Stella Kramrisch, on reading this verse in Bhagavat Gita in German translation, was awed by the image of Krishna and identified herself with the trembling warrior Arjuna in the Kuru battlefield. She was barely into her teens then. This was Stella'searliest introduction to India, the land that she later became illustrious daughter of. She took as her personal motto Krishna'swords to Arjuna ?Concern yourself only with action, never with its fruits. The fruits of action should not be your motive, nor should you cling to inaction.? (BG 2:47)
Stella Kramrisch was born in Moravia in the town of Mikulov at the end of 19th century. This was part of Austria then. In 1918, it was incorporated into Czechoslovakia. Both her parents nurtured their only child both intellectually and spiritually. She took violin lessons and was a keen ballet dancer.
After her discovery of Bhagavat Gita, in Vienna, where the family moved to, Stella started searching out India. She read all that was available in the libraries about India and exhausted several libraries. By the time she was 16, she had considerable knowledge of Indian culture.
In her academic pursuit she studied Greek language and culture, German philosophy and poetry. She also learnt Sanskrit in Vienna, which she pursued under D.R.Bhandarkar in Calcutta, later. She thus gained access to Vedic literature.
After World War I, in 1919, Stella managed to go to London, where she was to make three lectures on Indian art at Oxford. Her first lecture was on Indian temples. She had not seen an Indian temple till then. After her lecture, when she was going among the audience, she ?felt wide-sleeved arms around her?-that was Rabindranath Tagore. He invited her to join the new school of art-Kala Bhavan in Shantiniketan.
The British were not too keen to grant her the necessary travel permission. However, she managed to reach India in 1922. When she arrived in Bombay, even before checking in at the hotel, she went by a small boat to Elephanta and spent the day until sunset. It is the image of Shiva-Sadasiva Mahadeva, which remained with her for the rest of her life, inspiring her work and life. She even had a spiritual guru who introduced her to Saiva tantrik rituals.
Stalla Kramrisch went to Shantiniketan. After hearing one of her lectures, Sir Asutosh Mookerji, Vice Chancellor of Calcutta University, offered her a place in the Faculty. She was the only European in the Faculty. Dr Mookerji offered her the post with the full realisation of the difficulties she would face. Unfortunately for her, Dr Mookerji died in 1924 and his son Syama Prasad became the Vice Chancellor.
According to a biographical sketch on Stella, by Barbara Stoler Miller, Stella was discriminated against. ?It was only in years later, after the publication of her book The Hindu Temples in 1946, that she was again received by the family. She recalled Syama Prasad saying to her, ?of the two of us, you are a better Hindu.? (from Exploring India'sSacred Art, Selected Writings of Stella Kramrisch, IGNCA).
In 1929, Stella met and married a Hungarian economist, Laszlo Nemenyi, in Calcutta. He had come to India in connection with the setting up of the Central Reserve Bank. They shared a deep and committed life, though in their 21 years of marriage they spent very little time together. Her husband took the post of Economic Adviser in Pakistan after 1947, a decision that damaged Stella'slife in Calcutta irretrievably. She faced animosity. Her husband was found shot dead in dinner clothes in the beaches of Karachi, in 1950.
Stella travelled all over India, visiting the temples, abandoned and live. She trekked long distances to reach monuments. She studied the various texts and scriptures regarding temple architecture and met several interesting persons. Many of them appointed themselves her teacher and introduced her to aspects of Indian art that she had not yet explored.
Around 1950-51, she went to New York, deciding to be away from India for some time. She took up various positions in museums and academics, all the time in touch with India and things Indian. She continued to publish works on Indian art. After nearly a decade of hard work, she curated the exhibition Manifestations of Shiva in Philadelphia Museum. Her book Presence of Shiva was published in 1979. The book is woven from her versions of Shiva. The government of India recognised her contributions to Indian art and culture and awarded her the Padma Bhushan in 1982.
Stella Kramrisch passed away in 1993. She was deeply affected and influenced by the philosophy of Indian art, its completeness. She said, ?There is something so strong and at the same time unique in any Indian work of art that its ?Indianness? is felt first of all and what it is, is seen only on second thought.?