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Landmark in Art

Krishna Chaitanya

By Charles Fabri
Orient Longman, Hyderabad, 1974, 220 plus clxxx, 75.00

By C. Sivaramamurti
1975, 28.00

VOLUME I NUMBER 3 July - September 1976

Hungarian by birth, Charles Louis Fabri (1899­1968) became in later life as much an Indian as an Indologist. He was a member of Aurel Stein’s arch­aeological expedition into the heartland of Asia in the thirties, taught at Santiniketan, was curator of the Lahore Museum, and spent the last two decad­es of his life in Delhi as an art critic. The posthu­mous publication on the art of Orissa is one of his most important contributions. Though he himself admits that ‘a strictly chronological treatment of the art of Orissa is not possible’, he has made a commendable attempt at indicating the main phases of the evolution of Orissan art. While Konarak and Bhuvaneswar are well-known, he has been able to cite many hitherto unnoticed edifices in the interior and bring out their importance in the evolution of artistic traditions. The most controversial among the views he has tried to establish would probably be the claim that there was a period of about six centuries at the beginning of the Christian era dur­ing which almost all art in Orissa was of Buddhist origin. To deal with the last point first, there seems to be more argument than evidence to support this claim. Fabri admits the paucity of actual remains, but he argues that the sudden emergence of brahmanical art in the sixth century with considerable evidence of maturity is inexplicable without a prior and extended evolution. As he rightly says, Orissa has been badly neglected in the matter of archaeo­logical excavations. Ratnagiri is the only site which has been explored and it indicates creative activity of Buddhist inspiration over a long stretch of time. Fabri claims a span of seven or eight centuries co­mmencing from the second century of the Chris­tian era. He feels that if excavations are undertaken in other sites, more evidence to support his claim would be forthcoming. Meanwhile, he has a tend­ency to identify all brickwork as Buddhist and stone construction as brahmanical; pillared halls are also regarded as evidence of Buddhist sponsor­ship. The Sambalpur Buddha images he has analy­sed and illustrated are indeed masterpieces. But the basic ambiguity of the situation regarding our knowledge of the Orissan past is reflected in the ambiguity of his own dating. The text describes them as belonging to the fourth century; the plates refer to them as fifth century work. A ...

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