Ram Raz’s essay on Hindu architecture is a pioneering work based on the study of Hindu temple architecture as described in ancient texts on the subject. The clear and detailed description of the temple and its different components is marked by lucidity. From the qualities of an architect (silpi lakshanam) to the several measurements used in architecture, sculpture, etc. selection of the ground and connected matters. Ram Raz has hardly left any aspect untouched.
Posthumously published, Ram Raz’s formidable work could be ranked as a classic. His comparison of Hindu architecture with the Greek, Egyptian or later European architecture shows his depth of understanding without being dogmatic.
Forty-eight plates illustrate the different parts of the temple. These illustrations have added immensely to the usefulness of the work.
The volume, first published in 1834, has long been out-of-print and is being re-issued with a new introduction. The work is of outstanding value notwithstanding the change in perception due to new material and research.
The introduction to the European public of an "Essay on Hindu Architecture," and by a Hindu, would seem to mark an epoch not only in the history of the science but also in that of the Hindus themselves.
Their palaces, their temples, the stupendous pyramidal gateways leading to the latter, the colonnades and porticoes with which they are surrounded; some of "a thousand pillars," others equally remarkable for their elevations, richness, and grandeur of design, have for ages been the objects of admiration to the traveller in the East; and, though it had long been known, proverbially, that the Hindus possessed treatises on architecture of a very ancient date, prescribing the rules by which these edifices were constructed, it remained for the author of this essay to overcome the many, and almost insurmountable, obstacles to the substantiation of the fact, and to the communication of it to the European world in a well-known language of Europe.
As of most other sciences among the Hindus, the rules and precepts of architecture and sculpture had been, with some solitary exceptions, locked up in the Sanskrit language, and, as the study of this language was limited, in general, to the higher classes, the only means of improvement left to the artist, who in all cases would be of a subordinate class, were the verbal instructions delivered to him by these superiors, when they might happen to require his assistance, together with the impress on his mind resulting from practical experience. To reduce the knowledge thus acquired to a system, and to promulgate it in a language comprehensible by the vulgar, would, in most cases, have been thought an encroachment on the privileges of the higher orders; and being, therefore, handed down unavoidably from father to son by tradition only, it must, in the natural course of events, have been often obscured or totally lost. Moreover, the study of this, as well as of other sciences, has been very generally laid aside by the higher classes for acquirements more in unison with the tone and feelings of the times; while the treatises themselves, scattered and neglected, became nearly valueless to all but the humble artisan, who gathered up here and there a fragment, and hoarded the occult lore, sometime to be learnt by stealth, or as best might suit the purpose of his lordly and priestly master.
To collect these remains from far and near; to read, collate, and comprehend them, with the terms and phraseology of the science, was no ordinary undertaking: the assistance of the artist on the one hand, of philologists on the other; corroboration by reference to existing edifices, and the ability to exhibit the results at length deduced, in the technical and scientific language of a foreign people, were all equally necessary to the completion of the task.
It must, however, be understood that the author does not profess to give the whole system of architecture as known to the Hindus at any particular period, or indeed, a complete translation of such portions of those treatises as he was able to collect; but, from his deductions and illustrations, such an exposition as might enable the European reader to form an opinion of what that system may once have been.
Such was the attempt of Ram Raz.' How far he has been successful the public must decide. Men, whose authority will, it is believed, be readily acknowledged, have spokenof his- work in terms of the highest commendation; and if it shall appear that he has established the claim of his countrymen to the possession, in an eminent degree, of a knowledge in the art-and this at a period when its principles were but little understood among Europeans, he will have accomplished a task which he fondly looked forward to with every confidence of success; and one, it is hoped, which cannot be uninteresting, or devoid of utility, to the followers and promoters of science in general.
The present may not be an improper occasion, as the author of the accompanying essay is no more, to offer a few brief notices of his life. They are, however, merely such as the recollections of the writer to whom the subject of these notices was intimately known for several years, can supply, yet they may, perhaps, as a tribute to his memory, be received with indulgence.
