Ananda Coomaraswamy: The Arts and Crafts of India and Ceylon (1913)



“The artist is not a special kind of person; rather each person is a special kind of artist” Ananda  Coomaraswamy, A pioneer historian of Indian Art and foremost interpreter of Indian culture to the West’.

Ananda  Coomaraswamy: The Arts and Crafts of India and Ceylon (1913) not really a review but excerpts from the book. Very readable and not just the art but the religious and philosophical background to art.  This and other books by AC are available free, link at end of the post.

Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy (1877-1947)
Son of
Sir Muttu Coomaraswamy  the first Ceylon (and  South Asian?)  Knight and Elizabeth Beeby, who was a Lady-in-Waiting to Queen Victoria. First class honours in Geology and Botany (1900) from University of London. The first Director of Mineralogical Surveys, Ceylon (1903). Doctor of Science degree from the University of London in 1906 for identifying and research on the mineral Thorianite.

In 1905 he founded the Ceylon Social Reform Society.  The Society was “formed in order to encourage and initiate reform in social customs amongst the Ceylonese, and to discourage the thoughtless imitation of unsuitable European habits and customs”. He claimed fluency in 36 languages, where his definition of fluency in a language is the ability to read a scholarly article without referring to a dictionary.

AC refused to join the British armed services in World War I and As a result he was exiled from the British Empire and a bounty of 3000
Pounds placed on his head by the British Government and his house was seized. Moved to USA in 1917 together with his extensive art collection, described as ‘among the finest in the Western world’. His entire private art collection was transferred to Boston Museum of Fine Arts,  and worked there as Curator and as Visiting Lecturer at nearby Harvard University for the next thirty years until he retired in 1947.

AC’s first book major book Medieval Sinhalese Art was self published. Using his considerable inherited wealth bought the ailing Essex House Press and a small church called Norman Chapel in Broad Campden in Gloucestershire.  He used part of the premises as his residence and moved the machinery of Essex House Press to the rest of the building.
Hand printing of the book started in September 1907 and was completed in December 1908.  The layout of the book, which is a work of art in its
own right, and the printing of the 425 copies were supervised by him.
(more and much of above from In Appreciation of Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy)

Excerpts from Ananda  Coomaraswamy: The Arts and Crafts of India and Ceylon (1913)

In the first place, almost all Hindu art (Brahmanical and Mahayana Buddhist) is religious. ” Even a misshapen image of a god,” says Sukracharya {ca. 5th century a.d.) “is to be preferred to an image of a man, howsoever charming.” Not only are images of men condemned, but originality, divergence from type, the expression of personal sentiment, are equally forbidden. “(Animagemade) according to rule (shastra) is beautiful,no other forsooth is beautiful.

” the likeness of the seated yogi is a lamp in a windless place that flickers not”{Bhagavad Glta, vi. 19). It is just this likeness that we must look for in the Buddha image, and this only. For the Buddha statue was not intended to represent a man ; it was to be like the unwavering flame, an image ofwhat all men could become, not the similitude of any apparition (nirmanakaya).

A like impersonality appears in the facial expression of all the finest Indian sculptures. These have sometimes been described as expressionless because they do not reflect the individual peculiarities which make up expression as we commonly conceive it.

This ideal is described in many places, typically, for example, in the Bhagavad Gita xi. 12-19 : ” Hateless toward all born beings, void of the thought of I and My, bearing indifferently pain and pleasure, before whom the world is not dismayed and who is not dismayed before the world; who rejoices not, grieves not,desires not; indifferent in honour and dishonour, heat and cold, joy and pain; free from attachment”—such an one is god-like,from attachment”—such an one is god-like,

BhagavadGita is also the chief gospel of action without attachment: change, says Krishna, is the law of life, therefore act according to duty, not clinging to any object of desire, but like the actor in a play, who knows that his mask {persona) is not himself. For this impassivity is not less characteristic of the faces of the gods in moments of ecstatic passion or destroying fury, than of the face of the stillest Buddha. In each, emotion is interior, and the features show no trace of it: only the movements or the stillness of the limbs express the immediate purpose of the actor.

