LET us turn to look at the Indian craftsman as the feudal servant of the king, a baron, or of a religious foundation. In the so-called dark ages of the East and of the West, the patronage of art and craft by kings was a matter of course, and no court was complete, lacking the state craftsmen. He would have seemed a strange king who knew nought of art and craft, and cared less. Even Alfred the Great, amidst all the cares of protecting his troubled land, found time to care for craftsmanship and craftsmen, especially goldsmiths, and we are all familiar with the Alfred jewel that bears the legend, “Alfred had me made”; and this interest in jewellery reminds us of the Eastern proverb, that asks “who but the Raja and the goldsmith should know the value of the jewel? “Still earlier evidence of the traditional royal interest in craft in the West may be gathered from such books as the “Mabinogion.” When Kilhwch rode to Arthur’s hall and sought admittance, “I will not open,” said the porter. “Wherefore not?”asked Kilhwch. “The knife is in the meat, and the drink is in the horn,” said the porter, “and there is revelry in Arthur’s hall, and none may enter therein but the son of a king of a privileged country, or a craftsman bringing his craft.”
So, too, in ancient Ireland we find it said to a similar applicant at the king’s door, “no one without an art comes into Tara.”1
Still later on, in the dark ages, we find, as one may learn from Professor Lethaby’s “Westminster Abbey and the King’s Craftsmen,” that the royal masons, carpenters, smiths and painters were attached to the palace as much as a matter of course as the chief butler and cook, and that under the chief master-mason or carpenter a body of skilled journeymen was permanently engaged. We are wiser now, of course, and know that only the chief butler and cook are essential to the royal dignity; the craftsmen have gone, and only the butler, the cook and the clerk remain. Perhaps it is only worldly wisdom after all.
The royal craftsman in the East, however, is our immediate interest, and to him we must return.
We find him well established at a very early date. In the reign of Asoka (275-231 B.C.),
“Artisans were regarded as being in a special manner devoted to the royal service, and capital punishment was inflicted on any person who impaired the efficiency of a craftsman by causing the loss of a hand or an eye … Ship-builders and armour-makers were salaried public servants, and were not permitted, it is said, to work for any private person. The woodcutters, carpenters, blacksmiths and miners were subject to special supervision.”2
Upon this subject of the regulation of the crafts I shall have more to say later.
Passing over a millenium and a half without endeavouring to trace the royal craftsman’s footsteps one by one, we come to the time of the great Moghal Emperors in the North. From the Āīn-i- Akbari or Institutes of the Emperor Akbar, one of the three great rulers in whose mind the conception of a united India had taken shape, and one of the greatest rulers that the world has seen, we are told of the skilled Indian and foreign craftsmen maintained in the palaces of the Moghals.
Akbar had in his service many artists, to the end that they “might vie with each other in fame, and become eminent by their productions.” Weekly he inspected the work of every artist, and gave due reward for special excellence. He also personally superintended the making of the weapons forged and decorated in the armoury. He was very fond of shawls, of which many kinds were made in the palace, and classified according to date, value, colour and weight. He had also jewellers and damasceners, inlayers and enamellers, engravers and lapidaries, and craftsmen of all kinds. It is to be observed that all this did not represent in Akbar, any more than it did in Alfred, the mere luxury of an idle or weak monarch, but belonged to a definite conception of the kingly state and duty recognized by one of the greatest rulers the world has seen.
“His majesty taking great delight in, and having patronised this at from the commencement of his reign, has caused it to arrive at high perfection. With that view, this department was established, in order that a number of artists being collected together, might vie with each other for fame, and become eminent by their productions. Every week the daroghas and tepookchies bring to his majesty the performance of every artist, when, in proportion to their merits, they are honoured with premiums, and their salaries are increased.”
“Through the attention of his majesty, a variety of new manufactures are established in this country; and the cloths fabricated in Persia, Europe and China have become cheap and plenty. The skill of the manufacturers has increased with their number, for his majesty has made himself acquainted with the theory and practice in every stage of the business, so as to be able to discover the merits of the workmen; thus by bringing the arts into credit, the natives are encouraged to give application, and they speedily gain a complete knowledge of their profession.”
The Emperor Akbar took a personal delight in painting; he is reported to have said that—
“There are many that hate painting, but such men I dislike. It appears to me as if a painter had quite peculiar means of recognizing God, for in sketching anything that has life, and devising its limbs one after the other, he must feel that he cannot bestow a soul upon his work, and is forced to think of God, the only giver of life, and will thus increase his knowledge.”
No wonder that the crafts flourished under such conditions; and it is very certain that Musalman puritanism did not, as a matter of fact, injure Indian art in the way that the contact with Western civilization has injured it. Just as in England the churches have suffered more from churchwardens than from puritans, so Indian art has suffered more from philistines—of the Macaulay type—than from iconoclasts.
The thing which perhaps most interests us from the craftsman’s point of view is the security and hereditary character of his position. Sir John Chardin tells us of the Persian kings in the seventeenth century that they
“entertain a large number of excellent master-workmen, who have a salary and daily rations for all their lives, and are provided with all the materials for their work. They receive a present and an increase of salary for every fine work they produce.”
