[A Report on Indian Architecture and Architects Seventy Years Ago]

At his 'Coronation Durbar' held in Delhi in December, 1911, the new King Emperor George V proclaimed (the transfer of the capital from Calcutta to Delhi. 'The result' as the recent book of Robert Irving(1) describes, 'was the creation of Imperial Delhi (or New Delhi). A deliberate and explicit political act, the city was envisaged as a manifesto of British rule in India. Yet from the very first. Imperial Delhi provoked bitter disputes and controversy; The transfer of the capital itself, the choices of site and style, spiraling costs, and antagonism between Lutyens and Baker the two main architects...As a result the city was not inaugurated until 1931, amid pageantry widely viewed as a requiem for British authority in India'. And the whole thing cost the Indian people very dearly more then. Rs. 18crores were spent on this Imperial project.

Our concern is not with the various factors which delayed or accelerated the building of New Delhi, but with an important debate that took place around that time, which is obliquely hinted in the above quote as the controversy on 'style'. Whatever ‘style’ might mean, an idea of the controversy can be had from the fact that: 'Less than four months after the Durbar, [the Viceroy] had announced in the Legislative 'Council his inclination toward an Oriental style of architecture suited to the climate and local surroundings at Delhi. By the summer of 1912, opponents of Eastern architecture for Delhi had made themselves heard, and the Viceroy...[arrived at the] compromise solution 'Western architecture with an Oriental motiff (2).

The debate on the building of Delhi, as we shall see in this article, raised several fundamental issues. It served first of all to establish that there was still (i.e. in the early decades of the twentieth century) a living tradition of Indian architecture which was capable of meeting any new challenges, if only opportunities were provided. The protagonists of Indian architecture for the building of New Delhi, clearly showed that the main issue that the Government faced was not one of 'style', but was of truly fundamental significance. It was indeed a question of the choice between two different systems of science, with their own ways of organizing the science, the industry and the art of building! And what is even more interesting is that the colonial Government could justify its patronage of modern western architecture not by showing that Indian architecture was any less a science, but by arguing that the Indian architectural methods were not suitable for modern western civilization.

I. The Living Tradition of Indian Architecture - A Figment of Imagination?

The debate on the suitability of Indian architecture may be said to have begun even earlier, when Ernst Binfeld Havell who served in India during 18841908 as the principal of the Art schools at Madras and Calcutta (3) came up with the revelations that Indian architecture was still a living tradition, that the Indian master builder could still build as well as in medieval and ancient times, that his art was being stifled everyday by the neglect and contempt shown by the Public Works Department which either forced him out of work or compelled him merely to copy the 'paper patterns' put out by the Department, and more than everything else that the preservation and encouragement of Indian artisan and his work was of great significance not only for India but also for the West where art and labour had gotten totally separated. In his endeavours, Havell was soon to be joined by Ananda K. Coomaraswamy, and as is universally acknowledged today, these two were truly the pioneers in the study of India's arts and crafts.

But the main issue that had to be faced before starting any debate on the merits of Indian architecture was the prevalent view or myth that 'Indian architecture was truly a matter of past'. Indeed, whatever be their opinions on the achievements of Indian architecture, all authorities were unanimous that it was dead. Most of them claimed that it died much before the British rule began in India and a few of them 'acknowledged' grudgingly that its death was perhaps hastened by the continued neglect by the British administration. Let us first see how (in 1912) Havell describes the situation that he had to encounter.

In a paper read before the Indian section of the Royal Society of Arts a short time ago, Mr. Cecil Burns, Principal of the Bombay School of Art, expounds and defends his views and these views represent fairly accurately the official policy in art administration for the last fifty years. Mr. Burns begins by affirming that 'up to the year 1850, India from an artistic stand point, was almost. Entirely isolated from the rest of the world in account of this isolation and monopoly, the workmen became an ambitious. Thus they lost whatever power of original thinking they might have formerly possessed. India from" an artistic point of view quickly became and has since remained a suburb of Paris and London, as she is from an industrial point of view the suburb of Manchester and Birmingham., The ancient craftwork of India is as dead as the art of the Greeks or as that of the Renaissance in Europe'. Just as many Europeans, when they talk of the civilization of the world, mean the civilization of the "particular corner of Europe with which they are most familiar, so Mr. Burns writes of 'Indian Art' _ when he means so much of it as has come under his observation. But Bombay is not India, and Anglo Indian fashions do not as yet dominate "ail Indian art, or even the most important part of it. If India is now artistically a suburb of Paris and London, then Indian art is dead, and all I have been writing about the Irving Indian art is nonsense. If Indian art is dead, then Indian civilisation is dead, and India itself is a mere geographic expression.

But Indian art is not dead. Before I went out to India, twenty-five years ago, one of my official predecessors at the Madras School of Arts told me exactly the same thing of Madras as Mr. Burns is now telling of Bombaythat Madras was 'artistically a desert'. Yet when I came there and began to organize the School of Arts as a craftschool I had no difficulty in finding in a very short time three exceedingly fine Madraci craftsmen to place in charge of the three departments of crafts teaching which I which to develop.

One was a skilled wood carver from Ramnad another temple metal worker, a Sthapati from Kumbhakonam; arid the third a goldsmith from the Vizagapatnam district. All three were not only very fine craftsmen and designers, but they were excellent teachers, knowing their Silpasastras, and artists who were perfectly .well able to adapt their designs to any new idea I suggested to them. It was a real artistic delight to work with such craftsmen as these. But when I left Madras it was thought desirable to convert the school into a manufactory for aluminum cooking pots, and Indian ait again became invisible to official eyes. I have had the same experience many times since. I have been repeatedly told by official experts that Indian art is dead, and have always found it very much alive in the places where they declared it to be nonexistent. (4)

Writing a little later in 1913, Havell explains how it came about that almost all the authorities had been totally blind even to the existence of a living tradition of indigenous architecture:

Only within the last few years has it dawned upon the more enlightened of the art critics of Europe that up to the middle of the nineteenth century a great national tradition of painting survived in Northern India. The existence of an even stronger school of building craft, in many parts of India is still as much unknown to the Western architectural scholar and practitioner as it is to Anglo Indian departmentalism. For over fifty years the Public Works Department has made an official monopoly of State buildings in British India, applying to them its own dry as dust formularies culled from Macaulay's bookshelf, and the products of this system loom so large in the life of Anglo India that the very existence of the Indian master builder is sometimes forgotten. [The Director of Industries in Madras, Mr. A. Chatterton, declared lately that the Indian master builder is a figment of my imagination! I have reason to believe that many Anglo Indian officials are of the same opinion.] But the life of the great caravanserais at Bombay and Calcutta and that of the smaller camps scattered over British India is so remote from the real life of the Indian people that these fashions of the West though generally adopted by progressive' Princes and other English educated Indians, cannot affect Indian art and craft so as to wholly' destroy them until all India has become a suburb of London and Paris; and as that is never likely to happen, there is no reason to expect that Indian civilization will become extinct or cease to fulfill its great mission in the world (5)

In this context, we cannot help recalling a discussion that took place in a conference held at one of our IIT's recently. In a session on the history of science in India, various papers were presented which showed how there was a viable science and technology in this country in the so called 'ancient' and 'medieval' periods,, and which, tradition continued in most of 18th and 19th centuries albeit under great stress caused by the colonial rule. This did come as a surprised several persons in the audience who wondered as to what could then be taken as the time when the indigenous sciences and technologies may be pronounced to have died, naturally or otherwise. When it was suggested that such a time is perhaps yet to come, there was some discussion on how and in what form do the traditional sciences and technologies survive today. Indeed there was no dirt for skeptics in the audience who wondered what was the point in talking about a tradition which was long dead (whatever be its merits) and a very eminent person even quipped as to 'what should be the kind of microscope or telescope that one should, employ for finding or locating the so called indigenous sciences and technologies of India?'

Today, the importance of the debate on the use of Indian architecture in the building of New Delhi, lies precisely in that it was an attempt to answer a question such as the one posed above. Much of the understanding that we have of Indian art today came more or less as an offshoot of the efforts of the pioneers Havell, Coomaraswamy, etc., in establishing the living tradition as well as the relevance of Indian art. They of course could see in the work of Indian artisan a hope of an alternative to the modern western civilisation and its 'industrialism'. However, our attempt in this article would be mainly to focus on the issue of the existence and viability of the indigenous architecture of India in the early decades of this century.