This amazing serenity (shdnti) in moments of deepest passion is not quite confined to Indian sculpture: something very like it, and more familiar to Western students, is found in the gracious and untroubled Maenad furies of the Greek vases, the irresponsible and sinless madness of the angry Bacchae.

Maenad Satyr-Vase 480bc

There is no more remarkable illustration of the Hindu perception of the relative insignificance of the individual personality, than the fact that we scarcely know the name of a single painter or sculptor of the great periods: while it was a regular custom of authors to ascribe their work to better-known authors, in order to give a greater authority to the ideas they set forth.

This process of intuition, setting aside one’s personal thought in order to see or hear, is the exact reverse of the modern theory which considers a conscious self-expression as the proper aim of art. It is hardly to be wondered at that the hieratic art of the Indians, as of the Egyptians, thus static and impersonal,should remain somewhat unapproachable to a purely secular consciousness.

Much later in origin are the definite Assyrianisms and Persian elements in the Asokan and early Buddhist sculpture, such as the bell-capital and winged lions.

Early Buddhism, as we have seen, is strictly rationalistic, and could no more have inspired a metaphysical art than the debates of a modern ethical society could become poetry. The early Sutras, indeed, expressly condemn the arts, inasmuch as ‘ ‘form, sound, taste, smell, touch, intoxicate beings.” It is thus fairly evident that before Buddhism developed into a popular State religion (under Asoka) there can hardly have existed any “Buddhist art,”

A confusion of two different things is often made in speaking of the subject-matter of art. It is often rightly said, both that the subject-matter is of small importance, and that the subject-matter of great art is always the same. In the first case, it is the immediate or apparent subject-matter—the representative element—that is spoken of; it is here that we feel personal likes and dislikes. To be guided by such likes and dislikes is always right for a practising artist and for all those who do not desire a cosmopolitan experience ; and indeed, to be a connoisseur and perfectly dispassionate critic ofmany arts or religions is rarely compatible with impassioned devotion to a single one.

The paintings of Ajanta, though much damaged, still form the greatest extant monument of ancient painting and the only school except Egyptian in which a dark-skinned race is taken as the normal type.

Ajanta Painting
Ajanta Painting


Painting/fresco,  approx 500 AD Sigiriya, Sri Lanka

When a little later we meet with the excavated chatiya-houses, and, later still, the earliest Hindu temples of the Aryavarta and the Dravidian school, we are again faced with the same problem, of the origin of styles which seem to spring into being fully developed. . It is clear that architecture had not made much progress amongst the Aryans when they first entered  India; on the contrary, all the later styles have been { clearly shown to be developments of aboriginal and non-Aryan structures built of wood(posts and beams, bamboo, thatch), the intermediate stages being worked out in brick. The primitive wooden and brick building survives to thepresent day side by side with the work in stone, a silent witness of historic origins. Some of the details of the early stone architecture point to Assyrian origins, but this connection is, for India, prehistoric. How the use of stone was first suggested is a matter of doubt; none ofthe early forms have a Greek character, but are translations of Indian wooden forms into stone; while stone did not come into use for the structural temples of the Brahmans until so late as the 6th century A. D.

The Ceylon Shilpashastras preserve canons of form and proportion for six different types, called by such names as Bell-shape, Heap of rice, Lotus, and Bubble.

Chaitiya Hall (approx 50 AD), Karli, India

Another most important class of early buildings, and one purely Buddhist, is that of the chaitiya-hall (Buddhist temples).

The prototype perhaps survives in the dairy temple of the Todas. We are well acquainted with the structural peculiarities of the chatiya-halls, from the many examples excavated in solid rock. These have barrel roofs, like the inverted hull of a ship, with every detail of the woodwork accurately copied in stone. The earliest date from the time of Asoka(3rd century B.c.) and are characterised by their single-arched entrance and plain facade.

