Museum Treasure: The Bhu-Varaha at CSMVS sculpture gallery

The sculpture gallery of the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS) has many treasures within, with some of them being more impressive than the others. One of the “quieter” sculptures is that of a 10th century Varaha from Karnataka.

On my visits to the sculpture gallery, I would give this sculpture — which is about 3.5 feet in height and about 2 feet in width — only a cursory glance, passing it over for other exhibits. It was not until I had to write an assignment as part of my Indian Aesthetics course at Jnanapravaha, where I had to choose one of the sculptures in the gallery that I had my first good look at the Varaha.

And regretted not having paid attention to it before, so rich were the details and the iconography. At the end of my detailed tour of the sculpture gallery, there was no doubt which sculpture I would be writing about.🙂

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Museum Treasure: Silk Money of Khorezm

Q: What does a country do if there is a shortage of paper to print currency?

A: No problem. They print currency on a material they have in abundance.

When the rulers of Khiva of the Khorezm Province in Uzbekistan faced paper shortage at the beginning of the 19th century, they turned to a material they had in abundance —Silk, which was used to print currency of large denominations

Silk Money, Khorezm, Uzbekistan, Museum Exhibit

Silk Money or currency printed on silk

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Museum Treasure: The 8 Shivas

When you enter the sculpture gallery at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS) at Mumbai, look to your left. You will see a towering slab of ‘stone’, about 11-12 feet in height. If you stand in front of the slab and position yourself a few feet away from it, this is what you will see.

Mahadeva, Ashta Shiva, Parashiva, Sculpture Gallery, Relief, CSMVS, Museum Treasure, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu SangrahalayaYour eyes will be drawn to the central standing figure and the 6 figures who surround him. Two figures emerge from his shoulders and one rises from behind him. You will notice three more figures emerging from the middle figure — two from his sides and one from behind him. In addition to these 7 figures, you will notice five more figures grouped around the legs of the central standing figure.

Now move closer to see the finer details on the relief.

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Museum Treasure: The Holy Family

In a quiet bylane of Old Goa is The Museum of Christian Art. Perhaps the only one of its kind in Asia, the Museum showcases Indo-Portuguese art from the 16th to the 20th century.The Museum’s collection includes furniture, sculptures, ivory and metal artefacts, textiles, paintings and books from the 16th to the 20th century. On a visit to Goa last month, an afternoon spent at the Museum turned out to be the highlight of my entire trip.

The Museum’s collection is extremely well curated and presented. While it is difficult to choose a favourite among the ones I saw at the Museum, I had no hesitation in choosing one for today’s post on Christmas Eve.

“The Holy Family”, a 20th century set of ivory figurines mounted on wood, was donated to the Museum by the Albuquerques from Anjuna in Goa.

The Holy Family, Ivory, Jesus, Mary and Joseph

The Holy Family. Ivory and Wood. 2oth Century

While the 3 figures in the centre are very clearly Joseph, Mary and the child Jesus, I’m not sure who the two figures on the extreme right and left are. Maybe St. Anne and St. Joachim, Mary’s parents? I loved the delicate details of the figurines: the expression on both the women’s faces and drape of the robes, the look of wonder on Jesus’ face.

As always, whenever I see such exquisite works of art, I wonder who the artist was and what went through his/her mind while creating “The Holy Family”?

Dear reader, did you like these figurines as much as I did?

Wish you a very Happy Christmas🙂

The Museum Treasure Series is all about artifacts found in museums with an interesting history and story attached to them. You can read more from this series here.

Museum Treasure: Rama’s coronation

In India, popular perception in religious art largely spread through calendars, posters and periodicals. These colourful works of art were important in reinforcing images that we instantly recognise today. For instance, if we were to try to imagine Rama’s coronation in Ayodhya, it would be something like this — Rama and Sita seated on the royal throne with Hanuman bowing at their feet. Rama’s brothers, Lakshmana, Bharata and Shatrughna are in attendance, as is the Vanar king Sugreeva. The royal priest, Vashishta, is busy conducting the ceremony.

It is a gloriously celebratory image, but uni dimensional, and oh-so-safe-and-recognisable, if you know what I mean. And frankly, quite boring as the expressions on all the faces are fixed and beatific.

But then, sometimes, one comes across depictions that shakes you out of the boredom and makes you look at the same thing all over again, but with delight this time.

I came across two artifacts/tableaus on Rama’s coronation at at Mumbai’s Bhau Daji Lad Museum. Though both were instantly recognisable for what they depicted, they had more than an element of surprise on offer. Here is the first one:

Rama's coronation. Ivory, Mid-18th Century

Rama’s coronation. Ivory, Mid-18th Century

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Museum Treasure: The bearded Rama

It is quite fascinating how popular culture, iconography and art shape, influence and reiterate perception, both consciously and unconsciously. Anything that is different from the familiar is either missed or dismissed as a gimmick. In rare cases, it opens up a whole new world and triggers off a new understanding. Something like this happened in February when I visited the Jaisalmer Fort Palace Museum at the Jaisalmer Fort, where I was forced to acknowledge that I was not immune to internalising popular perception.

I was at the sculpture gallery at the Museum and idly registering apsaras or dancing girls, a Saraswati, a carved panel, and a bearded figure with a bow. Though the pose of the figure appeared relaxed, it’s expression said otherwise—fierce eyes, and a grim and stern countenance seemed to radiate tension. While, the arrow in the figure’s hands and the bow slung on it’s back suggested a brave warrior, the elaborate crown and extended ear lobes from heavy earrings suggested a that this was, perhaps, the figure of a king.

Bearded Rama, Sculpture, Jaisalmer Fort Palace Museum, Travel, Jaisalmer, Rajasthan So who was it, I asked myself. When I saw the information board for this sculpture, I almost dropped my camera !

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