II. The Impact of British Rule on Indian Architecture

The first and foremost task that lay before the protagonists of Indian architecture was to clear a whole lot of debris. The previous two centuries had seen the development of such misconceptions surrounding the nature and worth of Indian art that it was not easy for anyone even to talk about Indian art as art. In a detailed study of the Western response to Indian art from the middle ages to the present day Partha Mitter states:

Arguably, Indian art presented a test case for the Western understanding of India, because its (i.e., India's) aesthetic standards differed so much from those of the classical West. In the early period of European, explorations of Asia, travelers saw Hindu sacred images as infernal creatures and diabolic multiple limbed monsters. This early attitude may not be entirely unexpected; what is remarkable is that the attitude persisted even into the modern period, though different critics sought to evaluate these alleged monstrosities in different ways. A further aspect of Indian art which presented problems of assimilation, the eroticism connected with certain, cults and images, was responsible for numerous speculations in the eighteenth century. However, even in the nineteenth century, the new accession of information was generally fitted into an earlier framework. Thus, Hegel saw in the supposedly formless images of Indian art an expression of Indian mentality which was identified by him as dreaming consciousness. A new aspect of Indian art came into focus with the growing Victorian concern with the industrial arts and decorative ornament. Ruskin approved of the sense of colour and form of the native Indian carftsmen but abhorred Indian sculpture, painting and architecture as representing unchristian ethos. It was only with the general revolt against the classical tradition that the search for alternative values led from the appreciation of medieval European art to the praise of the Indian tradition which was exalted for its spirituality. The examination of these attitudes strongly suggests . that the western world still has to find a way to appreciate the values of Indian art in its own context and in its own right. (6)

It was only at the beginning of this century, and that too due to the pioneering, work of Havell and Coomaraswamy, that a view did start emerging that perhaps Indian art should be evaluated in its own terms or at least in terms different from those employed for Greek or renaissance art. Still the conventional views persisted. For instance when Havell gave a lecture at the Indian section of the Royal Society of Arts in 1910, Sir. George Bird wood, the chairman of the session (and a man with great admiration for Indian artisan and his 'industrial art') (7), made the following pronouncement:

'As to this recently raised question of the existence in IndiaIndia of the Hindusof a typical, idiosyncratic and idiomatic 'fine art’. . I have up to the present, and through an experience of seventyeight years, found no examples in India; and judging from my experience, I should say that India had "never prized art for art itself sake. I never saw a Hindu painting, sculpture, bronze etc., that was not first, throughout and last either a sacrosanct article of utility or a ritualized, and generally monstrous representation of the high gods, and epic heroe the materials, shapes, and colours of these objects being all determined by the most arbitrary principles, and the most peremptory and stringent canons, and that could have possibly been devised for the creation and perpetuation of such conventional forms. My attention is drawn to the photograph, on my left, of an image of the Bud ha (8) as an example of Indian 'fine art'. Few of us have the faith of the new school of ‘Symbolists' in a symbolism that outrages artistic sensibilities and proprieties by virtually regarding art as but a framework for its myths and strange sociological devices ; and one might as reasonably rave over Algebraic symbols as examples of 'fine art'.. This senseless similitude, in its immemorial fixed pose, is nothing more than an uninspired brazen image, vacuously squinting down its nose to its thumbs, knees and toes. A boiled suet pudding would serve equally well as a symbol of passionless purity and serenity of soul.

The abhorrence and studied contempt expressed by the Europeans regarding Indian art did get significantly translated into action in their treatment of our great monuments. It is of course generally well known that the Portugese who were the first European power to enter India waged their 'war on the gods and temples as well as on the armies of India' as Walter Hamilton noted in 1820. While the religious bigotry of the Portugese, or even, the English, is often exposed and condemned today, the destruction of Indian monuments 'for commerce' or (to use the present day jargon) 'for progress', gets often no notice. While every schoolboy learns of the great 'reforms' executed by that benevolent Governor General Lord Bentinck, few are aware that he 'considered Indian art so lightly that he was only diverted from selling the Taj Mahall for the value of its marble, because the proceeds of a test auction of materials from the Agra Palace proved unsatisfactory'.(9) Fergusson tells us in 1848 how the famous Sun temple of Konarak (called the Black Pagoda by Europeans) 'had a narrow escape from being employed to build a light house on False Point'.(l0) There were of course lot of 'unfortunate cases'. The famous temple at Gangaikkonda Cholapuram of 11th century had to sacrifice a large part of the splendid granite sculptures which adorned it as 'materials' for a barrage across a nearby river. A publication of 1855 states 'The poor people (of the area) did their utmost to prevent the destruction and spoliation of a venerated edifice by the servants of a government that could show no title to it; but of course without success; they were only punished for contempt. A promise was made indeed that a wall of brick should be built in place of the stone wall that was pulled down; but unhappily it must be recorded that this promise has never been redeemed'.(ll) Writing on the famous monuments of Gaur, the earlier capital of Bengal, Havell noted in 1913 that 'Gaur was used as a brickfield and quarry by the builders of Dacca, Murshidabad, and Calcutta; the right to dismantle Gaur of its enameled bricks being farmed out to landholders of the district in the early days of our revenue administration. It is only quite recently, under Lord Curzon's administration, that the few remains of the splendid monuments of Gaur and the neighborhood have been adequately conserved and protected'(12).

While thus far we have spoken of the great deal of destruction wrought by Europeans of our ancient temples and monuments, it must be emphasized that the colonial rule had far more devastating consequences in terms of what it did to our architects and their work. Writing on the effects of British rule on the art of India and Ceylon, Coomaraswamy stated in 1908 that:

'In Ceylon, as in India, the direct influence of the contact with the West has been fatal to the arts. The two most direct causes of this adverse influence have been the destruction of the organization of statecraftsmen, following upon the British occupation; and the subsequent systematic neglect, by British and Sinhalese alike of a local architectural tradition, A less direct, but equally sure and certain; cause of the decline of the arts has been the growth of commercialism that system of production under which this work of European machines and machinelike men has driven the village weaver from his loom (13) the craftsman from his tools, the ploughman from his songs, and has divorced art from labour. Of English influence on purely Sinhalese art, the (less said the better. It has been characterized, from the English side, by almost complete indifference to indigenous culture, the result of an ideal of purely material prosperity; the destruction of indigenous crafts by the competition of cheap machine made materials and luxuries; the neglect of surviving architectural tradition and capacity for building; and by an entirely false and unnatural system of education, the result of which is to make the 'educated' strangers in their own land. The immediate effect of British rule was to destroy the system of State support of the arts and crafts. The results have been even more disastrous than is yet the case in India; it is, indeed, almost a matter for surprise that so much of the indigenous traditions of art and craft still survive If it is so, if there are still devoted and skilled craftsmen of the old school, this is thanks neither to the patronage of the Sinhalese themselves nor to that of their British rulers, it is due to the vitality still latent in the old tradition, the effectiveness of the caste system in conserving, if somewhat forlornly, some of the best part of the old life, and lastly, not least, to the affectionate devotion of the hereditary craftsmen to their art and its tradition'(14)

Writing more specifically on the status of the traditional architects toiling under the modern system in what he called the 'Anglo Indian caravanserais' (the metropolises of modern India) Havell wrote:

That which is called architecture in the Anglo Indian caravanserais is merely a mechanical process, originally invented by the dilettanti of the Renaissance in Europe, for tricking out the business arrangements of the Anglo Indian administration in tinsel adornments called 'styles'. The official architect sits in his office at Simla, Calcutta, or Bombay, surrounded by pattern books of Styles Renaissance, Gothic, Indo Saracenic, and the like and, having calculated precisely the dimensions and arrangement of a building suited to departmental requirements, offers for approval a choice of the 'styles' which please him or his superiors, for clothing the structure with architectural garments in varying degrees of smartness, according to the purpose for which it is intended, at so much per square foot. When these preliminaries are stiffed, a set of paper patterns is prepared and contractors are invited to undertake to get these patterns worked out to proper scale and in the regulation materials. Then, at last the Indian craftsman is called into assist in the operations, under the supervision of the' contractor and subordinate Public Works Officials, who check any tendency the craftsman may show to use his imagination or his intelligence in anything beyond copying the departmental paper patterns.

Inevitably under this system, the evils of which are now clearly recognized by architects in Europe, a special type of artisan is created in India as in Europea mechanic who works listlessly for the wages he earns and has no. interest in anything beyond his earnings. The craftsman inevitably becomes (as the Consulting Architect to the Government of India recently declared) master of one aft only the art of scalping. The same might be said of the ordinary artisan produced by the same system in Europe. Inevitably, also, the system tends to the gradual destruction of industry in materials and processes connected with building. Chained to an office at Simla or Calcutta by the traditions of departmentalism which he is powerless to alter, the architect can calculate the cost of steel girders and framework, and order them through an Anglo Indian agency, and get unskilled Indian labour to fit them in position. But it is impossible for him to study thoroughly Indian methods of construction in stone, brick or wood, and to cooperate with the intelligence and skill of the herditary Indian craftsman in applying them on the actual site of building. Similarly, it becomes more 'progressive' in the departmental sense, but no other to use European wallpapers, Portland cement, and Messrs. Blank and Co.'s patent paints in place of Indian fine polished chunam, stenciling, or fresco ' painting'.(1 5)

'Schools of Art have been established in the four Chief Presidency cities, but they have been left so much to their own devices that for thirty years the teaching in two of them ignored the very existence of any indigenous art. For several year past one of the largest has devoted itself almost entirely to the manufacture of aluminum cooking vessels, and this year another new enterprise in the application of art to modern life evoked from the controlling authority of this school the expression of a pious doubt as to whether experimenting in aero motors was the proper function of a School of Art'.(16) :