Toda Hut

Reservoirs:  but it was only notably in Ceylon that there existed conditions favourable to the construction of very large works at a much earlier date. The largest of the embankments of these Ceylon reservoirs measures nine miles in length, and the area of the greatest exceeds 6000 acres (24 sq km). The earliest large tank dates from the 4th century B.C. What is even more remarkable than the amount of labour devoted to these works, is the evidence they afford of early skill in engineering, particularly in the building of sluices: those of the 2nd or 3rd century B.C. forming the type of all later examples in Ceylon, and anticipating some of the most important developments of modern construction. The most striking features of these sluices are the valve pits (rectangular wells placed transversely across the culverts and lined with close-fitting masonry), and the fact that the sectional area of the culverts enlarges towards the outlet, proving that the engineers were aware that retardation of the water by friction increased the pressure, and might have destroyed the whole dam if more space were not provided.but

There is scarcely any Hindu building standing which can be dated earlier than the 6th century a.d. without any trace of historic origins. The explanation of this circumstance is again to be found in the loss of earlier buildings constructed of perishable materials; all the greatarchitectural types must have been worked out in timber and brick before the erection of the stone temples which alone remain. One point of particular interest is the fact that the early temples of the gods, and prototypes of later forms, seem to have been cars, conceived as self-moving and rational beings.

and in another place, the whole city of Ayodahya is compared to a celestial car. The carrying of images in processional cars is still an important featurej of Hindu ritual. The resemblance of the Aryavarta shikhara to the bamboo scaffolding ofa processional car is too striking to be accidental. More than that,’ we actually find stone temples of great size provided with enormous stone wheels (Konarak, Vijayanagar) and the monolithic temples at Mamallapuram (7th century) (fig. 83) are actually called rathas, that is cars, while the term vimana, applied to later Dravidian temples, has originally the same sense, of vehicle or moving palace.

The greatest period of Indian shipbuilding, however, must have been the Imperial age of the Guptas and Harshavardhana, when the Indians possessed great colonies in Pegu, Cambodia, Java, Sumatra, and Borneo, and trading settlements in China, Japan, Arabia, and Persia.

Many notices in the works of European traders and adventurers in the 15th and i6th centuries show that the Indian ships of that day were larger than their own ; Purchas, for example, mentions one met by a Captain Saris in the Red Sea, of 1 200 tons burden, about three times the size of the largest English ships then made (161 1).Many notices in the works of European traders and adventurers in the 151!^ and i6th centuries show that the Indian ships of that day were larger than their own ; Purchas, for example, mentions one met by a Captain Saris in the Red Sea, of 1 200 tons burden, about three times the size of the largest English ships then made (1611).

It is worth while to remark that a good deal of the material used for dagger-handles and similar purposes is not Indian or African ivory, but is known as “fish-tooth,” most of it being really fossil ivory from Siberia. Old examples prove that there used to exist an overland trade in this material. Hippopotamus and walrus ivory may also have found its way to India by land routes.

The great majority of Indians wear cotton garments, and it is from India that all such names as chintz, calico, shawl, and bandana have come into English since the i8th century. Weaving is frequently mentioned in the Vedas. cotton, silk, and woollen stuffs in the epics. Silk was certainly imported from China as early as the 4th century B.C.,

Neither cotton-printing nor dye-painting are Sinhalese crafts. All the finer cloths found in Ceylon appear to be of Indian origin. There is evidence of several settlements of Indian weavers in Ceylon on various occasions.

The Mughal portrait style is scarcely clearly developed before the time of Jahangir (1605 to 1627). At its best it is an art of nobly serious realism and deep insight into~character7 at its worst, it is an art of mere flattery. Two works reproduced here, the Bodleian Dying Man (fig. 169) and the Ajmer portrait of Jadrup Yogi (fig. 170), stand out before all others in their passionate concentration.
(my sbarrkum note; if some one can send link to modern colored images, Jadrup Yogi or Dying Man very welcome)


List of free books by Ananda Coomaraswamy

Loki (or Odin) in Asgard

Just a thought re dignity of labor/music.

No question about IQ differences in gender and people. Then there is meritocracy and the sense of entitlement. i.e. We are smart and therefore we should/entitled to multiples of income to the less smart.

Many talk about gender equality in pay. What about less differentiation in pay between the skilled and labor intensive work and so called “high IQ” work.

Everyone needs to take Chill Pill

None of us here on this blog can claim to be from some discriminated class/religion whatever.  Just the ability to write (and have the time) to write in fluent English means you are one of the top 5% in opportunity in the world.

