair to solve in a twelvemonth a problem which has puzzled departmentalism for fifty years—technical education for India. The despised occupation of weaving has become one which attracts the intelligence of the highest castes. The best appliances of modern Europe are being brought to replace the primitive apparatus of the village hand-loom weaver, who suddenly finds himself in great demand as a teacher for Brahmins and Vaishyas and for “failed B. A’s” of the Calcutta University. One of Lord Curzon’s last acts was to sanction for Bengal an important scheme for a school of hand-loom weaving on the best modern lines, which will help to turn many noisy agitators into loyal and industrious citizens. The Indian weaving industry will thus be able to face the competition of nineteenth century factories on more equal terms. The latest improvements in the application of mechanical power all tend to make the concentration of labour in these social pest-houses less and less a necessity for modern industrial methods. It is more than probable that before many decades have passed modern science will place at the disposal of the Indian village weaver, in a simple and effective form, as much power as he may want to use. Thus the centuries even now are helping Swadeshi.
Let us now discuss Swadeshi in relation to public works. For the last fifty years departmentalism has entrusted the whole art interests of India to a body of engineers who have had no artistic training. I say ‘whole art interests’ advisedly, for if all the Schools of Art in India were closed to-morrow Indian art would be hardly a wit the worse—or better. Art museums as they have been always conducted may give a spasmodic impulse to a passing caprice of fashion in Europe and America, by advertising so-called Indian art ware. But unfortunately, most of the art collected in Indian museums and exhibitions is made solely for the European market. It is an art which from its falseness can never have a permanent commercial value, and it is not in any sense the art of the people. A permanent revival of Indian art, either in a commercial or artistic sense, can never be produced by such methods as these.
The monopoly of architectural art which the Indian Public Works Department has assumed, and the curse of a false classicism which it has brought with it from Europe, are the principal causes of the decay of the real art of the country. The complacency with which Anglo-Indian administrators have regarded the ineptitude of this policy is partly, no doubt, a recognition of the splendid and devoted services of Public Works officers in the construction of railways and irrigation works, but it is mainly due to the ineradicable superstition that European architecture is better adapted for modern requirements, and that though Indian architects may have excelled in the aesthetic side of their profession, they are far behind the times in all that relates to constructional science. We form our ideas of Indian art from the precious inlay of the Taj or from the exuberant carving of Jain and Hindu temples. But do we generally take the mosaic of St. Mark’s at Venice as the criterion of the cost of a post-office, or form the estimates of a hospital on the carving of a Gothic cathedral? Indian architects, like those of mediæval Europe, know how to be economical when economy is wanted, though they disregard economy when it is neither becoming nor necessary. In other words they are trained in all the requirements of their profession.
It is doubtless true that Indian builders of the present day know little of the use of iron for building purposes, but it is important to remember that brick, stone, and wood have not yet been entirely superseded as building materials in India, either by iron, glass, papiermaché, sawdust or any other of the up-to-date resources of Western architects. In the purely constructional use of these old-fashioned meterials all that European builders have achieved, whether in classic, mediaeval, or modern times, has been equalled or excelled by Indian architects; and it is highly probable that if Anglo-Indian engineers had attempted to study and make use of the traditional craftmanship of centuries which the descendants of these men keep alive, they would have learnt something of the artistic possibilities of iron girders, for the native builders, instinctively, will use corrugated iron and kerosene tins more artistically than we do.
We pride ourselves on being a practical nation, and the popular excuse for any act of vandalism, or any peculiarly stupid artistic abomination, is that art must give way to considerations of utility. Yet when art becomes a question of public policy, we are probably the most unpractical and irrational of all civilised nations. We have certainly exhibited ourselves in the light in India, both before and since Great Britain assumed imperial responsibility for the government of the country. Some time ago I met in Calcutta a Prussian State engineer, sent out officially to India by his Government to study the constructive principles of Indian architecture. Our Teutonic friends are more practical than ourselves. It was an English chemist who discovered aniline dyes. The Germans forthwith appropriated the discovery, and built up a gigantic German industry upon it. Now they are rapidly taking from us the Indian indigo trade. Englishmen opened the door to Sanscrit literature, but German scholars placed the study of it on a scientific basis, and when we want Principals for the few Indian colleges where Oriental literature is a special study, we must generally send to Germany for them. A Scotchman, James Fergusson, spent forty years of his life in exploring the marvellous field of architectural research, scientific and artistic, which our Indian Empire affords. His labours have been lost on Indian departmentalism, and it seems likely that the Germans again will be the first European nation to profit by his life-work.
