India (part II)

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For the Indians, all nature is divine and, below the great Indra, all the gods are of equal power and can threaten or dethrone the other gods, concrete or abstract—the sun, the jungle, the tiger, and the elephant; the forces which create and those which destroy—war, love, and death. In India everything has been god, everything is god or will be god. The gods change, they evolve, they are born and die, they may or may not leave children, they tighten or loosen their grip on the imagination of men and on the walls of the rocks. What does not die, in India, is faith—the immense faith, frenzied and confused under a thousand names; it changes its form ceaselessly, but always remains the same immeasurable power that urges the masses to action. In India there came to pass this thing: that, driven forth by an invasion, a famine, or a migration of wild beasts, thousands of human beings moved to the north or to the south. There at the shore of the sea, at the base of a mountain, they encountered a great wall of granite. Then they all entered the granite; in its shadows they lived, loved, worked, died, were born, and, three or four centuries afterward, they came out again, leagues away, having traversed the mountain. Behind them they left the emptied rock, its galleries hollowed out in every direction, its sculptured, chiseled walls, its natural or artificial pillars turned into a deep lacework with ten thousand horrible or charming figures, gods without number and without name, men, women, beasts—a tide of animal life moving in the gloom. Sometimes when they found no clearing in their path, they hollowed out an abyss in the center of the mass of rock to shelter a little black stone.

[The illustration on page 15 represents a copy of the fresco of Ajanta—Shiva and Parvati—which the Indian Society has kindly authorized us to reproduce. This copy is from the brush of Nanda Lai Bose, a contemporary Indian painter and a pupil of Abanindra Nath Tagore. The school of Indian painting is being reborn, or rather, it continues. It has not ceased to take its inspiration from the Indian myths and legends that it treats notably in the work of the two masters just cited—with a grave and tender melancholy, and according to the traditional forms of Hindu and Indo-Persian art. (See No. 200 of L’Art Décoratif, February, 1914.)]

It is in these monolithic temples, on their dark walls or on their sunburnt façade, that the true genius of India expends all its terrific force. Here the confused speech of confused multitudes makes itself heard. Here man confesses unresistingly his strength and his nothingness. He does not exact the affirmation of a determined ideal from form. He incloses no system in it. He extracts it in the rough from formlessness, according to the dictates of the formless. He utilizes the indentations and the accidents of the rock. It is they that make the sculpture. If any room is left he adds arms to the monster, or cuts off his legs if the space is insufficient. If an enormous wall of rock suggests the broad masses of monsters that he has seen rolling in herds, rearing their heads on the banks of the rivers or at the edges of the forests, he cuts the wall into great pure planes to make an elephant of it. Wherever, by chance, the hollows and the projections occur, breasts swell, haunches tighten and move; the mating of men or beasts, combat, prayer, violence, and gentleness are born of matter that seems itself to be suffused with a vague intoxication. The roots of wild plants may split the forms, the blocks may crumble, the action of sun and water may gnaw the stone. Yet the elements will not mingle all these lives with the confusion of the earth more successfully than the sculptor has done. Sometimes, in India, one finds enormous mushrooms of stone in the depths of the forests, shining in the green shadow like poisonous plants. Sometimes one finds heavy elephants, quite alone, as mossy and as rough skinned as if alive; they mingle with the tangled vines, the grasses reach their bellies. flowers and leaves cover them, and even when their debris shall have returned to the earth they will be no more completely absorbed by the intoxication of the forest.

The whole of Indian genius lies in this never-satisfied need for setting matter in motion, in this acceptance of the elements offered by matter, in this indifference to the fate of the forms that it has drawn from matter. Before the art that reveals to us this genius, one must not look for the expression which the Egyptian gave to his metaphysical system, an expression that was imposed, perhaps, upon the sculptor, but was none the less real; we must not look for the free expression of a social philosophy, as among the Greeks. What we have here is the dark and troubled expression—anonymous and profound, but immeasurably strong for that very reason—of the intuitive pantheism of the Indian. Man is no longer at the center of life. He is no longer that flower of the whole world, which has slowly set itself to form and mature him. He is mingled with all things, he is on the same plane with all things, he is a particle of the infinite, neither more nor less important than the other particles of the infinite. The earth passes into the trees, the trees into the fruits, the fruits into man or the animal, man and the animal into the earth; the circulation of life sweeps along and propagates a confused universe wherein forms arise for a second, only to be engulfed and then to reappear, overlapping one another, palpitating, penetrating one another as they surge like the waves. Man does not know whether yesterday he was not the very tool with which he himself will force matter to release the form that he may have tomorrow. Everything is merely an appearance, and under the diversity of appearances Brahma, the spirit of the world, is a unity. To be sure, man has the mystical intuition of universal transformism. Through transmigrations, by passing from one appearance to another, and by raising within himself, through suffering and combat, the moving level of life, he will doubtless be pure enough one day to annihilate himself in Brahma. But, lost as he is in the ocean of mingled forms and energies, does he know whether he is still a form or a spirit? Is that thing before us a thinking being, a living being even, a planet, or a being cut in stone? Germination and putrefaction are engendered unceasingly. Everything has its heavy movement, expanded matter beats like a heart. Does not wisdom consist in submerging oneself in it, in order to taste the intoxication of the unconscious as one gains possession of the force that stirs in matter?

In the virgin forests of the south, between the heat of the sun and the fever of the soil, faith caused the temples to spring two hundred feet into the air, multiplied them from generation to generation, and surrounded them with ever-growing inclosures, whose position was constantly changed. Such an architecture could not issue from a source less powerful and less dim than the grottos hollowed out of the depths of the rocks. Artificial mountains were raised up, graded pyramids, wherein the thicket of forms moves as if alive. One is tempted to say that there was no plan for the construction of these forests of gods, as they bristle like cactus and evil plants, as they present profiles like the backs of primitive monsters. They seem to have been thrust up from the crust of the earth as if by the force of lava. It must have required ten thousand laborers, working together and by their own inspiration, but united by their fanaticism and their desires, to build these carve them from top to bottom, titanic platforms, cover them with statues as dense as the lives of the jungle, and support them in space on the aërial festoon of the lacelike ogives and the inextricable scaffolding of the columns. Here are statues upon statues, colonnades upon colonnades; thirty styles are mingled, juxtaposed, superimposed. The columns may be round or square or polygonal, in sections or monolithic, smooth or fluted or covered with carving that has an appearance of danger, like masses of reptiles moving in oily circles, like pustules that throb and rise, like bubbles bursting under leaves spread over a heavy water. There, as everywhere in India, the infinitely little touches the infinitely big. Whatever the power of these temples, they seem to have sprung from the earth through the power of the seasons, and at the same time to have been carved out minutely like an ivory sculpture.

Forms are everywhere, tufted bas-reliefs are everywhere, from the surroundings of the temples to their summit, on the inner walls, and often on the top of the columns where the whole of humanity, mingled with the whole of animal life, supports the burden of the entablatures and the roofs. Everything may serve to carry a statue, everything may swell into a figure—the capitals, the pediments, the columns, the upper stages of the pyramids, the steps, the balustrades, the banisters of stairways. Formidable groups rise and fall—rearing horses, warriors, human beings in clusters like grapes, eruptions of bodies piled one over the other, trunks and branches that are alive, crowds sculptured by a single movement as if spouting from one matrix. One has the impression that the old monolithic temple has been violently twirled and shot out of the earth. Save in the more recent epochs when he modeled bronzes of astonishing tenderness, firmness, and elegance, the Indian has never conceived sculpture as being able to live independent of the construction that it decorates. It seems a confused mass of buds on the body of a heavy plant.

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