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künjà (? for ek-ün- kuni (? for ek-un-bi) (20-1)*
On Representations of Foreigners in the Ajanta Frescoes.-By
(With 4 plates.)
The Ajantá Pass first came to the notice of Europeans during the great battle of Asáyi, which broke down the Marhaṭṭá power; but the caves near it were not visited by any Englishman until several years afterwards. According to Mr. Burgess, some officers of the Madras army were the first to visit them in 1819, and Col. Morgan of the Madras army wrote a short notice of them, which appeared in Mr. Erskine's 'Remains of the Buddhists in India.' Then followed Lieut. J. E. Alexander in 1824, and his account was published by the Royal Asiatic Society in 1829.† Dr. Bird visited the place by order of Sir John Malcolm in 1828, at the same time when Capt. Grisley and Lieut. Ralp were at the place. The account of the former appeared in his "Researches into the Cave Temples of Western India," a meagre and faulty account, utterly untrustworthy for all historical purposes. The description of the latter appeared in this Journal. It is graphic and en
*These seem to retain a trace ( for ek) of the deducted unit itself, which Sanskrit had lost (cf. únavinsati), but of which Pàli seems to show the original presence, (ekúnavísati).
† Transactions Rl. As. Soc., I, p. 557. ‡ Ante V.
thusiastic, but calculated more to rouse than to allay the curiosity of the reader. Mr. Burgess says, "A somewhat interesting and correct topographical account of them, was subsequently (1839) published in the "Bombay Courier", and republished in a pamphlet form, but I have not seen the brochure. Soon after, came out Mr. Fergusson's description in his Memoir on the "Rock-cut Temples of India," (1843) and laid the foundation of a critical study of these remarkable works of art. It drew to them the attention of the Court of Directors, and Capt. Gill was, six or seven years after, deputed to prepare facsimile drawings of the fresco paintings which adorn most of the caves. His report was published in 1855, but it was meagre, like the works of his predecessors, and subserved, like them, only to whet the desire for further information. Dr. Wilson's account, in his paper on the "Ancient Remains of Western India”, published in 1850, in the Journal of the Bombay Asiatic Society*, is a mere resumé of what was then known, and Dr. John Muir's subsequent notice professes to give nothing more than a foretaste of what may be seen at the place. Dr. Bhau Dájí came to Ajantá in 1865, and took facsimiles of most of the inscriptions, some of which had been previously noticed by James Prinsep, and published translations of them in the Bombay Journal. The translations are generally correct and of great value, but the general remarks on the nature of the caves and their ornaments are brief and not always satisfactory. The learned gentleman had the intention of writing a separate paper on the subject, but his untimely and lamented death prevented his carrying out the intention. Since his death several notices have appeared in the 'Indian Antiquary' which are highly interesting, but none of them is exhaustive.
When Major Gill's copies of these curious works of art were sent to Europe, it was expected that antiquarians in England would take them in hand, and submit to the public a full and comprehensive critical account of their character, and the subjects they pourtray. But the copies were destroyed by fire in the Sydenham Crystal Palace, and nothing came of them. In the meantime the originals suffered greatly from leakage in the caves and want of care, and it was apprehended that in a few years more they would be totally lost. A representation was accordingly made to Government to adopt some measures for their preservation. Thereupon a party of draftsmen, under the superintendence of Mr. Griffiths, Principal of the Art School at Bombay, was deputed in 1872-73 to prepare copies of all the printings which were still legible. The result was a "collection of excellent copics of four large wall-paintings covering 122 square feet of canvas, 160 panels of ceiling, aggregating about 280 square feet, 16 moulds from the sculptures, and several drawings." In reporting on these Mr. Griffiths says: * Vol. III, pp. 71ff.
+ Vol. VII.
"The artists who painted them, were giants in execution. Even on the vertical sides of the walls some of the lines which were drawn with one sweep of the brush struck me as being very wonderful; but when I saw long delicate curves drawn without faltering with equal precision upon the horizontal surface of a ceiling, where the difficulty of execution is increased a thousand-fold, it appeared to me nothing less than miraculous. One of the students, when hoisted up on the scaffolding, tracing his first panel on the ceiling, naturally remarked that some of the work looked like a child's work; little thinking that what appeared to him up there as rough and meaningless, had been laid in by a cunning hand, so that when seen at its right distance, every touch fell into its proper place.