I like to identify with Shudra/Dalits, and can justify bcos my genetic inheritance has a large component of ASI.   Then equally well I id with African Americans in when in the US.  That said will I invite a US gang banger into my house. Or a Sri Lankan gangster. I knew a few when I was young.   Now I cant deal with that type of young people as in guests to my backwater.  On the streets a many chats/words and thats it.

Anyway, all this caste/religion is academic to the commenters in this blog. But still good.

As they say a picture is a worth a thousand words, the Bauls of Bengal.
Whats with the guy (whose voice I love) with an Afro. Where the heck did he get an Afro. The whole crowd looks like our generic Sri Lankan.

Hopefully some recall my comment everyone is Sri Lankan Dalit/Shudra. Kabir obviously has to deny Pakistani Christians look like Sri Lankans, and said they looked like Punjabis.  Maybe Punjabis look like Sri  Lankans, for sure the eat and drink like Sri Lankans.


Sri Lanka, Tamils, Genocide, Ethnic Cleansing?

There have been a few comments with accusations of Genocide, Ethnic Cleansing of Tamils by the Sri Lankan Govt.

First the numbers which are thrown around.

Lankan Tamils Living among Sinhalese
65% of the Sri Lankan Tamils live in Sinhalese majority areas.  After adding up, I was shocked as I was expecting somewhere around 30%.
The numbers are from the 2012 census.  The third column (in Sinhala) are the Indian/Upcountry Tamils.  In comparison less than 1% Sinhalese live in Tamil majority regions.

Diaspora Sri Lankan Tamils
A number that has been thrown is 30% of Sri Lankan Tamils live outside the country.   The numbers say that it is 22%.
Not all of the Diaspora are refugees
a) Some migrate for economic and education reasons
b) The LTTE one child policy.  The LTTE required one child per family to become cannon fodder.   If the family had money, the LTTE would arrange to smuggle the child out to a Western country as a refugee. Thereafter the refugee would have to make monthly donations too.


Religious War
The SL Army or the Budhists would never intentionally destroy a Hindu Temple.  The Buddhist, specially those in the Army make vows and pray to Hindu gods for their protection.  Buddha cannot provide protection (like a God), he is a teacher in the Theravada Tradition.  No question Hindu temples were shelled in the North and East when the LTTE used them as shields.  During the last couple of years the Army has been engaged in rebuilding and repairing Hindu Temples

ex LTTE leaders as Govt Ministers
Chief Minister of Sri Lanka’s Eastern Province Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan, popularly known as Pillayan and Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan, also known as ‘Colonel’ Karuna was a deputy minister in the Rajapakse govt.  Karuna was responsible for killing of 600 Sinhalese and Muslim police officers who surrendered to the LTTE.   Ahh the vagaries of power politics.

Some Links, all by Tamil authors.

Mass expulsion of Muslims from Batticoloa, Mannar and Jaffna

Rajini Rajasingham Thiranagama: Unforgettable Symbol of Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tragedy

The Broken Palmyra, the Tamil Crisis in Sri Lanka, An Inside Account 1992by Rajan Hoole (Author), Daya Soma sundaram (Author), K. A. Sritharan (Author), Rajani Thiranagama (Author)

Sinhalization of the North and the Tamilzation of the South

Other articles by Sebastian Rasalingam

Lanka and Kalinga

Sauvrav said “ I did my schooling in Orissa and there is no mention of any thing remotely Sri Lankan in their school textbooks. The other day i was talking to a friend who is a oriya and he laughed it off as myth

Many references to Kalinga in Sri Lanka primarily the Mahavamsa and Culavamsa and the Rock edicts of Nissanka Malla (1187–1196)

The Coming of Vijaya (Mahavamsa Chapter 6)
In the country of the Vangas[1] in the Vanga capital there lived once a king of the Vangas. The daughter of the king of the Kalingas was that king’s consort.

