108 Portraits of Indian Culture and Heritage

These book are a part of the 108 Portraits of Indian Culture and Heritage series of 14 titles which presents an encyclopaedic view of India’s immeasurable traditional knowledge, each tracing the development and history of a unique discipline. The books are on Indian Traditional Art, Modern and Contemporary Art, Music, Dance, Sculpture, Architecture, Objects, Food, Printmaking, Design, Vernacular and Indigenous Art, Textile, Crafts and Photography.

108 Portraits of the Indian Vernacular and Indigenous Art

The indigenous and the vernacular are an integral part of India’s fabulous intangible cultural heritage. Closely linked to prakriti or nature, indigenous communities produce art which reflects their life and beliefs, including universal harmony. Objects of infinite beauty, paintings on the walls of their homes, drawings on the floor, each is created with a highly evolved aesthetic. The materials used are organic, all handmade, with colours obtained from natural pigments.

The vernacular or folk is more oriented towards the performing arts with a fair share of paintings denoting the customs and traditions of their respective societies. From myths to ancestor worship, from their gods to goddesses, from objects of everyday use to ornaments for adornment and markers of caste, class and wealth, the art says it all.

The author delineates the unique art traditions and the philosophies behind them for a better understanding of these communities’ integrated world view. Complemented by exquisite images, here are stories behind intricate tattoos of the Baigas; Gond, Bhil and Warli art; Madhubani and Kalighat painting; the art of puppeteer communities; the folk tales of patachitra; flora and fauna in kalamkari; and other vibrant art forms.  

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108 Portraits of Indian Crafts

The living crafts heritage of India is symbolic of the plural culture and diversity of the country. From the simplest forms of pottery thrown on the wheel to the complex double weaves of ikat from Paithan in Maharashtra, the canvas of Indian crafts is magnificent. Even though it is a primarily male dominated tradition, there are some crafts which are created only by women as in lepai or floor drawings and the doll-making for the Gangaur Festival in Rajasthan. The long and continuous journey of Indian crafts over the years has brought in more gender inclusion. Embroidery, weaving and traditional painting has seen a lot of women joining the sector.

From seashells to lacquer, grass, fibre, metal, stone, clay and wood, the range of materials used and experimented with is vast and depends on the material culture of the region. Seldom is any material left untouched.

The author presents a superb selection, from hand-knotted kaleen, kundan jewellery and bell metal to the equally fascinating yet less famous Aranmula kannadi or cast metal mirrors, ganjifa cards and ritual masks. Enhanced with colourful visuals and a peppering of delightful myths, the book attempts to provide an insight into the creative genius of the Indian craftsperson.

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108 Portraits of Indian Textiles

Indian textiles have a long, rich and layered history, from weaves of the Indus Valley Civilization—as seen in the shawl draped across the bearded priest king—to sacred painted cloths of religious icons. Not just Dhaka muslins, prized in ancient Greece and Rome, other Indian textiles too reached royal courts across the world. Hand-block printing, ajrak, tie-and dye, phulkari and kantha embroidery, intricate techniques of chanderi, kalamkari, jamdani, ikat weaves, chintz, paisley and floral motifs, Kashmiri carpets and cashmere shawls, among others, present an exciting journey in the mapping of Indian textiles.

In this fascinating exploration into the complex warp and weft of India, the author also delineates costume styles. From premodern times when men and women were draped in three pieces of unstitched fabrics, the book traces cross-cultural influences of the medieval period, particularly Central Asian, which introduced the stitched trouser, upper garment and drape. The modern period included further influences from colonizers: the British, French, Dutch and Portuguese.

In contemporary India, while fashion designers started noting global trends, traditional textiles and weaves are often incorporated and have a following among connoisseurs, while the draped saree and current interpretations of the three-piece outfit still hold their own. The author draws attention to the finer points of draped clothing and the stitched costumes of stylish chooridars and Mughal angrakhas, luxurious silks and cottons, natural pigments and dyes, brocades and zardozi, complemented with a finely curated selection of visuals of ancient sculptures, paintings and textiles.

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108 Portraits of Indian Music

Indian music traces its roots to the Vedic period and chants that were totally Indic. Over the years, the repertoire expanded to become a melting pot of traditions, customs and culture. The epitome of inclusion, Indian music has been enriched through the centuries with shlokas, bhajans, Hindustani and Carnatic classical, folk and indigenous traditions. Every genre has since its emergence had an unbroken tradition, reflecting the country’s socio-cultural diversity.

A significant new tradition in the medieval period was Indo-Islamic, specifically in the form of Khayal gayaki. The Mughal courts were great patrons of Hindustani classical music that had its own extremely distinct style. This classical genre as well as the strong, more technical Carnatic style continues to have a huge following in India and beyond.

