Roundabout the fourth century BCE, a Divine One was born.
Gautama Buddha taught a Middle Way, an eight path, a perfect partnership of the philosophical and the practical, the sensual and the ascetic. Wisdom was his thing, and though it was said he could have lived for an aeon had he chosen, he had certainly died 200 years after he appeared on this earth.
His death was just the very beginning of things. His followers memorised his teachings and passed them on in an oral tradition; and they began to discuss in a very orderly fashion indeed. Why, they even held councils: one, immediately following the death of Buddha, and the second afterwards in the reign of Ashoka who died in 232 BCE.
The councils were held in a great city, a metropolis. Pataliputra had begun as a small fort near the Ganges River, but now it was a significant centre and the councils earmarked it as even more so. Great monasteries grew up within its walls, and it was the capital of the great Gupta and Pala dynasties.
But like most great civilisations, this one had a rise and fall to it. The eminent Buddhist scholar Xuanzang visited it in the seventh century to find it in a ruinous state; and the raids of Muslim looters in the 12th century helped finish the job. When the great founder of the Sur empire, Suri, came upon it in the 14th century, he opted to move sideways and site its young sister city, Patna, just next door.
Six centuries of sleeping later, the eyes of an Indian industrialist came to rest on it once again.
Not just any industrialist, mind: but Sir Ratan Tata.
Sir Tata was the son of a wealthy Indian magnate. He was born into money, and made it with ease himself. But the businessman had a passion for the arts and for culture. He collected widely and endowed his finds to the Prince of Wales Museum in Bombay. He set up a house for European research scholars coming to India to study Oriental literature and culture.
And he funded the first archaeological expedition to Pataliputra.
Between 1913 and 1917, an astounding discovery was made at the ancient city using his funds: a great, many-columned throne room, which was built for Ashoka, the formidable Mauryan ruler. Of him, and his quest to create hell on earth, more another day.
But our story today ends far, far away from the banks of the Ganges, on the banks of the Thames. For it is a little known fact that Sir Tata owned a substantial old property at Twickenham; and that he furnished its gardens with the most outrageous ornaments.
About 1906, a full complement of Oceanides – the daughters of the sea from Greek mythology – appeared gracing a pool and cascading waterfall in the gardens of York House, Sir Tata’s residence.
He bought them, Italian imports,from a financier who had been involved in fraud.
Even today, they cause anyone strolling past a sharp intake of breath. For these statues for want of a better term, are mad as a box of frogs.
Unfettered, uncorseted, uninhibited and with absolutely no manners, these are wanton hussies cavorting through a bastion of the English. They are outrageous; unsettling and incongruous: yet no one, since their siting a century ago, has seen fit to move them.
When the house was sold and the contents auctioned off, the statues proved too bewildering to take any notice of. They were simply left where they were, sold as part of the fabric of the house.
You will be anxious to take a look at them. Thus, here they are.