“Mutable”: The changing nature of ceramic and clay art in India

I love experiences that challenge me, make me think and occasionally shake me up a bit — not too much, mind you, just a little. Be it a book, travel, a music performance, food… the memories that have stayed with me are the ones that offered something extra by way of perception. The exhibition on “Mutable: Ceramic and Clay Art in India since 1947“ at the Piramal Museum of Art in Mumbai was one such experience. Curated by Sindhura D.M. and Annapurna Garimella, Mutable showcases 70 years of ceramic and clay art objects sourced from artists, artisans, institutions and private collectors from across India.

I wasn’t aware of this exhibition till photos of its preview night on October 13, 2017, exploded on all my social media timelines. Friends who knew of my interest in all things art tagged me and I went dizzy just keeping up. In the days that followed, tantalising articles and write-ups in newspapers followed, tempting me to drop everything and visit the exhibition, but as it happened it took me 10 days before I could actually do so.

It was my first visit to the Piramal Museum of Art and when I walked in on that October afternoon, I didn’t know where to look first — the large open exhibition space or the exhibits. Exhibition spaces fascinate me in how they are designed to interact with the exhibits within and also how their very design enhances or limits viewer experience. In this case the large open gallery, a viewing gallery on the first floor, a domed roof and the exhibits promised a great experience.

And I wasn’t wrong. Continue reading ““Mutable”: The changing nature of ceramic and clay art in India”

The painted rooms of Bundi Palace

When our group arrived at the ticket counter for the Bundi Palace on that November morning in 2016, the sight before me took my breath away. A path ascended and disappeared seemingly into nowhere, while part of the Palace loomed up above me, soaring up to the skies. In the distance, walls of the Taragarh Fort snaked away, disappearing into the mountainside it was built on.

Taragarh Palace, Taragarh Fort, Bundi Palace, Art, Painted Rooms of Bundi Palace, Royal Wall Paintings, Bundi School of Painting, Travel, Rajasthan, Incredibl India

If I had been awed by that first sight of the Palace and Fort when I had arrived in Bundi, I was spellbound now. I couldn’t help but recall Rudyard Kipling’s words when he first saw the Fort and the Palace at Bundi in the winter of 1887.

such a Palace [is] … the work of goblins rather than of men. It is built into and out of the hillside, in gigantic terrace on terrace, and dominates the whole of the city.

Our group was at the palace to see the paintings within and our explorations weren’t too different from Kipling’s. Like him, we too walked up a steep, stone-paved path and entered the Bundi Palace Complex through the Hathipol, and then explored its many corridors, rooms, halls, etc. with a guide authorised to unlock the many closed areas and tell us stories about them. [1]

Continue reading “The painted rooms of Bundi Palace”

Travel, Rajasthan, Hadoti, Madan Singh Trust Museum, Kota Garh, City Palace, Painted Rooms, Palaces of Rajasthan, Museums of Rajasthan

The painted rooms of Kota Garh

When we arrived at the Rao Madho Singh Trust Museum in Kota on that November morning last year, I was taken aback to see the freshly whitewashed exteriors of the Museum building. I mean, why would a red sandstone structure be whitewashed over? The white is so blinding in the mid-morning sunlight that I had to shade my eyes to even look at it.

Travel, Rajasthan, Hadoti, Madan Singh Trust Museum, Kota Garh, City Palace, Painted Rooms, Palaces of Rajasthan, Museums of Rajasthan
The Madho Singh Trust Museum in the Kota Garh or City Palace

Travel, Rajasthan, Hadoti, Madan Singh Trust Museum, Kota Garh, City Palace, Painted Rooms, Palaces of Rajasthan, Museums of Rajasthan The Museum is located within the historic Kota City Palace or Kota Garh complex, which consists of many buildings, but none of the other buildings in the palace complex were whitewashed. In fact, the building next to the Museum has been spared the whitewash (except for the domes) and I was able to admire the intricate stone jaalis or lattice-work that covered the entire structure.

The building with the jaalis, however, was not open to the public, making me wonder if the whitewash was for the benefit of the visitors to the Museum, who (according to the website) visit it see its

rich collections of arms and armour, royal regalia and ritual paraphernalia, textiles and objets d’art, and world-famous miniature paintings and wall frescos.

