Art

Indian presence at Glasgow

Glasgow, which hosted the XXth Commonwealth games last year where Indian athletes had a good haul of medals, is a prosperous city in Scotland that had links with India from the colonial times. England and Scotland have had separate existence as two separate warring kingdoms from very ancient times. After Scotland became a part of the United Kingdom with the passing of the Act of Union in 1707, the Scottish participation in the British rule in India considerably increased. Opportunities hitherto limited only to the English now got opened up even to the people of Scotland. Many enterprising Scots began to dream big by embarking on voyages to India. Scottish administrators distinguished themselves particularly in south India with their pro-native attitude. Scottish soldiers and generals have made a mark in India for their fighting spirit.

What is interesting about Scotland’s relations with India is that there are a large number of Indian artefacts, the icons of Hindu Gods and Goddesses are displayed in the Glasgow University’s Museum. Most of these objects have come from the University alumni who worked in India during the British rule. Located at a distance of 550 miles north of London, Glasgow is the biggest city in Scotland though Edinburgh has been its capital.

Glasgow, originally a small fishing village on the banks of the river Clyde, has been shaped by battles, world wide trade and heavy industry to become truly an industrial city. James Watt, the inventor of Steam Engine, belonged to Glasgow and his imposing statue is seen close to the University on the banks of the river, Clyde.

Industrially Glasgow attained unprecedented popularity in the 18th and 19th centuries. The ‘Clyde-made’ locomotives, from Glasgow, were used by the Railways in India and were known for reliability and efficiency. The Glasgow Cotton and Textile mills thrived due to large exports to India under the British rule. The long cloth, popularly known as dhotis, that the Indian peasants commonly tied around the waist were made in Glasgow mills during the Industrial revolution and were flooded in Indian markets, particularly in the weekly shanties. One popular variety of dhotis in South India is familiarly known even now as Glasgow Dhoti. As they were tied round the waist, these dhothis were also known as veshtis.

Glasgow’s tryst with India began almost immediately after the two kingdoms got united in the beginning of the 18th century. In the Madras Civil Service (MCS), which they generally preferred, the Scottish administrators were in considerable number. Thomas Munro, the enigmatic governor of Madras at the opening part of the 19th Century was a noted Scottish, a product of the University of Glasgow. Several district Collectors like Robert Ross, Robinson, Metcalf, W.H. Horsley, James Russel and others were all from Scotland. A.O. Hume, founder of the Indian National Congress was a prominent agricultural scientist who hailed from Scotland. Most of these civil servants were the products of the Glasgow University. Established in 1451, the Glasgow University was one of the oldest in the United Kingdom.

The Scottish officials after a stint of lucrative service in India, generally returned home not only with titles, honours and immense wealth, but also with several artefacts, quite often, priceless objects as gifts, extortions and as spoils of wars. While the wealth they brought was put to use for generations, the curious art objects were generally given away by their families to the Museums for display. Munro’s family for example donated even his private papers to the University of Glasgow, but later, the British Library acquired them to put for better use.

The Museum in the University of Glasgow has a large number of curious art objects obviously brought from India. There are finely inlaid swords, guns of various shapes and lengths, daggers and other battle-ware, coins, lamp-stands, spittoons, sandals, ivory hilted kitchen knives, nut-crackers and numerous idols of different sizes and hues. The displayed articles also bear brief descriptions of each of the items thus making them self explanatory. The Museum has more relevance as the University has several courses on Indian studies in the disciplines of History, Political science and Sociology. The strong presence of Indian students and faculty of Indian origin also has added to the value of this museum.

The most impressive of such objects on display at the Glasgow University’s Museum are the icons of Hindu Gods like, Hanuman, Brahma and Krishna. Exquisitely executed, these icons are brightly coloured. The monkey-God as a bundle of energy attracts the onlookers. The flute-playing Gopal, in dark colour is quite cute. There are also several other artefacts which are on display here. You only marvel at the distance these icons have travelled during the long colonial rule.

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Printable version | May 5, 2021 1:48:51 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/art/indian-art-treasures-in-glasgow-university-museum/article7231907.ece

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