by Dr Eugene D’Souza, Mumbai
Daijiworld Media Network
Mumbai, Jan 10: Professor Walter M Spink, Professor Emeritus, History of Art, University of Michigan, USA, delivering the 45th Heras Memorial lectures on 2nd and 3rd January 2009 at St Xavier’s College Hall, Mumbai on the theme-“Ajanta:Past, Present, Future” exclaimed, “Ajanta is a music on the mountain”. A world renowned authority on the Ajanta Caves, Professor Spink took the enthusiastic and inquisitive audience on a journey through history, architecture, sculpture and paintings that are associated with the Buddhist caves of Ajanta.
In his introductory address, Fr Aubrey Mascarenhas S J, Director of the Heras Institute of Indian History and Culture gave a brief background of the Heras Memorial Lectures. These lectures are being held to honour the memory of Fr Henry Heras, a Jesuit priest, who came from Spain to Mumbai in 1922. He founded the “Indian Historical Research Institute” and devoted his life to the study of the history and culture of India, a country he loved and whose citizen he became.
An acclaimed archaeologist and historian, Fr Heras succeeded in producing a school of Indian historians from all over India who could study and write the history of India with a sound research methodology. Fr Heras himself published over 300 scholarly articles and wrote 15 books.
Though Fr Henry Heras was fascinated with the rich history and culture of South India, he dedicated his later years to the study and decipherment of the Indus Valley script. An acclaimed archaeologist and historian, Fr Heras published over 300 scholarly research articles and wrote 15 books on various historical themes.
Following the death of Fr Heras on 14th December 1955, the Indian Historical Research Institute founded by him was renamed as the “Heras Institute of Indian History and Culture”. Recognizing the contribution of Fr Heras to the study of Indian history and culture, the Indian Government released a postage stamp in his honour in 1981.
Heras Memorial Lectures have been organized since 1960 on the death anniversary of Fr Henry Heras. Prominent Indian and foreign historians have been invited to deliver these prestigious lectures. Some of the eminent scholars and historians who had been the part of the Heras Memorial lectures include: H D Sankalia, K A Nilakanta Sastri, Holden Furber, A L Basham, R C Majumdar, Surendra Gopal, Romila Thapar, M N Pearson, George Winius, S R Rao, Bipan Chandra, Harbans Mukhia, Barun De and others.
Professor Walter M Spink who delivered the 45th Heras Memorial Lectures is known the world over as the ‘Professor Emeritus of Ajanta’. For the past 50 years he has been coming regularly to India and to Ajanta near Aurangabad, to study the historical and artistic details of the Buddhist caves. He has been attempting to find answers to questions such as: Which exact period of Indian history should be assigned to the creating and the flowering of Ajanta? Who were the master craftsmen of Ajanta? Where did they come from? What did they do? And where did they disappear? His six volume study of “Ajanta: History and Development” was completed in 2008.
Professor Walter Spink has always been fascinated with Indian art, especially the style and chronology of Indian Rock-cut monuments. He was awarded a doctorate degree by the Harvard University for his monumental work on the ‘Rock-cut Monuments of the Andhra Period’. He has over forty years of teaching experience in the Department of History of Art, University of Michigan. He also taught in other universities. Besides, he has rendered two years service in the US Army Medical Corps.
In his two lecture series on Ajanta assisted by exquisite pictures of minute details of the architecture, sculpture and frescoes, Professor Walter Spink not only manifested his knowledge of Ajanta caves, but created an interest among the audience regarding the rich cultural and artistic heritage of India as represented by Ajanta.
The Buddhist rock-cut caves at Ajanta lie five kilometers from the village of Fardapur in Aurangabad district of Maharashtra. The thirty caves are cut into a steep and curving basaltic rock mountain in a remote ravine formed by the Waghora River. According to Prof. Spink, the site had two distinct periods of patronage. The early Buddhist or Satavahana phase dates from about 100 BC to about 100 AD. The second phase began shortly after 460 AD, which took place during the reign of the great Emperor Harisena of the Vakataka dynasty.
Dr Meena Talim, Honorary Professor, K J Somaiya Center of Buddhist Studies presided over the inaugural lecture and Dr Joseph Velinkar S J, Professor Emeritus, Ancient Indian Culture, University of Mumbai presided over the second lecture. Dr Anila Verghese, principal, Sophia College and Member of the Managing Board of the Heras Institute proposed the vote of thanks.