Seeking the spiritual in the materialSoolkaama
Making by hand once used to be a function of the mind, body and soul that required patience, perseverance and practice to provide a transcendental joy both to the maker and to the user of the object.
But today, with fast fashion, mass consumption and next day delivery promises, we could be losing the core ingredients required to build something that could mock the money economy through its sheer resplendence.
Traditional craftsmanship in India has meant far more than skills with materials and more than manual dexterity in manipulating tools. It has meant a total operation involving emotions, the mind, the body and the vibrant rhythm that such a coordination generates. Each community lived an integrated pattern of life that responded to the joys and burdens of life, taking them in its flow. There was a natural acceptance of the human cycle like embracing the air and the sunlight, with no resort to escapism. Craftsmanship was thus conceived and nurtured in an embryo of fullness, generated by an unhurried rhythm and an unobscured imagination about life. Such products naturally had vitality and character for they were the direct expression of mans’ creativity. They had a purposeful emphasis on the functional, endowing it with beauty. Craftsmanship became an activity that involved the entire person closely relating the mind and the materials to a certain function for a specific purpose.
A sthapati (architect) should know eightfold workmanship, the draftsmanship and sketches of various kinds, and variety of carpentry, stone-masonry and gold-smithy. The engineer equipped with these merits invokes respect. One who knows the fourfold engineering with its eight constituents and who is pure in his mind commands high status in the assembly of engineers, and is endowed with a long life.Samarangana Sutradhara
India’s tangible heritage offers a loud testimony to the excellence of workmanship skills as evident from the meticulous planning and execution of Harappan cities, wells, reservoirs, sanitation systems to the breath taking rock-cut structure of the Kailāsanātha temple at Ellora or the step-wells of Gujarat and Rajasthan or Delhi’s rust-resistant pillar. This is also apparent from several ancient scriptures/treatises such as the Natya-shashtra, the Shilpa-shastra, the Vastu-shastra and so on which lay out extraordinary details about laws governing the planning and execution of the myriad arts and crafts of India.
Prosperity consisted in having several years’ provisions of grain in one’s granary as opposed to the money in one’s bank
The Indian craftsman conceives of his art, not as the accumulated skill of ages, but as originating in the divine skill of Visvakarma, the god of arts and crafts, and revealed by him. Beauty, rhythm, proportion, idea have an absolute existence on an ideal plane, where all who seek may find. The reality of things exists in the mind, not in the detail of their appearance to the eye. Their inward inspiration upon which the Indian artist is taught to rely, appearing like the still small voice of a god, that god was conceived of as Visvakarma. He may be thought of as that part of expression: or in another way, as the sum total of consciousness, the group soul of the individual craftsmen of all times and places. All this is an expression of religious conception of life, and we see the working of such ideas in actual practice. In Hindu philosophy there is no hard line drawn between the secular and the religious things in life. Religion is not so much a formula, as a way of looking at things, and so all the work of life may be a sacrament, may be done as it were for a god. Hindu craftsmen worship the implements of their labour at the Dashera festival. This Hindu custom has survived even amongst some converts to Islam. For example, the Thavais of northern India worship their tools at the Id al-gitr, making offerings of sweetmeats to them.
Circumstances have changed today. Constraints that existed in the past have been replaced by new ones. Artisan’s used to have plenty of time to work on their craft as the slow economy dictated by harvest seasons afforded the community substantial time to hone their skills that directly resulted in exquisite quality products. A barter system ensured quality and calibre were measured in abstract terms of “rasa” and not in thick wads of cash or widespread acclaim. Communities were co-dependent on each other and so played their role to the best of their abilities to remain relevant and be compensated fairly for their dedication and devotion to their work. Co-dependence on each other is brokered by money today. The link between the maker and his patron is held firmly with monetary contracts. Food security is no longer the biggest wealth, one’s bank balance is. There is little room for “rasa” in today’s age to inspire selfless devotion to your craft.
Have we really lost the opportunity to bring back the spiritual in the material?
- The Indian Craftsman – Ananda K. Coomaraswamy
- India’s Craft Tradition – Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay
- Nārada Śilpaśāstra: Sanskrit Text on Architectural Civil Engineering – Prof R.N.Iyengar