Source: The Indian Nation Builders: Part III (Madras: Ganesh & Co., 1915)

Ananda K. Coomaraswamy

Eminent Ceylonese philosopher, Dr. Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy, was born in 1877.

Coomaraswamy held pronounced views on the imitations of Western style that were happening in India, calling for the Indian public to abandon them, and dedicating his life to the rebirth of Indian art. In response to criticism that Indian art had been found wanting by the standards of Greek canons, he defended its cause by stating that the aims of  Indian art differed from those of Greek art. As such, Indian art had its own value, and could not be measured with the same Western yardstick.

He wrote that the direct representation of nature was never the objective of Indian art, for nature was a “veil, not a revelation” to the Hindu. He argued that rather than acting as a reproduction of nature, Indian art instead sought to portray what lay behind the maya, the illusion of seeming reality. He held that the task of the artist was to depict the “ideal world of true reality” and not the sensory, phenomenal world. He further felt that great art stemmed from common life and as such, the concepts of convention and tradition were vital to it. The greatest art would therefore be both national and religious in nature.

An ardent supporter of Swadeshi, he also asserted that the adoption of the Western model of industrialisation would be to India’s disadvantage. He advocated that competition with Europe should be developed on the basis of quality instead of cheapness, arguing that the future industrial system should emphasize that the aim of life would be found in men, not things. As such, he exhorted that the Swadeshi movement be shaped by a political economy that aimed to make men happy, rather than the by the pure multiplication of material goods. He refuted the opinion that advocating for Swadeshi equated to advocating for self-sacrifice. He instead declared that the movement would only be completed when the Indian people lent their support to Indian arts and industries on the basis of appreciation for their quality rather than price.

To Coomaraswamy, India’s most pressing need was a true system of national education. He regarded English education to be deleterious, criticising it for obliterating the ability in students to properly appreciate Indian culture. He was of the belief that national education should retain an “Indian point of view” and laid out several proposed essentials, spanning philosophical attitudes to ideas regarding how to gain control over one’s thoughts.

In considering the essentials for the dawn of a nationality, he believed that geographical unity and a collective culture were vital. He was convinced that the regeneration of India had to involve art and not just politics and economics, for a material ideal would not suffice in providing enduring strength for the building of a nation.

Source: The Indian Nation Builders, Part III (Madras: Ganesh & Co., 1915), 357-388

Works

The Village Community and Modern Progress (Colombo: The Colombo Apothecaries, 1908)

The Indian Craftsman (London: Probsthain & Co., 1909)

The Myths of the Hindus & Buddhists (London: George Harrap & Co, 1913)

Buddha and the Gospel of Buddhism (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1916)

The Dance of Siva: Fourteen Indian Essays (New York: The Sunwise Turn, 1918)

The Bugbear of Literacy (London: John Day, 1943)

Ideas of IndiaIdeas of India