A great art gathers together an entire culture in the affirmative celebration of its foundational truth. It is precisely why the ‘self’ can engage with Indian art for liberating itself not only from the overly restrictive conception of what we call a modern living but also the disastrous politics of the period. This is what has kept Indian art young, vibrant and relevant.
The present work Legacy of Indian Art: Continuity in Change, containing twenty seven well researched papers by celebrated scholars, all experts in the discipline, is the outcome of in-depth deliberations during the international seminar on the subject organized by the Department of Ancient Indian History, Culture and Archaeology, Panjab University, Chandigarh. It brings to offer as to how Indian art has succeeded in reconciling he ancient and the modern, how it has become a touchstone or the rediscovery of continuity and change in traditions, styles notions of the self, symbolis, construction of meaning and philosophical traditions. Together these elements would help to create a story of a civilization in which we can recognize the enduring quests and questions of humankind.
Professor Ashvini Agrawal, Professor of Ancient Indian History, Culture and Archaeology and former Dean, Faculty of Arts, Panjab University, Chandigarh is a well known Indologist. He has distinguished himself as a meticulous researcher in various branches of the discipline. He has to his credit more than one hundred research papers and book reviews published in reputed journals in India and abroad. Besides his magnum opus, The Rise and Fall of the Imperial Guptas, he has authored/ edited several other books on various aspects of Indological studies such as In Search of Vedic-Harappan Relationship, Workig Women in Ancient India, Buddhist Art and Thought, Sarupa Saurabham, Ratna Chandrika, etc. He is the funder Editor of the Research Bulletin of the VVRI. A life member of several academic bodies, besides being on the executive boards of some of them, he has participated in and chaired numerous seminars and conferences. He has been invited to deliver in India and abroad and is a recipient of many fellowships and awards.
The panorama of Indian art is wide, complex, meaningful and fascinating; a rich variability, a product of diverse historical and cultural contexts, internal and external influences. Often these icons of culture are sitting still and silent amidst us, seemingly frozen in an alien frame, yet these seem to be bursting forth with meaning, vibrancy and life never limiting itself to the ‘formal’ but crossing the borders into ideology and philosophy. A great at gathers together an entire culture in the affirmative celebration of its foundational truth. It is precisely why the ‘self’ can engage with Indian art for liberating itself not only from the overly restrictive conception of what we call a modern living but also the disasturous politics of the period. This is what has kept the Indian art young, vibrant and relevant.
The cultivation of intellectual and moral faculties that led to excellence of taste in a highly developed aesthetic society in the subcontinent since the pre-historic times till today has resulted in a rich repository of art in every conceivable form that has become an integral part of our equally rich heritage. For Indians, creating, being and expressing are the same thing for these are deeply embedded in our soul. Everything is a part of the Self as on searches for God in atman and latter is the nucleus of the samsara. One is not possible without the other. Both being inseparably related have led to the creation of such material things that surround us as reflection of ourselves. They are the part of our samskaras and we see everything as related to self in a selfless manner dedicated to a supreme unseen ower that controls the whole universe. Our temple is a living being, its architectural limbs being from feet to head or sirsa, which enshrines the God leading to the simple belief of one material that is consciously given a shape by the artist merely to decorate some place. It contains the feelings of the creator and is incomplete till pranapratistha is performed as per scriptures. Since that moment it is as good as any living being. It is this feeling, this idea that makes all forms of Indian art an integral part of our cultural heritage. In sculpture and painting, architecture and designing, dance and drama, music and poetry and in all other crafts known to man, the same feeling persistently prevails throughout the span of time and space of our existence. That makes it eternal.
It may be questioned as to what makes the Indian art so special when several other civilizations are known to have had an equally rich, if not richer, art heritage. The example of some of the old civilizations like that of Egypt or China, Greece or Rome can be forcefully cited. A sceptic mind may go a step further to call the Indian art more archaic as has already been done by some in the past. The awe inspiring pyramids of Egypt with all their paraphernalia, the colossal buildings and beautiful images of ancient Greece and Rome, the weaving and painting of China may be as great or even greater part of human heritage as any other including that of India. It is, however, an unperturbed mind of an unattached person like that of an anchorite and beyond the lure of the worldly pleasures. Beyond the greed and fear, like Dandmis of the Classical writers, whom Alexander and his generals tried best to deviate from the path classical writes, whom Alexander and his generals tried best to deviate from the path of truth by lure or fear for seeking atman can see the spirit of Indian art and culture. For such a person alone knows that the Indian art inseparable from its culture is an expression of the self and natural as it does not contain artificiality, that Indian art is not stagnant as it is always changing with space and time, yet it is continuously same and alive.
This cannot be said of art and culture elsewhere in the world. The pyramids of Egypt are as far removed from its present day art as the mummies contained in them from the present day people of that country. There monuments are no doubt a part of their rich inheritance, exquisite pieces created by master artists but they belong to a culture that perished ages ago and is not practiced any more by any one. They are mere remnants of the past with no role to play in the present. The case of China may not be much different, as for one thing, its art also was freely borrowed from our land and practiced. The Buddhist art of Dun Huang is a living example of the Indian influence. It is not our intention in any way to undermine the art heritage of these civilizations. Rather we remember them as some of the most beautiful creations of the mankind before which our heads shall ever remain bowed. It is only to focus on the plain truth that in India we have continuity both in art and culture, the former being a reflection of the latter, that makes it unique. Whether it is Indian religion or tradition, rituals or beliefs, culture or society, art or aesthetics, no link since the beginning has ever been broken. What was living five thousand years back or seven thousand years back is as good today as it was at that time and will be for the times to come. Time for Indians is sanatana. It is perpetual, eternal, an everlasting cycle like its gods Brahma, Visnu and Siva. Yet the beauty is that in this everlasting cycle everything is constantly changing to keep pace with time and space. It embodies continuity in change.
To focus the attention of scholars on what is continuously in existence and what is continuously changing-the cultural heritage of this land in the light of Indian art –to see what is seen, to debate what has been debated, to reinterpret the interpreted, to relive the lived, and again and to save our art, culture and heritage from becoming stagnant and dead, we provided a common platform to express their views to agree, to differ and to agree to differ, yet to reach a consensus for unbroken continuous chain in space and time through a seminar. The results have been rewarding as the participants, all experts in their respective fields, discussed and brought to fore a plethora of topics all encompassing a rich legacy. Twenty seven papers selected for inclusion in this volume speak for themselves and make the volume a rich mine of information. The views presented in the papers of course are of the individual authors but they provided a rich food for thought and further research. We are placing the volume in the hands of scholars with hope that it shall be well received and serve as a link of the past work and future research.
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