India (part III)

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Even out of doors, even in the full daylight, these forms are surrounded by a mysterious obscurity. The torsos, the arms, the legs, and the heads commingle—when a statue itself has not twenty arms, ten legs, four or five faces, when it is not laden with all these aspects of tenderness and fury by which life reveals itself. The depths of the sculpture undulate heavily, as if to force back into the moving eternity of primitive matter the still unformed beings that attempt to emerge from it. We see writhing larvae, vague embryos; they seem incessant and successive attempts at gestation which start and miscarry in the intoxication and fever of a soil that continually creates.

As one views this sculpture from near by one must not attempt to find in it the scientific modeling of the Egyptians or the philosophic modeling of Phidias, although Egypt and, to a greater degree, the Greece brought in by Alexander, profoundly influenced the first Buddhistic sculptors, perhaps even to the extent of revealing them to themselves. Sculpture is no longer considered in its planes and its passages, save summarily and by instinct. It might better be defined in terms of painting, for in these gigantic bas-reliefs light and shade play a vital and continuous part, as if a brush moved over them to soften and caress them. But Hindu painting, itself, while preserving the qualities of materiality that are in the sculpture, is perhaps more purified by the mind. The painting is usually the work of the monks; Buddhism has left a clear imprint on it. And later on it is especially in painting that, when Islam arrives, the influence of Persia makes itself felt. From the great Buddhistic decorations to the Mussulman miniatures, the spiritualization of the work sometimes touches the rarest, the highest, the most human harmony. One may not assign a place lower than that of the great classic works to the frescoes of Ajunta, in which the lyrical pantheism of the Hindus seems to fuse, for an hour, the spiritual radiance of Egyptian paintings and the moral intoxication of the old Chinese artists. By a kind of ethnic paradox the great painting of India would seem nearer to the linear rhythms, which are the chief preoccupation of the Egyptian or Greek sculptors, than Hindu sculpture itself, for the latter seeks to transfer to stone or metal the fleeting, flowing modeling of the painter. When we compare this sculpture with that of the anonymous workmen of Thebes or with that of the Athenian masters, we find something in it that is absolutely new, that is difficult to define—something like the obscure fermentation in a crucible, as compared with the limpidity of a theorem. The modeling aims at movement rather than at form. It is never considered in an isolated way nor in its abstract relationships with the neighboring figures. Material passages unite the figures among themselves; they are always heavy with atmosphere; the background is always felt; other figures partly absorb them; the modeling is fluctuating and billowy, like the mass of the leaves when labored by the wind. What models the rock, what rolls it into storm waves, is desire and despair and enthusiasm. It undulates like a crowd ravished by voluptuousness and fury. It swells and grows tense like the torso of a woman as she feels the approach of love.

As we have observed, it is the movement and not the form that interests the Indian sculptor, and so we do not find him seeking harmonies of relationships or clearly stated abstractions, but expressive masses which give an intoxicated, florid image of the whole world, and no longer seek for an equilibrium between the laws of the universe and the laws of the mind. By flashes, veiled by obscurity and by torpor, one can doubtless find everything in this art, overlapping the neighboring element, oppressing it or being oppressed by it; one can meet with brief jets of consciousness and sudden starts from the most rudimentary realism to the highest idealism. When one sees them isolated one notes the special quality of the figures, especially the figures of women, innumerable, gentle, religious, and yet formidable in their grace, their sensuality, their carnal heaviness. At every moment they give evidence of the effort—gigantic, vague, but often of a mighty fervor—toward a higher adaptation to their role in humanity. The man of India loves to see the waist bend under the weight of the breasts and the haunches, he likes long tapering forms and the single wave of the muscles as a movement surges through the whole body. But this hymn to the more tender forms of beauty is lost in the clamor of the universe. At one and the same time he can adore Indra, the supreme being; Brahma, the creator; Shiva, the destroyer; Krishna, the redeemer; Surya, the light of day; Lakshmi, who is love; Sarvasti, who is science; and the horrible Kali seated in putrefaction and the clotted blood of his victims. He can adore the ten incarnations of Vishnu and the crowd of heroes and monsters of his immense mythology and of the national epics, Ravana, Sougriva, Hanoumat, and Ananta. He can invoke Rama, the incorruptible hero who would have led the Greeks to the threshold of divinity. Rama is only one idol more in the prodigious pantheon, an idol lost among the gods of fecundity and death. On his walls he can bring together ferocity and indulgence, asceticism and lubricity, fornications and apostleships; he can mingle obscenity and heroism. Heroism and obscenity appear no more important in the life of the universe than the fighting or mating of a pair of insects in the woods. Everything is on the same plane. Why not let instinct spread out through nature with the indifference of the elemental forces and, in its onrush, sweep away moralities and systems? Social idealism is vain. Impassible eternity wears away the long effort of man. The Indian artist has not the time to bring the human form to its realization. Everything that it contains is contained as possibility. A prodigious life animates it —an embryonic life, however, and one that seems condemned never to choose between the confused solicitations of the energies of the will and the energies of the senses. Man will change nothing of his final destiny, which is to return sooner or later to the unconscious and the formless. In the fury of the senses or the immobility of contemplation, he must therefore descend unresistingly into the chaos of the elements.

The withdrawal of the Indian soul from preoccupation with morality, its pantheistic confusion and disorder, cut it off almost constantly from the great abstract constructions that characterize the aspiration of the ancient peoples of the Occident. In India, the eye does not seize things in their ensemble until it has taken in all their details. In Egypt, the desert, the horizon, and the straight line of the river, as in Greece the winding bays, the transparent waters, and the clear-cut crests of the hills, had made of man a metaphysician or a philosopher, loving the rhythm or the sinuous continuity that he observed in the universe; but here it required too many days to reach the mountains, the rivers were too vast and too muddy for one to see to their depths, the forests were too dense to permit the eye to take in at once the harmonious line of the trees, the outline of their leaves, the true form of the creeping animals that appear only in a flash, to flee from death or to inflict it. Man is surrounded by an unpassable barrier of luxuriant life, the eye is dazzled by the ceaselessly broken and mingled colors and lines of flowers that rain sparkling dust, of vines, of beasts fantastically marked; one is caught up in the feverish spirit of the germs of life and death that roll under the ocean of leaves. The disorder of the material world of the Indian intoxicates his soul and brings him to that pantheistic mysticism that every sensual being can feel rising within him in supreme moments of love, when, through the embrace of the woman who yields to him, he feels the confused and real presence of the universe. In the architecture of India we must not seek that linear abstraction which, by its continuity, expresses the visible rhythm of life; what is sought and found is life itself, gathered up hastily and pressed pell-mell into form. It is part of the quivering skin of the earth from which it was torn. The unity of the world is expressed in it by the heaping up at one point in space of everything that belongs to life, from the densely populated soil to the solitude of the heavens, and from the motionless mountains to the roll of the seas.

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