The intimate absorption of Hindu life in the unseen realities of man's spiritual consciousness is seldom suffciently acknowledged by Europeans, and indeed cannot be fully comprehended by men whose belief in the supernatural has been destroyed by the prevailing material ideas of modern society. Every thought, word, and deed of the Hindus belongs to the world of the unseen as well as of the seen ; and nothing shews this more strikingly than the traditionary arts of India. Everything that is made is for direct religious use, or has some religious significance. The materials of which different articles are fashioned, their weight, and the colours in which they are painted,are fixed by religious rule. An obscurer symbolism than of material and colour is to be traced also in the forms of things, even for the meanest domestic uses. Every detail of Indian decoration, Aryan, or Turanian, has a religious meaning, and the arts of India will never be rightly understood until there are brought to their study not only the sensibility which can appreciate them at first sight, but a familiar acquaintance with the character and subjects of the religious poetry, national legends, and mythological scriptures that have always been their inspiration, and of which they are the perfected imagery.
But of late these handicraftsmen, for the sake of whose works the whole world has been ceaselessly pouring its bullion for 3000 years into India, and who, for all the marvellous tissues and embroidery they have wrought, have polluted no rivers, deformed no pleasing prospects, nor poisoned any air; whose skill and individuality the training of countless generations has developed to the highest perfection ; these hereditary handicraftsmen are being everywhere gathered from their democratic village communities in hundreds and thousands into the colossal mills of Bombay, to drudge in gangs, for tempting wages, at manufacturing piece goods in competition with Manchester, in the production of which they are no more intellectually and morally concerncd than the grinder of a barrel organ in the tunes turned out from it.
I do not mean to depreciate the proper functions of machines in modern civilisation, but machinery should be tbe servant and never the master of men. It cannot minister to the beauty and pleasure of life, it can only be the slave of life's drudgery; and it should be kept rigorously in its place, in India as well as England. When in England machinery is, by the force of cultivated taste, and opinion no longer allowed to intrude into the domain of art manufactures, which belongs exclusively to the trained mind and hand of individual workmen, wealth will become more equally diffused through society; and the working classes through the elevating influence of their daily work, and the growing respect for their talent and skill and culture, will rise at once in social , civil and political position, raising the whole country, to the highest classes with them ; and Europe will learn to taste of some of that content and happiness in life which is to be still found in the pagan East, as it was once found in pagan Greece and Rome.
The seventh chapter supplies a systematic contemporary account of the social and religious institutions of ancient India, as with very slight modifications they still exist. The village system it describes is the permanent endowment of the traditionary arts of India, and has scarcely altered since the days of Manu. Each community is a little republic, and manages its own affairs, so far as it is allowed, having rude municipal institutions perfectly effectual for the purposes of self govemment and protection.
Its relations with the central Government are conducted by the headman, and its internal administration by a staff of hereditary officers, consisting of an accountant, watchman, money-changer, smith, potter, carpenter, barber, shoemaker, astrologer, and other functionaries, including, in some villages, a dancing girl, and a poet or genealogist This whole chapter is of the deepest interest.
The form of govemment it enforces is in marked contrast with the feudal type of the original Vedic traditions to be found running through the Brahmanical revisals of the Ramayana and Mahabharata.
All traces of patriotism and of the sentiment of devotion to the common weal, and of loyalty to great national leaders, which, are found in every true Aryan race, and certainly characterised the Vedic Aryas of India, and which are essential to the preservation of the liberties and independence of states and empires, have been eliminated from the sacerdotal system of Manu. It recognises only the narrow interests of the family, the village, and, in a very limited degree except among Brahmans, the caste.
Thus for nearly three thousand years it has suppressed all sense of nationality and public spirit in India, while fostering to the utmost the selfcontained life of the petty religious communes, which possess no other bond of union but that of a religion organised expressly to bring the forces of progress inherent in every Aryan race into subjection to the dominant priesthood. The kings and the people are integral parts of a divine law of which only tbe Brahman is the rightful administrator. But while the system failed utterly to provide for the external defence of the country, it has rendered it proof against internal revolution. It is the true charter of the landed democracy of India, and in giving permanence to the proprietorship of the peasantry in the soil of the country, it has conserved Hindu society intact and unaltered through successive overwhelming invasions and a thousand years of continuous foreign rule. India is in fact the only Aryan country which has maintained the continuity of its marvellous social, religious, and economical life, from the earliest antiquity to the present day.
Extracts from the "THE ARTS OF INDIA"
author : GEORGE C. M. BIRDWOOD, CSI.,M.D.EDIN
(Art Reference for the Indian Section of the South Kensington Museum)
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