The paintings of Ajanta represents the pinnacle of an ancient tradition, even the earliest among them is marked by the refinement of style and technique. These painting exerted powerful influence over other regions’ artistic production: the beginning of Buddhist painting the Tibet, Nepal, Central Asia, China, and Japan all can be traced to the inspiration of Ajanta. Indeed Ajanta is unique in its scope, combining painting, sculpture, and architecture, and illustrating the development of Buddhism over the centuries of the caves’ excavation. It is a Buddhist site that thrived in a Brahmanical world and at zenith of its artistic achievement it represented the pervasive classical culture of the Gupta age.
In the worlds of the scholar Ananda K. Coomaraswamy, “almost all that belongs to the common spiritual consciousness of Asia, the ambient in which its diversities are reconcilable, is of Indian origin in the Gupta period.” The entire importance of Ajanta today lies in this legacy. Propped by the charity of kings and commoners, Buddhist monastic life hummed in an environment of artistic creativity from the second century B.C. to the seventh century A.D.
On the hundred walls and pillars of these rock-carved temples a vast drama moves before the eyes, a drama played by princes and sages and heroes, by men and women of every condition, against a marvelously varied scene among forest and gardens, in courts and cities, on wide plains and in deep jungles, while above the messengers of heaven move swiftly across the sky. From all these emanates a great joy in the surpassing radiance and the face of the world, in the physical nobility of men and women, in the strength and grace of animals and the loveliness and purity of birds and the flowers; and woven into this fabric of material beauty we see the ordered pattern of the spiritual realities of the universe.
It is this perfect combination of material and spiritual energy which marks the great periods of art. In the copies here reproduced Lady Herringham and her able lieutenants have been successful, through their perception of this characteristic of the Ajanta paintings, in conveying a great deal of the passion and energy of the original forms.
So true is the psychological character of these paintings, so remarkable the delineation of human and animal forms, so profound the spiritual portrayal of Indian life, that they may still serve today, in the absence of contemporaneous works of the, kind, to represent the culture and character, rapidly changing through they now be, of the Indian people.
The story of the successive attempts to bring these famous pictures within reach of interest connected with painted cave-temples of India, are discussed below in a short essays by members of the Society.
The reproductions in colour are the work of Mr. Emery Walker and the monochromes of the Oxford University Press. The methods of reproduction to be applied to each subject have been chosen by Mr. W. Rothenstein and Prof. W.R. Lethaby. Mr. F. W. Thomas and Mr. T. W. Rolleston have arranged the Table of Plates and corrected the proofs of the letterpress, ad Mr. L. Binyon the proofs of the plates, Mr. A. H. Fox-Strangways has acted as general editor.
While thanking those who have given time and trouble to this work, the Committee think it right to say that such a publication would have been impossible without very generous donations. The names of the donors are: His Highness the Maharaja of Mysore, Sir Wilmot and Lady Herringham, Dr. Victor de Goloubew, Mrs. Sophie Cunliffe Jay, and Mr. C.L. Rutherston. No Extensive appeal has been made, since certain friend and relatives of Lady Herringham have taken upon themselves the greater portion of the expenses, in order that the undertaking might be worthily executed as a memorial of her work for India. The Committee have also to acknowledge the support of the Governments of India and Ceylon, which have been good enough to take a large number of copies.
His Highness the Nizam of Hyderabad has been pleased to accept the dedication, offered in token of a sincere appreciation of the kindly protection and substantial aid which Lady Herringham’s expedition received from his illustrious predecessor.
The volume is presented to members of the Society as a publication for the years 1914, 1915.
By order of the Committee of the India Society,
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