Sir George Birdwood says :
“In the East the princes and great nobles and wealthy gentry, who are the chief patrons of these grand fabrics, collect together in their own houses and palaces all who gain reputation for special skill in their manufacture. These men receive a fixed salary and daily rations, and are so little hurried in their work that they have plenty of time to execute private orders also. Their salaries are continued even when through age or accident they are past work; and on their death they pass to their sons, should they have become skilled in their father’s art. Upon the completion of any extraordinary work it is submitted to the patron, and some honour is at once conferred on the artist, and his salary increased. It is under such conditions that the best art work of the East has always been produced.”
There is, for example, in the India Museum an engraved jade bowl, on which a family in the employ of the Emperors of Delhi was engaged for three generations. In these days when churches are built by contract and finished to the day or week, it is difficult to realise the leisurely methods of the older craftsmen. Do not mistake leisure for laziness; they are totally and entirely different things. The quality of leisure in old work is one of its greatest charms, and is almost essential in a work of art. Haste and haggling have now almost destroyed the possibility of art, and until they are again eliminated from the craftsman’s work it will not be possible to have again such work as he once gave to his fellows. In other words, society must either decide to do without art, as it mostly does decide at the present day, or else it must make up its mind to pay for art and endow its craftsmen. You cannot both have art and exploit it.
The royal appreciation of art and craft in the East at various times is further illustrated by the existence of kings who themselves practised a craft. I have collected two or three of these instances, but have no doubt that many more could be found by searching the pages of Indian history.
In the Kusa Jātaka, it is recorded that Prince Kusa, not wishing to marry, conceived the idea of having a beautiful golden image made, and of promising to marry when a woman of equal beauty should be found. He summoned the chief smith, and giving him a quantity of gold, told him to go and make the image of a woman. In the meanwhile he himself took more gold, and fashioned it into the image of a beautiful woman, and this image he had robed in linen and set in the royal chamber. When the goldsmith brought his image, the prince found fault with it, and sent him to fetch the image placed in the royal chamber. At first mistaking this image for a daughter of the gods, he feared to touch it; but being sent to fetch it a second time, he brought it; it was placed in a car and sent to the Queen Mother with the message, “When I find a woman like this, I will take her to wife.”
This story is no doubt legendary, but shows at least that at the time of its composition the practise of a craft was not considered derogatory to the honour of a prince. A more historical mention of a royal craftsman is the reference to King Jetthatissa of Ceylon, in the Mahavamsa. “He was,” says this chronicle, “a skilful carver. This monarch, having carried out several arduous undertakings in painting and carving, himself taught the art to many of his subjects. He sculptured a beautiful image of the Bodhisatta so perfect that it seemed as if it had been wrought by supernatural power; and also a throne, a parasol and a state room with beautiful work in ivory made for it.”
For other instances of royal craftsmanship, we may turn to the Arabian literature. Sir Richard Burton, speaking of the conversation between the fisherman and the Caliph in the tale of Nur-al-din Ali and the Damsel al-Jalis, says :
“Most characteristic is this familiarity between the greatest man then in the world and his pauper subject. The fisherman alludes to a practice of Al-Islam, instituted by Caliph Omar, that all rulers should work at some handicraft in order to spare the public treasure. Hence Sultan Mu’Ayyad of Cairo was a calligrapher who sold his handwriting, and his example was followed by the Turkish Sultans Mahmud, Abd-al-Majid and Abd-al-Aziz.”3
Another royal craftsman is spoken of in “The Three Princes of China”4; the Shaykh’s independent point of view is especially noteworthy. The tale is not, of course, historical, but reflects an idea which evidently appeared quite reasonable to the audience.
A certain Sultan fell in love with a Badaw girl who was standing with the Shaykh her father considering his retinue. After returning to his palace, the Sultan sent for her father, and asked the girl in marriage. The Shaykh, however, answered: “O, our Lord the Sultan, I will not give up my daughter save to one who hath a handicraft of his own, for verily trade is a defence against poverty, and folk say:— Handicraft an it enrich not still it veileth (poverty).” The Sultan remonstrated: “O, man, I am Sovran and Sultan, and with me is abundant good “; but the Shaykh replied, “O, king of the age, in king-craft there is no trust.” Whereat the Sultan “presently summoned the Shaykh of the mat-makers and learnt from him the craft of plaiting, and he wove these articles of various colours, both plain and striped.”
So much for princely craftsmen in the East.
