“INDIA still possesses a large body of trained craftsmen who practise the art of building on similar principles and produce similar results to those of 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 for either 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 for 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 archaeological 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 craftsmen 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 mediæval building in Europe, and infinitely more beautiful than the imitation Renaissance ornament of the building I have referred to. The average earning 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.”1
- 1. E. B. Havell Nineteenth Century, June, 1907