The author traces the various styles including the contributions of Amir Khusro to qawwali; Swami Haridas and Tansen to dhrupad; ancient Sanskrit and Tamil treatises, Purandaradasa, and the renowned “Trinity” to Carnatic music; Pandit Bhatkhande’s treatise on Hindustani classical music; and Rabindra Sangeet. This fascinating story is richly complemented by descriptions and images of performers and instruments.

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108 Portraits of Indian Objects

For a civilization which is more than 5000 years old and has seen the evolution from hunter-gatherer to an urban Indus Valley Civilization, the Indian subcontinent’s history has been rich, complex and dynamic.

India is indeed a land of beauty and aesthetics where even the everyday objects are carved, etched, stitched, strung together or simply pinched together to make the most stunning clay objects for the kitchen and other utilitarian usages. The range of materials from cast iron, papier-mâché to intricate bidri work can be seen as embellishments. The unerring eye for beauty is evident in these objects of everyday use. In fact it would not be an exaggeration to call them objects d’art.

The author’s selection from a treasure trove of beautiful objects—kitchen implements to farm tools, a simple phooldaan or vase to an intricately designed betel-nut holder—is presented with images that make each page a delight to view.

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108 Portraits of Indian Dance Forms

Each of India’s 28 states and eight union territories has a dance form which is distinctive of that region. Besides innumerable folk and indigenous dances, eight traditional styles are recognized as Indian classical dance forms by the national academy of the performing arts. From temples to durbars, from harvest seasons, festivals and other celebrations to the proscenium stage, Indian dance is like quicksilver, adapting and transforming itself to suit the occasion of its performance.

There is also a robust tradition of the operatic in Indian dance. The rendition of the epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, to the Bhagavatam and the many stylized forms of Koodiyattam and Theyyam of Kerala to Kuruvanjji of Tamil Nadu, the canvas of Indian dance is immense.

This book attempts to capture a flavour of the robust traditions of these Indian performing arts and lead the reader into its colourful journey of dance, from being a ‘dev kala’ or divine art to one of the most popular forms of entertainment, where creativity reaches its zenith.

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108 Portraits of Indian Food

In every part of the world, food plays an important role beyond sustenance, defined as it is by geographies, cultures and societies. What is particularly interesting to note with the foods in India is its immense variety. This includes an array associated with the different cultural rituals of the country’s many communities. From food for fasting to the innumerable festivals, weddings and celebrations, there is also a codified text which gives a context of food for different body types. This is the science of wellness, Ayurveda—part of the Vedas, the Atharvaveda—that defines three kinds of food, sattvic, rajasic to tamasic, each with its specific qualities.

Post-pandemic, as the world is becoming increasingly health-conscious, vegetarianism is increasing. Indian cuisine has unlimited varieties of vegetarian food and the Indian way of growing, preparing and eating is attracting global attention. ‘Think global, eat local’ is the new mantra of an international cosmopolitan world where food brings cultures closer. This book attempts to show the bio- diversity of the land through its variety of cuisines that continue to tickle the palate. The dishes are endless as is the innovation and experimentation, while staying true to much of its traditional wisdom.

The author examines India’s enormous variety, from vegetarian dishes to the innumerable ways of cooking meat. She also delineates the hybridity of Indian cuisines which is influenced by Persian, Central Asian, Turkish, and not to forget the English, Dutch, Portuguese and French all of whom had at some point invaded or ruled small or larger parts of India. These influences add greatly to the repertoire of the Indian food plate.

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108 Portraits of Indian Traditional Art

India’s diversity spans a multitude of creative practices with a strong interdisciplinary connection. This is evidenced in its traditional art with its rich cultural history, which has been passed down from one generation to the next and is part of the received wisdom of the country.

The author traces this vibrant history of traditional art from early rock-cut drawings at Bhimbetka to the magnificence of early Buddhist murals and wall paintings in the temples of South India; miniatures and other cross-cultural influences; folk art by the Gonds of Madhya Pradesh and iconic Madhubani paintings of Bihar; arriving at the emergence of the Company School paintings.

The book features a splendid selection of images that illustrate the styles of each period, and the many mediums, ranging from stone, terracotta and wood to cloth, paper and canvas. The variety of materials is huge ranging from natural dyes and colours—created from earth, mud, leaves and charcoal that give them an antiquated, nostalgic feel; to ink, gold, watercolour and oil. 

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108 Portraits of Indian Sculpture

The diversity, scale and beauty of sculpture in the subcontinent stand witness to the creative genius and technical wizardry of the sthapati or sculptor. Its splendour is enhanced by the materials used—in terracotta, stone or metal. Whether free-standing or as part of temples or secular buildings, these are culture bearers of the rich history of Indian art.

