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Indian Art by British: as a Grotesque Misconception.

By Atiya Parveen
Deptt of Fine Arts
A.M.U. Aligarh

Uttar Pradesh, India.


Not only in India have the artworks been studies around the world. Before several
decades the history of the British has not understood Indian art. It has been a history of
distortion, grotesquerie, destruction and unpleasant misinterpretation of the ideas and ideals
of Indian thought and culture. But many a time we do not estimate their values completely, they
tend to confuse the real meaning and misinterpreted the art and culture, mythology and religion
were recognized as pessimistic and other worldly and it was thought that for Indian art as the
world of vision and a capture and therefore there was no justification for improving it. It is also
because they have no background of knowledge of their art, religions, culture, mythologies and
symbolic meanings and because lack of understanding in the non-representational system of
opinion. Our non-representational system of conceptual opinion can never judge its value
adequately. Appropriately understood Indian art represents a mystical stance of the people and an
outlook of spiritual connection. Artists are familiar from that world and perceive a unique
gratification by nature, though it is difficult to describe adequately in language because of only
ethereal simplification of cosmic varieties and qualities of the multi-dimensional world into a
linear pattern like words, codes, symbols. In that case, we are trying to comprehend and convey
it conceptually then there is a hazard of getting into confusion and disagree. So there is a
limitation of the language for the writer in its description and judgment, particularly when it
deals with paintings and visual aspects. Now with attentiveness and different artists using
interpretation techniques even ancient art is being appreciated.

Early indologists1 were partial not only in paintings, but also in Holy books like the
Vedas, Upanishad, Ramayan, Mahabharat and others. They wished to control & convert the
followers of Vedic Culture, therefore they widely propagated that the Vedas were simply
mythology. So much misconception, so many prejudices, so much distortions have been spewed
about this monument of books, this unparalleled epic.
Sri Ramakrishna2, the saint of Dakshineswar3, had a profound influenced on his
contemporaries who were considered the builders of modern India. He was practically illiterate
and spoke in a rustic parlance, Yet the spiritual depth and power of his teachings impressed
intellectual giants such as Friederich Max Mller4, the most well known early sanskritist and
indologist, although later in life he misconceived the Vedas. He said, "Vedas were worse than
savage" and "India must be conquered again by education... its religion is doomed".5 (cf. also,
Gautier, Francios. Rewriting Indian History, pub by India research press, New Delhi, 2003,
p10) Western and Indian definitions of art are quite different, the problem of judging the art of
other cultures, anthropologists and art historians and critics have been telling us that the cultures
of the Western and Indian are unequal, that they has their own aesthetics thus their art should
not be judged by Western principles. We must recognize that art has their different assumptions,
different purposes and different values than ours and both are equally valid.
Other than, initially it is clear out some general canards about in the visual art. When the
British colonizers were first arrived in India, they were scandalized by his shallow glance at
Indian art. Even English art critic John Ruskin6 has misinterpreted Indian art as it is nothing but it
has forms of distortion and monstrous, which have meaningless fragments of colors and flowing
of lines. He deemed that Indian art in a world of your own as with the grotesque and the bizarre
and with unsophisticated appearance of exaggerated forms of many-headed, many legs, manyhanded, gods and goddesses. In that order, the Ajanta (Fig-1), the Indian miniature paintings of

Indologist giving the term Indology is the academic study of the history and cultures, languages, and literature of
the Indian subcontinent (most specifically the modern-day states of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka,
Maldives, Nepal and the eastern parts of Afghanistan), and as such is a subset of Asian studies.
Sri Ramakrishna or Gadadhar Chatterji or Gadadhar Chattopadhyay was an Indian mystic and yogi during the
Dashineswar is a town in West Bengal.
. Friederich Max Muller was a German-born Orientalist.
Osborn, David. Scientific Verification of Vedic Knowledge: Archaeology Online,
Ray, Niharanjan. An Approach to Indian Art, pub by R.K.Malhotra, Secretary Publication Bureau, Punjab
University, Chandigarh, 1974.