Far in India there still exists, unrecognized by the Public Works Department, a class of native workmen, passing rich on fifteen rupees a month, who are at the same time most skillful builders, decorators and architects. These men are exactly of the same class as the master builders of the middle ages, to whom we owe the great masterpieces of Gothic architecture they inherit all the traditions of Indian architecture, they can draw, design, carve and decorate, in good taste and with understanding of constructive principles, but they know nothing of Public Works 'formulae' and therefore are held of no account. All this artistic and architectural wealth goes to waste in India because the Public Works Department does not know how to make use of it. (17)

To build one of the latest and perhaps the best of these archaeological structures in Calcutta, a large number of Indian caste builders were employed. Many of them were both artists and craftsmen they could design, build and carve. The structural design had been settled for them departmentally, so they had no concern with that. There was also a considerable amount of ornament to be carved, but that also had been designed for them in proper departmental style, which happened to be Italian Renaissance, so they were not allowed to attempt that. Other men, who had been trained in the European archaeological style in Bombay were brought for them. These men were paid two rupees a day each. Now there are at the present time in the Orissa district not far from Calcutta, and famous for its splendid native architecture, a considerable number of masons and builders, who, with in the last twenty years, have .designed and carried out architectural decoration comparable with that of our first mediaeval buildings in Europe, and infinitely more beautiful than the imitation Renaissance ornament of the building I have referred to. The average earnings of these men are four annas a day, or one eighth of the wages paid for executing the departmental decoration. They and their fellow artists all over India are constantly in want of work, for departmentalism has no need of their services. Indian art cries out for bread, we give it museums, exhibitions, and archaeology. (18)

To follow the history of Indian architecture in the nineteenth century one must visit the famous cities of pilgrimage, like Benares, Brindavan, Hardwar, and other sacred place of the Hindus, Benares is singularly rich in modern buildings; few of the fine palaces and monasteries which line the banks of the Ganges are earlier than the eighteenth century, or the time of Aurangzeb, who made havoc of the older Hindu temples and built a mosque out of their remains. Not many Anglo Indians or European tourists who come to admire the wonderful scene which the Ghats present on some great Hindu festivals realize that two of the most stately of these places those at Munshi Ghat and Ghusla Ghatare not, as they well might be, contemporary with the famous buildings of the great Moguls, but belong to the latter half of the nineteenth century. The last named was built by the Rajah of Nagpur about 1860, and the other by one of his ministers about the same time... [p. 228229].

III. Indian Architecture in the 19th and early 20th Centuries

We shall start with a rather long quotation from the book Indian Architecture, Its Psychology etc' (London 1913), by E. B. Havell which presents an excellent summary of some of the achievements of Indian Architecture in the 19th century and the manner in which this tradition still survived around 1910 :

In these two Benares bathing laces the Indian master builder followed no fixed archaeological formulary. He built according to the science and art of building, and was not consciously reproducing a 'style'. The engineering difficulties which have to be met in building a large palace on the sloping bank of a great river subject to heavy floods are much greater than those which must be considered in ordinary Anglo Indian departmental buildings. The excellence of the craftsmanship in these two palaces is proved by the present condition of the masonry which shows no signs of flaw or settlement. In engineering there are few Anglo Indian buildings to compare with hem; in art, none. The Indian master builder’s engineering and art are one, and both are adequate for the purpose. Hence his artistic resources have always been sufficient for the practical objects he had in view.’ (p. 231).

Another great place of Hindu pilgrimage, Brindaban, which contains some important temples, built about the same time as these Benares palaces. They are described but not adequately illustrated in Mr.'F.S. Growse's manual of Mathura. The great temple of Ranganath (Vishnu), funded by two wealthy Hindu* merchants, the Seths Gobind Das and Radha Krishna, was commenced in 1845 and finished in 1851 at a cost of forty five lakhs of rupees. It is one of the largest of modern Indian temples. The outer walls measuring 773 feet in length and 440 feet in breadth and are interesting for having brought together in one group of buildings the South Indian and the North Indian building traditions. The central part, including the shrine itself and its lofty pyramidal towers, or 'gopuras', was designed by a South Indian temple 'Sthapathi', or architect but the pavilions at the east and west entrances were the work of the local master crafts men. The Indian master builder now, as in former days, leads a wandering life. (p. 232)

The same gifted civilian (Mr. Growse), while in charge of the Bulandshahar district of the Punjab from 1878 to 1884, exerted himself greatly in the interest of the local building craft, with the result that all the official buildings required in the district were planned and carried out successfully by the Indian master builder without the intervention of the Public Works 'experts' But the department would not tolerate this encroachment upon its prerogatives, and Mr. Growse was called upon for an official explanation, and this being considered unsatisfactory, he was summarily removed from the district. In his 'apologia' written afterwards, Mr. Growse says:

"What I had still more at heart than the artistic education of the wealthy was to improve the status of the poor local artisans.. I certainly demonstrated their fitness and the economy that would result from their substitution for certified engineers but the demonstration was unavailing. The men who were working for me at the time of my transfer have, I fear, derived injury rather than benefit from my exertions on* their behalf. I was removed so suddenly that it was impossible for me to wind up their accounts and since I left they have experienced the greatest difficulty in getting paid for the work which they stayed on to finish. They have too much respect for their art to undertake the clumsy and grotesque erections in which the local squirearchy delight, and they are consequently debarred from private service, while to complete the frustration of all my hopes for their advancement circular has lately been issued which peremptorily forbids their employment under Government. Under this departmental ukase all posts of even Rs. 50 a month in the gift of any District Board must be reserved for the holders of a certificate from the Rurki College of Engineers, where no oriental’s has ever been tolerated. The mistri or indigenous architect thus superciliously excluded from competition may be a skilled craftsman whose work is of sufficient merit to be transported at great expense across the sea and set up for admiration in New York or London; but in India he cannot be trusted to design or carry out the most petty work in the smallest village: the reason being that he L has spent the whole of his life in acquiring a practical mastery of his art, and therefore he had no time to study English and in due course obtain an engineering certificate; having done so, he is at once qualified for an appointment of Rs. 250 a month, in which he will be freely entrusted with the design and execution of local works, though he may know nothing of architecture beyond the hideous 'standard plans' provided by the Public Works Department. Is it not an insult to common sense to be thus liberal to bungling apprentices while a master in the art is not allowed even Rs. 50 to supplement his exhibition medal, and then to expect architecture to revive and flourish? The higher paid employee can speak English and keep accounts in the European fashion; but in real work for which he is engaged he is immeasurably beneath his underpaid brother." (19) (p. 234).

To obtain an insight into the actual condition of the Indian building craft of the present day outside the departmental enclave one could not do better than wander through the streets of a modern Indian town in Rajpulana or Cenira! India and realize at once its vitality and gradual decadence. Lashkar, the present capital of the Gwalior State, is a typical one. It is a town of about 80,000 inhabitants, founded only a hundred years ago, in which until quite recently the Indian master craftsmen have built without the supervision and teaching of the European engineer architect. There they have built such fine bridges many shops and private houses for rich and poor; temples and secular public buildings and 'chatris' to commemorate the death of the ruling Princes.Though compared with former times the native master builder in the present day works everywhere under very depressing conditions, his circumstances in a town like Lashkar are infinitely better than they generally are elsewhere. In the Public Works Department should he ever gain employment there he is an insignificant cipher in the subtotal of the departmental system. When he works for the "curiosity" market of the great Anglo Indian cities he is under the screw of a grasping middleman. Here he is an artist who, even in his poverty, can take pride and pleasure in his work.(p. 236)

Unfortunately, if a clever young craftsman should attract the attention of an "educated" Indian nowadays, the benevolence of the latter sometimes takes the form of paying for the lad's training in an AngloIndian technical college, or he may be dispatched to Europe to learn "styles" more thoroughly at the Royal Academy or in a London architect's office. The attractions of an assured income and a small pension in Government Service also tend to draw away the sons of the most intelligent and successful craftsmen into the minor posts of the Education or Public Works Departments, or to swell the overfilled ranks of clerical labour. Under such conditions the deterioration in modern Indian craftsmanship needs no further explanation; the fact that it retains so much vitality might be a greater cause for wonder ... (p. 237)

Lashkar in the year of grace 1908 became architecturally "progressive", and the craftsmen of Central India are now learning "styles" under the supervision of the British engineer, who took infinite pains to ensure that the Ionic volutes were correctly drawn. The "uneducated master builder who does not care for these things has no longer any occupation in the state buildings of Gwalior....... (p. 238239)

The two illustrations I give of Orissan buildings are from snapshots taken by myself in a visit to Puri a few years ago. They are examples of modern work carried out by a family of masons still living there. PL. CXXVII is the entrance to the monastery called the Emir Math, the fine carving of which will bear comparison with that of the most famous of the Orissan temples built by the ancestors of these masons. . During the last fifteen or twenty years these. fine sculptors, who are content with earnings of four pence to six pence a day, have been reduced to making trifling stone souvenirs for pilgrims, owing to the lack of more profitable employment. During the same time lakhs of rupees have been, and are still being spent in Calcutta on the decoration of public buildings with imported commercial terracotta and sham Renaissance sculpture. At Jaipur, the ancient capital of Orissa, Indian craftsmanship is being preserved in a manner characteristically Indian. A sadhu', or religious medicant, has devoted his life to begging for money for the restoration of the temple of Biroja in the town, and Orissan stone masons, paid a pittance sufficient for bare existence, have for many years past devoted their pious labour to the work. As long as this spirit survives, so long will India remain, as it is at present, the finest school of craftsmanship in the world' (pp. 240241) (20)

