Puja and Piety

Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist Art from the Indian Subcontinent

This exhibition celebrates the complexity of South Asian representation and iconography by examining the relationship between aesthetic expression and the devotional practice, or puja, in the three native religions of the Indian subcontinent. Drawn from SBMA’s collection and augmented by loans, the exhibition presents some 160 objects of diverse medium created over the past two millennia for temples, home worship, festivals, and roadside shrines. From monumental painted temple hangings to meditation diagrams and portable pictures for pilgrims, from stone sculptures to processional bronzes and wooden chariots, from ancient terracottas to various devotional objects for domestic shrines, this exhibition aims to examine and provide contextualized insights for both classical and popular works of art.

This exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue featuring an introduction by the eminent art historian and curator Pratapaditya Pal, and accessible essays on each religious tradition by John E. Cort, Stephen P. Huyler, and Christian Luczanits.

“(We must)...dive into the ocean of forms (rupa) to acquire the pearl of formlessness (arupa)!” — Gitanjali, Rabindranath Tagore (1851-1941)

This exhibition celebrates the diversity of South Asian art by examining the relationship between aesthetic expression and devotional practice, or puja, in three native religions of the Indian subcontinent. Puja is the devotional act of worshipping a god or deified teacher through invocations, prayers, songs, and rituals. Through puja, devotees strive to make a spiritual connection with the divine. This connection is commonly facilitated through an icon, either an element from nature or a man-made representation in sculpture, painting, or print. The works exhibited here reflect the collective devotion of the patrons, artists, and worshippers.

Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism share a common heritage and, in some cases, share deities and even iconography. All believe in a cycle of birth and rebirth, influenced by the effects of an individual’s actions and aitudes, a concept known as karma. The ultimate goal of the three religions is to break the bondage of rebirth and achieve a transcendental state of liberation. Each religion offers distinct paths to achieve this spiritual goal.

In India today, Hinduism and Jainism continue their vibrant traditions, while Buddhism is experiencing a revival aer disappearing from its homeland centuries ago, though with enduring reception throughout Asia and other parts of the world.

As one of the major presentations of the Museum’s 75th-anniversary year, Puja and Piety showcases the collection area that has expanded the most in recent years. Drawn primarily from the permanent collection, and augmented by loans from private lenders who are longtime patrons of the Museum, the exhibition presents some 160 works of diverse media, created over the past two millennia for temples and shrines, home worship, and festivals.

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