One extract from the Sinhalese chronicles will show how real could be the royal appreciation of the arts and crafts; it is a message from Vijaya Bāhu to his father, Parākrama Bāhu II., who reigned in the thirteenth century. It relates to the re- building of a city that had been laid waste by foreign enemies, and subsequently abandoned altogether. “There are now,” runs the message, “in the city of Pulatthi, palaces, image-houses, viharas, parivenas, cetiyas, relic-houses, ramparts, towers, bird-shaped houses, mansions, open halls, preaching halls, temples of the gods, and the like buildings, whereof some are yet standing, although the trees of the forest have grown over and covered them. Others thereof are fast falling, because that the pillars thereof are rotten and cannot support them. Others, alas! are bent down with the weight of huge walls split from top to bottom, and are tumbling down because that there is nothing to bear them up. Sad, indeed, is it also to see others, unable to stand by reason of decay and weakness, bending down to their fall day by day, like unto old men. Some there are with broken ridge poles and damaged beam ends, and some with roofs fallen down and the tiles thereof broken. In some the tiles have slipped through the breaches of the decayed roof, and in others only the walls and pillars remain. Some there are with fallen doors, and doorposts that have been displaced, and others with loose staircases and ruined galleries. Of some buildings there only remain the signs of their foundations, and in others even the sites cannot be distinguished. What need is there of further description? This city, which is now so ugly and displeasing to the eye, we purpose to make beautiful and pleasant. Let the king grant us leave thereto, and let the feast of coronation be held in the great city afterwards.” And so, as the chronicle tells us, he did indeed; for “he gathered together smelters, turners, basket makers, blacksmiths, potters, gold- smiths, painters, porters, labourers, slaves, out- castes, skilful bricklayers, masons, carpenters, and divers workers in stone. And, further he assembled all sorts of blacksmiths’ tools, such as bellows, sledge-hammers, pincers, and anvils; and also numerous sharp saws, adzes, axes, wood-cleavers, stone-cutters’ chisels, knives, hammers, spades, mats, baskets, and the like; all these ... did he send unto his royal son.”5
Let us examine in slightly greater detail the organisation of the king’s craftsmen, that is the State craftsmen, in Ceylon, as it existed up to the day on which the British Governor replaced the Kandyan king. It must be first understood that the organisation of society was altogether feudal. The possession of land was the foundation of the king’s right to the services and contributions of the people, and vice versa. For all land held, service was due from the tenant to the king, that is to the State. The lands and services were inseparably associated, and as a rule descended from father to son in the same family, and this remained the same even when the services were bestowed by the king on individuals or given to religious foundations. There was thus no free trade in land; and every man had his place in the society, and his work. Landholders were classed in accordance with the services due from them. The vast majority were cultivators, whose duty it was to keep the State granaries well supplied; others were the soldiers, the musicians, the washer- men, the servants, the potters, and weavers, and the craftsmen proper, viz.: the carpenters, goldsmiths, masons, ivory carvers, armourers, founders and painters, altogether perhaps a tenth of the population. All of these owned service to the king in respect of the lands they held. The lands descended in the family from generation to generation, and were cultivated by the owners. Everyone was thus directly dependent on the land for his living. The craftsmen, however, were not serfs, nor adscriptus glebæ, as a tenant had always the right to refuse service and surrender his land. This, however, only happened in rare instances, as during the last king’s reign, when too arduous services were sometimes required. Of temple tenants, Knox remarked that their duties in this life were so easy, that they might expect to suffer for it in the next! But hereditary social status and landholding went very much together, and to surrender the family service land would have been the last thing desired by a Kandyan craftsman. If, by chance, the succession failed, this would be remedied by adoption of a pupil and heir of the same caste.
The State Craftsmen fell into two groups, those of the “Four Workshops “(Pattal Hatara), who worked always at the palace, and those of the separate districts, who had to do certain shares of work at the palace, but were more often at home, where they had to work for the local officials; and those of the artificers’ department (Kottal-badde). The best of the higher craftsmen, those of the “Four Workshops,” formed a close, largely hereditary corporation, and the position was highly valued. From their number were chosen the foremen of the District Craftsmen (Kottal-badde). The four shops were known as the “Regalia,” the “Crown,” the “Golden Sword,” and the “Lion Throne” workshops respectively; but the craftsmen seem to have passed from one to another according to the work required of them. These families were of considerable standing, often possessing very valuable landed property settled upon them by the king on the occasion of their first arrival from India, if, as was often the case, they were of Indian origin, or granted as a reward for subsequent services. The very name galladda (gam-ladda), by which the superior crafts- men are often designated, means one who possesses or holds a village. There are some families of craftsmen whose history can be traced from at least the fourteenth century by means of the original and subsequent grants which they received from the Sinhalese kings. I give an example of one of these grants, dated 1665 A.D.:
“During the reign of His Majesty the mighty Emperor Rāja Simha, ... as Marukona Ratna cbharana Vedakārayā reported himself at the palace, orders were given to make certain pieces of jewellery required for the royal dress; and when he had made and submitted these pieces of jewellery to the great king, he stated that he needed the Mottuvela Nila-panguve Badavedilla in Pallesiya Pattuva of Asgiri Kōrale, in the Disāvanaya of Matale for his maintenance ... and His Majesty ... did ... in the year of Saka, 1587, absolutely grant the high and low lands in Mottuvela Badavedilla ... to Marukona Ratna Ābharana certain , to be possessed without any disturbance or hindrance during the existence of the Sun, the Moon, Kandy and the Mahāveli river.”