What about the tradition of building in South India? The following two accounts (though of a later date) will suffice to give some idea of the continuing traditions there :

'The Dravidian tradition of temple building is very far from being extinct at the present day the hereditary sipins or sthapatis of the Kammalar caste, who, in their own estimation, rank with Brahmans and are indeed the descendents of men who received great honour and high sounding titles from builder kings, can still be seen at work still making use of the silpasastras, either in Sanskrit versions or vernacular abstracts. The craftsman's methods and psychology survive unchanged and unmodified; for this reason a detailed study of the building of a modern temple, which no one has yet undertaken, is a very great desideratum; and, it is only from the living craftsmen that JouveauDubreuil of Archeologie! de Sud de V Inde 2 vols. Paris 1914] who illustrates and briefly describes the twentieth century temple buildings at Ttruppapuliyur [Cuddulore, New Town] was able to obtain the technical information which enabled him to prepare his masterly account of the development of Dravidian architecture. Here we can only refer briefly to the Ponambalavaneswaran Koif, still in process of construction near Colombo in Ceylon. The following data, for which I am indebted to my cousin. Sir Ponambalam Ramanathan, are of interest'. Since the beginning of the rebuilding two silpis or architects have come and gone. The third one's name is Sornakkalai Asari, which means 'golden field artisan' (in building works). He is a Tamil man from South India, whose ancestors have followed the silpi profession. There are about 100 men working at the temple side and at the quary side, all of them Tamil men from South India. The silpa sastras he uses are Kasipam, Manasaram, Visvakarmayam and Mayamatam, but of course the traditions which every workman is bound to remember and reproduce, according to the directions of the artist (silpi) are the very life of the written books'. (letter dated August 6. 1925) (21)

'During the last three generations, (there has) been a remarkable revival in Hindu building, due almost entirely to the activities of a single caste. The Nattu cottai chetties are a Sudra caste which has developed a remarkable" talent for finance and commerce and has which concerns us more nearly a passion for building. Many decayed temples have been redefined and embellished by the members of this caste. In realizing the importance of these works one has to remember the character and scale of the temples of the South, only surpassed by now well known temples in Cambodia. Probably the most important temple restored and embellished by them is that at Chidambaram, about 1000 feet by 800 feet, where two chetties, father and son, have expended about half a million sterling in erecting a new prakaram and other buildings. A similar work is now being carried on at Kaliar Kovil [near Madurai] in the old traditional methods under a Mistri, who is responsible for the design of the whole and coordination of all the elaborate detail. Here also a fine tank has been formed on the lines of the great tank at Madura. This modern work is thoroughly well done, but on novelties is admitted in design owing to the view held that religious buildings must conform strictly to the recognized canons of architecture. When the Nattu cottai chetty and his Mistri set about building a house, they allow themselves the almost latitude in style and treatment of detail'. (22)

One question that comes up is what was indeed the extent of the 'building' community in India. Havell notes that 'According to the census of 1901, the population supported by 'artificers in building' in India was 1,212,196 besides 367,564 supported by 'building materials'. As regards Ceylon, Coomaraswamy notes in 1908 that:

We have seen that less than four per cent of the Kandyan population now appears to belong to artificer’s caste. But in the census report, on which this estimate is based, statistics are given of occupation and not of caste for in this social institution. Government affects a blindness which in actual administration it cannot maintain (24). The number of persons belonging to the craftsman castes greatly exceeds the number of those still practicing their craft, so that we may suppose that quite as many as ten per cent of the population in the eighteenth century consisted of craftsmen and their dependents'. (25)

Another book on Indian Architecture written in 1923 gives the following information:

The 'Viswakarma Mahajana Conference', which is reported to have had five sessions so far, seems to give us some hopes of great possibilities for working towards revivification of our national arts. The proceedings of the last session held at Madura show that there were about 36,000 males belonging to the 'Viswakarma' profession in the district of Madura alone. What an encouraging number for the practice of this noble profession? Why not utilize their hereditary instincts and train them in their national and traditional cult? (26)

Finally we come to the (only?J survey conducted by the Government of India of Indian architecture. This survey was also conducted mainly at the initiative taken by Havell, who persuaded the India Society, London (an association formed for the purpose of promoting the study and application of Indian culture in all its aesthetic aspects to write to Secretary of State in November 1910, to direct the Government of India and its Archaeological Department to instruct its Surveyors to photograph while on tour 'interesting types of modern Indian buildings in the districts in which they are engaged, and to take notes of the names and address and local rates of remuneration of the principal craftsmen concerned in the designing and decoration of them'. We shall now present detailed extracts from the Report that was published in 1913. As the outset it might be of interest to note that the Government found it necessary to insert a preface that 'The Opinions expressed by Mr. Begg and Mr. Sanderson are personal to themselves and the Government of India is in no way committed to the approval of their views'.

Extracts From the 'Report on Modern Indian Architecture (27)

Introductory Note on the Development of Indian Architecture

And that brings me to the great fact which today differentiates India's position in architecture from that of other countries. These photographs should amply prove to anyone who might have a doubt on the point the fact of the survival to the present day of a living tradition. The truest summing up of the case is to say 'that the art, though still living is dormant, and the question regard to it is this is it worth reawakening? Should we allow it to die the natural death that from one cause or another has overtaken nearly all similar art traditions in other countries, or should we try to give it a new lease of life ?... I think the answer must be that the living tradition is an artistic asset of such incalculable value that we cannot afford to allow it to die out; that it is well worth reawakening even though the complete process should be lengthy, and interim results not acceptable, may be to all.

Our declaration of architectural policy could take no more suitable form than that of the 'manner of design we adopt for New Delhi. Our forefathers of a hundred years ago sounded a certain note in the design of the earlier buildings of Calcutta, but that note has, I think it must be admitted dwindled too often to a sorry squeak in later examples in the same city. Is it not arguable that this decadence was due to the keynote being out of tune with any indigenous tradition? it would be a fining thing if the architectural note that we sound in our new capital were to type the reawakened India of the present ('and futeu. In this matter practical and economical considerations seem to me to join hands with those which are artistic and sentimental. We have got art why waste it? We have got our crafts men why employ them on work for which they have small aptitude or (which is what would' happen) leave our best craftsmen out altogether? There is nothing, as I have already said, in an Indian manner of design that makes it costly, indeed my own experience goes to prove that the costliest manner of building in India is a Renaissance or Classical one. Why sound again a note that is sure to dwindle into decadence as it has done before, rather than one more likely to be worthily sustained by the future generations of indigenous architects for whose advent we might well make it our duty to prepare ? .

J. Begg Consulting Architect to the Government of India


The following notes are the outcome of a suggestion made in a letter(28) from the India Society to the India Office. They deal only with the local architecture of a small portion of India and that but briefly My first step., was to enquire from the officials in the various divisions of Punjab and United Provinces. 'Seven replies referred me to examples at Agra, Delhi, Lucknow, Allahabad, Muttra, Amriisar and Saharanpur. My own circle did not yield much and it was during a special visit to the Native States of Rajputana that this information was principally collected. It need hardly be said that it is scanty. In truth a subject of this kind needs handling on a far larger scale than has been possible here; so much so, that it would have been preferable, perhaps to collect further information from other localities on the matter before any publication was issued. In view, however, of the importance attaching to indigenous architecture in connection with the building of the new capital of Delhi, which has been decided on since the India Society dispatched their letter under reference, the Government of India have instructed me to prepare this report without delay. Let me add that it has been extremely difficult to ascertain any of the craftsmen engaged on the work of these buildings, They are of the humblest class, and several officials, who showed me over these modern buildings, ridiculed the idea of asking for their names and addresses; indeed, several of the men themselves, when asked, looked on me with suspicion and, thinking that might be on some other quest, gave me wrong addiessss. Nor was a short stay of a day or two in each place sufficient time in which to get together much information. However if the men are wanted, they can readily be found.

Delhi :

The Dharmasala of Chunna Mall in the Mohalla Nil Ka Katra, has just been completed. It was built under the supervision of Nuru, mistri, who did not receive any tegular pay but charged commission, dasturi, on all the materials purchased for the building. His commission, according to the owner, amounted to about Rs. 20 or Rs. 25 per month. In return, he spent a few hours daily at the building, gave instructions to the masons for the next day's work, and paid them. Such mistris at Delhi usually have several works going on at once. They make rough plans showing the arrangements of the rooms, and, for important buildings, sometimes prepare a front elevation . . . They never prepare any sections showing inner details of roof beams and ballis. Details of decoration are very seldom made except for teaching novices. It will be seen from this how much is left to the mason, on 8 to 10 annas per day.

Agra :

Pietra DuraThe important part that this industry plays in the decoration of Indian architecture is well known. The following notes were taken at the workshops of' Nathoo Ram at Agra, whose ancestors for several generations had carried on the same industry, and who expressed regret that his son was taking up the medical profession. There is a marked absence of European influence in the work of this firm. Old pattern books, filled with measured drawings of the best example of Mughal work, form the basis of their designs (29). All the workmen engaged here are natives of Agra. The Puchhekars (30) have been many years with the firm and were first trained as apprentices. Considering the work they execute, Rs. 20 per month is but a small wage.

