HAVE NO PLACE TO BREATH!
by Dr. Gautam
ASIATIC SOCIETY OF INDIA
Way back in 1784 Asiatic Society made history
as it was a forum of ‘new awakening and neo thinking’.
Asiatic Society was the mother of Indian Museum! Since then the organisation
grew to become an heritage institutions with its rare collections. But today
this institution has become a victim of ‘politicking’and resultant fund
crunch! With its closed door policies heritage was not even made public and
scholars are groping in dark! In a recent ‘facilitated’ rare and
exclusive visit, I have come across the massive holdings and monumental
neglect of rare paintings which are lying on the floor and gathering dust !
Prof. Sarkar, General Secretary of the Society explained that ‘Society has
no space to keep it, but we are interested to create a Musuem of those rare
Interestingly the heritage holdings of
Asiatic Society remained ‘Unsung’ by the Government of India during its
much publicised ‘Celebration’ of Indian culture, ethos and heritage. Prof
Sarkar explained ‘Government calender of celebration never mentioned
Asiatic Society in the ‘Yugpad’. Moreover, as ‘Golden Jubilee’ gift
the fund allocation for the society was slashed to half!
Except a chosen few, Government is perhaps not
aware of its holdings. During the visit I was told that there are 48000 rare
ancient manuscripts which are kept in vault. Research and upkeeping is an
ongoing process. The earliest Mss. I could see was the Kubjikamata Tantra
of 7th Century old. There are many Buddhist Manuscripts and two tankha. Some
are too brittle to be touched. Prof. Kajol Sen, Incharge of Mss. and rare
books explained that those Mss.are being microfilmed and would be ready for
scholars access. One can see very rare Asokan Edic of 250 B.C. written in
blingual fashion .The script is Brahmi and languages are Prakrit and
Sanskrit. The edict explains the ‘Dharma’ of Lord Buddha’s philosophy.
Some of those rare collections are kept in five ‘make-shift’show- cases
and they call it a ‘Museum’. Well there are more than one lakh rare
books available in Asiatic Society and the oldest is a Book a Venice
Publication of 1497 A.D.
Amidst rare holdings, I came across rare
original paintings of 19th century which if valued commercially would fetch
several million dollars. All those are kept on the ‘floor’ for lack of
Space. Those rare paintings are of Robert Home, Daniell, Lemekalli, Raynolds
‘Two Daneills’ by Home; ‘Cupid’ by Sir
J. Reynolds,the paintings of youthful William Jones would really amaze even
art historians. Dr. S. Sengupta the Art Historian (Author of pioneering book
‘Highlights and Halftones: The Raj View of Indian Arts’) on seeing these
rare photographs said "This is really rare original collection and
heritage we inhereted need to be studied by all and be preserved in a
scientific manner for posterity". Yes, if those paintings are not kept
well then we would end up spending millions of dollars for repairing those
rare works as happened in Victora Memorial.
However, it is gathered that Asiatic Society
is going to bring out an album on this subject and Museum is still a distant
dream as ‘space’ is the wanting factor. Prof. Kajol Sen said that ‘We
need Corporate help to upkeep our vast heritage and show it to the world as
well through an exclusive Museum.’
These paintings are of immense value
aesthetically and Historically. If you see the paintings of Radhakanta Deb
drawn by F.R. Say in a standing posture with white clothes with one hand
placed atop of an open book kept over a table with pinkish table cover and
the other hand he is holding his traditional shawl. This painting would
enthuse the interplay of colour temperatures and historical value as well.
Dr. Ranjit Sen of Calcutta University explained ‘Radha Kanta represented
the paradoxes of 19th Century as he stood for most powerful Hindu orthodoxy
of the country as well as he projected the most sensitive impulses
originating from western nationalism and liberalism that eventually
mainfested in his personage of education and culture so this photograph
highlights the anthetical balance of History--its a rare collection indeed.’
‘Cleopatra’ by Guicle would remind you of
renaissance days of European paintings. The gesture of looking at sky with
bare body is a marvellous play of light and shade. The celestial Cupid fast
asleep within the cloudy horizon not only expresses sublimity but the
aesthetics of the subject as well. Then once you see the Daniell’s Ghat of
Benaras would mesmerise the onlooker. The shades of brown played in
harmonized fashion with silhouette of Mandir and houses with stairs going
down the Ganga would nurture your inner mind for a rare aesthetic pleasure.
The Pelican by Holmes is not only for nature lovers but an aesthetic lesson
for students of arts world-over.
But nobody would be able to see those rare
original works if those are stored on the floors for some more years. If the
heritage of Asiatic Society to be kept alive then ‘Space’, ’Fund’ and
‘Will’ are mandatory. It may be noted that there is no dearth of talents
in Asiatic Society to upkeep those rare collections, as I have personally
seen well managed manuscript kept in the vaults and high-standard ‘document
reparing’ work which in many way equates the standard of National Archives
of India. Thus expertise is within the reach barring Space and Fund
Prof Sarkar said ‘We are planning to have a
permanent Museum of those paintings but the space and fund remains the
buffer... we expect Corporate participation as well to preserve our ‘Heritage
Collection’. Well! This can be a subject of Millennium Celebration for the
Corporate World! Is there any taker?