Saturday, February 10, 2018

Project Mausam: Cultural Routes and Maritime Landscapes

In January 2014, I was asked by a senior functionary of the Ministry of Culture, Government of India if I would be interested in working on a transnational World Heritage nomination involving Maritime History of the Indian Ocean (Figure 1). This was a tremendous opportunity as I had researched, taught and published extensively on Maritime History and Archaeology of the Indian Ocean since 1994. It was also an opening to enter the haloed world of World Heritage matters in the Ministry. Two years ago I had made a shift from academia and teaching at the Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University to take charge as the Chairperson of the National Monuments Authority under the Ministry of Culture. Getting involved with World Heritage and Maritime History provided the perfect route to combine my research interests with policy on and preservation of India’s maritime heritage. One thing led to another and I was asked to edit a book on the historical and archaeological dimensions of the theme of Mausam or Mawsim, as the proposed project for transnational World Heritage nomination was named. My name was included in the official Indian delegation to the 38th World Heritage Committee meeting at Doha in Qatar held in June 2014 and I was asked to make a presentation to the delegates including the officials of the World Heritage Committee.     

Monday, February 5, 2018

From Temples to Museums: The many lives of Uma Maheshvara sculptures

Figure 1: Uma Maheshvara, Nandua, Nawadah; 10th to 12th century; now at Patna Museum, accession no. 11065; photo courtesy American Institute of Indian Studies (henceforth AIIS), Gurgaon

I first came across this image of Shiva and Parvati (Figure 1) as Uma Maheshvara in the Patna Museum; I was fascinated by the grace of this image as much as by its unabashed depiction of conjugal love. What incited my curiosity was the large number of these images found in the museum. What was the significance of the icon? Why were so many varieties of this particular image found from sites in Bihar over a long period of time from the 5th to the 13th centuries CE. 

The classic Uma Maheshvara image shows Shiva and his consort Uma seated together on the same pedestal, caught in an intimate embrace. While Shiva may be seated on a stone cushion or lotus throne, Parvati sits on Shiva’s lap or thighs. Parvati is always shown with two arms, while Shiva may have two, four or even more arms. Shiva is depicted as taller and Parvati small and almost child-like. They are both surrounded by a halo, bedecked in jewellery and carry different weapons and ornaments in their arms. Often their vahanas or mounts (Parvati’s tiger and Shiva’s Nandi bull), and other deities like Ganesha and devotees are also portrayed. The image represents cosmic procreation as well as the synthesis of two powerful and independent deities.