This was written for Swarajya Magazine and published in June 2015.
For those whose history enthusiasts whose awareness is beyond what the erstwhile NCERT wanted us to learn, the name of the Paramara King Bhoja of Dhar strikes a chord. Best known as the King who organized a confederation of Hindu rulers against the armies of Muhammad Ghaznavi, he was also an acclaimed scholar. The patronage of arts and literature reached an all time high during his rule despite turbulent political conditions. In fact, Sri Krishna Devaraya in whose time the Vijayanagara empire reached its zenith was given the epithet ‘Andhra Bhoja’, the Bhoja of Andhras after the original Bhoja Raja. The following was said in support of his patronage of arts:
Adya dhaara Sadaadhaara Sadaalambaa Saraswathi
Panditah manditah sarve Bhoja Raaje bhuvangateH
The Dhara is supported for good. Saraswathi is well secured.
The scholars are prosperous as the Bhoja Raja descended on this earth
The lament around his death was
Adya dhaara niraadhaara niraalambaa Saraswati
Panditah Khanditah sarve Bhoja Raje Divangateh
The Dhara is unsupported. Saraswathi is without security.
The scholars are broken and scattered as the Bhoja Raja departed from this earth.
The disturbing fact however may be that Saraswathi continued to be a niraalamba save the periodic bright sparks in the Gajapati, Vijayanagara, Tanjavur empires and to an extent the Maratha and smaller regional empires. Southern India however had a brighter period with epics written in fresh perspectives and selected Puranic episodes being expanded into Prabandhas with sufficient intellectual inputs and literary expertise to drive a contemporary message . But when seen in in the last 1000 years or so, the Saraswati continued to be a niraalambaa for a large period. We can understand that the tumultuous foreign invasions, new empires hostile to the native roots followed by the impoverishing British rule took its toll over patronage of arts.
It is however lamentable that the situation only worsened post independence. The areas of arts, literature, history and economics continued to stay without the much needed prop. One might argue that the governments did do what was in their hands with Sahitya Akademi grants, Padma awards and so on. It can also be accepted that the performing arts got their share of recognition albeit the scepticism around who really deserved the awards. But when I searched for some answers to the following questions, it did not leave me with a sweet taste.
How many avadhaanis won a Padma award compared to say their luckier (or cronier) counterparts in English?
Forget awards, how many avadhaanis are even alive and how many would pursue the skill in future? (When I asked this to a friend, he replied with a laugh saying how many of us even know what an Avadhana is)
Are there contemporary poets who can match the literary versatility of the historical poets?
Forget contemporary poets, how much of the historical literature is even taught in the high school level to create enough awareness and hence, interest in the field?
Are the art forms of Harikatha, Yakshagana, Katha Shravana, etc staring into extinction (if not for some passionate artists who choose to sacrifice their careers to live those arts)
When was the last time the town halls in our small towns (not metros) witnessed a concert/recital/Kavi sammelan?
Plainly speaking, how many students choose the field of arts and literature with a passion and how many do so because they just could not manage to get into professional career streams?
For the mainstream population which in the last five decades has depended on a salaried career for their survival, the field of arts had little to attract. The situation spiralled into a vicious circle with lesser students opting for a career in arts and humanities. The departments in the universities turned into vehicles for narrow propaganda with negativity dominating an average arts student. If one was not a lucky child or relative of a well-placed bureaucrat or a politician, unemployment loomed large and generations of Humanties graduates fell prey to ideological battles rather than growing and contributing to the field.
The fields of technology, management and medicine are self sustaining and a generation of techies who had to migrate out of the country in search of opportunities have actually contributed to the rise of ‘IT generation’ saving the country from a large scale unemployment (despite the jibes like ‘IT coolies’ and ‘those who voted with their feet’ from known corners). But arts and humanities needs patronage by the governments, by the affluent class and the common class alike. The result of lack of patronage has come out clear in the recent times. A humanities graduate embarrassed us by asking stupid questions to the Managing Director of International Monetary Fund. A so called study circle in the Humanities department put a premier technology institute on headlines for wrong reasons. At personal and anecdotal levels the examples could be endless. I remember encountering a humanities student from Karnataka who did not know who Sri Krishna Devaraya was! (He also had the audacity to ask if I was mispronouncing the name of Sri Krishna Raja Wodeyar of Mysore!)
With the return of a nationalistic government to power, I expect more action in reclaiming the lost field of arts and literature. Entrepreneurs and professionals have survived hostile governments and will definitely flourish in the present term. But artists and believers of native Indian arts need proactive measures from government and initiatives by voluntary organizations. It is not for the living support of these artists, but for the continuity of the legacy which makes us proud. Our ancestors made us proud with their exploits in the field. Are we adding to the pile so that our descendants have an increased pile to be proud of? Importantly, can we enable an average student of arts to dream and aspire like his/her peers in professional education without descending into political crony-ism? Or do we leave them to fret with envy at their peers and get manipulated by vested propagandists? Can we reclaim the field of arts and humanities to reflect and refine our identity as the oldest existing civilization? Or do we leave it to become a convenient tool in the hands of Indophobic entities? Will the Saraswathi get back the home she deserves? Or does she have to await another Bhoja Raja’s descent in the age of democracy? Let our actions determine what we want to answer.