Nissanka Malla (1187–1196)
Son of Queen Parvati and King Jayagopa. This is mentioned in a rock inscription made by Nissanka Malla at Galpota. This inscription describes Jayagopa as being the reigning king of Sinhapura.  Nissanka Malla had two wives named Kalinga Subadradevi and Gangavamsa Kalyanamahadevi.[2] He was also a son-in-law or nephew of Parākramabāhu

Magha of Kalinga (Culavamsa CHAPTER LXXX: THE SIXTEEN KINGS 58-62)
of the day lotuses ? that is of peace ? (a man) by name Magha, an unjust king sprung from the Kalinga line, in whom reflection was fooled by his great delusion, landed as leader of four and twenty thousand warriors from the Kalinga country and conquered the island of Lanka. The great scorching fire ? King Magha ? commanded his countless flames of fire ? his warriors ? to harass the great forest ? the kingdom of Lanka3. While thus his great warriors oppressed the people, boasting cruelly everywhere: “We are Kerala warriors”, they tore from the people their garments, their ornaments and the like, corrupted the good morals of the
The reference is raw OCR

Mahavamsa and Culavamsa are one of the longest continuous histories. Oral tradition since 3rd century BC and written down in 6th century AD.  It has a consistent dating system, i.e from the death of the Buddha. To quote “It is very important in dating the consecration of the Maurya emperor Asoka,”

Asoka had been lost in India. He was found and identified and dated using the Mahavamsa.

To quote from the Mahavamsa Chapter 5; This Chapter references the Moriyas, Bindusara and Chandragupta among others.
Be it known, that two hundred and eighteen years had passed from the nibbana of the Master unto Asoka’s consecration.

James Prinsep (1799-1840) in his excursions in North India, he and his colleagues like Alexander Cunningham, had come across many an inscription where the letters were clearly inscribed but the Indian scholars whom he and others before him had consulted had been unable to help as they had completely lost knowledge of the alphabet in which these inscriptions were written.

It is said that during medieval times Firoz Shah Tugluk who shifted the Asokan pillars from Topra and Meerut to Delhi invited scholars to read them and none was able to do so.

By this time, scholars studying Indian antiquities had progressed a great deal in the study of Sanskrit, the great classical language of India, and understanding what the inscriptions had recorded did not pose much of a problem. It was clear to Prinsep that the authority who had got these inscriptions installed was a King (raja) calling himself Devanampiya, literally meaning ” the beloved of the gods.” But what was baffling Prinsep and his associates of the Bengal RAS was, who was this Devanampiya Raja?

From his readings of the Mahavamsa and its commentary, the Mahavamsa Tika, Turnour knew of a king named Devanampiya Tissa. This fact was intimated to Prinsep who, not knowing the details contained initially believed that the edicts in North India had been installed by the Sri Lankan king in his overwhelming devotion to the new faith. Not long afterwards Prinsep came across an inscription of a grandson of that Devanampiya Raja and realized that the personage in question was an Indian ruler. Turnor in the meantime having read the Buddhist mission to Lanka, communicated to Prinsep that the Devanampiya Raja of the Indian inscriptions was none other than Dharmasoka, the “patron” of Devanampiya Tissa who had bestowed many gifts, including a second consecration on Mayuryan models and the title Devanampiya on his colleague, the ruler of the small island kingdom called Tambapanni off the southern tip of Jambudvipa.

English Lit and Science, 70’s Sri Lanka

This is a lot of reminiscing, and hopefully some  guidance for young people who read this blog.

I think I am a Science guy, and became IT/Finance guy in my 50’s.
I loved Chemistry, specially Organic Chemistry, Benzene Rings and all that. By the age of 14  (O/L) I wanted to be a Chemical Oceanographer.  I had a cousin (Ranjan Perumal) who was one of the early divers in SL.  Arthur C Clarke and Mike Wilson (Siva  Kalki) were some of the first modern divers in Sri Lanka.  Mike Wilson became a hermit, my cousin Ranjan is an Evangelical Pastor, in my opinion a real Christian (or people person).

Anyway, back to Science and English Literature.   In year 8 (age 12)  we had to chose between Science and Arts.  For O/L (year 9 and 10 in 70’s) we had to do 8 subjects.  English, Sinhala/Tamil, Math and Divinity (religion).  The smart Buddhists and Hindus did non RC (Roman Catholic) Christianity.  It was easy, almost like Geography/History. No necessity to remember stanzas.