Jali work . . . Hardly any Indian building is without a piece of this pierced stone work. The design is drawn out by a draftsman (Rs. 20 per mensum) on the stone. The masons (8 to 10 annas per diem) carve it out. As a rule, the latter draw it out themselves, without any help from a draftsman.

The Daoji Temple. This is one of the most interesting buildings I have seen so far, it has been neerly 10 years in building, and, at the rate it is going on will be as many more before it is finished. 1 was told that it had cost over Rs. 20,000 so far, but cannot vouch for these figures. There is no architect, no plan, and no program of work. Kalyan of Namnir, Agra has worked on the building from the start and is now head mistri, the original head mistri being dead. Both these men are true master craftsmen. They receive 10 annas per day and do all the work. One or two coolies are brought into help in getting the larger stones into position. As an example of architecture by men untutored in its practice and relying solely on their traditional knowledge, this little building is worthy of close attention.

Masons at present in the United Provinces are, I am informed, of only one or two years standing. They start by working as ordinary coolies, their amDition being eventually to become contractors. Their wages are 6 to 8 annas a day, while 'for better work there are special plasterers who get 8 to 10 annas... Another most interesting new building at Aga is the Samadh for Swamiji Maharaj, now being built a mile beyond the Roman Catholic cemetery. Civil Lines. The architect is Babu Tota Ram. It is estimated that the building will cost Rs. 25 lakhs to complete. The quality of masonry work is excellent. The building is to be of brick, faced with marble, and its total height when finished is intended to top the Taj Mahal. The money for the building is being collected only very gradually, and it will take many years to complete . . . Bhopal (31 ):

The Taj ul-Masajtd, now building, will be, 1 think, the largest modern mosque in India. It was begun during the time of the late Begam of Bhopal. The plan and elevation were prepared by Muhammad Raushan, a Delhi draftsman, now dead, but all details are being worked out, as the work goes on, by the contractors. At present two contractors are at work on the mosque, the south gate and arcades being done by one Rathaji from Kach near Kathiawar. The east gate is the work of another contractor. I saw workmen laying the stone floor of the arcades. They were getting 8 to 10 annas per day and I wasjtold they worked out all the masonary details . . . The mosque measures 26V 6" North and South by 88' 0" East and West. Its treatment is distinctly new. At either end are commodious zanana chapels, while the zanana gallery and the mezzanine floor at each end ofjthe mosque near the minars, are also novel features. There is a boldness of treatment about the chattri. Her highness tfiB Begam frequently visits the work and gives orders as to details, and it is hoped that the building, which is an eloquent testemony to the fact that the old Indian builders have1 not lost their skill, will be finished ere long . . All walls in Bhopal are provided with Chajjas at frequent intervals lo shade them and to throw off the rain. There is good local building stone in Bhopal, prices for paving being Rs. 50 per 150 sq.ft., while prices for masonry range from Rs. 15 to Rs.l25 per 100 cub. ft., according to the quality required. Masons and carpenters receive 8 to 10 annas per day. Here, as at Bikam'r, local building is largely encouraged by the present ruler.

Bikanir :

All the buildings illustrated here are the work of mister masons, natives of Bikanir, working at the rate of annas 8 to Rs. 1 daily. To quote the Assistant Slate Engineer' of Bikanir, who kindly accompanied me on my inspection, 'they do not believe to plans' (32). This capacity for building craft, so evidently possessed by the inhabitants of Bikanir, has been without doubt encouraged by the presence in their midst of the old palace . . a most imposing structure . . The new Durbar hall in the old palace of Bikanir was begun in 1887 and completed in 1896. It was worked out by local craftsmen and is a fine piece of work, built at1the express wish of H. H. the Maharajah in the local style. The courtyard of this new Durbar hall with the ladies gallery above. There is originality in every line of it down to the smallest detail. The design of the almost Corinthian capitals, the three centered arches, and the carving which adorns them, has all been carefully thought out. The southeast corner of the hall is a splendid piece of work. A spherical bay window, supported by a half column and set in an| angle of the building rests 'cheek by jowl' with two other projecting windows. The imagination of the builder has had full play. The contractor was one Bokar of Jodhpur, which perhaps accounts for the similarity between the work' on this portion of the hall and the old palace in the Fort at Jodhpur? '

Gwalior :

The chief features of the houses at Gwalior are the lace like stone screens of the upper storeys. They are generally white washed and in the strong sunlight this rather adds to their effect. The new Hindu 1 temple built by Prince Bhaiya Bala want Rao, an Indian architect, is a happy combination of the Hindu and Mughal styles. The carving, with which it is covered, is perhaps rather too rich for European ideas, but is of undoubted ability. The interior, with its black and white marble floor, is most imposing, and the carving has been used here with more restraint than on the outside, thereby producing an effect of solidity and strength. The excellent Hindu architecture of the Fort at Gwalior, which served as a model to the Mughals when designing similar edifices, is no doubt to a great extent responsible for the ability of the present Gwalior builders. . The following craftsman in the state (33) is well up in building houses in the native style and in executing carved ornamental work. Their usual wages are 10 to 12 annas per day, but, if working out of Gwalior, they receive double these amounts.


There is no doubt that the natives of Jaipur take naturally to all kinds of design. The work done by the School of Art is well known, while there are many other craftsmen in the city who can turn out work of equal quality. The European architect is apt to be too hard on the Indian members of the profession. It is perhaps, largely due to the fact that he does not appreciate the fact that native life in native States has not appreciably changed since Mughal days. There is consequently no marked change in the architecture, which is the expression of that life. The buildings illustrated here reflect this spirit of conservatism. They are suited to their requirements in every respect, and as such are embodiments of living art, with every right to a place in the history of architecture. The men who have been responsible for them possess faculties not only for construction but for design also, as well as a working knowledge of allied crafts such as carpentry and metal work. But their only school as yet is antiquity.

The guest house in the Jaipur palace was designed by Lala Chiman Lall and carried out by daily labour. The ornament was sketched for the stone cutters (8 annas per day) direct in the stone by draftsmen. The doors of this building are bound with brass. Carpenters get '6 to 7 annas and brass workers 8 annas per day. In the Sarad Ki Deori' the doors of brass alone cost Rs. 12,000, brass workers on the above wage being employed. [The] royal mausoleum for the present ruler's wife [is the] work of Lala Chiman Lall. Plate 72 illustrates some clay models for the mausoleum details; while the clay model of a parapet is being erected on the little Chattri shown in plate 73 so that its merits may be judged at the level at which it will be seen when finished. These models show the careful consideration that is being given to details . . . Plates 77 and 78 show typical Jaipur street architecture it is aJmost invariably colour washed pink and outlined in white, the effect produced being by no means a bad one.


Some apology must be made for including in this report some ancient buildings of Jodhpur Fort, but the influence they must have had and are still having on the traditional architecture of Rajputana, warrants their mention. These photographs of the interior of the Fort. I cannot remember having seen hitherto published. For grandeur in conception and beauty of detail it is unsurpassed. Brackets, cornices and stone screens have been elaborated to the most picturesque richness. A special craft in Jodhpur is the inlaying of ebony with ivory Ivory costs Rs. 14 per seer; its powder from sawing being used, I was told, as a tonic for buffaloes, so that there is no waste. A man I saw engaged in this work was getting Rs. 15 per month. He designed the pattern for inlay himself. 1 also saw at the same place, the Museum, a native artist working in oils. He was painting a picture of the late Maharajah from a photograph, on a wage of Rs. 20 per month.


IV. The Debate on the Building of New Delhi

Within ten days of the Durbar announcement regarding the building of a new capital, Havell wrote in the Times, London (December 22, 1911), pleading that this should be taken as an opportunity to employ Indian craftsmanship and revive Indian art on the lines of (old) Delhi, Agra, Jaipur or Fatehpur Sikri, and not, the 'bastard Gothic and emasculated Italian Renaissance edifices of Calcutta'. Over the next few years Havell and Coomaraswamy led a verbal attack on the English planners of New Delhi, urging them to use Indian architects and masons in the construction of government buildings for reasons of economy, excellence and suitability, and as a much needed example of state patronage of indigenous industries' (34). Havell could muster the support of some of the British architects who had been in service in India like H. V. Lanchester, Robert Chisholm, F. 0. Oertel etc., and to some extent that of the consulting architect to the Government of India, John Begg. It was largely due to this advocacy of Indian architecture that Lanchester who was among the' four architects first called on to advise the Government of India on the planning of the new city was left out when the final team of architects had to be selected, and in the same way Begg, though the consulting architect to the Government of India, was completely bypassed in all matters concerning the building of the new city.

Some leaders of public opinion also joined the debate. Sir Bradford Leslie decried the projected imposition on the Indian people of pretentious Renaissance buildings.
He also warnea" that adoption of a pseudo Renaissance style, quite divorced from contemporary structural methods would mark the final separation of architecture from its roots in the builders' art. In the debate on the building of New Delhi in the British Parliament (December 20, 1912) Joseph King, a Liberal member, made a strong plea for Indian craftsmen and artists and for buildings which would give expression to Indian tradition. He asked if it was fair that Indians with their own proud heritage, should pay for the construction of palaces of Italian art (35).

