Scattering and Destroying: On the Unforeseen Consequences of Collecting and Reuse in South Asian Art

A special issue of Religions (ISSN 2077-1444). This special issue belongs to the section "Religions and Humanities/Philosophies".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (30 April 2022) | Viewed by 12315

Special Issue Editors


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Guest Editor
Department of Art & Art History, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX 78712, USA
Interests: visuality; heritage; eastern India; Sri Lanka

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Guest Editor
ARTS Department, Colgate University, Hamilton, NY 13346, USA
Interests: cultural property; collecting; medieval South India

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Guest Editor
Art History Department, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN 55455 USA
Interests: Muslim; non-Muslim; patronage; urban; reuse

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Assessments of the destruction of images or monuments in South Asia are often constrained by facile assumptions about the forces of religious enmity. In order to shift the conversation to one that acknowledges more complex causes, this Special Issue brings together articles about collecting or reuse with those about destruction in order to highlight the entangled nature of such acts.

How collections are made and what is collected and what is not demand careful reflection for collecting and also scattering, as Padma Kaimal has shown in her study of a group of sculptures dispersed into different collections. Among the many things such scattering does is it hampers the effect of original context and reshapes notions of meaning. How can works now in museums, for example, still convey the power the objects once held if we are unaware of the historical processes which moved them?

Destruction is a complex act. A nuanced perspective of the demolition of Buddha sculptures at Bamiyan, Afghanistan, in 2001 or of the Babri mosque at Ayodhya, India, in 1992 demonstrates this forcefully. However, reuse of images or monuments also reveals a complexity about what is deliberately suppressed when those items are saved, and that can raise important questions about how cultural heritage and identity are defined. Who, we might ask, has the right to identify material that is often but not always also defined as art, and how might this be affected by changing appreciation of religious perspective? Working through these questions, as Catherine Asher has done in her studies of converted Muslim structures in the Punjab, can move us beyond simple binaries of destruction and reuse, and of religious difference.

Juxtaposing the consideration of what is destroyed or reused in South Asia with what is saved or collected can thus clarify many things. Among these are the similar ways these seemingly anomalous practices undermine understanding religious efficacy of objects and monuments.

Kaimal, Padma. 2012. Scattered Goddesses: Travels with the Yoginis. Ann Arbor: Association for Asian Studies.

Asher, Catherine. 2004.  Uneasy Bedfellows: Islamic Art and the Politics of Indian Nationalism. Religion and the Arts: A Journal from Boston College 8: 37–57.

Asher, Catherine. 2009. Belief and Contestation in India: The Case of the Taj Mahal. ASIANetwork Exchange: A Journal for Asian Studies in the Liberal Arts XVII:7–24.

Leoshko, Janice. 2012.  Aśoka and Museums. In Reimagining Aśoka, Memory and History. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Leoshko, Janice. 2011.  On the Buddhist Ruins of Bodh Gaya and Bamiyan. In Third Text. Ruins: Fabricating Histories of Time. pp. 664–74.

Dr. Janice Leoshko
Dr. Padma Kaimal
Dr. Catherine Asher
Guest Editors

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Published Papers (5 papers)

