News
South Asia season 2017

As part of the season, British Museum objects will travel across the UK, including:

  • a spotlight tour of an important sculpture of the elephant-headed god Ganesha
  • a spotlight loan to UK venues themed on the music of courtly India
  • an Object Journeys display at Manchester Museum
  • the continuing development of the South Asia partnership gallery at Manchester Museum, a joint project with the British Museum
  • a long-term loan to Greenway House in Devon
  • a long-term loan to the Oriental Museum in Durham

The season continues at the British Museum from August, including a display in Room 3 of an important sculpture from the Buddhist monument at Amaravati in southern India, and a display in Room 90a of recently acquired 20th-century popular prints from India.

Room 33 before refurbishment.

Room 33 before refurbishment.

In November 2017, the British Museum’s Sir Joseph Hotung Gallery of China and South Asia (Room 33) will reopen to the public after a complete refurbishment and redisplay. The new display will include a new narrative for South Asia which will bring the story up to the present day. The redisplay will allow the Museum to add new types of objects to the gallery such as paintings and textiles which need regulated conditions for display. These will complement the existing types of objects on show, such as sculpture, ceramics and metal ware. Updated interpretation, new lighting and design will allow this extraordinarily rich collection to be better seen and understood.

Here are just a few of the British Museum objects from South Asia you can see across the UK this year.

Celebrating Ganesha

Horniman Museum, 11 February – 23 April 2017
Brent Museum, 3 May – 28 August 2017
Manchester Museum, 2 September 2017 – 8 January 2018
Wardown Park Museum, Luton, 10 January – 29 April 2018

Schist stone figure of Ganesha. From Odisha (formerly Orissa), India, 13th century AD.

Schist stone figure of Ganesha. From Odisha (formerly Orissa), India, 13th century AD.

Ganesha, the elephant-headed god, is one of the most popular Hindu gods, and is celebrated across India and the world. At 119cm tall, this sculpture depicts many of his major attributes. Ganesha is a corpulent figure and is shown holding a bowl of his favourite sweets, while his vahana (mount) – a rat – crouches at the base of the lotus pedestal. His anklets are of snakes, as is the sacred thread wound across his chest. He stands in an arch of a typical Indian decorative type with a lion mask (‘kirttimukha‘) at the top and aquatic monsters (‘makara‘) at each end. Find out more about where Ganesha will be on display.

Object Journeys in Manchester

Manchester Museum’s Living Cultures Gallery, 3 February 2017 – late summer 2017

Folded bag made of cotton and heavily embroidered with silk thread. Made in Kutch, Gujarat, India.

Folded bag made of cotton and heavily embroidered with silk thread. Made in Kutch, Gujarat, India.

This folded bag was chosen by an inter-generational women’s group from the organisation Community on Solid Ground among other textiles, to be displayed alongside objects from the Manchester Museum collection. The group also responded creatively to these objects by making new versions of the objects to be shown alongside the historical artefacts. This folded bag is one of three textiles acquired in Sindh, Pakistan. Kutch, where this bag was made, and Sindh are famous for their richly embroidered designs often embellished with abla (small round mirrors). Women from tribal communities in these regions produce a range of garments, accessories and decorative textiles, including for religious purposes, for personal use and for sale. Many, including this envelope-shaped bag, are made from cotton cloth embroidered with silk thread. This style of bag is used to hold personal possessions.

Music of courtly India

Derby Museum and Art Gallery, 6 May – 25 June 2017
Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery, 30 June – 26 August 2017

Left: Asavari ragini, folio from the so-called Manley Ragamala album. Rajasthan, India, c. 1610. Right: Ivory sarinda covered in carvings of angelic figures, flora, and beasts in combat. Deccan, India, c. 1700.

Left: Asavari ragini, folio from the so-called Manley Ragamala album. Rajasthan, India, c. 1610. Right: Ivory sarinda covered in carvings of angelic figures, flora, and beasts in combat. Deccan, India, c. 1700.

These two objects will travel to Derby and Blackburn as part of the spotlight loan Music of courtly India. The folio is from an album of ragamala paintings, visual interpretations of poems which evoke the moods of classical Indian raga music. The paintings interweave three art forms which were frequently patronised at court: music, poetry and painting. The rare ivory sarinda (a four-stringed instrument) is covered in intricate carvings of angelic winged figures, flora, and beasts in combat. This magnificent object was also made in India for courtly patrons.

Pilgrimage in focus

The Asahi Shimbun Display in Room 3 at the British Museum, 10 August – 8 October 2017

Two-sided limestone relief from the Great Shrine at Amaravati (India), carved first in the 1st century BC (featuring the Buddha as an empty throne), and then turned over and carved in the 3rd century AD (featuring a corporal Buddha standing in front of the shrine).

Two-sided limestone relief from the Great Shrine at Amaravati in India, carved in the 1st century BC and 3rd century AD.

This relief from the Great Shrine at Amaravati in southeast India will be the focus of a new display at the British Museum. The two-sided limestone relief features the Buddha as a symbolic empty throne on one side, carved in the 1st century BC. The reverse side features a Buddha standing in front of the shrine, carved in the 3rd century AD. The shrine at Amaravati was founded about 200 BC probably to house a relic of the Buddha. It was slowly abandoned sometime during the 14th century. In the 19th century a series of archaeological campaigns recovered the surviving sculptures that had been recycled for new buildings and temples. The British Museum houses more than 120 sculptures from Amaravati, which will go back on permanent display from November 2017, as part of the refurbishment of Rooms 33, 33a and 33b.

South Asia redisplayed in London

Room 33 at the British Museum, from November 2017

Left: Shiva Nataraja, Lord of the Dance. South India, c. AD 1100. Right: Statue of the goddess Tara. Sri Lanka, 8th century AD.

Left: Shiva Nataraja, Lord of the Dance. South India, c. AD 1100. Right: Statue of the goddess Tara. Sri Lanka, 8th century AD.

When the British Museum’s Sir Joseph Hotung Gallery of China and South Asia reopens in November 2017, one of the objects on display will be Shiva Nataraja, Lord of the Dance. This Hindu sculpture was produced in the Chola period in southern India and used as a processional image. Shiva is depicted crushing ignorance underfoot while ushering out one cycle of existence and dancing in a new one. Another important statue on display will be of the Buddhist goddess Tara. Made in Sri Lanka, the statue combines both the spiritual and sensual, and would have been used as a focal point for meditation on the qualities of Tara – mercy and compassion. Tara is no longer worshipped in Sri Lanka, but remains a popular deity in Nepal and Tibet.

70 years on from Indian independence, the South Asia season is the perfect opportunity to look again at some of the astonishing and beautiful objects in the Museum’s collection, celebrating South Asia’s vital and ongoing contribution to world history.

 

 
Celebrating Ganesha and Music of courtly India are supported by the Dorset Foundation in memory of Harry M Weinrebe

Object Journeys is a community collaboration project at the British Museum and UK partner museums that is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The Amaravati relief is on show in the Asahi Shimbun Display at the British Museum from 10 August. Supported by The Asahi Shimbun.

The Sir Joseph Hotung Gallery of China and South Asia (Room 33) reopens in November 2017 and will present a new narrative for China and South Asia.