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At the Feet of The Mother

VIII. NATIONALISM. Indian Painting (VII)

All Western and Eastern nations have been obliged to admit that our Mother India was an imperishable treasure-house of knowledge, spirituality, art and literature. But formerly Europe was under the impression that Indian painting was not so highly developed as our literature and other arts, but was horrible and devoid of beauty. We too, enlightened by European knowledge and looking through European glasses, turned up our noses at the sight of Indian painting and sculpture, thus demonstrating our refined intellect and irreproachable taste. The mansions of the rich became filled with Greek statues and things in the ‘cast’ of English paintings or their lifeless imitations, even the walls of the houses of ordinary people were decorated with frightful oil-paintings. The Indians whose tastes and skills in art had been unmatched in the world, the Indians whose choice of colour and form had been naturally faultless, the same people grew blind, lost the intellectual capacity for seizing the inner significance and developed a taste even worse than that of an Italian labourer. Raja Ravi Varma was acclaimed the best Indian artist.

However, recently thanks to the efforts of some art-lovers the eyes of the Indians are opening and they are beginning to appreciate their own skill and their own vast wealth of art forms. Animated and inspired by the extraordinary genius of Sri Abanindranath Tagore, a few young men are resurrecting the lost art of Indian painting. By virtue of their talent a new age is being ushered in Bengal. After this, one may expect that India, instead of looking through the eyes of the English will see with her own eyes and, discarding the imitations of the West, depend upon her own clear intellect and once again express the eternal thoughts of India through colour and form.

There are two reasons for the Europeans’ dislike of Indian painting. They say Indian paintings are incapable of imitating Nature: instead of drawing a man like a man, a horse like a horse, a tree like a tree, they draw deformed images; they have no perspective, the pictures appear flat and unnatural. The Europeans’ second objection used to be that all these pictures lack beauty of form and feeling. This objection is no longer in their mouths. When they saw the incomparable serenity in our ancient images of Buddha and the radiance of supernal power in our ancient statues of Durga, they were charmed and stupefied. The greatest acknowledged art-critics of England have admitted that the Indian painter might not know the perspective of Europe, but the Indian laws of perspective were very beautiful, complete and reasonable. It is true, the Indian painter or other artist does not imitate the external world, but not because he lacks the capacity: his aim is to go beyond the outward scene and appearance and express the inner feeling and truth. The external shape is only a robe, a disguise of the inner truth — we lose ourselves in the beauty of the mass and cannot see what is hidden within. Therefore, Indian painters deliberately modified the outer form in order to make it more suitable for expressing the inner truth. One is amazed to see how beautifully they express the inner truth of an mental state or of an event, in each limb, in the environment, attitude and dress. This, indeed, is the main characteristic of Indian painting, its highest development.

The West is busy with the false external perception, they are devotees of the shadow. The East seeks the inner truth, we are devotees of the eternal. The West worships the body, we worship the soul. The West is in love with name and form, we can never be satisfied unless we get to the eternal object. This difference is evident everywhere: as in religion, philosophy and literature, so in painting and architecture.

(Dharma, No. 25, February, 1910)

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It is not the personality, the character that is of the first importance in rebirth — it is the psychic being who stands behind the evolution of the nature and evolves with it.