The Anonymous and Unsung Heroes of Indian Art

Indian Art

The scope of different schools of art forms is demarcated on the basis of geography or the time period. Indian art includes myriad forms of art forms such as sculpture making, crafts, paintings, murals, frescoes, etc. which belongs to the Indian subcontinent. To understand anything, one needs to delve into its provenance. Similarly, to get acquainted with the nature of Indian art, one must peek into the minds of unsung heroes of traditional art.

India, the largest democracy, is one of the culturally rich and diverse countries of the world. The land was famous as the ‘Golden Bird’ due to the availability of abundant natural resources. This is the reason why this land witnessed the influx of Aryans from the harsh weather of middle-east around 6000 years ago. The environment was apt for the survival of the human race. It also attracted invaders and foreigners belonging to distinct cultures and races to come and share the bounty. Some opted to settle here and others were only interested in plundering and draining the insurmountable wealth.

This led to the intermixing of contrasting cultures which heavily influenced the development of art. Empirical evidence makes it evident that art and other creative activities were a part of ancient India. Unlike European artists, we can’t trace the development of art in India through artists in a systematic order as marking their names on the work of art was not a part of ancient Indian culture.

However, ancient Indian texts mention some names and references of the artists. On these random accounts, the efficiency and eminence of the creator of ancient marvels of art could be fathomed. This information is found in tits and bits across the variety of ancient Indian texts which makes it impossible to have a chronological order of the existence of these artists.

The purpose of art in ancient India

The reason for this anonymity is attributed to the purpose and aim of art. It is an established fact that ancient art and culture of India was heavily influenced by religion. So, art was considered a spiritual gateway to reach a higher level of consciousness and be one with the supreme soul. Music, painting, sculpture, literature, etc. served a means to attain the most sought after end i.e. Moksha or freedom from the cycle of birth and death.

Ananda Kentish MuthuCoomaraswamy was the true interpreter of metaphysical symbology behind Indian Art. He identified and demystified the murky clouds of oriental bias and said, “The conscious aim of Indian art is the portrayal of divinity.” Dancing, playing Vina, and singing hymns were considered an indispensable part of special rituals.

The stratification of artists

In ancient India, artists, sculptors, and craftsmen were connoted with a watershed term known as Shilpin. The procedures that they were to follow were restricted and there was less to no scope of improvisation for artistic creation. In the time of Puranas, the Indian social structure had become rigid owing to the caste system or Varna. The society was divided into four Varnas i.e. Kshatriya, Brahmin, Vaishya, Shudra. The artists or Shilpi’s belonged to the middle Vaishya community or the lowest class of Shudras. So, becoming an artist was a matter of class and caste and not creativity or skill.

A professional artist was endowed with the title of Yogi or the one who is lost in his art according to the Chitrasutra authored by Vishnudharmottara. VishnudharmotaraPurana along with Chitrasutra and Shilpasutra mentions the various techniques and tricks of paintings that were to be incorporated by the artists while creating art. Rules of social conduct were also laid down. According to those an artist should adorn impeccable dress, revere and honor the Brahmins, should speak good things in a polite manner, observe fast and rituals to praise the deity, and always work upon his creation facing east.

How art developed in ancient times!

Another treatise on art known as Shilparatna accounts anecdotes where skilled and talented artists were honored and rewarded by kings. These artists enjoyed aristocratic status under the patronage of kings and emperors. Often they were given the task of tutoring the royal progeny. Rajashekhara in his treatise on the history of art, Kavyamimansa, mentions that kings who were artists themselves created a hospitable and positive atmosphere for artists and art to flourish. They organized events, assemblies, competitions, among the artists of their and other kingdoms.

Among all the positive things, there was no scope of personal ingenuity. The art created by artists were generally commissioned by the nobles and kings. It was believed that they are only depicting an idea belonging to a larger communal or regional identity. Their personal creativity only appeared in the creation of art depicting some religious anecdotes as these motifs carried with them unconditional recognition and approval.

Therefore, it would be no exaggeration if it is inferred that the development of traditional art forms in India owes it to these anonymous and unnamed artists who sacrificed their independent artistic creation to the demand of their socio-political conditions and still managed to build a legacy of which we are proud.