 

The author traces the development of styles across the country—from the ideal classicism of the Gupta period to the development of regional styles prevalent today—along with a keenly curated selection of photographs from a vast period. Among the remarkable figures of gods, goddesses, saints, kings and the common man, the author draws attention, in particular, to the celebration of the female form in Indian art—from the 2,500-BCE Dancing Girl in bronze found in Mohenjo-Daro to sculpture of the 21st century, including of Mayawati, a prominent Dalit woman politician.

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108 Portraits of Indian Architecture

Each epoch of India’s history presents a built heritage that is unique to that period and to its many specific regions—quite unlike anything seen anywhere else in the world. Beginning with the urban planning of the Indus Valley to the late eighteenth century—spanning about 4,400 years—Indian architecture presents an intricate and complex landscape of buildings and materials.

Dwellings, temples and public spaces feature numerous styles which have evolved from the canons and traditional texts of architecture, from the Samrangan Sutradhar to the Vastu Shastra.

This book presents a visual journey that follows a fascinating trail of these multiple developments from the earliest times to the post-medieval era of modern architecture, including a brief look at contemporary Indian architecture of the late twentieth century.

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108 Portraits of Indian Modern and Contemporary Art

Modern and Contemporary are distinct but part of the continuum of Indian art, particularly painting. India’s modernity was quite unique as it took shape during a period of numerous changes and shifts, one of the most important being the rise of nationalism. A spirit of nationalism, an assertion of the self and individualism became a stamp of modernity. Yet tradition continued to thrive. An interface between tradition and modernity became evident. Post-Independent India had an addition to its contemporary art as its modern masters organically moved into this eco-system. Gradually, issues of Identity, Gender, Sexuality, genealogies entered the discourse of art.

Beginning with the late nineteenth century, the different schools of art, the individual styles of modern masters and contemporary artists, feminist discourses, caste and identity, as well as art and activism, the author traces the journey of modern Indian art and its transformation into its contemporary avatar, where technology digs in, there to stay.

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108 Portraits of Indian Photography

Photography made a relatively early appearance in India within five years of its invention in Britain and France. When the British brought the medium to the country in the 1850s, it was initially used to complement painting and as a visual record of history. Over time photography steadily evolved to establish itself as a genre of fine art.

The early photographs were shot by foreigners. An expensive medium, the camera was initially both difficult to get and costly to use. Soon, however, many Indian royals got into the act. The first Indian photographer who held his own with the colonial photographers was Raja Deen Dayal. Since then photography has been an important tool in presenting history, culture and identity that provide codes to understanding these and the politics of representation. 

The author presents a bird’s-eye view of the history of Indian photography, beginning with the picturesque and the architectural, moving to photojournalism, documentary, fashion, and contemporary where alternative forms of printing and fine art photography as genres developed. The author’s perceptive selection of photographs complements these developments, from as early as the 1850s to contemporary times. The mechanical processes and the different genres are also lucidly presented to enhance the reader’s appreciation of the medium.

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108 Portraits of Indian Printmaking

One of the oldest techniques of mark-making and art, printmaking is a world with its own universe. In the Indian subcontinent, printmaking has had an unbroken tradition that can be traced back from the remains found in the Indus Valley to the present times, where printmaking continues to evolve and grow.

Early expressions of the art included individual mark-making such as lepai in which women used their hands to decorate their homes with natural pigments and forms that sprang from their respective imaginations. The fascinating journey of printmaking evolved over time through multiple techniques, from indigenous styles to serigraphy, woodcuts, linocuts, engravings, lithographs, and intaglio to modern screen-printing, 3D printing and LED UV printing.

The author traces the processes, as well as the trends through more recent times, including the nationalist art movement of the early twentieth century. The focus is on the Indian aesthetic in the art form and the modern masters and contemporary artists who have drawn attention to the beauty of printmaking as a creative genre.

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108 Portraits of Indian Design

The history of design goes far and beyond, having seeped in architecture, clothing and even our daily products of use. India has a vast archive in its ancient heritage structures, gleaming palaces, and even humble dwellings. Design has evolved from the purely functional to interior decor, and traces have been discovered. With the setting up of schools like the Madras School of Art, Sir J.J. School of Art and the National Institute of Design, design education has evolved with the times and has become a popular field for young minds.

Despite being a relatively new topic of study and academics in India, design and its various forms like graphic design, product design and fashion design have played a significant part in shaping the country’s history. The size of this field keeps expanding, providing new typologies, textures, patterns, goods, furniture, clothes, and much more with each passing year. Through this book, the author traces the history of Indian design which emerges from indigenous craft traditions and morphs into a formal, structured academic design practice.

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