Rajasthani (Fig-2), Mughal (Fig-3), and Pahari (Fig-4), schools is too called as primordial
because they said they were more inappropriate in perspective.7 Even the miniatures brocades,
gold, silver wares and chintzes etc were carried over by the Europeans in the time of Rembrandt
but they looked upon as Oriental ornaments.
The first widely circulated account of Indian art to reach Europe since Roman days came
from the pen of the Ludovico di Varthema8, who had traveled in south India between 1503 and
1508. Nearly everything that is known about his life comes from his own account of his travels,
Itinerario de Ludouico de Varthema Bolognese, published in Rome in 1510. His Itinerario
portrayed a royal chapel in Calicut (modern Kerala) in which the king worshipped a metal devil
named Deumo9(fig-5), a devil made of metal, had four horns, four teeth with a very large mouth,
nose and most terrible eyes. The hands are made like those of a cock; so that he is a fearful
grotesque object to behold. Varthema saw many more devils in pictures around the said
chapel. On each side of the chapel, he found a Satan seated in a seat, which seat is placed in a
flame of fire, wherein a great number of souls, of the length of half a finger and a finger of the
hand. He concluded his account of the Rajas chapel by stating that the Satan. Holds a soul in his
mouth with the right hand and with the other seizes a soul by the waist. It is impossible to match
Varthemas description, with its close analogies to contemporary European images of Satan, to
anything known today of South Indian iconography, and it arouses the suspicion that Varthema
made the details up in order to please his Christian readers.
However, the German philosopher put his own gloss on the monstrous gods: The most
obvious way in which Hindu art endeavours to mitigate this disunion (between extreme
abstractions in Indian thought and its gross manifestations) isby the measureless extension of
its images. Particular shapes are drawn out into colossal and grotesque proportions in order
that they may, as forms of sense, attain to universality. This is the cause of all that extravagant
exaggeration of size, not merely in the case of spatial dimension, but also of measurelessness of
time dimensions, or the reduplication of particular determinations, as in figures with many

Ramachandran, V.S. and William Hirstein The Science of Art, a neurological theory of aesthetic experience,
Journal of Consciousness Studies, vol 6, No. 6-7, 1999,
Ludovico di Varthema was an Italian traveler.
Deumo is the goddess of the Calicut in Malabar.

heads, arms, and so on, by means of which this art strains to compass the breadth and
universality of the significance it assumes.10
Indian Art historian Partha Mitter a highly regarded scholar, author, and research
professor at University of Sussex, UK. He stated in one of his famous book Much Maligned
Monsters, his influential study on European reactions to Indian art. At the core of the historic
European inability to understand Hindu art lay a problem of perception: "early travelers preferred
to trust what they had been taught to expect instead of monsters, more devils than deities. In
Europe, says Partha Mitter, the trusting their own eyes. Instead of seeing images of gods, these
voyagers saw medieval sixteenth century saw a substantial widening of interest in non-European
societies, for Humanists engaged in collecting information as constantly as they combined
natural and artificial objects in their cabinets of curiosities." Hindu divinity is also an enduring
theme in the history of images from India. Hindu Gods are as little more than devils. Prejudiced
by Christian expectations of demons in heathen lands, these narrators found what they already
expected. But in the seventeenth century, in the context of a growing scientific humanism,
differences in cosmology and religious practice were recognized. A new interest in information
about Indian mythology created a demand for "authentic" pictures of Indian gods. provides the
essential key to the understanding of Indian iconography, The majority of drawings and
engravings displayed here date from this seventeenth century period of revitalized European
interest in Hindu iconography. During which time "Indian gods began rapidly to shed their
previous monstrous appearances, as their own character and attributes were increasingly restored
to them.
Finally it is conclude that the personal views and the words described by what we have
seeing. If a particular thing or object has been read after the vision, it is depending on how the
viewer has seen it; every viewer has his own views that develop his argument. And if this
argument is negative, un-objective and unauthentic that is biased. Anything that is bias generally
it is one-sided and lacked of neutral opinion. But a researcher has their personal beliefs and
values; those are reproduced in their selected topic, their keen interest in findings, and in
methodological elucidation.


G.W.F. Hegel, , Vorlesungen ber die sthetik (Werke 10), English, translation by P. B. Osmaston, The
Philosophy of Fine Art, II, London 1920, 53 ff., quoted in Much Maligned Monsters,

(Fig-1) Ajanta, Kinnara playing Kachchapa Vina, Padmapani Panel, Cave-1

(Fig-2) Kangra School of Rajasthani miniature, c.1880, depicting

Vishnu with Lakshmi seated on Garuda, opaque watercolour on paper.

(Fig-3) Indian, Mughal dynasty Opaque watercolor, ink, and

gold on paper H: 25.9 W: 14.1 cm Northern India Gift of Charles Lang Freer F1907.271.138,
Folio from the Ramayana of Valmiki (The Freer Ramayana), Vol. 1, folio 138; recto: Kabandha
tells Rama and Laksmana how he came to have his hideous form; verso: text 1597-1605.

(Fig-4) Chamba school of Pahari miniature,

depicting Varaha or Boar incarnation of Vishnu, circa 1850.

(Fig-5) Deuma - Dictionnaire Infernal

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