Friday 28 September 2018

The Theory Of Greek Influence On Indian Art - 3

There are two different theories about foreign influence on the Indian art of the Buddhist period. One is that from the beginning Indiahad owed almost everything artistic to external forces. The Ashokan pillars were Persepolitan, the winged animals were Assyrian, the very lotuses and plant-forms were West-Asian. The school which thus almost holds that India has no originality in matters of art, leans its own weight for the sources of her Buddhistic inspiration on the existence in Bactria,ever since the time of Alexander, of Greek artisan colonies. From these what was not communicated thus had been the gift of Persia to the East. These two sources being postulated, we may accept the whole story of India's greatness in matters artistic without doubt and without distress.

The other theory bears more espcially and definitely on the evolution of the statue of Buddha as a sacred image. This, it is held, was not an Indian invention. The idea was first conceived in the country of Gandhara, the contact -point between India and the West. Here, between the beginning of the Christain era and the year A.D. 540, when they were broken up by the tyrant Mihirakula, there was a very rich development of Buddhism in the form of Stupas and monasteries. And the argument fo Grunwedel may be accepted with regard to the number of Ero-classical elements which the art of this Buddhistic development displayed. There is to this day a ghighly artistic population established in the region in question, including as that does Kashmir and the North Punjab, and almost touching  Tiber, and on the other side of Afghanistan and Persia. The fertility of he races who meet at this point, in decorative arts and forms of all kinds, need not be disputed. Now would they ever be slow to absorb new elements that might present themselves in unusal abundance at some well-marked political period. The fact that this would surely happen is only part of their extraordinary artistic ability. The conversion of the country of Kashmir to Buddhism would follow naturally on Buddhistic activity in Gandhara, and this was strong between the first century of the Christain era and A. D.540 even persisted with modified enerygy for a couple of centuries longer, as we can gather through Hiouen Tsang.  We may also accept without cavil the statement that ever since the raid of Alexander there had been an east-word flowing traffic along the ancient trade-routes that connected India with the West. We cannot admit that Alexander created these routes. That had been done silently through the ages that preceeded him by the footsteps of merchants and pilgrims, of traders and scholars and even monks. The fame of Indian philosophy in the West had preceded Alexander. Indian thinkers had long gone, however few and far between, in the wake of Indian merchants. But it is possibly true that before the raid there had been very little compensating back-flow into India. The great geographical unity and distinctness of this country must be held, if so, to account for the phenomenon. India was the terminus of at least one line of international travel in an eastern direction. Undoubtedly the overland route of those days was still more vigorously followed up under the Roman Empire. It was to India with her advanced civilisation that the Roman Empire went for its luxuries, and Pliny lanments the drain of imperial gold for the skills and ivory and gems of the East. The finding of many obviously Greek relics, such as a Silenus, and Heracles with the Nemaean lion, at Mathura, would seem to indicate that the older trade-routes had come in country, on the river Jamuna. But the roads that ended in Gandhara, and brought the influences of classical Europe to bear on Buddhism there, were certainly those which connected it with the old Byzantium and with Rome. Greek art may have spoken at Mathura, but certainly nothing better than the Graeco-Roman ever made itself felt in the north-west. All this represents facts which will be acknowledged. The argument that the artistic capacities of teh Gandharan region in the time of the Roman Empire were the result of a certain ethnic strain, due to Alexander and the Graeco-Bactrian kngdom which succeeded him, is not of a character to be taken very seriously. Garrisons of occupation are not usually accompanied by the representative genius of their home-countries in such force and numbers as to act with this spiritual intensity on strange populations, partly through personal contacts and assumed achievement with what has been accomplished by modern peoples, under similar circumstances and with vastly superior advantages, if we wish to bring the proposition to its own reductio ad absurdum. But in fact it need not be approached so gravely.

The best answer to the suggestion lies in the extraordinary difference between the two forms of art. The art of the Greek world was concerned almost entirely with the human form. The horse, indeed, with the deer, the eagle, and the palm-tree, are not altogether unknown to it. But it is remarkable for the absence of any strong feeling for vegetative beauty, or for the animal world as a whole. Now it is precisely in these two elements that the populations of the Gandharan country were and are to this day strongest. Severe chastity and restraint of the decorative instinct is the mark of Greece. Exuberance is the characteristic, on the other had, of Oriental art. It revels in invention. Its fertility of flower and foliage is unbounded. Being of the nature of high art, it knows indeed how to submit itself to curbing forces. The highest achievement  of the Eastern arts of decoration, whether Chinese or Persian, Tibetan or Kashmirian, or Indian proper, often seems to lie in the supreme temperance and distinction with which they are used. But the power of hydra-headed productivity is there. In Greece and Rome it is altogether lacking. Thus to say that the art of Gandhara was due to elements in the population which were of Hellenic descent is absurd. There was never in it the slightest sign of any wedding of East and West in a single blended product, such as this theory presupposes. We can always pick out the elements in its compositions that are unassimilated of the West, as well as those that are assimilated of the East, and those, thirdly, that are purely local and more and less neutral.


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