As our group was entering the Museum, there was a moment of panic where I wondered if the interiors of the Museum have been whitewashed over as well, obliterating the wall paintings that I was most keen to see. But then just past the Elephant Gate (see header), I looked up and saw a gloriously painted ceiling (see photograph below) and I knew that all was well.

Continue reading “The painted rooms of Kota Garh”

Jhalawar, Gadh Mahal, Gadh Palace, Government Museum, Sculpture Gallery, Chamunda

Stories in Stone: The Chamunda of Chandrabhaga

Stories in Stone is all about sculptures — either standalone or entire narrative panels. Each post in this series showcase one such sculpture, look beyond its iconography and deconstruct the details in an attempt to understand the idea and/or the story it conveys.


Jhalawar, Gadh Mahal, Gadh Palace, Government Museum, Sculpture Gallery, ChamundaThe Government Museum at Jhalawar has a stunning collection of sculptures on display. With a few exceptions, most sculptures are in good condition and easily recognisable for what/who they represent.

One large room/gallery is crammed with sculptures found from the nearby areas of Chandrabhaga, Jhalrapatan, Kakuni, etc.; more sculptures are exhibited in the corridor outside. Knowing how museums function, I’m pretty sure that only a fraction of the Museum’s collection is actually exhibited; there would be many more sculptures in storage.

There are dikpalas (or guardians of the directions), various forms of Shiva, Vishnu, and Devi, and some very interesting composite sculptures. But the sculpture which stood out for me, and is the topic of today’s post, was a poorly preserved, but recognisable sculpture of Chamunda (see photo on the left) placed in the corridor.

Before we get into the details of this sculpture, let us place Chamunda in context through her creation myth, associated stories and standard iconography.

Continue reading “Stories in Stone: The Chamunda of Chandrabhaga”

Museum Treasure: The painted Vedas

When I stepped into the paintings gallery of the Government Museum at the Gadh Mahal in Jhalawar, a depressing sight greeted me — flickering fluorescent lights, dusty glass-fronted cabinets, and a general air of neglect. All this combined to ensure that the visibility of the exhibits was poor. The saving grace was the pops of colour on the walls from where the paintings were mounted.

I must admit that I was tempted to turn back without seeing the paintings, but then decided to do a quick round of the gallery — there was always the chance that there would something interesting lurking in the room somewhere. The first set of paintings I saw was a Baramasa, or a set of 12 paintings that depicted a mood and emotion for each month of the year. They were nice, but not particularly exceptional, and I moved on to the next display, a set of four paintings.

And realised immediately that I was seeing something extraordinary and unusual. So much so that I read and re-read the labels accompanying the paintings to reassure myself that the paintings were indeed a pictorial representation of the VedasRig, Sama, Yajur and Atharva — in (zoo) anthropomorphic forms.

Painted Vedas, Government Museum, Jhalawar, Travel, Museum Treasure, Rajasthan
RIG VEDA: The information card accompanying this painting says “Donkey faced God seated in padmasana, he holds veda and rosary in a hand and shown in meaningful posture”. [sic]
Continue reading “Museum Treasure: The painted Vedas”

Mahabalipuram, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Arjuna's Penance, Descent Of Ganga, Relief Panel, Narrative Networks

Stories in Stone: Arjuna’s penance or descent of the Ganga?

Stories in Stone is all about sculptures — either standalone or entire narrative panels. Each post in this series will showcase one such sculpture, look beyond its iconography and deconstruct the details in an attempt to understand the idea and/or the story it conveys.


The UNESCO world heritage site of Mahabalipuram or Mamallapuram is extraordinary for the sheer number and variety of monuments, as well as their scale and design. Rock-cut temples, structural temples, relief panels and more vie for attention, each one more captivating than the rest. Though a fair number of the monuments are incomplete or unfinished and weathered, their beauty is not diminished.

The monuments at Mahabalipuram have been the subject of many a study, but none more so than a large relief panel carved on a granite cliff. It is a panel that has led to debates and divisions among art historians over what it depicts or denotes or refers to — Arjuna’s Penance or the Descent of Ganga [1]

Before I narrate their stories and discuss why the panel could be one or both or maybe neither, let us take a close look at the various elements that make up this panel. A real close look beginning with photograph below (please click on the picture to see a full size version).

Mahabalipuram, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Arjuna's Penance, Descent Of Ganga, Relief Panel, Narrative Networks Continue reading “Stories in Stone: Arjuna’s penance or descent of the Ganga?”