Ram Raz was born at Tanjore, in the Carnatic, about the year 1790. He was small of stature, of a delicate frame, of a fair complexion for an Asiatic, and had a remarkably brilliant and piercing eye. On public occasions there was in his manner, though on the whole graceful and easy, a diffidence which might lead the cursory observer to undervalue his abilities; but by those to whom he was known in private, it was more justly attributed to innate modesty and humility. His name implies that he was of a superior caste; and he used to boast of being a collateral descendant of Ram Raj, or Ram Raz," the last of the kings of Vijayanagar; and as the name is often met with in the genealogy of those princes, it is not improbable that it may have thus descended to him.
His parents, it would seem, were poor; and that he was partly indebted to fortuitous circumstances for the little education which he received when a boy; a portion of this, however, fortunately for him, consisted in learning to read and write the English language. He was first attached to one of the Native Regiments of Infantry, as a clerk, it is believed, to the Adjutant; and, subsequently, as Vakil, or native agent to the regiment. While in these situations he prosecuted the study of the English language; and by acquiring a more grammatical knowledge of the several' vernacular dialects which he had been taught in early life, he added to a character for natural quickness of intellect and correct- ness of conduct, that of an accomplished interpreter. How long he remained in this situation, or whether leaving it at this period he obtained any other, is not known; but in the year 1815, we find him employed as a clerk in the office of the Military Auditor General. While in this employment, a circumstance accidently brought him to the notice of the gentleman before mentioned. He had undertaken to translate from the Mahratta into the English language a code of Regulations drawn up by order of the late Tipu Sultan, the sovereign of Mysore, for the guidance of his revenue officers. Such a work, it will be readily conceived, could not form a part of his duties as clerk in a military audit office, and it must therefore have been a voluntary task.
His translation was in every respect so correct, and the notes and illustrations accompanying it exhibited so eminent a degree of knowledge in the several languages from which the terms and phrases used in the original were generally borrowed, as well as of the Mahratta and English, and at the same time displayed so much talent in the elucidation of the various parts of the subject by comparison and by contrast with the English system of revenue, as at that period to give rise to considerable doubt of its being the unassisted performance of a Hindu. Satisfied that it was so, this gentleman, his early patron, who besides the several offices which he held in the civil department of the Madras Government, was also Senior Member of the College of Fort St. George, gladly availed himself of so fair an opportunity to countenance and encourage talents and conduct such as he observed in our author; and procured for him, first, the appointment of Head of the College Office, and afterwards that of Head English Master to the native classes of that institution.
It was while in the latter situation that he was, for upwards of five years, intimately known to the writer of these remarks, who, shortly before his quitting India, had the satisfaction of recommending him to the First Commissioner in Mysore, by which means he was placed in a sphere of action where talents such as his could not long remain unknown, and which soon raised him to the responsible and highly honourable post of Judge and Magistrate.
By a regular course of private study while at Madras, he had added to his other accomplishments, not only a knowledge of the Sanskrit language, but also of algebra, geometry, the higher branches of mathematics, and of geography and astronomy; and at one time he had classes in these branches of science, the scholars of which were an honour to his industry and talents; by many of whom his assiduity, ability, and zeal will be long held in grateful remembrance.
Of his death no particular accounts have yet been received. It is said that the climate of Mysore was not congenial to him; and perhaps the duties of his situation there were too arduous for his weakly frame. He had no family, but he had adopted a daughter whom, together with his widow, an aged mother, and a brother who was in some mercantile profession at Madras, he has, it is supposed, left to enjoy the little wealth which his frugality, rather than any adequate return actually awarded to his merits, enabled him to realise. But, however this may have been, his loss as a man of talents and of science, as well as a highly valuable servant of the British Government, is deeply to be regretted.
The writer of these remarks has the pleasure to announce that he expects shortly to receive from the friends of the deceased, ample materials whence a full and authentic view of the author's life may be drawn, should such a record be thought sufficiently interesting to the public, to induce its acceptance by the Royal Asiatic Society.
