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Arts of South Asia: A Millennium of Innovation and Expression

Sheikh Zain al-Din, India,
Oriental Magpie Robin with Katydid and Leaf Hopper on Monkey Jack Branch, 1778
Opaque colors and ink on paper
Gift of Elizabeth and Willard Clark  2018.53.1

This gallery highlights the past 1,000-plus years of artistic production in South Asia, which includes present-day Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. Here, cultural streams constantly commingle, the old and the new ceaselessly enmeshing to create one of the most dynamic and distinctive visual cultures in the world. The earliest works on view date from the Medieval period (about 700–1200 CE), when Hindu (or Brahmanist), Buddhist, and Jain worldviews proliferated across the landscape through the widespread construction of temples. The artists’ triumph was to bring these deeply steeped—yet constantly shifting—religious ideas to material form. Beginning around 1200, Islamic rulers increasingly introduced new traditions of architecture and the courtly arts, spurring innovations in painting, textiles, and metalwork. Artists carried forward these evolving traditions under British colonial rule, starting in the mid 1700s, creating works suited to new tastes. This tradition of continuity and change continues to the present day.

Explore Virtually: Gallery 211

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Art Stories

Yogini Holding a Jar

Once enshrined in a 10th-century open-air circular temple, this yogini would have sat alongside perhaps 108 other goddesses patiently waiting for devotees to visit.

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Shiva Nataraja (Lord of the Dance)

This is the god Shiva in his Nataraja form, the embodiment of his supreme powers. The sculpture is Mia’s first donated work of Indian art and one of the cornerstones of the collection.

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Rudrakshamala Necklace

Gleaming gold, luscious rubies, ornately cast designs and figures—who wouldn’t want to wear this fabulous necklace? It was once destined for the very wealthy neck of either a Brahman priest or a merchant from a business community tied to Tamil Nadu, who would have worn it on his 60th birthday.

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Uma-maheshvara

The gods Shiva and Pārvatī appear in South Asian sculpture in several iconographic forms and incarnations.

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Shiva Nataraja (Lord of the Dance)

The Hindu god Shiva appears in several incarnations. Here, Shiva appears as Nataraja, or Lord of the Dance.

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Shiva, late 10th century

Posed with jeweled festoons suspended from his belt, pendant ear ornaments, and an elaborately domed hair arrangement, Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction and regeneration, is flanked by worshipful celestial couples.

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Somaskanda, 14th or 15th century

Shiva and his wife, Uma, sit next to each other on double lotus pedestals, between them a residual remnant of their small child, Skanda, now missing from the magnificent bronze.

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