Lecture tag: Material Culture

What makes a temple unique? The construction of spatial particularity

This lecture will look at cultural modes of developing a meaningful localised universe (or: how to make sense of stones). It will focus on literary material associated with the South Indian Varada temple in Kanchipuram. The wider South Indian context, that may relativise claims of uniqueness or may take a polemical stance, will be explored, and some more general, comparative remarks will be added.

Archaeologies of power: materialization of imperial ideology on the Aśoka horizon

Archaeologists have conceptualized power either as personal potency or something structural, but more comprehensively as nothing but the dialectical relationship between the two. Comparatively in Indic philosophy, both the normative knowledge of statecraft and personal experience of the ruler were considered as integral to the exercise of overlordship. I will thus archaeologically investigate the role of A?oka the Great in exploiting sources of power especially (but not exclusively) ideology through the archaeological theory of materialization. It has been argued that ideology can be materialized: in ancient South Asia, ideology assumed its materialized forms as royal orders on permanent materials, monuments/monumental art, coins, rituals, distributions of imperial art/architecture/artifacts or settlement patterns/hierarchies. The contents, contexts and locations of A?okan edicts best manifest the modes of power of the Indic world. I will first challenge the discrepancy between A?oka’s proselytization of Buddhism and religious tolerance as well as the long-held dichotomy of the Buddhist and Brahmanical models of his kingship. Secularization of certain technical terms in A?okan edicts and their geopolitical locations rather support such imperial strategies as universal pacification and compartmentalization. The collective evidence of the royal orders of A?oka, Kh?ravera, Rudrad?man and Samudragupta will further illuminate the cakravartin kingship of the Indo-European origin. I will hypothesize that A?oka as cakravartin materialized his power by marking his symbolic circumambulation of his empire with his Major and Minor Rock Edicts located on Mauryan borderlands.

Corporeal relics in stupa deposits from Gandhara

The literary tradition has it that after the Buddha left his earthly body, his body was cremated and his bones divided between 8 kings. These bones are, according to Buddhist tradition, corporeal relics of the Buddha. The 8 kings subsequently buried the Buddha’s bones inside a ritual monument called stupa in their own kingdoms. Literature also claims that the 8 stupas were later opened by King Asoka, who distributed the bones, and had them buried in 84,000 stupas. The deposition of objects inside stupas in Gandhara, present-day northern Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan, could be traced back to the mid 2nd century BC. Not all Gandharan stupas contain bones. Bones in Gandharan stupas consist of both burned and unburned bones. All burned bones are of small size, while unburned bones are of different sizes and show obvious indication of being animal bones. This presentation will look at the spatial distribution of bones in Gandharan stupa deposits, and attempt to discuss reasons of the absence of bones in some stupas. One of the main arguments for the absence of the bones concerns the attitudes towards body remains. Apart from Buddhists, Gandhara was also inhabited by Zoroastrians and Hindus, to whom dead body is considered impure. The co-inhabiting of the Buddhists with the Zoroastrians and Hindus may have prompted the exclusion of bones in stupa deposits.

Sculpted Forms of Enlightenment: Gods and Goddesses in Hindu Sculpture

Explore the iconography of Hindu gods and goddesses in Indian sculpture followed by a handling session. Jasleen Kandhari is an art historian, lecturer and curator who has lectured on Asian art over the past 10 years in museums and universities including the British Museum, British Library, Victoria and Albert Museum, National Museums Liverpool, Design Museum, Fashion and Textiles Museum and SOAS and this year, started lecturing at the Ashmolean Museum of Art & Archaeology, University of Oxford. She has published several articles on Hindu art collections and exhibitions including the Indian paintings collections at Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, formerly Prince of Wales Museum of Western India, Mumbai and Hindus, Buddhists and Jains: In Search of the Divine exhibition at RJK Museum, Cologne in Asian Art. Her upcoming lectures at the Ashmolean Museum include Indian Portraiture: Sikh Paintings from Gurus to Maharajahs, a study day on Indian textiles and a summer school on Exploring Asian textiles at the Ashmolean.

Battle of the Gods: A Comparative Study of Narrative Techniques in Nepali Painting

While exploring the collections at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA), I was struck by four dazzling illustrations where splendid architecture and dramatic landscapes in rainbow colours serve as backdrops as Krishna hunts, marries beautiful princesses, and engages in combat. The depicted episodes from the Latter Half of the Tenth Book of the Bhāgavata Purāṇa were familiar to me from illustrations produced at the Rajput courts, in the Punjab hills, and in Central India. But here, Krishna had been transposed into the rich and brilliant world of Nepali paintings and occupied the cities and palaces of the Kathmandu valley, his presence bearing testimony to the wide sphere of the Bhāgavata’s circulation and influence.

The four PMA illustrations and the lavish Nepali manuscript to which they belong have never been studied in detail. This is despite the long history of Vaishnavism in Nepal, the ubiquity of artworks dedicated to Vishnu and his incarnations, and the manuscript’s participation in a broader North Indian engagement with the Krishna legend. Moreover, the manuscript is visually spectacular and a singular example in Nepal’s canon. In this talk, I will examine the manuscript’s depiction of the “battle of the gods” between Krishna and Shiva alongside a Nepali scroll that portrays the Harivaṃśa’s version of the encounter. By comparing arrangement of text and image, visualization of space and place, storytelling techniques and style, I will probe how the manuscript’s organization and narrative rhythm derive at least partially from the features it shares with contemporary Hindu (and Buddhist) scrolls. My larger goal is to prompt a revision of the dominant narrative of Himalayan art where “Himalayan” is seen as synonymous with Tibetan Buddhist art; such a characterization fails to account for Nepal’s rich canon of Hindu-themed works and its entangled socio-cultural history where deities, religious practices and artistic styles are shared between Hinduism and Buddhism.

