An Art work can be Reproduced not the Antique
by CS Shashidhar
“The faculty for myth is innate in the human race. It seizes with avidity upon any incidents, surprising or mysterious, in the career of those who have at all distinguished themselves from their fellows, and invents a legend to which it then attaches a fanatical belief. The incidents of the legend become surest passport to immortality.” - W. Somerset Maugham, Moon and Sixpence
This statement by the British literary genius explains why a letter by Winston Churchill or Mahatma Gandhi; an original manuscript by Charles Dickens or Leonardo da Vinci; a gown worn by Queen Elizabeth or a necklace adorned by a duchess; a sword of Tipu Sultan or a throne of Mysore Wodeyars become the objects of fancy values, multitudes beyond their actual physical attributes and the market value.
Whosoever lives a heroic life either with his valour winning wars and, building towns and states or changing people's lives just with his unique philosophy and clairvoyance or proving his genius in literature or any other form of art or by inventing a new method of living by deriving a mathematical or a science formula, becomes distinct among his fellow beings. And from there on whatever he speaks or does will be reckoned with awe. When the volume of his deeds culminate, a transcending of the reality into the metaphysical takes place when the mesmerized public turn into his disciples or fans, when even the normal elements about the hero becomes special, unless anything untoward, he will be followed by his fans, subjects or disciples until his death. He would be deified after he detests his physical body and every physical thing he had touched, places he had trudged over, things worn and used will gain incredibility.
The icon and the events surrounding him thus become history.
And if this wizard were a king and a connoisseur living in or being responsible for a rich state, there would be a cultural euphoria resulting in an extensive practice of various faculties of fine arts, crafts and architecture, the king being chief the patron to these activities.
The economy of such a state booming there emerges a connoisseur from every packet of the fiscal society, catalyzing the movement of fine arts further.
Except for the performing arts whose original work is ephemeral, all other genres of art in the form of painting, mural and architecture stands as an illustrative glory of the period. The fortresses, arches, temples and houses, bearing in them paintings, murals, reliefs and sculptures they stand as anthropological evidence, elaborately speaking about the state, people and the prevalent culture.
Every such exemplary element of this state that stands the test of time and weather becomes antiquely important to the coming generations for as long as it remains intact.
There are few reasons why an article or a relic of the past becomes important; one is because of the history and the people attached to it, or because a legendary commissioned or used it, or merely because of the reason that the article or a structure stands the test time and weather for centuries as a witness to a historical period, or that the article is a beautiful work of art belonging to a period of historical importance in the past.
Which among these is more important; the Emperor Asoka of Maurya dynasty or the 84,000 stupas that he installed throughout the country, the Chola dynasty or the sculptural marvel of bronze Nataraja, the Mogul kings or the monumental palaces they built?
There are innumerable such examples of a ruler being directly responsible for the history of a particular period and the glorious architectural structures, sculptures, artifacts and paintings. And the initiative by one such ruler has been influence and inspiration to his successors.
The unique Hoysala architecture in south India was because of the initiative by the King Vishnuvardhana and his Queen Shantala Devi and this was carried out by their successors and subservient rulers who later built hundreds of Hindu and Jain temples.
Whereas the contribution of each King of Vijayanagara kingdom starting from Bukkaraya and Harihara II has been immense and the result is the glorious Hampi, today declared by UNESCO as the World Heritage Site.
It's the ultimate levels of human passion that cajoled these extraordinary leaders as visionaries who derived the best out of their people whether in war, painting, sculpture, architecture, dance, music or craft.
Whereas in the present time there seems nothing that we can leave for tomorrow! On one side the technological excesses have reduced the value for human skills and on the other even if machines can produce beautiful pieces similar to works of art they cannot be true substitutes, owing to the fact of minimized or no human involvement.
Even the mega-structures built today might not impress upon the people of our successive generations that they would surely have advanced technologies to build greater structures.
India is a country of very rich heritage and everything about it is not alright. There have been many problems that have been carcinogenic to one of the oldest cultural history of the world.
Firstly we do not know how to handle the antiques and archaeological monuments. The management by the governmental agencies means subjecting the exercise into the age old process of planning and implementing. The bureaucratic process suggests the curator of a museum or an archaeological site to write an indent to the ministry for sanctions which would take few months to couple of years. And finally when it comes through it comes with partial funds. This doesn't enable a diligent officer to take up works like procuring and restoring the antiques or the monuments properly. It would be an experience of any common visitor to a museum or a palace that there would be one security personnel to a large section of multiple rooms. The laser security system is too distal to think about. Lately there are CCTVs in some places, but monitoring the monitors of CCTVs is painful and almost impractical. Though the images might help nabbing the thief after the theft the vigilance before hand is difficult.
Peter Watson, in his book, Sotheby's The Inside Story unravels the smuggling mafia that operates within India. His list of antiques that were smuggled out of India includes three Sunga Terracotta Plaques from 2nd and 1st BC, confirmed for its antiquities at Research Laboratories for Archaeology, Oxford and, a large Central Indian buff sandstone stele depicting a goat-headed Goddess of post Gupta 8th/9th century stolen from Lokhari and so on. All these, despite their unscrupulous mode of carriage have appeared in the catalogues of Sotheby's. Writing elaborately about his investigation about the antiques he claims that according to few documents by Hodges, an employee of Sotheby's, a series of goods were smuggled out of India, Italy and France. The law of antiques in Italy is similar to that of India.
Every now and then, throughout India we wake up to the news of idols of either Mauryan, Gupta, Chola, Hoysala or Vijayanagara period stolen, which is so common that we are no longer excited about it.
On 9th May Bengaluru police found a 6 feet bronze Buddha apparently belonging to 13th/14th century. A month or two ago there were about 32 antique idols stolen and temporarily buried in a lake near Bengaluru to hide them before transporting them to the destination by the robbers.
There have been innumerable antique bronzes belonging to Pallava, Chola, Hoysala and Mysore schools doing rounds in the hands of local dealers in Mysore. After the enforcement agencies started being more vigilant these dealers are trying to find a customer in the local market.
The spill-out of the works of one of the greatest connoisseurs of Mysore dynasty, Krishnaraja Wodeyar III, whose world famous board games based on Sankhya, the ancient method of numerology sends an art lover into deep anguish. Irwing Finkel, one of the curators of the British Museum says that the king's board games are based on complicated mathematics. Krishnaraja Wodeyar III has contributed to the game of chess too, especially in the movement of horse.
There are original manuscript of the biography of the king and also some of the original manuscripts of the Kauthukanidhi and Srithatwanidhi, written by him, that we can see in the hands of local antique dealers.
The reticence of Michael Ludgrove, the curator of the palaces of Mysore, Bengaluru and Ooty, on various issues is understandable.
If the stringent law of the antiques scares the dealers on one side, the reason why they would not come in public is that there is no proper reward given to them if transferred to the governmental agencies.
Amending policies might help only if the government allocates a budget enough to buy such articles from private parties paying them the market price. This exercise needs to be extensively carried throughout the country with attractive modes of reaching out. Eventually representative museums in every nook and the corner the country as well as large museums at the capital cities of the states need be constructed with a proper infrastructure to make room for the antiques bought in such a fair. A country with its enormous resource comprising of one seventh of the world's population can afford such large museums.
1. Sotheby's The Inside Story, Peter Watson
2. The Art Heritage of India - Indian Sculpture and Painting and Ideals of Indian Art, EB Havell
3. Ajit Mookerjee, Tantra Art
Images Courtesy: The Author