Of course, 'Opinion among the European community in India, with rare exceptions, favoured an occidental style for imperial Delhi. Similarly in Britain important voices during 191213 espoused a Western architecture qualified only by allowance for local climate and available materials influential architectural journals in Britain supported selection of the Renaissance style' (3C). The Committee of Delhi experts (Lutyens, Swinton and Brodie) felt that Delhi must 'convey the idea of peaceful domination and dignified rule over the traditions and life of India by the British Raj'. (37) Lord Stadfortham, the King's Private Secretary, declared that 'The Indian was of a critical mind, fully aware of what Hindu and Mughal builders had accomplished.) We must now let him see for the first time...the power of Western science, art and civilization'. (38)

The way the imperialist I mind worked was clearly exposed by Ananda CoomaraswamV in a letter to the Manchester Guardian (October 7, 1912):

Those who have read your recent article on the problem of styles at Delhi might be interested in thejleading article in the 'Builder' for September 27, dealing with the same matter. The writer . . [states that] 'Indian rajahs vie with one another in building houses based on English models. If we are to retain suzerainty in India this attitude is one to be encouraged'... While many of the Rajahs are in a position to make effective use of the living architectural traditions of their own capitals and for their own purposes, the 'houses based on English models' are even more stupid caricatures of 'English' (more strictly pseudo French or Italian) architecture than the worst results possible to be imagined for the New Delhi. But the reason given for encouraging these fatuities. The imperialist betrays his fear and hatred of any expression of national character in a dependent country, end would produce the architecture to India to a reflection of suburban ideals, for sake of Empire . . To make the suppression of national character a deliberate part of the policy of Empire ought to be, and perhaps would be the most certain way to secure its downfall (39)

The way the British Government policy had stifled Indian architecture came under a blistering attack by the famous Indian art critic O. C. Ganguly in an article40 published in the Calcutta journal, Modern Review, in 1912.

The masterpieces of Indian architecture have been appreciated praised and repaired and preserved but held to be too scared to be invoked, followed, or continued in modern house building. The architectural policy of the Public Works Department has been to steadily avoid any Indian styles in modern Indian building. So far back as 1867 Fergusson protested against the proposal of adopting the Doric style of architecture for the University of Calcutta. It is interesting to recapitulate the reasons assigned for the employment of the European style in public buildings, it has been said that principles and designs which govern the ancient architecture of India are specially suited for temples and mosques and other ecclesiastical buildings and they are worse than useless to meet the requirements of modern India with its growing commerce and Industry... The discussion of the question on its theoretical side by the advocates to the classic style is still more amusing and is in the face of it too absurd to call for a refutation. To quote Mr. Roger Smith. 'First it is said that it (the Indian style and design) is suited to the climate, secondly that the natives can do it, and lastly that it is, and can be very beautiful. But the sufficient answer of course is that it may be all these; but that it is not European far less British’ (41).

It is curious to note that even after the lapse of forty years, Mr. Smith's utterances are still taken by all art experts as the last word on such an important question. Mr, Roger's opinion accords more with the imperialistic ideas of Lord Curzon, who, by the way, inspite of his splendid services to Indian art and archaeology evaded the problem with characteristic subtlety. He was faced With the question with reference to the erection of the Memorial Hall to Queen Victoria in Calcutta. At the first inception of the scheme for the memorial, Mr. Havell proposed to Lord Curzon that the design for the memorial should be made in a living Indian style in consultation with the best native master builders that were found.. Lord Curzon [gave]. The reason that 'Calcutta was a European city and that an Indian style of building would be unsuitable there(42). So the truth had to be told at last; it was on considerations other than that of expense that the decision was made.

Citing many of the excellent contemporary works of Indian architects, Ganguly made a fervent plea that the building of New Delhi could be an excellent opportunity to make amends for the disastrous policy followed by the Government so far. In 1913, Havell wrote his magnum opus Indian Architecture, its 'Psychology Structure; and History from First Muhammadan Invasion to the Present Day' (London,*1913) (13). A significant portion of this book is devoted to the contemporary status of Indian architects and their work (from which we have quoted extensively in the last section) and to the issue of the building of New Delhi. Havell states in his preface that:

I have planned this work so as to make evident to the expert and laymen alike the relation between Indian architectural history and a great problem which is exercising the public mind at the present moment the building (of the New Delhi and a question of more vital importance the preservation of Indian handicraft. For fifty years Indian Departmentalism has followed a system of building demoralizing alike to the architect and the craftsman. What finer opportunity can there be than the building of the New Delhi for inaugurating a new architectural and educational policy which will remove the incubus now pressing so hardly upon Indian craft and industry, and at the same time give a great impulse to the new movement for the revival of architecture in this country.

One of the most notable events of the whole debate on the building of New Delhi was the presentation of a petition from 175 influential persons (including Members from t both houses of the Parliament, distinguished representatives of the world of arts and letters, etc.) presented to the India Office on 6th February 1913. The petition which clearly bears the stamp of authorship of Havell and Coomaraswamy deserves to be quoted here.

A Petition Presented to His Majesty's Principal Secretary of State for India, February 6th, 1913.

The Humble Petition of the Undersigned most respectfully sheweth :

That they would draw your Lordship's attention to an aspect of the question of the new city of Delhi that they fear may be lost sight of in discussion upon a choice of styles that seem to be beside the point and to confuse the issue.

Here, In England, where, broadly speaking, no traditional craftsmen have survived, and where, in place of unselfconscious artists practicing with intelligence and pleasure their various crafts, there are only (mechanics dully earning a living, there is unfortunately a show of reason for treating building as a dead art, and for selecting from our museums examples to imitate. But India is not England (or Europe), and where there are still master builders and craftsmen and an unbroken building tradition of more than 2,000 years with all that it implies, there can be no serious question of style.

They submit that the question to be discussed is, not in what style, but by what method the new city should be built; whether that of the modern architect in an office with his assistants, detached from materials, craftsmen, and site, carrying his buildings to completion upon paper, with pencil trained wind and hands, and binding with details and specification those who are to build strictly within these limits; the method that has produced the public buildings of the nineteenth and twentieth century’s, and in India those of the Anglo Indian cities; or, the method that has given us Westminster Abbey, Saint Sofia, Saint Peter's (Rome), and in India the Taj, the Palaces of Akbar and Shah Jahan, and the great public works of former times, that of the master builder with his craftsmen, working in accustomed materials upon the site from simple instructions as to accommodation and arrangement such as would have been given to a master mason or a master carpenter by a medieval King who required a palace or a castle, or by a Bishop who desired to found a cathedral. This was the method that has produced all the great buildings of the world, and no modern buildings warrant the assumption that it can be safely departed from.

They submit that it is for the general good, artistically and morally, not only of the United Kingdom and India, but of the world at large, that living craftsmanship should be saved from extinction by a right method of employment; that politically such a method will tie the natives of India more closely to the Mother Country, and at the same time give an outlet for the energies of the college trained Indians to whom all the arts are at present closed; further, that the use of native master builders handling native material is financially economical ...

That your humble petitioners beg to lay the foregoing before your Lordship in the earnest hope that your Lordship will be graciously pleased to give them the deepest and most careful consideration.

As Rebert Irving notes,

'The prominence of the petitioners, ranging from Thomas Hardy, George Bernard Shaw, Laurence Houseman and Sir Arthur Evans to the Duke of Newcastle, Lord Napier of Magdala, and Adeline, Duchess of Bedford, ensured that the petition was not ignored . . Read in the Council of India, it was forwarded to the Government of India. [In their reply of April 24, 1913] the Viceroy's Council remarked that while they were sympathetic to the petitioners' aims, the methods advocated were no longer applicable when confronted with the complex requirements on modern civilisation The Government emphasized their hope, however, that the work at New Delhi would encourage the best craftsmen in India and afford ample outlet for skills in the decorative arts' (44).

While presenting the petition, the petitioners perhaps did not have access to the Report of Gordon Sanderson which was published in 1913. But by the time the above views of the Government of India were communicated to the petitioners on May 29, 1913 they were armed with the Report. In a further petition dated June 13, 1913.

'A. Randall Wells on behalf of the petitioners, called attention to the 'unimpeachable' evidence in Gordon Sanderson's Report on Modern Indian Architecture that there existed numerous master builders possessing a 'free mastery of construction and 'design' and capable of erecting works 'both of magnitude and of utilitarian purpose'. Casting about for '.art easy and satisfactory solution for the employment of Indian designers, Malcolm Hailey as President of the Imperial Delhi Committee, suggested selecting certain portions of the principal buildings (he mentioned the Durbar Hall and the Secretarian conference room) for an Indian designer. Certain lesser buildings such as the Oriental Institute might also be given to the Indian designer; the Imperial Delhi Committee would work out 'engineering and other details'.

