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Columbia University Press
The Body Adorned: Sacred and Profane in Indian Art

The Body Adorned: Sacred and Profane in Indian Art

by Vidya Dehejia


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The sensuous human form-elegant and eye-catching-is the dominant feature of premodern Indian art. From the powerful god Shiva, greatest of all yogis and most beautiful of all beings, to stone dancers twisting along temple walls, the body in Indian art is always richly adorned. Alankara (ornament) protects the body and makes it complete and attractive; to be unornamented is to invite misfortune.

In The Body Adorned, Vidya Dehejia, who has dedicated her career to the study of Indian art, draws on the literature of court poets, the hymns of saints and acharyas, and verses from inscriptions to illuminate premodern India's unique treatment of the sculpted and painted form. She focuses on the coexistence of sacred and sensuous images within the common boundaries of Buddhist, Jain, and Hindu "sacred spaces," redefining terms like "sacred" and "secular" in relation to Indian architecture. She also considers the paradox of passionate poetry, in which saints praised the sheer bodily beauty of the divine form, and nonsacred Rajput painted manuscripts, which freely inserted gods into the earthly realm of the courts.

By juxtaposing visual and literary sources, Dehejia demonstrates the harmony between the sacred and the profane in classical Indian culture. Her synthesis of art, literature, and cultural materials not only generates an all-inclusive picture of the period but also revolutionizes our understanding of the cultural ethos of premodern India.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780231140287
Publisher: Columbia University Press
Publication date: 02/26/2009
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 219
Sales rank: 923,641
Product dimensions: 7.30(w) x 10.20(h) x 0.90(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Vidya Dehejia holds the Barbara Stoler Miller Chair in Indian Art at Columbia University. She was chief curator and deputy director, as well as acting director, of the Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in Washington, D.C. She is an established scholar whose publications have ranged from ancient Buddhist art to the esoteric temples of North India, and from the sacred bronzes of the South to the art of British India. Her recent publications include Chola: Bronzes from South India; India Through the Lens: Photography, 1840-1911; Devi: The Great Goddess; and Delight in Design: Indian Silver for the Raj.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Preface and Acknowledgments
1. The Body as Leitmotif
2. The Idealized Body and Ornament
3. The Sensuous Within Sacred Boundaries
4. To the Divine Through Beauty
5. Inserting the Gods in the World of Men: Rajput Painted Manuscripts
Afterword. The Body Revealed and Concealed: Issues of Intention and Perception

What People are Saying About This

Rick Asher

One of those things we rarely address in the study of Indian art is the sensual body, which, as this book so effectively shows, is central to the conception of the figure. Controlling multiple languages—Sanskrit, Tamil, Telugu, and Kannada—as well as a vast array of Indian literature from inscriptions to poetry to texts on the arts and aesthetics, Vidya Dehejia explores the well-formed body in India's visual arts and the metaphors used to describe and understand it. After reading this book, I cannot imagine looking at the Indian sculptured or painted figure as I'd previously viewed it.

Indira Peterson

This book is very well conceived, and Dehejia is a major scholar with a fine track record in scholarly yet accessible writing. The study's particular merit lies in the fact that Dehejia brings her sensitivity to the integral connections between verbal and visual imagery in Indian aesthetics, to the linkages among a variety of Indian arts, and to a holistic vision of the culture in which these arts flourish.

Richard H. Davis

An accessible, thoughtful inquiry into several crucial questions in the study of Indian art. Vidya Dehejia argues that the sensuous anthropomorphic form occupies a fundamental position in the Indian artistic imagination, and she confirms this persuasively through both visual and literary sources. One great virtue of this work lies in its synthesis of art, literature, and cultural materials, providing a rich cultural context for the understanding of Indian art.

Sheldon Pollock

The rich adornment of the human body is everywhere in Indian culture—and nowhere in Indian scholarship.Vidya Dehejia has finally addressed this deficiency with a perceptive and illuminating book sure to be of interest to students of literature no less than art history.

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