"The condition of mind in which these paintings at Ajantâ were originated and ex ited must have been very similar to that which produced the early Italian paintings of the fourteenth century, as we find much that is in common. Little attention paid to the science of art, a general crowding of figures into a subject, regard being had more to the truthful rendering of a story than to a beautiful rendering of it; not that they discarded beauty, but they did not make it the primary motive of representation. There is a want of aerial perspective—the parts are delicately shaded, not forced by light and shade, giving the whole a look of flatness—a quality to be desired in mural decoration.
"Whoever were the authors of these paintings, they must have constantly mixed with the world. Scenes of every-day life, such as preparing food, carrying water, buying and selling, processions, hunting-scenes, elephant-fights, men and women engaged in singing, dancing, and playing on musical instruments, are most gracefully depicted upon these walls; and they could only have been done by men who were constant spectators of such scenes, by men of keen observation and retentive memories. In every example that has come under my observation, the action of the hands is admirable and unmistakeable in conveying the particular expression the artist intended.”*
Adverting to the second picture he says: "Parts of this picture are admirably executed. In addition to the natural grace and ease with which she is standing, the drawing of the woman holding a casket in one hand, and a jewel with a string of pearls hanging from it in the other, is most delicately and truly rendered. The same applies to the woman seated on the ground in the left hand corner. The upward gaze and sweet expression of the mouth are beautifully given. The left hand of the same woman.....is drawn with great subtlety and tenderness."+ "The third picture", he remarks," contains eight figures and portions of three others, all of which are seated or standing upon large lotus flowers with nimbi round the heads. The
* Indian Antiquary, III. 26.
† Ibid., loc. cit.
action of some of the figures, especially the standing ones, bears such a very striking resemblance to what is characteristic of the figures in Christian art, that they might have been taken from some medieval Church, rather than from the caves of Ajantâ. The delicate foliage which fills in the spaces between the figures will give some idea of the power of these old artists as designers, and also of their knowledge of the growth of plants."*
Referring to a picture in cave No. 16 he observes: "This picture, I consider, cannot be surpassed in the history of art. The Florentine could have put better drawing and the Venetian better colour, but neither could have thrown greater expression into it. The dying woman, with drooping head, half-closed eyes, and languid limbs, reclines on a bed the like of which may be found in any native house of the present day. She is tenderly supported by a female attendant, whilst another, with eager gaze, is looking into her face, and holding the sick woman's arms, as if in the act of feeling her pulse. The expression on her face is one of deep anxiety, as she seems to realize how soon life will be extinct in one she loves. Another female behind is in attendance with a pankâ, whilst two men on the left are looking on with the expression of profound grief depicted in their faces. Below are seated on the floor other relations, who appear to have given up all hope, and to have begun their days of mourning, for one woman has buried her face in her hands, and, apparently, is weeping bitterly."+
And he sums up the value of the whole by saying " For the purposes of art-education, no better examples could be placed before an Indian art-student than those to be found in the caves of Ajantâ. Here we have art with life in it, human faces full of expression,-limbs drawn with grace and action, flowers which bloom, birds which soar, and beasts that spring, or fight, or patiently carry burdens: all are taken from Nature's book-growing after her pattern, and in this respect differing entirely from Muhammadan art, which is unreal, unnatural, and therefore incapable of development."
It is to be regretted, however, that as yet no attempt has been made to secure for the public a detailed, descriptive, critical and historical account of these relics. At one time a proposition was made to place the drawings at the disposal of Mr. Fergusson for the purpose; but, I believe, it has since fallen through.
The Government of India has, however, in the meantime, caused photographic impressions to be taken of Mr. Griffiths' drawings, and copies thereof sent to Societies interested in Indian Archæology. Three batches of these photographs have, from time to time, been received by the Asiatic Society of Bengal, and they fully bear out Mr. Griffiths' remarks regarding their value.
* Loc. cit., p. 27.
† Ibid., p. 27.
Ibid., p. 28.