Ram Raz's essay on Hindu architecture is a pioneering work based on the study of Hindu temple architecture as described in ancient texts on the subject. After unremitting search, Ram Raz succeeded in having in his "possession four standard treatises on architecture" among which Manasara was one. Pursuing his inquiry into the subject, he was able to trace from the "memorial verses preserved among the artists," the titles of sixty-four treatises on architecture. Of these sixty-four, he was able to discern thirty-two mukhya or principal and thirty-two upa or subordinate treatises on architecture and sculpture. He also consulted Cammata (Kammata) sculptor "who is well-acquainted with the practical part of the Hindu architecture, and with most of the terms used in the art". Interestingly, while lauding William Jones' contribution to and knowledge of Indian literature, he disagreed with his views about the lack of existence of treatises dealing with sacred architecture and sculpture.
Ram Raz very clearly defined what is meant by Silpa-sastra which is pre-eminently applied to architecture. In his penchant for information, he also took into account the 15th century Tamil work Iru-samaya-villakam which though is about refutation of Saiva doctrines by a Vaishnava, refers to certain passages from the Silpa-sastra. As pointed out by Ram Raz, this work "recognizes a great number of treatises (on Silpa-sastra) and enumerates twenty-nine of them by their titles, concluding the list with the words' and others'." Among these, Ram Raz mentions Manasara, Mayamata, Kasuapa, Vaikhanasa, Sakaladhikara, Visoakarmiva, Sanatkumara, Sarasvatyam, Pancharatram; of these texts are found "scattered remains" in southern India. That Ram Raz was able to trace and collect mutilated fragments of these treatises clearly suggest his single-minded pursuit of the subject.
Ram Raz mainly based his work on Manasara, the contents of which he enunciates in detail. Each adhyaya or chapter, 58 in number, provides instruction on practically all aspects of architecture, from selection of the ground to the form of the temple and its various components. Ram Raz could acquire the text only partially which contained 41 instead of 58 chapters.
Mayamata is the other work that Ram Raz was able to acquire. He compared the contents of this work with that of Manasara. Very appropriately, Ram Raz points out the reference about Maya as mentioned in the Ramayana and the Mahabharata and ascribes to him the authorship of Suryasiddhanta, the reputed work on astronomy.
The main contents and features of the other works are also briefly described and how they differ from each other. Ram Raz's attempt to assess the age of these texts and their provenance ascribing their having been composed in south India is quite convincing.
Two points need to be mentioned here which show his close observation. To put in Ram Raz's words: "The most interesting circumstance connected with these treatises is their toleration of the worship of the Jainas and Bauddhas .... and having likewise prescribed rules for constructing images of the objects of adoration by these sects." The other point is about the probable date of texts. According to Ram Raz, "they prove by internal evidence that they were written at a period subsequent to the canonization of the Apper, Sundarer, Sammander, Manicyavasarer .... several of whom are supposed to have lived between the third and fifth century .... ". At the same time, he also mentions that the passages referring to these sages are "modem interpolations".
The essay concludes with brief but important account about the mode of preparing chunam which is an essential ingredient in both architecture and sculpture, particularly stucco work.
Posthumously published, Ram Raz's formidable work on Hindu architecture could be ranked as a classic. His comparison of Hindu architecture with the Greek, Egyptian or later European architecture shows his depth of understanding without being dogmatic.
The clear and detailed description of the temple and its different components is marked by lucidity. From the qualities of an architect (silpi lakshanam to the several measurements used in architecture, sculpture, etc., selection of the ground and connected matters, Ram Raz has hardly left any aspect on the subject.
Forty-eight plates illustrate the different parts of the temple such as the upapahas or pedestals with name given to each portion, adhisihana or base, stambha or pillars with details about their dimensions, forms, ornaments and capital, different categories of tnmdna ranging from a single storey to fifteen storeys, gopuras and their entrance gateway, etc. Ram Raz also brings out the difference between the Indian orders vis-a-vis the Grecian and Roman orders as well as the Egyptian ones.
These illustrations in themselves provide useful information and have added to the usefulness of the work. Ram Raz's diligence and assiduousness is not only reflected in this work but also in his career. Born under indigent circumstances, he learnt English and started as a clerk and thereafter became Vakil to the regiment. Recognizing his qualities, he was appointed Head of the College of Fort St. George and subsequently Head English Master. Finally, he rose to the position of Judge and Magistrate. A versatile person, Ram Raz was well-versed in different subjects and branches of learning which is reflected in the present work.
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