Even the above proposal was not found acceptable. The dispatch of the Viceroy to the secretary of State dated July 20, 1914 seems to succinctly summaries the Government's position. In the words of Irving:

'The question was the method. Given the fundamental principle which required fully prepared plans and estimates before the expenditure to any funds, it is not difficult to understand the Governments' resistance to adapting the traditional, unstructured methods of the mistri. These master builders normally began work with only a general elevation drawing, no detailed working drawings, and without any estimate of the cost. Details were worked out as the construction proceeded, often by the workmen themselves; no schedules of rates or quantities were prepared. Such a procedure was inconceivable at Raisina [the site for New Delhi]' (45).

The debate on the employment of Indian architecture for New Delhi did not perhaps have any significant influence on the way the new capital was built; the Government was all the time clear that they should build an imperial capital. However the debate did serve to focus attention on the state of the Indian architect and his architecture, and it indeed went a long way in establishing that Indian architecture was still very much a living tradition, a people's science as well as art, with considerable vitality and capacity to meet any new challenges if only allowed to do so. Writing in 1915, Havell himself explained what his own efforts so far amounted to:

'Any official, unless he be of the highest rank, who impugns the accuracy of Indian history, as it is written officially, is viewed with suspicion and risks his prospects in Government service. My first venture on that disparate enterprise was to question the theory, asserted in official handbooks and propagated by Government museums and schools of art, that India never had a 'fine art'. This suggestion was received. with mild surprise and skepticism... But as art teaching is never taken very seriously by the British statesmen it was not considered a very dangerous doctrine.. With greater rashness called attention in 1901 to another error in the summary of the District Officer's knowledge of India, the statement in the then current edition of the 'Imperial Gazetteer' that 'the |greatest industry in India, after agriculture, is the spinning and weaving carried on in power loom mills'. I showed by I facts and figures taken from the census of India that this industry was of infinitely less economic importance to India than one which was omitted altogether from official statistics of industry, although carried on under the eyes of every District Officer the village hand weaving industry. That brought me into Departmental disgrace at once. Only a sentimentalist and idealist would think of mentioning an industry which was moribund and doomed to disappear before the march of western progress. What did 5,000, 000 village hand weavers matter when 350,000 coolies were working the latest western machinery in the mills of Bombay and Calcutta?

Two years ago 1 made another offering at the shrine of Truth by calling public attention to the work of the living Indian master builder, whose existence is ignored by the 'Imperial Gazetteer', Departmentalism became seriously alarmed. He was not on the file the District Officer had not seen him. He must be extinct, for Sir Lepe Griffin, K.C.S.I., when Agent to the Governor General for Central India, had] written that 'the love for and practice of noble and beautiful architecture seems to have died out of India previous to the advent of the English' (46). Official experts said he was a figment of my imagination. And so he remained officially, until last year the Report of special investigations into the conditions of modern Indian architecture, undertaken at my suggestion before the question of the building of the New Delhi came into the arena, was published. The inquiry, though admittedly only a very superficial one, had proved that, so far from exaggerating the facts, I had understated the capacity of the modern Indian master builders; for besides a quantity of fine building work in many different parts of the north of India, the Report revealed the fact that, under favorable conditions, Indian master builders can build as well as, and better than, their forefathers did in the days of Shah Jahan. For in the very district which was Sir Lepal Griffin's field of observation, a mosque larger than the famous Jami Masjid of Delhi, and so far as it is completed, a finer, work of art, is now in progress, designed and carried out entirely by Indian craftsmen. Departmentalism more suo of course will belittle the importance of the revelation, industry; but the living Indian master builder is now on the official file (though only as a controversial subject'.. (47)

Indeed for Havell the debate was never over. The 'controversial subject' had to be kept alive. Writing in 1924, Havell declared once again that.

The sayings and writings of many Europeans and of English educated Indians show how difficult it is for the mentality produced by Western book learning to discover and understand the art which still lives and grows on Indian soil. For the majority Indian art is only a matter of archaeological or academic interest . . . Many authorities who ought to know better have often asserted that the modern Indian master builder is only a figment of my imagination' that he does not exist, or if he does, he is only a relic of a dead civilisation for which no modern progressive state can find any use. A conclusive refutation of such misleading and mischievous assertions has been given in an official 'Report on Modern Indian Building', published in 1913 by the Archaeological Survey of India. Since the building of the New Delhi was started some of the most distinguished English architects have taken up this question, and last year Mr. H. V. Lanchester, F.R.I.B.A„ who has had considerable experience as an architect in India, read a paper before the Royal Institute of British Architects (48) in which he endorsed all I have written and said regarding the modern Indian builder. 'By far the best craftsmanship and the only architecture showing any real development in any of the vernacular styles' said Mr. Lanchester, 'I found in works away from official ' centers and influence of Government control. I made enquiries as to the cost of such work and found it less than we should have paid for the same thing, not reckoning our overhead charges, which range from 22 to 28 per cent, to cover costs of drawings, estimates and supervision. Our obsessions are, therefore not only destructive artistically, but cannot even claim the only merit that would excuse them that of being cheap'. The modern Indian master builder, Mr. Lanchester declared from his personal observation, was not a fiction but a fact.

Mr. Herbett Baker A.R.A., one of the architects of the New Delhi, in discussing Mr. Lanchester's paper admitted that the master builder might be left in sole charge in the case of simpler buildings of Indian character. Mr. Baker alluded to some of the administrative difficulties which might be encountered in working out this essential reform – a reform which lies at the root of India's artistic life. 'The Indian craftsman', he said, 'is generally a farmer, and he has a delightful habit, when it rains, of going off to his farm. And he is very bad in giving estimates, so you can imagine the harassed Minister answering the rain of parliamentary questions, and the demands for returns of estimates, and retrenchment commissioners hunting the mistri to his farm'. The inference seems to be that Indian art, or art in India must be sacrificed to departmental convenience. Should it not rather be the business of the harassed minister to discover the means by which the Indian master builder the chief representative of a great historic tradition in artmay be allowed to live'? (49)

V The Basic Issue

As is clear from our discussion, the debate on Western versus Indian architecture for" New Delhi, was not on a question of 'styles', but was on a truly fundamental issue the choice between two different systems of science, with their own values, with their own ways of organising the science, the industry and the art of building. Of course the criticism offered of Indian architecture at this stage of the debate (1910's) was not that it was any less a science but that its methods were totally unsuited to the modern Western civilization, whose superiority was beyond question to all those who made the decisions at that time.

Today it may well be that, for many of us (as it was for Havell), the Report of Sanderson or the work of our indigenous architects that still survive, constitute significant evidence for a living tradition of the science as well as art of building. However, the 'official' or the 'modern scientific', point of view is very different.' This new 'official' response was perhaps first clearly spelt out by Percy Brown in 1942 and as it still lingers around as the 'dominant' view of anglicized India it is worth recounting here. Commenting on the Sanderson's report Percy Brown states :

'In spite of the restricted nature of these inquiries useful information was obtained relating to the present day condition of the building art. The principal object was to find out whether the modern Indian craftsmen possessed the necessary capacity to create a substantial work of architecture in the indigenous style which would, compare favorably in its constructional treatment with .the building art of the West. As far as the aesthetic nature of such productions was concerned the researches elicited the fact that the artisans still retained their noted hereditary skill in the fields of design and manipulation of materia), their ability in this aspect of their art being unquestionable. Not only had they a remarkable facility in handling masonry and in everything connected with the use of stone, but many of them also possessed a useful working knowledge of the allied crafts such as carpentry and metal work. In this respect the Indian master builders were obviously of a type similar to the mediaeval masons who produced the buildings in the Gothic style in Europe, versatile workmen thoroughly imbued with the principles and practice of their trade. But when the authority concerned came to enquire into the structural methods employed by the Indian builders it was clear that the same high quality of workmanship was not observable, his systems were primitive, has materials defective and his constructional experience had not progressed with the times.

To appreciate the position it is necessary to realize that in its broad sense the building art resolves itself into two operations the artistic and the constructional, which, correctly synthesized, produce the true work of architecture. Briefly, good building is a combination of art and science (50). The fault with "the Indian workman lies in the fact that he is so supremely artistic that his art invades the field of science, with the result that his construction too tends to become artistic, in other words he is an artist first and a technician afterwards. Moreover, for his art he has always relied largely on tradition, a. factor which has its uses and abuses, it is better a servant than a master, and it is possible that at times the Indian craftsman in this connection has been inclined to allow his forbearers to do his thinking for him. Tradition also can be a danger in the sphere of construction art, within modern times, has tended to slow down but on the other hand construction has been speeded up, new methods, processes, scientific devices, and materials have been invented with which the Indian workman has only a slight acquaintance. Education, increased experience, and more knowledge of materials and practical and technical systems seem to be required to bring the Indian workman abreast of modern performance. From this it is evident that some instructional organisation is needed which will correct these deficiencies, a duty which it may be added is now being undertaken. There is little doubt that such a course of action will have good results'. (51)

What is the logic of this position? Once it is conceded that West alone has the science and India, at best, excels in art, it is indeed very easy to dismiss Indian architecture as it is being done for, it has always been the prerogative of all the modernised Indians not to like or at least 'not comprehend' Indian art any way63. And the 'good results' of such understanding that Percy Brown promises is there for us to see everywhere, in New Delhi, or more recently in Chandigarh or in the Asiad 'Village'.