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Research

18 pages, 5521 KiB  
Article
Cloaked “Pagods”: Portuguese and “Heathen” Churches in Sixteenth-Century Malabar
by Arathi Menon
Religions 2023, 14(6), 719; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel14060719 - 30 May 2023
Viewed by 1452
Abstract
Vasco da Gama’s arrival in Malabar on 21 May 1498, would hasten an epoch of social and cultural transformation in Malabar’s history. This article examines one development of this transformative period. Namely, it seeks to understand how the arrival of a people who [...] Read more.
Vasco da Gama’s arrival in Malabar on 21 May 1498, would hasten an epoch of social and cultural transformation in Malabar’s history. This article examines one development of this transformative period. Namely, it seeks to understand how the arrival of a people who came in search of “Christians and spices” would result in lasting changes to the form and the style of Christian architecture in Malabar, in present-day Kerala (southwest India). It highlights the efforts of the Estado da Índia (Portuguese State of India) to reconcile concomitant political, religious, and economic ambitions in the region by broadly sketching interventions to the practice of Christianity and the architectural style of churches in sixteenth-century Malabar. The article further proposes the reading of Portuguese-style façades in churches that, to the Portuguese, recalled Hindu temples or “pagods” as an interventional program to hide or cloak the political, religious, and historical portent of the traditional Malabar church. Full article
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7 pages, 215 KiB  
Article
Collecting as Ordering or Scattering; Scattering as Destruction
by Padma Kaimal
Religions 2022, 13(11), 1039; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel13111039 - 1 Nov 2022
Viewed by 976
Abstract
Collecting and scattering may seem like opposites, but they are in fact complementary, interdependent actions. To collect religious art and other objects is also to scatter them. Though collecting can sometimes be virtuous, it is always disruptive to some previous order. Reversing that [...] Read more.
Collecting and scattering may seem like opposites, but they are in fact complementary, interdependent actions. To collect religious art and other objects is also to scatter them. Though collecting can sometimes be virtuous, it is always disruptive to some previous order. Reversing that kind of disruption, which occurred on a grand scale during European explorations and colonization of much of the world, is not always possible, but telling the stories of those disruptions is an important first step for museums to take. A next step is to engage in meaningful conversations with places from which objects have been collected. Full article
31 pages, 8631 KiB  
Article
Alternate Narratives for the Tamil Yoginis: Reconsidering the ‘Kanchi Yoginis’ Past, Present, and Future
by Emma Natalya Stein and Katherine E. Kasdorf
Religions 2022, 13(10), 888; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel13100888 - 22 Sep 2022
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 3941
Abstract
This essay revisits a group of stone goddesses that once shared a temple in southern India, together with the god Shiva and perhaps other deities. Considering the different paths sacred sculptures in India take after becoming separated from their original temple contexts suggests [...] Read more.
This essay revisits a group of stone goddesses that once shared a temple in southern India, together with the god Shiva and perhaps other deities. Considering the different paths sacred sculptures in India take after becoming separated from their original temple contexts suggests that there were multiple possible histories for these works. The authors reveal a newly discovered goddess from the group and reconsider the significance of the works, including the original temple and the deities it enshrined. Finally, they propose the possibility of bringing these sculptures back together in the context of an exhibition. Full article
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23 pages, 12039 KiB  
Article
“Intrusive Art” at Ajaṇṭā in the Late Middle Period: The Case of Bhadrāsana Buddhas
by Nicolas Revire
Religions 2022, 13(9), 771; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel13090771 - 23 Aug 2022
Viewed by 1540
Abstract
Following the apparent chaos that ensued at Ajaṇṭā during the so-called “period of disruption” in the wake of King Hariṣeṇa’s death (ca. 478–480 CE), local monks and residents in the caves continued to sponsor the donation of what we term “intrusive” images after [...] Read more.
Following the apparent chaos that ensued at Ajaṇṭā during the so-called “period of disruption” in the wake of King Hariṣeṇa’s death (ca. 478–480 CE), local monks and residents in the caves continued to sponsor the donation of what we term “intrusive” images after the late Walter Spink. These new donations consisted of hundreds of Buddha images, a few of which retain today painted or incised dedicatory inscriptions in Sanskrit. Many of these images represent the Buddha preaching and seated in the “auspicious pose” (bhadrāsana) on the conventional lion throne with his legs down. In this article, the author focuses on the images accompanied by inscriptions since they provide a better understanding of the reuse of consecrated caves, and of the nature of this new and brief iconographic development implemented by local Buddhist residents. The sudden appearance of Bhadrāsana Buddhas seems indeed to correlate with a rise to prevalence of Mahāyāna Buddhist practices at Ajaṇṭā during the late Middle Period. Full article
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20 pages, 9538 KiB  
Article
Making, Using, Disposing, Remaking…: Sacred Arts of Re-Creation in Southern Asia
by Susan S. Bean
Religions 2022, 13(7), 657; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel13070657 - 15 Jul 2022
Viewed by 3105
Abstract
For centuries, in the eastern Indian subcontinent, areas now in Bangladesh and the Indian states of West Bengal, Odisha, and Bihar, temporary polychrome terracruda (air-dried clay) figural images have been created for periodic pujas (rituals of worship) and immersed in nearby rivers or [...] Read more.
For centuries, in the eastern Indian subcontinent, areas now in Bangladesh and the Indian states of West Bengal, Odisha, and Bihar, temporary polychrome terracruda (air-dried clay) figural images have been created for periodic pujas (rituals of worship) and immersed in nearby rivers or ponds at the event’s close. This essay explores how the perennial re-creation of terracruda ritual images supported the rise of goddess worship, stimulated the expansion of the annual cycle of religious festivals, and contributed to a modernizing cosmopolitan public culture. Drawing on recent reconsiderations of materiality that recognize the active roles of inanimate objects and substances, terracruda sacred sculpture is approached through the medium to consider the distinctive contributions that clay makes in interactions with artists, patrons, devotees, and the public. This essay focuses on how the transformational character of air-dried clay enables practices of making, worshipping, and disposing that evoke cosmic cycles, harness potencies that inhere in earth, and realign religious practices in changing times. Full article
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