So for O/L  (age 14) my optional subject was English Lit. I did Macbeth, Emma (Jane Austen) and some book of poetry.  Vaguely recall John Dunne (?) and Ozymandias.  Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, I had read a few years before bcos my father had it on his bookshelf.

To be honest Shakespeare did not rock my boat, possibly bcos my father liked it too much.  Emma was not OK either, though a few years later I read Pride and Prejudice and liked it.
Vanity Fair by Thackeray (?), Moonstone by Wilkie Collins.

The punch line, I was an alcoholic/heavy smoker by the age of 12-14. I worked around my Protestant work ethic parents.

Photo below, I am the guy in the middle with the big grin, probably when I was 22. My classmate on right of me in photo Lakshan Amarasinghe  (RIP), long dead (1998).  On left of me Dayananda Kapuduwa.  A another drinking pal.  In the US married to an First American.  He paid  for 3 of my US Grad Uni Application fees (about USD 25 in 1987).  And the other 3 applications by my maternal cousin, Ranjans Sister.

I was not much different in size/looks when I got into the US.  The Uni guys were cool, but not at my level of alcoholism.   So hooked up with some eastern Long Island red necks.  Greg Linka, Jim, Kevin, Isaiah Brown (the Jamaican guy), give a shout if you see this.   I would drink these six footers under the table.  Then I lost funding and stopped drinking  for 10 years.

Anyways, there has to be some moral to the whole story.
a) a goal in life, and the goals can change
b) A privileged background. Many/somebody to step in and help upto a reasonable screw up.  More important than a)



11 dead in Thoothukudi (Tuticorin) Protests

Multi nationals are the same all over the world, exploitative.

10 persons were shot dead when police opened fire on a rally against a Sterlite copper plant.

As anger and resentment against Tuesday’s police action continued to smoulder, the Tamil Nadu government ordered several measures to control the unrest. Internet services were suspended in Thoothukudi and neighbouring districts of Tirunelveli and Kanyakumari .

Tuesday’s violence came on the 100th day of demonstrations against the plant, which environmentalists and residents claim is contaminating water sources — a charge the company (Vedanta Resources) denies.

The plant, one of India’s largest such facilities, has had a troubled history since it began operations in 1996. People have blamed it for their failing health and a major gas leak in 2013 led the Supreme Court imposing a Rs 100- crore fine. The plant has been closed down repeatedly in the past two decade, the last time by the Madras high court in 2013 over similar pollution concerns.

Harlem (NY) as I knew in mid 1990’s

This is Harlem in NY as I knew it in the mid 1990’s.

Now its so, gentrified.   My friends from upper Harlem (145th Street) are my family in the US.  I am no citizen or Green card holder of the US.  Hopefully, I will get my Social Security that I paid into with 3 H1B  Visa Employment.  I am not holding my breath for another  3 years.

With my wife Chandra Wimalasiri (RIP, 2018; we separated in 2004) in Stony Brook, NY, 1991.  USD 600 for the 1975 Ford LTD  station wagon with 150K miles.  Went to Louisiana, and another time to Florida.

Then got  Chevy Celebrity for free (Prof Akira Akubo thank you) with  160K and crossed the US three times.  Life and reminisces are great

A must watch

For those who like world/ethnic music + Rock. This is the entire movie, just saw clips 10 years ago. Something for all. WWF (wrestling), Child Birth, Travelogue, ethnic and rock music. My favorite clip is at 00:42, the Bauls.  Whats with the Afro of the Baul singer.  The young Baul kid is Paban Das Baul.  He is quite well known in Europe. (YouTube search here).   Maki Kazumi in the Baul Clip I posted a few days back is still a Baul performing/evangelizing, monar manush. (Dont understand the words except manush which I assume means man).

I think, just intellectualizing by reading books about the world does not cut it.  Travel (wish I could do more) and into the hinterlands.  I have crossed the US three times with a tent, in an old Chevy Celebrity (had 160K miles when a Professor (Akira Akubo) gave it to me.   Montreal/Toronto to Florida and New Orleans at least 3 times. The Bronx before it became gentrified.  Camden/Baltimore.
Plus Myanmar backpacking in 2005 when the county just opened.

Vagabunden Karawane: A musical trip through Iran, Afghanistan and India in 1979 (1 hr 28 mins)