PostScript: How Was New Delhi Built?

Finally we shall briefly describe how New Delhi was actually built. As we noted earlier, for the colonial Government much of the above debate was totally incidental. In March 1912 the Delhi Town Planning Committee was constituted with Edwin Landseer Lutyens, a practicing architect, John A. Brodie, the municipal engineer of Liverpool and Captain George Swinton, Chairman of London Country Council as members. The Committee was to advise the Government on the choice of site and the general plan for the new capital. In January 1913 Lutyens and his old time friend Herbert Baker were appointed as the principal architects for the whole project. To fulfill the declared promise of 'Western architecture with an Oriental motiff, the Viceroy insisted that Sir Swinton Jacob (aged seventy one, who had retired in 1896 from Public Works Department and had later served as architect to several native princes) be asked to assist Lutyens and Baker with advice on Indian architectural details and materials, probably, by a visit to the Subcontinent in Autumn 1913. The terms of the contract that were finalized by the summer were: Lutyens and Baker were required to visit the site once each year. They were to receive 5% of the actual cost of the work, £ 1000 a year each, first class return steamship fares and first class railway travel in India, a daily subsistence allowance of Rs. 30 and a fee of £ 5 each day (later to be raised to £ 10) while away from home.

The following extracts from Irving's book serve well to illustrate the overall perspective of the principal architect of New DelhiEdwin Lutyens:

Even before his arrival in the sub continent. [Lutyen's opinion of the indigenous architecture] had been averse! The Mughal buildings scattered throughout north India he thought cumbersome, poorly constructed and tiresome to the Western mind. Some of the detail he found attractive enough, but they he felt its beauty attributable to outside influences, possibly Italian. For Baker he reduced Mughal architecture to a formula 'Build a vastly mess of rough concrete, elephant wise on a very simple rectangular cumoctagon plan, dome in space anyhow, cut off square. Overlay with a veneer of stone patterns like lying a vertical tile floor, and get Italians to help you. Inlay jewels and carnelians if you can afford it, and rob someone if you can’t. And then on the top of the mass, put on 3 turnips in concrete and overlay with stone or marble as before. Be very careful not to bond anything in and do not care a damn if it all comes to pieces'. The recipe he devised for Hindu construction was equally caustic: 'Set square stones and build child wise. Before you erect, carve every stone differently and independently, with lace patterns and terrifying shapes. On the top, build over targeted pendentives an onion'. Lutyens felt India had no real architecture; the buildings were just tents in stone and little more. Nothing Indian was constructed to last, 'not even the Taj'. The entire debate over the architectural style distressed Lutyens as useless ‘tongue wagging’. [53].

'Lutyens swiftly rejected the proposal to use Indian draughts men for 'orientalizing' the New Delhi designs. Such a tactic, he argued, contradicted the essence of fine architecture' in which plans, elevations, and sections composed a single, integral organism. Embiematic ornament was acceptable if discretely subsumed within the controlling geometric system. The only architectural language that could represent 'the ideal of British empire', and be adaptable to various climates, Lutyens asserted was 'of course classic'; it was 'better, wiser, saner and more gentlemanlike than the sham sentiment of imitation Indian styles'[53].

As regards Lutyens companion Baker who had in 1912 called for 'a blend of the best elements of East and West'["], we may cite the following:

'Herbert Baker envisioned British influence measured in millennia: 'In 20,000 years there must be an imperial Lutyens tradition in Indian architecture, as there now clings a memory of Alexander'. Unlike Lutyens, whom he thought concentrated his intellectual talents on abstract and geometrical qualities to the neglect of human and national sentiment. Baker felt that content in art was of the first importance. In building New Delhi, therefore, English classical architecture in the manner of Inigo Jones and Wren should be adopted in order fearlessly to 'put the stamp of British sovereignty' on the subcontinent of India,.. Baker rejected! the prettiness of much Indian ornament, however preferring a simplicity which subordinates details of design to a big conception'. Indian ingenuity was too often spent on superficial fantasies' and elaboration. Hindu architecture merely aped wooden construction in stone with 'grotesque meaningless' carving, f while Mughal building though of a higher order, consisted of 'masses of brick and concrete covered with decoration'. Jaalis he acknowledged as 'perfectly beautiful' and suitable for Raisina, but he emphatically enjoined his subordinates C. P. Walgate and William Harvey to avoid 'dreadful Htndo Stuff on brackets and other Delhi detailing". [56]

Little wonder that what emerged under the stewardship of these eminent architects has been variously styled 'A sample of twentieth century classicsm'67 or a 'dream world] of Palladian Regency architecture'58. A recent assessment however points out that, '

'The New Delhi complex of Sir Edward Lutyens built by clearing the woods of Raisina.. Modelled on Versailles, however, and couched in terms of mperial pride, it sidetracks the earthiness of Akbar and Sawai Jai Singh, ignoring the human needs for small comforts. The secretariat blocks, radiating from the vast Viceregal palace, spread out'in grandiose red sand stone structures and announce the aloofness of the rulers from the ruled. The hedgedin bungalows, with grounds big enough for cricket fields, housed the British Indian civil servant in sequestered houses, entirely removed from the people'(59).

It is but natural that when New Delhi was inaugurated in February 1931, the Congress leaders were extremely bitter and critical. As Irving notes:

'Nehru depicted Viceroys house as the 'chief temple where the High priest officiated' and he assailed the New Delhi as the 'visible symbol of British power, with all its pomp and circumstance and vulgar ostentation and wasteful extravagance'. Mahatma Gandhi was equally critical, as befitted his fervent advocacy of the cause, of the poor and his belief in India's villages as the source of her social and economic strength and identity. He deplored 'the waste of money on architectural piles' and felt strongly that India could not afford Viceregal residences at Raisina, Simla and Calcutta. The new capital was an artificial imposition on the country, with no relation to rural life. Its buildings were in conflict with the best interest of the nation'(60).

What is however sad is that even after the departure of the'British in 1947, Latyens and Baker are still there. The president of India lives in Lutyen's masterpiece. Baker's council house now holds the Indian parliament, and the greatest processions are still seen in the former Kings way. New Delhi, [is still] an imperial capital in the heart of India.

Finally we would like to present the following rather revealing account of how the construction of New Delhi proceeded:

'As first Chief Engineer of Delhi, Hugh Keeling exacted as professional a performance as feasible from his subordinates. Public Works Officers organized the provision of materials, transport and equipment, while Indian contractors supplied thousands of labourers. This remarkable fraternity of contractors for the most part had no acquaintance with construction. Their bold investments in desolate Raisina made them millionaires for thousands of other Indians; the New Delhi spelled neither fortune nor renown but at least gave eagerly sought employment. When a mound of wheat (about twenty five pounds) sold for four rupees, male coolies received eight annas (half a rupee) a day, women six annas, and boys four annas. Once during a 'labour famine' in the germinal stages of the project in 1913. when local Delhi coolies demanded two to three times the normal wage, the Salvation Army suggested importing 'thousands of Crims' to meet the need. Their tasks completed, the convicts would be removed at once to an existing site designated 'Crim Canaan' in remote Assam. The proposal was not approved. At the outset of construction before the war, the Public Works Department employed an army of 29,000 workers ... In 1916 there were 8000, and in 1925, 15000. Mostly cultivators by profession, they often disappeared to their homes at planting and harvest time. The Sangtarsh or stone cutters, from Agra, Mirzapur, and Bharstpur, could likewise often claim descent from those who had built the Mughal monuments, fn the busiest years, over 2500 masons sat on their haunches in the Indian fashion, dressing and carving stone and marble. W.8. Cairns, a Scot who had been foreman on Baker's Pretoria buildings, together with a handful of other British stone masons supervised the work. In such other trades as joinery or plumbing of electrical wiring a few foremen, selected among the (best in Britain, trained and guided thousands of Indian workmen, Lutyens, for one, depended heavily on these foremen, and in gratitude he gave an .annual dinner in .their honour. But .he grieved that there were so few such men. As Government House neared .completion, he complained angrily .that .there .was 'not near enough skilled supervision' and .that he hated to leave the palace to 'hooligans' to finish .in the summer of 1929. 'They smash 50/. of what they do he growled, acting 3000 broken ,panes of glass in the Viceroy's residence alone. No one / could achieve good work in India "without power of life and death" over the workers (62).

In his magnum opus of 1913 Havell had clearly posed the question:

How will be the New Delhi built? We must wait and see. If the old precedents are
maintained, the cut of its official uniform 'Renaissance', 'Indo Saracenic', or whatever its name may be will be decided by eminent European professors after grave deliberation; and when the fashion plates of the latest style have been duly admired by the British public, Indian craftsmen will be summoned from north and from south, from east and from west, as in days of old; but not to sit in durbar at the Padshah's court only to copy the .eminent professor's paper patterns. And the things "Which, really matter, both for East and for West remain as they were before [6.3].

Indeed, till the modern India stops importing the paper patterns from the West and learns to respect its craftsmen and restore them their craft, things which matter both for East and for West are likely to continue the way they have been in the Mast two centuries.

Author:'Madras Group'

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