Scant respect for country's heritage

The politics of administration, obviously, don’t go hand in hand with artistic pursuits.

If someone were to ask what ails art institutions in this country, the answer is not far to seek. State interference in the arts is one sure route to their destruction. Things become worse when the state declares these centres as “institutions of national importance” and starts funding them. It then handpicks their guardians and meddles with their functioning, showing  scant respect to their pristine character.

The Ministry of Culture attempting to demolish the house of the saint composer Thyagaraja, on the pretext of renovating it, is an example of such insensitivity. Similar violations are said to have taken place in Kalakshetra – another iconic institution founded and nurtured by Rukmini Devi Arundale – when the central government stepped in. Even though its Foundation Act of 1993 clearly stated that its development should be “in accordance with the aims and objects for which it was founded...” the government showed little deference to those ideals.

Rukmini Arundale was not just a visionary. She was an unrelenting artist. In her view, “dance is so closely interlinked with religion that it is impossible to think of it divorced from that essential background.” She therefore designed this “temple of arts” specially to create a sublime ambiance since the bharatha natyam music and dance genres were born in temples. The very architecture of its unique theatre called the Koothambalam - true to the edicts of the Natya Shastra - reflected this understanding. It is one of the most cherished performing spaces in the country.  What an irony that the Ministry of Culture, which is committed  to “protecting monuments and safeguarding classical traditions” does exactly the opposite in its renowned art centres.

Repositories tradition

We have several institutions in India that are repositories of this country’s tradition. Their essence cannot be diminished in the name of improvement.  Nalanda, Shanthiniketan, Taj Mahal or Bodh Gaya cannot be sanitised by governments because the principles that inspired their creation were central to a unique civilisation.

Can we improve the timeless paintings and sculptures of  Michael Angelo by redoing them? Can we enhance the beauty of Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake” by giving it a more universal flavour? Similarly, can we perk up the incredible ‘Taj Mahal’, which is a world class monument? Or, renovate the churches of Goa and the temples of Tamil Nadu to make them more tourist friendly? Whether it is the ruins of Hampi or the caves of Ajantha, or the Golden Temple  they are the reminders of a glorious civilisation that need to be preserved and protected – not meddled with.

Again, the central government’s move to appoint artists to govern art institutions is another blunder. It is true that they also need official procedures in their administration. They cannot function in a vacuum without rules and regulations. But, these administrative inputs need not intrude into their artistic endeavours. There is no need for their administrators to interfere with the arts, just as it makes no sense in expecting its artists to govern them. When the two collide, things can go terribly wrong. The agonising experiences of many a director of well known art centres in India reveal this mismatch. They may have been gifted artists and rare teachers. But their tenure as administrators have often been marred by unsavory events.

 The politics of administration, obviously, don’t go hand in hand with artistic pursuits.So, should the state control art centres at all? Should their administrative duties be separated from their artistic commitments? Where is the wisdom of having artists govern such institutions, instead of concentrating on their art? Is it not as unreasonable as expecting bureaucrats to oversee the nuances of dance, music, painting and poetry? Sadly, once a government steps in with its largesse to such institutions, it’s bureaucratic style strips them of their character. This has happened in the magnificent heritage sites of this country which have been vandalised beyond words.

It has happened in areas of natural habitat where the intention was conservation of the environment and ecosystem, but the outcome is political interference. It has happened even in scientific institutions of national importance which have been subjected to bureaucratic highhandedness; and, it has happened in the supposedly deemed universities which are said to enjoy autonomy with an axe hovering over their heads!

When it happens in the field of arts, it can be disastrous. As an American art critic once described it, Indian culture is “a vivid element in religion, mythology, philosophy and art...” which aptly sums up the vision that inspired our great centres of art. Many of them are steeped in the tradition. To take that away would be as good as wrenching their soul.

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