Dr. Naman P. Ahuja is Associate Professor of Ancient Indian Art and Architecture at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi where his research and graduate teaching focus on Indian iconography and sculpture, temple architecture and Sultanate period painting. He has curated several exhibitions on themes ranging from ancient to contemporary Indian art.
He has held Visiting Professorships and Fellowships at Fellowships at Florence, Zurich, Oxford and SOAS (London) and Curatorship of Indian Sculpture at the British Museum.
Some of His publication include: The making of the modern Indian Artist Craftsman: Devi Prasad (Routledge, 2011), Divine Presence, The Arts of India and the Himalayas (Five Continents Editions, Milan, 2003, in English Catalan and Spanish); and The Body in Indian Art and Thought (Ludion, Belgium 2013, in English, French and Dutch).
The exhibition ‘The Body in Indian Art' is significant to National Museum for y reasons. It is one of the largest ever mounted at the Museum. The exhibition brings together over 350 objects from over 40 museums and private collections, with National Museum contributing a large number of exhibits from its vast collections. Visitors have an opportunity here to view works which have never before been publicly exhibited or published. The exhibition I also a collaborative project, bringing together expertise from outside the museum to complement in-house capabilities.
The exhibition was on display in Brussels as part of the Europalia festival, a project of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, in 2013. We would like to record our sincere gratitude to the ICCR for permitting us to mount the exhibition on its return to India.
Exhibition curator Naman Ahuja's vision is grounded in the plural history of India: balancing the art and material culture of every region and every epoch, deluxe objects made for maharajas and everyday terracottas and wooden images of the everyman and everywoman. It compares the art expressions of different philosophical and cultic persuasions to present the material in a scholarly yet approachable manner. Above all, this vision is aesthetically precise and exacting.
National Museum would like to thank all the lenders to this exhibition without whom its narrative would not be as rich and wonderful as it is. We would also like to acknowledge the work put in by the various teams at National Museum and Naman Ahuja's team who worked tirelessly to create this unique exhibition.
It is a matter of great pride for National Museum to present it to the public.
This publication accompanies the exhibition 'Rupa-Pratirupa: The Body in Indian Art' held at the National Museum in New Delhi from 14th March to 7th June 2014. It contains a complete list of all the exhibits and detailed notes on some of the highlights of the exhibition. While it cannot reproduce the selections of music and films on dance and ritual performances, which enrich the experience of the artworks in the exhibition, it lists the films used and a CD of the music is included. These materials extend the remit of the exhibition to performative cultures that are intangible or ephemeral, that seldom have archaeological or material history, and equally rarely leave behind a literature that records the ritual or performance.
The intention of this volume is to aid the visitor's experience of the exhibition. For a more comprehensive stud) of the aesthetic, philosophical, archaeological and historical context, the interested reader may wish to refer to another book: Ahuja, Naman P. The Body in Indian Art and Thought (Ludion, Belgium, 2013; also published in Dutch as India Belichaamd and in French as Corps de'Inde). That book was published on the occasion of the exhibition in Belgium.
While maintaining the same basic structure as well as drawing on some parts of it, this book presents a more descriptive and synoptic view of the objects themselves as well as the overarching ideas of galleries in which they are placed.
It employs a standard transliteration into English of Indian languages, using diacritical marks in the explanatory narrative. However, for ease of reading by all, labels and captions have been transliterated into their commonly-used English equivalents. Thus, labels read 'Krishna' while the text reads 'Krsna.' In cases where Prakrit words are so divergent from Sanskrit ones as to prohibit ease of understanding, Sanskrit terms have been used. Arabic and Persian are also transliterated into their most commonly accepted forms of romanization. However, where Hindustani words better express concepts as they are understood in India, these have been substituted. Place names are provided in standard modern usage rather than in transliterated roman script.
Rupa- Pratirupa: The Body in Indian Art of the largest exhibitions of classical art staged in the last 25 years. Sourced from 42 museums and cultural instiutions in India, this exhibition of over artworks is presented in eight themes. The eight sections in this book relate to the galleries in the exhibition. They are designed to balance each other. If concepts d the death of the body inform our understanding of how it is memorialized, represented and made eternal in Gallery d as of how immortal bodies are represented form the subject of Gallery 5. While matters of cosmology and fate are concern of Gallery 4, what inspires righteous action and individual agency is ted in Gallery 6. Creation, birth and itself, determined by desire, miracles and forces beyond human control, are discussed in Gallery 3, while Gallery 7 shows how human ascetical power can conquer desire and rebut societal norms. And while Gallery 2 explores how 'truth' cannot be represented in bodily form in transient and illusory life, Gallery 8 is premised on the idea that the aesthetic sensorium of art is itself 'truth.'
The artworks are assembled to provoke larger questions: Where do society's archetypes of heroism and valour rest, for example? What motivates abstinence and asceticism? How does a civilization view the rites of passage, death, and birth? To what extent do Indians believe that the body's fate is destined or predetermined, and to what degree is fortune in the hands of those people who shape it for themselves? Through art, the exhibition shows the body as a site for defining individual identity and negotiating power, and as a richly-layered exposition that reexamines classical history in the light of changing views of social exclusion, gender and sexuality.