Dr. Neeraja Poddar received her Ph.D. in Art History from Columbia University. She was the Andrew W. Mellon—Anne d’Harnoncourt Postdoctoral Fellow in South Asian Art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and is now Curator at The City Palace Museum, Udaipur. Poddar’s publications and research focus broadly on South Asian illustrated manuscripts; she is particularly interested in the materiality of books, the relationships between text and image and the transmission and circulation of narratives. She also studies the painting traditions of Nepal with particular emphasis on Vaiṣṇava imagery. Poddar co-curated the reinstallation of the South Asian galleries at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. She is currently working on a book project related to illustrated manuscripts of the Bhāgavata Purāṇa as well as a catalogue of The City Palace Museum, Udaipur’s silver collection.

From Temple to Museum: Colonial Collections and Uma Mahesvara Icons in the Middle Ganga Valley

Mahesvara from sites across South Bihar in their movement and displacement from their original abodes in temples to museums, private collections and art markets. The scope of the book covers a large time frame from the early medieval to the 20th century and innovatively tries to bridge the historiographical divide between the ancient and the modern and also between socio-religious practices and their institutional memory and preservation. One of the most interesting aspects of discussion is how through official surveys and institutionalisation of museum and archival practices the colonial government tried to create a monotheistic identity to sacred spaces in the Indian Subcontinent.

Through the medium of sacred sculptures the talk will touch upon significant issues in Indian archaeology such as the prolonged usage of the same ritual space by various communities of people such as Buddhists, Jains, Hindus and Muslims. Another significant theme which will be discussed is how a shift in the architectural and ritual placement of sacred images can bring about a change in their identity and purpose. The talk will also focus on the creation of regional identities and the politics of heritage making through the use of visual cultures and museum spaces.

Dr. Salila Kulshreshtha secured her PhD in History from Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Her doctoral research focuses on tracing how the spatial relocation of sacred sculptures brings about a change in their identity and ritual purpose. She has worked on issues of urban heritage and heritage education with the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) [2004] and with the Dr Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum, Mumbai [2011-2012]. She has taught Art history, History and Humanities in Mumbai at Rizvi College of Architecture and Indian Education Society’s College of Architecture [2012-2013] and in the USA at the Old Dominion University and Virginia Wesleyan College [2005-2007]. She is currently based in Dubai. Her research interests include religious iconography, colonial archaeology, museum collections and Indian Ocean trade networks. She has also contributed to designing an online course of OCHS on Indian Art. 

Decoding Gandharan Art: Making Of Museum Collections In India

This paper discusses collections of Gandharan sculptures in museums in India along two lines of enquiry: one, the nature and size of collections in some of the major museums of the country, such as the Indian Museum, Kolkata founded in 1814 and with the largest collection of 1602 Gandharan objects; or the National Museum, New Delhi, which was inaugurated on 15th August 1949, two years after Indian Independence and has 688 objects. In contrast to the Indian Museum’s collection made before 1927, the National Museum continued to add pieces until 1987. Other sizable collections include those in the Government Museum, Chandigarh and the Chhatrapati Shivaji Vastu Sangrahalaya, Mumbai, though the history of the collection is unique in each case. How are these differences to be understood or contextualized? The focus on ‘collecting’ rather than ‘collections’ provides insights into the changing nature of engagement between the region of Gandhāra and the history of the subcontinent.

Himanshu Prabha Ray is recipient of the Anneliese Maier research award of the Humboldt Foundation (2014 – 2019) and Member of the Board of the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies, Oxford. She is former Professor, Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University and Former Chairperson, National Monuments Authority, Ministry of Culture, Government of India.

She is series editor of Routledge Archaeology and Religion in South Asia book series in collaboration with OCHS. Her recent books include Archaeology and Buddhism in South Asia (Routledge, 2018); The Return of the Buddha: Ancient Symbols for a New Nation (Routledge, New Delhi, 2014); The Archaeology of Seafaring in Ancient South Asia (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2003), as also edited volumes: Buddhism and Gandhara: An Archaeology of Museum Collections (Routledge, 2018);  Bridging the Gulf: Maritime Cultural Heritage Of The Western Indian Ocean (India International Centre & Manohar Publishers, 2016); Satish Chandra and Himanshu Prabha Ray edited, The Sea, Identity and History: From the Bay of Bengal to the South China Sea (Manohar Publishers, 2013).

The Pañcāyatanapūjā and the Problem of Aniconism (MT17)

The Pañcāyatanapūjā is a worship of five deities, Śiva, Viṣṇu, Sūrya, Gaṇeśa and Devī. It emerged as a ritual style within the Smārta movement and appeared both in temple architecture and as a domestic worship performed with small stones and/or figurines representing the gods. The worship which had almost died out in most parts of India has recently been revived among Smārta Brahmins in Tamil Nadu. An analysis of the ritual can proceed from different perspectives. There are the social-historical developments which may explain the revival in Tamil Nadu. But there is also the theoretical perspective of aniconicity as a deliberate choice of representation vis-à-vis the iconic, anthropomorphic forms of the gods. Together with a group of researchers with expertise in different religious traditions I have been examining this spectrum of visual and material choices. The seminar will present an overview of the results of this research.

Mikael Aktor is Associate Professor of History of Religions at the Institute of Philosophy, Education and the Study of Religions, University of Southern Denmark. He holds a PhD from University of Copenhagen, a part of which was carried out at School of Oriental and African Studies, London. His field of expertise is within the study of Dharmaśāstra, in particular with a focus on caste and untouchability. He has lately been engaged in research on North Indian Śaiva temple ritual and temple sculpture as part of a general interest in ritual studies and religious aesthetics.