Indian departmentalism consistently shuts its eyes to the fact that India still has a national art. England had one—two centuries ago, and is now seriously attempting to revive it, but the national culture which was the product of centuries cannot be restored in a day. Mr. Edward S. Prior, in a monograph on the Cathedral Builders of England, 2 which should be a text-book for all who wish to understand Indian art, has described the process by which the classicism of the Italian Renaissance and that peculiar product of modern times, archæological art, have destroyed the traditional, national art of Europe, just in the same way as the national art of India is now being destroyed by departmentalism. He has shown how in every country and every epoch before the eighteenth century a national architecture was created by trained bodies of craftsmen, organised like the artisan caste of India, so that every building was a school of painting, sculpture and engineering—of art and of craft; every cathedral, church, palace, or mansion, a human document in which was written the life of the nation; every public building in its stability, durability, and beauty, a symbol of the power and dignity of the State. Then came that era of paper architects, of archæologists and rabid commercialism. So instead of a national art which was a joyous worship of the Creator in the daily work of the people—for the cottager as well as for the King—we have now an art for ‘best parlours’ and ‘at homes’; an art for museums and exhibitions; an art for the scholar, too absorbed in the dust-heaps of the past to concern himself with the beauty of the present; an art for the merchant, too busy with his money-bags to worship God on week-days.
In India we have now an exactly similar process leading to exactly similar results, only carried on with greater ruthlessness and less artistic understanding, for we have in India no Christopher Wren or Inigo Jones to give us brilliant essays in archæological architecture. India still possesses a large body of trained craftsmen who practise the art of building on similar principles and producing similar results as the great mediæval builders of Europe. They enter no University, for Indian Universities were founded for supplying material for the official machinery, and make no provision either for art or religion. But their ancestors built the Taj, the shrines of Mount Abu, and countless other masterpieces; they constructed the Mogul palaces, public offices, irrigation works, and everything of practical utility that the art of building could provide.
How does our departmentalism provide for these needs to-day? A certain number of young men, with no training either in art or in craft, learn by heart certain formularies of calculating the maximum weight which an iron girder will bear, the smallest dimensions to which a wall can be reduced without collapsing, the cheapest rate at which a building can be constructed so as to bring it within the annual departmental budget. When a department has settled on paper the plan of the building it wants, one of these engineers with an archæological turn of mind puts on to it a ‘Gothic; or ‘classic’ front, according to departmental taste, and provides a certain scale of departmental decoration according to departmental rank and dignity. Then the hereditary Indian craftsman whose family has practised the art of building for untold centuries is brought in to learn the wisdom of the West by copying the departmental paper patterns. How bad the art becomes is, perhaps, difficult to be understood by those to whom an archæological solecism is more offensive than an artistic eyesore; but it is easy to explain how wasteful and extravagant the system really is. To build one of the latest and perhaps the best of these archæological structures in Calcutta, a large number of Indian caste-builders were employed. Many of them were both artists and crafts-men—they could design, build, and carve. The structural design had been settled for them departmentally, so they had no concern with that. There was also a considerable amount of ornament to be carved, but that also had been designed for them in proper departmental style, which happened to be Italian Renaissance, so they were not allowed to attempt that. Other men, who had been trained in the European archæological style in Bombay were brought over to copy mechanically the paper patterns prepared for them. These men were paid two rupees a day each. Now there are at the present time in the Orissa district, not far from Calcutta, and famous for its splendid native architecture, a considerable number of masons and builders who, within the last twenty years, have designed and carried out architectural decoration comparable with that of our finest medieval buildings in Europe, and infinitely more beautiful than the imitation Renaissance ornament of the building I have referred to. The average earnings of these men is four annas a day or one-eighth of the wages paid for executing the departmental decoration. They and their fellow-artists all over India are constantly in want of work, for departmentalism has no need of their services. Indian art cries out for bread; we give it museums, exhibitions, and archæology.
