India Insight

Photo gallery: The body as an art form in India

March 20, 2014
Bodhisattva Head, 1st-2nd century AD (Lucknow State Museum)

Bodhisattva Head, 1st-2nd century AD (Lucknow State Museum)

‘The Body in Indian Art’, on exhibit at the National Museum in New Delhi, is a pan-India project showcasing over 300 artworks from 44 institutions. The show is an exhaustive study of the body’s myriad representations in Indian art, roughly covering a period of 4,000 years across regions, religion and culture.

The exhibition has been put up in eight adjoining galleries, each with a specific theme such as death, birth, divinity or rapture.

Chances are you may get lost during the tour as the show is cyclical in its set-up, representing the circle of life the body stands for.

Curator Naman Ahuja has devoted a section to works belonging to traditions, such as that of Islamic art, which are opposed to depicting the body. Rare copper sheets inlaid with silver calligraphy, probably belonging to Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, depict the 99 names of Allah.

A giant egg of stainless steel (Subodh Gupta, 2010), defies the idea of corporeality. A steel tree-of-life, a Mughal-era tomb and modern reproductions of clay pots used in Vedic rituals also have the same theme.

Many of the exhibits were publicly displayed for the first time in Brussels last year.

Among the rare artworks on display was a tall 9th-century sculpture of a snake god made of porous stone that gave it the appearance of snakeskin. Also being displayed for the first time is an animal-headed “anthropomorph” (first or second millennium BC) that was found lying in a store room of the Archaeological Society of India. Figurines from the Harappan civilization (from around 2500 BC) are being publicly shown for the first time since their excavation in 1933.

‘The Body in Indian Art’ show closes on June 7.

Dancing ascetics, 10th century (Lucknow State Museum)

Dancing ascetics, 10th century (Lucknow State Museum)

Apsara/Mohini, 12th-13th century AD (National Museum, New Delhi)

Apsara/Mohini, 12th-13th century AD (National Museum, New Delhi)

Hanuman, 18th century (National Museum, New Delhi)

From left to right: Vaishnavi, Varahi, Indrani and Chamunda, 8th-9th centuries AD (Kannauj Museum, Uttar Pradesh)

From left to right: Vaishnavi, Varahi, Indrani, Chamunda, 8th-9th centuries AD (Kannauj Museum)

Subodh Gupta untitled (egg), 2010

Subodh Gupta untitled (egg), 2010

Kubera, god of wealth, 2nd century AD (National Museum, New Delhi)

Kubera, god of wealth, 2nd century AD (National Museum, New Delhi)

Carving of a squatting woman giving birth supported by two attendants, 18th century AD (National Museum, New Delhi)

Carving of a squatting woman giving birth supported by two attendants, 18th century AD (National Museum, New Delhi)

Garuda, 10th century AD (National Museum, New Delhi)

Garuda, 10th century AD (National Museum, New Delhi)

Female demon Putana suckles Krishna, mid-20th century (Crafts Museum, New Delhi)

Female demon Putana suckles Krishna, mid-20th century (Crafts Museum, New Delhi)

Shiva with cosmic symbols, 5th-6th century AD (Bhopal State Museum, Madhya Pradesh)

Shiva with cosmic symbols, 5th-6th century AD (Bhopal State Museum, Madhya Pradesh)

(Editing by Tony Tharakan; Follow Tony on Twitter at @TonyTharakan and Ankush @Ankush_patrakar |This article is website-exclusive and cannot be reproduced without permission)

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