Women in South Asian Art

, University Teaching Gallery, Harvard Art Museums
  • Enthroned Four-Armed Female Deity with Two Fly-Whisk Bearers, India, Rajasthan, 20th century. Opaque watercolor and gold on paper. Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Gift of James E. Robinson III in honor of Stuart Cary Welch and Alve John Erickson, 1997.236.

  • Standing Female Donor

    Standing Female Donor

  • Tantric Female Deity Drinking from Skull Cup (Vajrayogini)

    Tantric Female Deity Drinking from Skull Cup (Vajrayogini)

  • A Lady at Her Toilet with Two Maids

    A Lady at Her Toilet with Two Maids

  • Seated Goddess, folio from a Kalpasutra

    Seated Goddess, folio from a Kalpasutra

  • A Lady on Horseback on a Terrace

    A Lady on Horseback on a Terrace

  • A Woman Chases a Cat With a Stick

    A Woman Chases a Cat With a Stick

    In this painting, a woman chases a small, spotted cat with a stick. Her courtly status is distinguished by her fine dress and precious jewelry. Rajput Style, Bikaner School.

  • Transference of the Embryo from Devananda's Womb to that of Trisala, folio from a Kalpasutra

    Transference of the Embryo from Devananda's Womb to that of Trisala, folio from a Kalpasutra

  • The Goddess Durga Battles Demons, folio from a manuscript of the Durgasaptashati (Seven Hundred Couplets in Praise of Durga)

    The Goddess Durga Battles Demons, folio from a manuscript of the Durgasaptashati (Seven Hundred Couplets in Praise of Durga)

  • Watermelon Seller

    Watermelon Seller

  • Nautch Girls

    Nautch Girls

  • Hindoo Mendicants

    Hindoo Mendicants

  • Blacksmiths

    Blacksmiths

  • Untitled from the Popular Series from the photo-performance project

    Untitled from the Popular Series from the photo-performance project "Native Women of South India: Manners and Customs," Bangalore

  • Untitled from the Popular Series from the photo-performance project

    Untitled from the Popular Series from the photo-performance project "Native Women of South India: Manners and Customs," Bangalore

  • Portrait of a Lady, copy of a European painting (painting, recto; text, verso), folio from a manuscript

    Portrait of a Lady, copy of a European painting (painting, recto; text, verso), folio from a manuscript

    The recto of this folio features a large, decorative marginal border that contains gold, blue, and red palmettes, flowers, and arabesques. It is followed by a small solid gold border and a border containing scrolling gold flowers and leaves. At the center of the page is a portrait of a European woman. The top and bottom of the portrait are bordered with a small, mint green order containing gold scrolling leaves. The figure is set against a solid dark grey background. She wears a translucent pink-purple shawl with gold trim that is wrapped tightly around her shoulders, but billows behind her back. Her neck is adorned with two pearl chokers and a long pendant necklace that touches the tip of the mint green border. The figure wears large flower earrings with a drop pearl. Her dark hair is parted and tied in a low bun with curly strands that cascade in front of her ears. Small c- and s-shaped curls frame her forehead. She has wide almond-shaped eyes and her lips are tinted red. The verso features twenty-two lines of Persian prose written in black ink and in nasta‘liq script. There are words and phrases also written in the right hand margins. Late Mughal or Deccan Sultanate Style.

  • Kali Quaffs Blood in the Pallava Camp (painting, recto; text, verso), illustrated folio from a manuscript

    Kali Quaffs Blood in the Pallava Camp (painting, recto; text, verso), illustrated folio from a manuscript

  • Nayika wringing her hair after a bath

    Nayika wringing her hair after a bath

    Set within large cream colored, gold-flecked borders is a depiction of a young female. Her body faces to the left while she turns her head to look back. Her long hair cascades down the length of her back, nearly hitting her upper thigh. With both hands she wrings a part of her hair in front of her. Water pours from the ends. Her wrists bear gold cuffs with pearls. Her left arm has a gold armlet. Her body is naked underneath a white translucent robe with gold trim at the bottom. She wears strands of pearls and gold beads around her neck and a necklace with a gold pendant. The top of her ear has a red ornament and she wears pearl earrings. Her nose is decorated with a small pearl nose ring. Her feet are bare and she wears gold anklets. She stands in a green landscape. Softly curving, willow-tree-like branches accentuate the top and right side of the depiction.

  • Virahotkanthita Nayika Yearning for her Lover

    Virahotkanthita Nayika Yearning for her Lover

    On a terrace and under a moonlit sky with two flying cranes is a Virahotkanthita Nayika (“One Distressed by Separation”), a heroine who waits and yearns for her lover to return from a long journey. She dramatically reclines across a cluster of large pillows. Her head rests back to face her female attendant who is slightly bent over her. The heroine is bare-chested and wears a green skirt as well as elaborate jewelry. She holds in her right hand the mouthpiece of a hookah. Rajput Style.