As another instance of a special grant may be cited the following charter held by a Kandyan craftsman:
“When the king of kings, Srī Sanghabō Senasammata Vikrama Bāhu, was reigning in Senkadagala (Kandy), he ordered on a full moon day of the twentieth year of his reign, two sheets of cloth, twenty cubits by nine cubits, to be woven, and caused Ācharilla Dityaya and his son Sivanta Dityaya to paint thereon the likeness of Buddha seated on a Vajrāsana and surrounded by Sakra, Brahma, and other Devas. On the completion of painting the two sheets, he ordered the ceremony of placing pots full of water, and of other rites; and on the completion of the Nētra Pinkama, his hands having been washed [ceremonial purification after painting the eyes of the image, performed by the king himself, as here, or by a craftsman in royal costume], he was graciously pleased to bestow on the two artists, with the object of satisfying them and to enable them to make offerings to Buddha, fields to the extent of four amunu, together with the high land and trees thereon, as well as the houses and all other things pertaining thereto ... to be held absolutely from generation to generation.
“Now know all ye that are concerned, that the said properties having been bestowed under royal assent to be enjoyed by these artists, their sons, grandsons, and their subsequent generations: if any king, sub-king, courtier, minister, or whatsoever person were to dispute the right to this badavedilla [land given to a craftsman for his subsidence], such person or persons shall be born in the eight hills successively. . . .But, on the other hand, if any person shall confirm and uphold the said gift, he shall after death be born successively in the six heavens ... and after the termination of the enjoyments of the bliss of these heavens, shall be born in the kingdom of Ketumati, where he shall see Maitri Buddha, by whom the law shall be preached to him, whose holy priesthood he shall enter into, arahatship, and subsequently Nirvāna.
“In this tenor the royal decree was issued, and by command this copperplate Sannas was inscribed by me, Sanhassivanta Nainarumbha. By the merit acquired inscribing this, may I be born in the age of Maitri Buddha.”
Besides such grants of land, the king used to reward individual craftsmen with gifts of cloth, money, etc., and by the bestowal of honours and titles.
The District Craftsmen (Kottal-badde—lit. Artificers’ Department—one of the Fourteen Departments of Public Works under the Kandyan kings) differed from those of the Four Workshops in not being liable to permanent service at the court. Some of them served in relays for periods of two months at a time, others worked only for the governors of districts, and not directly for the court. In certain of the districts the Governor (Disava) himself held the office of Kottal-badde Nilame, or Overseer of Craftsmen, and in this case he usually appointed from their number a Kottal-badde Vidāne, or officer acting as his lieutenant. In other districts, two Overseers of Craftsmen were appointed by the king. It is interesting that on one occasion, in the seventeenth century, a Dutchman was appointed Overseer of Craftsmen. He entered the king’s service for the love of a Sinhalese woman, and was made “Courtalbad,” “which is chief over all the smiths and carpenters in Cande Uda.”6
The Kottal-badde craftsmen in one district consisted of the following:
I. Seven vaduvo who did carpenters’ work for the king or governor; they were usually employed at the royal timber yard.
Five liyana vaduvo, or turners.
Five sittaru, or painters.
Fourteen i-vaduvo, or arrow-makers, who made bows, arrows, spears, staves, etc., and gauded them with lac; of these men, two worked in the royal armoury.
Fourteen atapattu karayo, who furnished or executed fine work, and were principally employed in ornamenting and inlaying locks, guns, knives, etc., with gold, silver, or brass; two of them worked in the royal armoury.
Four badallu, or silversmiths, workers in gold, silver, brass, or copper; two of them worked in the royal armoury.
One gal-vaduva, or mason.
Twenty mul-acari, or blacksmiths, a certain number of whom, varying according to the exigency of the service, attended constantly in Kandy, and erecting workshops near the Disāva’s house, executed all kinds of common ironwork, for which the metal was furnished them.
Eight blacksmiths without regular service lands such as the foregoing held. These blacksmiths had to appear before the Disava at New Year with a knife and scissors each, and were liable to be called on for work in any time of emergency.
Ten Disāva acari, who worked for the Disāva only.
Twenty-two potters, in two divisions, under the orders of officers of the same caste appointed by the Disāva. The two divisions undertook turns of duty of one month each in rotation with the potters of other districts, the turns recurring once in ten months. When at home in their own district, they had only to furnish earthenware for the Disāva, for the rest-houses, and for the king or ambassadors if they came to the district.
The following may serve as actual examples of individual craftsmen’s tenure:
A goldsmith holding half an acre and owing service to the Gadaladeniya Dēvāle (temple) in Ceylon, had to supply a silver ring for the “festival tree,” and repair the golden insignia for use at the perahera (annual festival and procession); put up and decorate booths on the same occasion; supply a measure of oil for the Kārti festival; and give annually to the two lay officers of the temple, two silver rings each. These services were commutable for Rs. 7.35 (nearly 10s.).