The departmental plea of economy will not bear a moment’s careful examination. Departmental economy at best is the economy of the limited liability company which keeps up an appearance of prosperity by paying dividends out of capital; for the imitation of a dead classicism which we hold up to the natives of India as the best product of Western civilisation is sapping the foundations of Indian art in the same way as it has destroyed the national art of Europe. In so doing we recklessly use up a part of the resources of our Indian Empire, infinitely more valuable than all its gold mines or coal mines—resources which, properly utilised, might bring to the revenues of the country as much as any department of the State. Anglo-Indian architectural works are rarely even relatively economical; for the native builders under our inartistic system are rapidly losing the sentiment of good craftsmanship, which always accompanies the artistic sentiment. In the same way the decay of national sentiment in European art has produced the modern school of jerry-builders. The process of alterations, patchwork, and repairs which Indian public buildings now require, is not entered against the capital account, so that does not trouble the departmental budgets. But when Macaulay’s New Zealander, who in some far-off time will continue the dilettante propensities of our race, turns his attention from the rains of London to the sites of great Anglo-Indian cities, he will sketch and wonder what rude barbarians left mud-heaps for memorials among the stately relics of native imperial rule. Swadeshi builds for posterity—we for ourselves. Are we right and all the centuries wrong?
The third vital matter of Indian administration which I have mentioned above is national education. From this, Indian Universities, like their European models, are unanimous in excluding art. It is a common saying that an artist who wishes to know his faults should give his work to be copied by his pupils. Indian Universities, with the unerring short-sightedness of the copyist, have exaggerated the defects of the older English Universities to the point of caricature. The many excellencies of English college-culture are too well advertised by its votaries to need mention. Indian Universities have only recognised its faults—the aloofness from the national life and want of breadth, Inversely, Oxford has attempted to reproduce Greek culture by composing Greek odes and essays ignoring the fact that it was based on the cultivation of the aesthetic faculties and a profound study of human nature—while Japan has caught the true spirit of it in not attempting an imitation.
Lord Curzon has given Indian Universities a new machinery. They have now to work out their own salvation with it, and are apparently about to restore Indian culture on a basis of modern science. The idea that teaching Indian schoolboys a smattering of modern experimental science will be a revelation to a culture and civilisation which constructed a theory of the Universe, based on what we call modern scientific principles five thousand years ago, must make Swadeshi laugh in its sleeves; but the difficulty of applying Western ideas to the East is shown even in metaphors—for Swadeshi generally has no sleeves. The Greeks believed that, by teaching their children to love God’s beauty in Nature, they would help them to bring beauty into their daily lives. They thus found what modern educationists are always looking for a religion without dogma. Every national art since the world began expresses the same sentiment. In Europe we still believe in beauty to a certain extent provided that it is archæologically correct. In India we only believe in unadulterated ugliness and moral text-books. The Greeks understood that, by the study of nature and of art, they were developing the powers of observation and the powers of original thought, as art represents the creative faculties developed through the observation of nature. Greek education was, therefore, a system of national culture based on national life and art. The present Indian University system is a system of pedagogies based on narrow utilitarianism.
The artistic sense is the essence of real culture. Homer, Shakespeare, and the Mahabharata, products of national life and art, will live when most of our college-made culture is lost in the limbo of time. But art, as the vitalising influence in national culture, is as little understood by Indian Universities as it is by departmentalism. The art faculty only exists as part of the University machinery. Swadeshi in Bengal has raised a cry for a national University. Though there may be sedition in the cry, there is none in the idea itself; it is the ideal for which all Indian educationists must aim. A real national University would solve the greatest difficulty of Indian education—the question of religion. However suitable it may be for the Western social and political system to exclude religion from State education, the idea is, and always will be, utterly incomprehensible and abhorrent to the East. By transplanting this system to India we make Indian colleges hot-beds of irreligion and disloyalty, and only create a Frankenstein to curse and hate us. Akbar solved the difficulty by inventing a religion for the State, and at the same time allowing all his subjects to practise theirs. We could do the same by founding a Christian University and giving State aid to all other creeds in founding their own. Swadeshi would then be wholly on our side. We should hoist sedition with its own petard and convert an armed camp into a loyal and contented Empire.
It may be that art is merely a matter of sentiment; but sentiment has brought Japan where she is to-day, and if the centuries can be trusted, sentiment rules the world. The bigotry of Aurangzebe destroyed the art of the Moguls and broke up the empire which the sword of Babar and the statesmanship of Akbar founded. Is there not a danger to the Empire which Warren Hastings, Clive, Wellesley, and Dalhousie won for us in the short-sighted departmentalism which crushes out the spirituality of the people? That is not the white man’s mission.—Nineteenth Century and After, June, 1907.