Posted on: 25 March 2013

New Book:
Much Maligned Monsters: A History of European Reactions to Indian Art
By Partha Mitter
Publisher: University Of Chicago Press - 1992

In this fascinating study, Partha Mitter traces the history of European reactions to Indian art, from the earliest encounters of explorers with the exotic East to the more sophisticated but still incomplete appreciations of the early twentieth century. Mitter's new Preface reflects upon the profound changes in Western interpretations of non-Western societies over the past fifteen years.

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I'm not sure I can deal with a three-faced God. I have enough trouble dealing with two-faced people.

Not a "new" book. Was published in 1977 :) Could be a reprint in 1992.

Mr Brett .. Please be sensitive when you speak about God and nobody is inviting you to deal with anyone.

Oh God! ...

As many as Indologists/Orientalists have done great resrach work related to the Indian Scriptures/arrchaeology/mythology etc., a majority of the Westerners remain absolutely ignorant of the basics. Many harbor such strange notions that they almost seem concocted matter of fiction.

RBSI, is the cover illustration of Trimurti or Shiri Bramha ? Or is it something that the illustrator made with significant "artistic license?"

Mr.Brett Ash,Mind your language.This is a decent forum !

I wonder if moderator of group supports brets views. He had time to write "Oh God!" .. Then removing his stupid comment

Satyakam Sudershan ............its actually a pose of Dakshina murthy.............but who ever drew has included Brahma's heads with Vishnu nama's

Brett...get lost from here.. Admin...r u so muc dumb that u cant remove and ban this fellow...this is a decent comunity...v will nt tolerate any kind of racism or blasphemy against any religion

Agreed wit rajashree...most historians frm west depict indian history and art as a folly and comedu of errors..i have stopped reading books on history by foreign authors and historians..they seem biased and prejudiced..except for few genuine ones

As Mr. Pamaru has stated, this does appear to be a depiction of Dakshinamurthy, though the limbs - together with their props and gestures - are laterally inverted with respect to popular iconography. Also, the 5-headed Shiva isn't shown as 3-headed except when depicted as Datta, one of whose heads is that of Vishnu wearing his characteristic nama as shown in the above picture.


This book was posted with a certain sense of trepidation. And the comments posted above clearly validate that feeling. One can see people taking offense to what is clearly a British sense of humor...indicating a clear cultural mismatch here. Translate what Brett Ashmeade-Hawkins has commented to any regional language of India and imagine it in the script of a play...and you will understand what I mean. His comment may also reflect the inability of the Western mind to comprehend the complex symbolism of the Hindu religion...which is essentially what the provocatively titled book is all about. RBSI respects the Hindu religion as much as every other religion and it is not necessary to prove that to any self-appointed custodian. The rather immature and ill-mannered comments that reflect the impatient minds of our times will be deleted soon.

Hinduism, as applicable to regular folk - who, by definition are ignorant of the path and merits of self-realization -, is built to acknowledge such ignorance and hand in sets of rules to guide them through their means to meet their wants. It isn't in the spirit of such a religion to dismiss the ignorant as unworthies. Hence, as Mr. Yadalam as evinced, it would do us good to request the likes of Mr. Ashmeade-Hawkins to read through this book than take offense at his comments. If Coomaraswamy could say the following about educated Indians, I believe the comments of those who remain totally uninitiated can surely be condoned: "A single generation of English education suffices to break the threads of tradition and to create a nondescript and superficial being deprived of all roots, a sort of intellectual pariah who does not belong to the East or the West, the past or the future. The greatest danger for India is the loss of her spiritual integrity. Of all Indian problems the educational is the most difficult and most tragic."

Thanks Sashi, Thanks Pamaru -- so as I suspected, this was a case of artistic licence rather than an actual image. For a moment I thought my knowledge is all gone for toss, given the mish mash of icons that were being sported.

Shashi Kolar: I think we are reading too much into Brett's comment. Only he can explain the purport and intent of his comment...but I can only imagine that it was said in jest. It sounded too clever for it to be passed unsaid. And I cannot agree with you regarding the relevance of Coomaraswamy's quote in this context which is more akin to banning a book without reading or understanding it. This is the very attitude which should be most condemned in our country today. And let me clarify...I am not even supporting Brett here... just in case some people interpret my views as that of a colonial sympathizer.

The intolerant, illiterate and irrational have taken over our real world...let us at least retain a sense of sanity, understanding, tolerance and sportsmanship in this little oasis of the virtual world...where we attempt to learn about the past only as observers without the lens of judgement based on the current values. Too much to expect? Yes...thats the idea.

>> The intolerant, illiterate and irrational have taken over our real world. That has been the case for a 1000 year or more now. To change things will require change in the power structure of the world. :-)

How about a book on the reaction of indians to indian art?? Surely the time has come to broaden the discussion. Why do we keep discussing matters from 100 years ago, usually about some ex-colonial power or the US?

Also: why are we so think-skinned about any comment by a westerner?

Hello Mr. Mishra. Reactions of many English educated Indians to religious/traditional Indian art wouldn't be too different from those discussed in this book, as they are totally dependent on familial or societal associates to educate them on such aspects with the sensitivity they deserve. Developing such a taste cannot be left to an industrialized system of education, which at best can train one in the technical aspects of Indian art but not in the emotional labor involved in perceiving or making such a work. Thus my quote of Coomaraswamy in an earlier comment. Another such quote would be illustrative, relating to the pseudo Indian art that Ravi Varma produced: "...for his pictures are such as any European student could paint, after perusal of the necessary literature and a superficial study of Indian life. It was not for this that art was given to India; not that India might hold a smoky mirror to the art of other men, but rather that she might open yet another window..." We would be destined to repeat this mistake when we judge Indian art based on the education most of us received, demoting spiritual or religious studies over those immediately practicable, thus depriving us of the greatest legacy of this land. This might also go some way to answer your second question.

I agree with you that our education is generally focussed on obtaining practical skills vs. an understanding of indian history and art. I dont think it has to do so much with religous values, thats a different dimension altogether. Anyway, this is a page is wonderful set of sources and original texts.