A blacksmith held land of the same extent, his services (commutable for Rs. 5.85) were to give iron utensils for the temple kitchen; work as a black- smith; clean the palanquin and cressets for the perahera; nail laths; annually present a pair of scissors and an arecanut-slicer; clean the temple yard, and put up and decorate a booth; give a measure of oil for the Kārti festival; and at each of the four annual festivals to present the lay officers with an arecanut-slicer each.
It must be understood that materials (such as iron, charcoal, etc., for the smith, gold for the goldsmith, pigments for the painter), and food (and lodging) were in all such cases provided by the proprietor for the tenant when working away from home, whether at court, at the manor house, or at the temple.
The following is an example of a potter’s tenure:
A tenant of the Talgahagoda Vihāra (Buddhist temple) held 4¼ acres of land. His services (commutable for Rs. 10.35) were “to give at New Year one piece of pottery; for the ceremony of sprinkling milk, two pots; one yoke load of pottery on the 15th of the month of Bat; 63 Kārti lamps on the 15th of the month of Il; four pots and four dishes on the 15th of Durutta for the New Rice (Harvest Home) festival; 50 dishes once a year for the monastery; two vases and two jugs to each of the two vihāras; and to tile the two vihāras (when necessary).
For the most part, of course, there was no wage payment of the state craftsmen, for they were otherwise provided for under the admirable land system I have referred to; but in the case of the many religious buildings undertaken by the Sinhalese kings, it was otherwise, as the king in these cases always desired to remunerate the craftsmen himself directly, in order that the meri- torious work might be his very own, and not anybody else’s. Thus also we read of the builder King Duttha Gāmanī, in the second century B.C., that when setting about the building of a great monastery called the Brazen Palace, that
“The generous Rāja, at the very beginning of the undertaking, laid down eight hundred thousand pieces of money at each of the four gates, and announced that on this occasion it was unfitting to exact unpaid labour; setting, therefore, a value on the work performed, he paid in money.”
Nearly all the later kings were builders, too, and it was in the building of Buddhist temples that the State craftsmen were chiefly occupied when the requirements of the court and the armoury had been met. And on all these occasions the craftsmen were liberally and specially rewarded. I wish I could give some adequate idea of the passion for religious building which possessed the Sinhalese kings, and of the way in which this stimulated the production of works of art and craft. Perhaps I shall best do this by quoting from a typical temple charter. At Degaldoruva, in the eighteenth century, the king’s younger brother had a cave temple enlarged, and he “caused stone walls to be put up and doors and windows to be set with keys and bars, and an image of Buddha of twelve cubits in length to be made in a reclining posture, and six other images in a sitting posture to be placed at the head and feet of the image, and also caused twenty-four Buddha’s images to be depicted on the ceiling and on the walls within and without, and other workmanship and paintings to be made thereon and upon the stone pillars, the roof of the front court to be put up with beams and rafters, and covered with tiles, and on the cross walls thereof a representation of hell and heaven. ... and having furnished the temple with curtains, ceiling cloths, umbrellas, flags, drums, oboes, etc. ... His Majesty … ordered the ceremony of painting the eyes to be performed, and His Majesty also furnished all the necessaries thereto, and having granted much riches in clothes, money and other things to the artificers, the painters and the stone-cutters, His Majesty received merit and was filled with ecstacy.”
One other extract is quoted from a sannasa or charter [Gangārāma Vihāra, Kandy]:
“Kirti Srī Rāja Simha ... caused a Vihāra to be made containing stone walls of thirteen cubits in length, seven in breadth, and eleven in height, surrounded by stone pillars, and above a roof with rafters covered with tiles. Within the walls a stone image of nine cubits in height was made, its robes beautified with painting of vermilion, its different members covered with leaves of gold, painted about with the five colours, and completed after the enshrinement of bodily relics. ... In the year of Saka, 1674 (A.D. 1752), of the month Poson, and on Monday, the eighth day of the increase of the moon, under the constellation Hata, eyes were affixed to the image, accompanied with great solemnity, rejoicings and excessive offerings, and the craftsmen were satisfied by appropriate gifts.”7
The king, the nobles and the people, especially the craftsmen, were brought into intimate and even affectionate association on these occasions.
But not all of the craftsmen in Ceylon were servants of the king or the state directly. Every religious foundation of importance had its own lands, occupied by husbandmen and craftsmen, who owed service to the temple, just as the tenants of a royal manor owed service to the king. Let us examine a few instances of such tenancies. One of the goldsmith-tenants of the Daladā Māligāva, the great Buddhist temple in Kandy, for example, held three acres of land. For this his services, light enough, were to go to the temple and polish the gold and silver vessels and implements of the temple during six days in the year, and to give a nut-slicer and two silver rings to the lay-chief of the temple every New Year. When on duty at the temple, the tenant received his meal three times a day. The blacksmith tenant of another temple held half an acre, and owed somewhat harder service; he was to give iron utensils for the kitchen, work as a blacksmith, clean the palanquins and lamps, nail laths, give a pair of scissors and a nut-slicer, clean the court-yard and put up booths for the annual festival, and give a measure of lamp oil for another annual celebration, and at each festival to present to the lay officials of the temple a nut-slicer each. So much, indeed, were the crafts bound up with the temples, so much occupied were the craftsmen, whether royal crafts- men or temple tenants, in either building, restoring or supplying the requirements of temples, that the art was really as distinctively religious as the Gothic art of the middle ages, and in the same way too, it was an art for, and understood by, the whole people.
