Not all ancient Indian architecture was uniformly artistic. Vidya Dehejia found it lazy and unfinished
Between the literary giants and the glam launches at JLF 2016 was tucked a tiny gem of a session, one that discusses an almost unremarked-on part of Indian history and culture.
There's a lot said about Indian architecture - an integral part of every Indian history textbook, every tourist itinerary, every glowing brochure. And they all highlight one thing: the perfection, despite the general lack of tools, of ancient Indian architecture.
Except, says Vidya Dehejia and Peter Rockwell's book The Unfinished: The Stone Carvers at Work in the Indian Subcontinent, that's quite simply not true.
Their book drills a hole right through the notion that ancient Indian architecture was mostly perfect - pointing out that many Indian stone carved temples sometimes appear unfinished, far from perfect, and almost lazy. At a session called The Mystique of the Unfinished Dehejia, along with professors Crispin Branfoot and Naman P Ahuja, talked about the book and her findings on unfinished stone carvings in India.
Her particular area of focus was on the carvers' approach to finish and the rhythm of construction itself back in the day, with examples from the Hoysaleshwara Halevid temple and statues in the Ellora caves.
While some parts of these statues boast detailed groves and ridges, other parts appear entirely untouched and raw.
To Naman Ahuja, this was to be expected rather than lamented. "We needn't chastise ourselves. We're programmed to never finish buildings in India," he said. "This (discussion) actually gives historical precedent to examine this ideology," he added. Crispin Branfoot, on the other hand, mused that these temples may have been considered "complete enough for the purpose it was constructed". On a more wishful note, the panellists examined the notion that that perhaps the artisans intentionally avoided 'finishing' their work, to introduce artistic imperfections.
Dehejia wryly rejected the notion. "There's no Michelangelo/Rodin-like explanation here. Intentionality of the unfinished isn't a possibility in India," she said.
For more, watch the session video on the JLF site or pick up a copy of the book.
The session was part of a series hosted by Catch parent company Rajasthan Patrika group at Jaipur Literature Festival 2016.