The exhibition is conceived in a cyclical manner, both clockwise and anti-clockwise. Going anti-clockwise, it takes us from a celebration of the mundane physical body to its aspirations of heroism, asceticism and eventually to the divine and philosophical concepts that inform Indian sensibilities. Going the other way is a more challenging circuit that makes the viewer realize how much the metaphysical has informed our daily lives. Every gallery in this exhibition includes a modern or contemporary work, which either shows how contemporary India has inherited its legacies or serves as a counter-point, the voice of a modern society's dialogue with its past. Modern and contemporary artworks in the exhibition are not just from metropolitan studio practitioners but also from traditional craftspeople (folk and tribal') and from popular print culture.
The exhibition addresses complex ideas about the body from a range of Indian philosophies and across many periods of history. Such an undertaking could run the risk of collapsing difference or diversity and presenting a homogeneous, essentialized vision of India. An awareness of this has been constant in the curating of this exhibition. The plurality portrayed offers an opportunity to see how diversity is accommodated. Yet, India's diverse voices, opinions and expressions have not always had a harmonious coexistence. Dividing lines exist between religions and within religions. They exist among classes and castes, and between rural and urban, ancient and modern, male and female. Each gallery in this exhibition seeks to indicate these divides, for in the ruptures and interstices of differences lie the spaces in which historical continuities may be found.
The exhibition's framework permits us to scrutinize how cyclical views of time and cosmology intersect with linear histories; how ancient cultural concepts are invoked recurrently through historical eras, and how these histories influence and affect each present. At the same time, commentaries on texts by ancient and medieval writers, their reinterpretations, and the history of schisms within religious sects are fundamental to the presentation of a historically-informed reading of Indian art. Myth provides compelling archetypes with which individual histories have intersected to such an extent that they have emerged repeatedly through time, although with different inflections.
A project such as this presents many challenges. The libraries of the worlds of Sanskrit, Pali, Persian, Hindi, Tamil and other Indian languages are probably the largest surviving literary corpus of any civilization in the world. Vast bodies of material interweave history, myth, science, psychology and fiction with liturgical ritual texts, making it very difficult to posit neat chronologies when looking at art. The work of art may be from one age, for example, and thus historically grounded, while its subject matter could well be drawn from earlier ideas. Myths current in past times continue to survive in later sculptures or paintings. Sometimes myth is invoked to legitimize the political status of patrons who see identification with mythical gods and heroes as lending them strength. Further, these myths may never have been part of an elite literary tradition but may have come from traditions of folklore. And sometimes, myths, cosmologies and rituals are altered to accommodate new ideas and exigencies.
The importance of the body in Indian culture is visible in many ways. Entire temples have been devoted to parts of the body. The most sacred goddess temples, for instance, hark back to the myth of the body of Devi, which fell in different parts of the country. The myth is common all over Hindu India, and several regions claim to temples dedicated to the same part body. As many as seven temples are ftClDgl1lized as places where the goddess's are believed to be fossilized. Other places are venerated for containing the r of the prophet Muhammad or a relic the Buddha, and others as places where body of a saint is buried. It is these t make places sacred, and often define routes of pilgrimage. The corporeal body is also the stuff of ritual: it performs the ritual; it offers itself to ritual, and parts of body are even used in rituals - thigh- bones are turned into trumpets and skulls used as feeding or begging bowls. The body may be a site of magic: nails and hair often referred to in popular beliefs and rituals, and hair is commonly sacrificed, sometimes symbolizing the renunciation f power, and at other times the surrender vanity. The body's parts may be made to talismans in silver, wood, precious stones or gold, and offered to a temple, a deity, a prophet or a seer in the hope that these mimetic offerings will bring a cure to the ailing body. The rituals of Tantra extensively incorporate the body, delving into, interiorizing and making personal such systems of knowledge that otherwise seem distant from society. Body fluids - blood, bile, semen, milk - are also highly symbolic, ritually used, medically treated and inspected to determine the fate of a body. These beliefs, rituals and practices are of no minor relevance to the history of a civilization and its fundamental ways of thinking about the body. However, the anatomical, physical, corporeal matter of the body is not, directly, the chief concern of this book or exhibition. Instead, we focus on what are the wider cultural factors, fundamental mythic archetypes and historical imperatives that can lead to a more informed understanding of what drives the representation of the body.
This provides a context for an art- historical appreciation of the body and its varied representations, and within this to look beyond the interpretative imperatives of iconography to iconology, allowing artworks to be placed within cultural contexts shaped as much by history as by aesthetic philosophy. Art production in most pre-modern societies was largely informed by religion, and thus comparative religious histories must provide an interpretive framework. The myths portrayed in the exhibition have been selected with care as they offer an empathetic reading of a civilization. But their points are not laboured in the hope that their rich metaphors can convey what was originally intended. Each gallery presents a few different examples of myths, poems and legends that demonstrate varied opinions. This apart, the objects have been selected as much for their visual appeal as for their importance in representing a plural history. Information has been drawn primarily from Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Islam. It is not used to serve as a general introduction to these religions but to see how they inform our appreciation of their material cultures. This makes it possible to present a variety of ideas that may not be conveyed if one were to study orthodox doctrines and sacred texts alone.
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