Similar conditions probably prevailed from the earliest times. An interesting record of temple craftsmen is given in the tenth century inscription of Mahinda IV., at Mihintale, in Ceylon. The inscription describes the administration and organisation of a well-endowed8 Buddhist monastery. The section treating of craftsmen runs as follows: “(There shall be granted) to the chief master-artisan all that belongs to the guild of artisans at Bond-vehera; to two master-artisans, to eight carvers, and to two bricklayers—to (all of) these, the village Vadu-devagama. To each of the two workers in wood (shall be assigned) one kiriya (of land); to each of the two master-lapidaries [or goldsmiths?], three kiriya (of land); to each of the two blacksmiths, one kiriya (of land); to the lime- burners, the village Sunubol-devagama; to the six cartmen, the village Dunumugama.” Also, “to a painter, two kiriya (of land)“; “to each of the five potters who supply daily five earthen pots, one kiriya (of land).”9
Again, in the Jētavanārāma Sanskrit inscription (first half of ninth century), relative to the administration of another Buddhist monastery, we read: “[There shall be] clever stone-cutters and skilful carpenters in the village devoted to the work of [temple] renewal. They all ... shall be experts in their [respective] work. To each of them shall be given of one and a half kiri [in sowing extent] for their maintenance ... an enclosed piece of ground. And one hena [or a plot of dry land] shall be granted to each of them for the purpose of sowing fine grain. Means of subsistence of the [same] extent [as is] given to one of these shall be granted to the officer who superintends work. Moreover, when thus conferring maintenance on the latter person, his work and so forth shall [just] be ascertained, and the name of him [thus] settled [with a livelihood], as well as his respective duties, shall be recorded in the register. Those of the five castes who work within the precincts of the monastery shall receive [their] work after it has been apportioned, and they alone shall be answerable for its excellence [lit. purity]. The limit [of time] for the completion of [a piece of] work [thus apportioned] is two months and five days. Blame [shall be attributed] to the superintendents, the vārikas, and the labourers who do not perform it according to arrangement. Those who do not avoid blame ... shall be deprived of their share [of land].”
The craftsmen were provided with all materials, and probably fed while at work at the monastery, but received no wages in money; their means of subsistence being the portion of land allotted to each, and cultivated by other members of the family, and, probably, as at the present day, by themselves also in times of ploughing, sowing and harvest. The same conditions prevailed in mediaeval England in this respect.10 This relation between craft and agriculture is very important in view of the character of the modern social problems of the Western craftsman, alluded to in Mr. Ashbee’s foreword.
Some inscriptions of Rāja Rāja (A.D. 985-1018) at the great Tanjore (Tañjavūr) temple in Southern India, give interesting details of craftsmen attached to the temple, recalling the records of the establishment at Mihintale above referred to. One inscription refers to the produce of land assigned to temple servants before the 29th year of the king’s reign. Besides the lands assigned to a large number of devadasis (400), there were:
“For one man belonging to the potters (kusavar) of the sacred kitchen, one share (of land), and for ten (other) men half a share each; altogether, to the potters of the high street of Surasikhāmani, six shares.”
“To the jewel-stitcher ... one and a half share.”
“For one brazier (kannan), one share.”
“For one master carpenter (taccacarya), one and a half share, and for two (other) men, one and a half share; altogether ... three shares.”
“For a person who performs the duty of superintending goldsmiths (kankani tattan), by selecting one man and letting him do the work, to ... the superintending goldsmith of the minor treasures of the Lord Srī-Rāja(Rājad)eva, one share.”11
(Also for two other carpenters, three-quarters of a share each; and for four tailors, one and a half share each, and for two other tailors, one share each).
But besides the royal and religious manors, and their tenants, craftsmen included, there were also manors in the possession of chieftains and officials, held by them either for life or office, or for ever; granted in the first instance for public service in peace or war. So it came about that just as there were craftsmen working always for the king at court, or bringing in to court the work done for the king at home, so at the local chieftain’s manor-house were to be seen craftsmen working for him patiently and contentedly, receiving only their meals, while their families cultivated the lands for which service was due to the chief; and amongst the tenants of the chief’s demesne, these craftsmen were by no means the least important or the least honoured.
I give one instance of such a tenant’s holding and services. At Pāldeniya, in Ceylon, a tenant held land of something over an acre in extent; for this he “had to pay eightpence annually as a fee; to appear twice a year and give a piece of silversmith’s work worth 3s. 4d.; to work at the manor-house thirty days a year, being supplied with food and charcoal; to accompany the Lord of the Manor on important occasions twice a year.
