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Art On a Monumental Scale

Ratan Parimoo

By Mira Seth
Mapin Publishing, Ahmedabad, 2006, pp. 464, price not stated.

VOLUME XXX NUMBER 10 October 2006

The first thing that struck me about the book was that it was of large format and well-printed, covering a subject of India’s Art History on which no comprehensive book had been published so far. Historically speaking, one of the earliest rediscoveries of Indian art, the Ajanta caves and the mural paintings inside these caves had aroused much interest during the last quarter of nineteenth century. Since then not only have further discoveries been made, but also have been taken up for study of the subject-matter, understanding the styles of Indian paintings in general and mural painting in particular, the ingredients used in the technique and their application, whether it was pure fresco (wet on wet ground) or mixed, i.e. ‘a secco’, wet on dry ground. For all these explorations, textual sources have been scrutinized. Such studies have also led to locating the survival of these techniques as well as the hereditary craftsmen and painters. The technical recipes described in texts have been corelated and verified with the actual materials used in existing murals by earlier scholars. Separately, the Ajanta murals have been extensively copied, photographed and published. The murals of Kerala and those of Ladakh, have also been repeatedly published. This book brings all this material, that is most of the mural styles as well as the textual and other information gathered so far, as the phrase goes, ‘between the two covers’. The regional mural styles are parallel to the styles of the respective miniature paintings. Thus the mural style of a particular province of the country completes the kind of pictorial tradition prevailing in that region.   The author of the book, Mira Seth, has already established that she is a serious scholar of India’s mural tradition through her earlier studies on the Himalayan region and Rajasthan. It needed both commitment and persistence to have taken up the study of mural works of the entire country. The book is truly an achievement of a life time of dedication. It is also a happy situation that an American publisher ventured to sponsor the study of India’s achievement in mural painting on an ambitious scale. Combined with these two situations is the participation of the relevant government agencies who did the tedious task of travelling to the sites and photographing the murals requiring special equipment of lighting and photography. All these three deserve accolades: the publisher, the ...

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