The craftsmen in Ceylon were to a great extent associated in villages; that is to say, a whole village or manor would be sometimes entirely a village of craftsmen. In this we trace a survival of old conditions. In the Sūci Jātaka, for example, we get a picture of just such a village of craftsmen:
“The Bodhisatta was born in the kingdom of Kāsi, in a smith’s family, and when he grew up became skilled in the craft. His parents were poor. Not far from their village was another smith’s village of a thousand houses. The principal smith of the thousand was a favourite of the king, rich, and of great substance. ... People came from the villages round to have razors, axes, ploughshares and goads made.”12
In another Jātaka, the Alīnacitta Jātaka, we read that there was
“once upon a time a village of carpenters not far from the city, in which five hundred carpenters lived. They would go up the river in a vessel, and enter the forest, where they would shape beams and planks for house-building, and put together the framework of one-storey and two-storey houses, numbering all the pieces from the mainpost onwards; these then they brought down to the river bank, and put them all aboard; then rowing down stream again, they would build houses to order as it was required of them; after which, when they received their wage, they went back again for more materials for the building, and in this way they made their livelihood.”13
The Pali Jātakas supply us with a considerable amount of information regarding the position of craftsmen in early Buddhist times. The most striking features of the social organisation of the craftsmen at this time are: the association of craftsmen in villages, the hereditary character of the craft, and the importance of the Elder, or master-craftsman. These conditions, like so many other early Buddhist social features, have persisted in mediæval and even until modern times in Ceylon, where we find, for example, smiths’ villages and potters’ villages, where all or nearly all the in- habitants belong to one occupational caste. At the same time, it is important to distinguish the social significance of the craftsmen thus associated in villages, and that of the “village craftsman”proper, who is the sole representative of his calling, and is the endowed servant of an agricultural community. In the one case, the purchaser has to seek the maker of wares in his own home; in the other, the craftsman is himself permanently established amongst his patrons. In late mediæval Ceylon the two conditions existed side by side.
Besides the craftsmen thus organised in extra-urban communities of their own, we have, on the one hand, craftsmen and merchants (principally the latter) living in the city, in their own streets and quarters; and, on the other, craftsmen of no particular caste, or considered as belonging to despised castes. Thus, wheelwrights and carriage builders belonged to the inferior or lesser castes with which they are classified in the Suttavibhanga, together with the Candala, Nesada, and Pukkusa castes (lesser castes, hinajati), while the basket makers, potters, weavers, leather-workers and barbers are said to be of the lesser trades (hina sippa). The distinction in thought between caste and trade became much less clear in later times; in early Buddhist times caste was less defined and crystalised than it afterwards became, and there was no division of Sūdras so-called.
All workers in wood were comparatively low in social rank, the joiner, however, naturally much less so than the workers in cane, as is the case also at the present day in Ceylon. It should be observed that it was not handicraft itself that gave a low social rank to certain groups of craftsmen, but rather the fact that these groups consisted essentially of aboriginal non-Aryan races practising crafts that were known to them before the arrival of the Aryans (weaving, pottery, basket-making).
It would be a very great mistake, however, to suppose that the social status of the artist or craftsman was invariably low. This certainly cannot have been the case in the finest period of Indian art, when the national culture found expression at least as completely in art as in literature or music. As we have seen, the kammalar in Southern India claim a social status equal or superior to that of Brāhmans; and in Ceylon the position of the superior craftsmen, often the grantees of whole villages, and served by tenants and villages of their own, was, though technically, and as regards the essential point of intermarriage inferior, in other ways considerably superior to that of the European craftsman at the present day. The skilful and noted craftsman was a person to be approached with gifts, and treated with respect on account of his skill and learning.
Just the same thing is indicated in that interesting episode related in the Katha-kosa, where a prince named Amaradatta is described as falling in love with a beautiful statue, and weeping and complaining to his friend Mitrānanda. “At this moment a native of the place, a merchant, Ratnasāgara by name, came into that temple. The merchant asked, Why are you two distracted by grief?’ Mitrānanda told the merchant, though with difficulty, the case of Amaradatta. The merchant said to himself: ‘Oh, the might of Cupid triumphs! There is in his mind a passion even for a stone image. Then Mitrānanda said to the merchant: ‘My lord, who had this temple made? Who was the workman employed on it? Who had so much artistic skill? Did he make this statue by his own artistic invention only, or did he carve it to represent some person? The merchant said: ‘I had this temple made. It was made by an architect residing in the city of Sopāra, named Sūradeva.’ Mitrananda said: ‘I will go to that city.’ Then Amaradatta said: ‘ Without you I cannot support my life.’ Then Mitrananda crossed the sea, and went to the city of Sopāra. There he put on a splendid garment, and, taking a present in his hand, went to the architect’s house. The architect showed him great regard, and asked him the cause of his coming. Mitrānanda said: ‘I wish to have a temple built in honour of a god, therefore I have come to you. So show me a model of a temple.’ The architect said: ‘I made the temple in the garden outside Patāliputra; this is the model of it.’ Mitrānanda said: ‘Was the marble statue in that temple devised out of your own head, or is it the likeness of any lady? ‘ The architect said: ‘The statue is copied from Ratnamarijarī, the daughter of King Mātrasena in Ujjayinī, and is not the product of my own artistic invention.’ When Mitrānanda heard this, he said: ‘I will come to you again in an auspicious moment’ and thereupon he journeyed to Ujjayinī.”14
The rest of the story, relating the manner in which Mitrānanda won the fair lady for his friend, does not concern us here; suffice it to say, that in the end “Amaradatta made Mitrānanda head of his cabinet, Ratnamarijarīwas the jewel of his harem, and the merchant Ratnasāgara was appointed royal merchant.”
As regards the organisation of craftsmen in villages, conditions were not, of course, identical in mediæval Ceylon, but they were, and to a large extent still are, similar in many ways. In 1872, out of 117 villages in the district of Nuvara Kalāviya, four were smiths’ villages, and five potters’ villages occupied by persons of those castes exclusively; the extent of these amounted to 80½ acres in a total of 790 acres.15
In the Kandyan provinces, there existed a larger number of such villages, and also villages wholly or partly occupied by goldsmiths and other superior craftsmen. There were also whole villages granted to craftsmen and their descendants for ever, as bada-vedilla, or means of subsistence. The word galladda, a designation of craftsmen of the superior division, actually means “one who possesses a village”—a point of much significance in a study of the economic status of the Indian craftsman.
In Southern India the skilled craftsmen, exclusive, that is, of potters and weavers, are known as the kammalar. The following account of these craftsmen is partly based on a paper by Dr. Pulney Andy in No. 50, “Journal of Indian Art and Industry.”
The kammalar are descendants of Aryans who entered India across the Panjab in early times, when they were known as Visva or Deva Brāhmans or Deva Kammālar. They spread gradually towards the south, and thence reached Ceylon, Burma, Siam and Java. The kammalar claim to have been at one time spiritual guides and priests to the whole people, of which position a trace survives in the saying, “The kammālan is guru to the world.” They still have their own priests, and do not rely on Brāhmans; they also perform priestly rites in connection with the consecration of images. They both claim and possess various special privileges, which they have always upheld with much vigour; in some cases they claim a rank equal to that of Brāhmans. They are, or were, learned in the silpa sastra, or technical works on art in Sanskrit; the priests especially studied these books. But most they were only, in later times at least, known in word for word glosses in the vernacular. The kammalar trace their ancestry to the five sons of Visvakarma, of whom the first-born, Manu, worked in iron; the second, Maya, in wood; the third, Tvastram, in brass, copper, and alloys; the fourth, Silpi, in stone; and the fifth, Visvajna, was a gold and silver smith and jeweller. In former times the kammalar had their own guilds which protected their interests; but as these institutions gradually declined, they have been driven to seek the aid of capitalists of other castes, and now they are in a majority of instances reduced to mere paid workmen, earning daily wages. The five occupational sects form one compact community, and are not mutually exclusive; the son of any one may follow any of the five crafts at will. Probably many individuals practised more than one craft, as is still the case in Ceylon,16 amongst the navandanno, who correspond in position to the kammalar, and in many instances are the descendants of kammalar immigrants. The group of castes corresponding to the kammalar in Mysore is called Panchvala.
- 1. In “Lugh of the Long Hand” version in Lady Gregory’s “Gods and Fighting Men,” 1904, p. 17.
- 2. Vincent Smith, “Early History of India” p. 120.
- 3. “Arabian Nights,” Vol. II.
- 4. Burton, Supplemental Nights, V. 222.
- 5. Mahavamsa, Ch. LXXXVIIL
- 6. Robert Knox, “An Historical Relation of the Island Ceilon,” 1682, p. 181.
- 7. A. C. Lawrie, “Gazetteer of the Central Province” p. 817 (with verbal alterations).
- 8. Mahāvamsa, Ch. L.: “And he [Sena I., 1389- 1409 A.D.] built, as it were by a miracle, a great Vihāra at Arittha-pabbala, and endowed it with great possessions, and dedicated it to the Pansakulika brethren. And he gave to it also royal privileges and honours, and a great number of keepers for the garden, and servants and artificers.”
- 9. Wickremasinghe, “Epigraphia Zeylanica” Vol I. p.p 111, 112.
- 10. See Thorold Roger’s “Six Centuries of Work and Wages” pp. 46, 179, 180. To draw any detailed comparison with the social conditions in mediaeval Europe would, however interesting, have been beyond the scope of the present volume.
- 11. Hultzsch, “South Indian Inscriptions” Vol. II., part III., p. 259.
- 12. “The Jātaka:” Ed. E. B. Cowell, 1895-1908, No. 387.
- 13. Loc. cit., No. 156. For potters, see the Kumbhakara Jātaka.
- 14. Katha-kosa, translated by C. H. Tawney, p. 150.
- 15. Service Tenures Commission Report, Colombo, 1872, p. 487.
- 16. So also in North Jaipur, carpenters worked not only in wood, but in stone, or metal, including gold, as might be required of them. Col. Hendley, Indian Jewellery, p. 153.