  • Two Ladies from Surat

    Two Ladies from Surat

  • The Dream of Lady Devananda, folio from a Kalpasutra

    The Dream of Lady Devananda, folio from a Kalpasutra

  • Narayana Enthroned with Lakshmi and Sarasvati

    Narayana Enthroned with Lakshmi and Sarasvati

    In this painting, Narayana, who is considered the absolute supreme deity in Hinduism, is enthroned. In Vaishnavism, a sect that reveres the Hindu god Vishnu as Narayana. Here, Narayana is depicted as Vishnu, one of the members of the Hindu Trimurti (Trinity), as conveyed by the accoutrements he bears: a lotus, a mace, a conch shell, and Sudarshana Chakra, which he holds against his lap and is partially obscured by the throne. Sudarshana Chakra is Vishnu’s iconic, spinning, disc-like weapon. Based on the orientation of the inscription and the figures, the female figures attending to Narayana can be identified. The first word is “Lakumi” or “Lakshmi”, thus, at his feet is Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of wealth, who has just fastened an anklet onto Narayana. Behind the throne and holding up a fly whisk is Sarasvati, the goddess of knowledge, the arts, and music. Pahari Style, Kangra School.

  • Erotic Painting (recto and verso), folio from a Jain manuscript

    Erotic Painting (recto and verso), folio from a Jain manuscript

    The recto and verso of this folio feature two vignettes with amorous couples on day beds in various positions.

  • Amorous Couple on a Terrace

    Amorous Couple on a Terrace

    The painting depicts an amorous couple on a daybed on a palatial terrace. Pahari Style, Kangra School.

  • Maharaja Man Singh of Marwar (r. 1803-43) with Ladies on a Charkhi

    Maharaja Man Singh of Marwar (r. 1803-43) with Ladies on a Charkhi

  • Standing Male Donor

    Standing Male Donor

  • Dancing Girls

    Dancing Girls

  • Young Woman at a Balcony

    Young Woman at a Balcony

    Standing against a balcony is a young female figure. She wears a red chaniya choli, which consists of a red crop trop blouse and a long, flowing skirt. Covering her head is a translucent shawl, which clearly exposes her long ponytail. She is adorned with armlets, bracelets, earrings, a head ornament, a nose ring, necklaces, and anklets. Her right hand sits on top of the balcony railing, while her left holds the edge of her shawl, bear her face. The wall next to her has a decorative niche with a small ewer. Rajput Style, Kota School.

  • Hindu Goddess Ganga with  Two Female Attendants Carrying Fly-Whisks

    Hindu Goddess Ganga with Two Female Attendants Carrying Fly-Whisks

    Seated with legs folded on a golden throne is the Hindu goddess Ganga, the divine personification of the River Ganges. She wears a chaniya choli, a type of dress which consists of a long golden skirt and a yellow crop top decorated with flowers and gold trim. She wears an elaborate golden crown, earrings, and a large pendant necklace. Ganga bears four arms: her lower left has her palm facing down; her upper left is bent upward and hold a lotus blossom; her lower right has her palm facing upward; her upper right is bent upward and holds a gold water jug. A bright green halo with a gold border surrounds her head, above which is a floating umbrella (chhatri). The throne floats on water, which is covered in lotuses. Four makara, a crocodile-like creature of Hindu mythology and Ganga’s mount, recline by each throne leg. Behind a blue decorative fence with a gold frame and flanking either side are two female attendants holding fly-whisks above their heads. The background is an orange wall decorated with pairs of rose buds. An ochre curtain with gold flowers and a green border is rolled up at the top. The painting is framed by a yellow inner border and a red outer border. Rajput Style.

  • Two Friendly Ladies

    Two Friendly Ladies

  • Bhairavi Ragini, illustration from a Ragamala (Garland of Melodies) Series

    Bhairavi Ragini, illustration from a Ragamala (Garland of Melodies) Series

    Bhairavi Ragini is commonly represented by a young heroine (nayika) worshipping at a temple dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva. Here, in this painting, the female figure kneels in front of a lingam, the aniconic form of Shiva, while chanting hymns in honor of the god and playing symbols. A female musician stands outside the shrine playing the mridagam, a type of drum. A white bull in the left corner represents Nandi, Shiva’s mount. This painting is a pictorial metaphor for a raga, a musical phrase that is used as the basis for improvisation. Rajput Style, Bikaner School

  • Woman Nursing a Child

    Woman Nursing a Child

    A seated woman, facing left, nurses her small child. Her right hand gently supports the back of her child’s neck, while her left supports her child from behind. Her hands are decorated with henna. She wears a chaniya choli, which consists of a red and purple crop top and a pink skirt. She has a long, translucent yellow shawl that covers her head and the majority of her body. She is adorned with a nose ring, earrings, a head ornament, rings, armlets, bracelets, anklets, and toe rings. Rajput style, Kota school.

  • An Amorous Couple and Two Women

    An Amorous Couple and Two Women

    The page predominantly depicts an amorous couple on a bed. At the bottom right corner are two vignettes. The one on the left depicts a female figure seated on a terrace, while the one on the right depicts a female figure holding up a tray of food. Rajput Style, Kota School.

  • A Female Artist at Work

    A Female Artist at Work

    Seated on a small platform against a large cylindrical cushion is a female artist. She supports her drawing or painting on one of her knees. She uses her right hand to draw or paint. She wears a long robe, trousers, and a long, translucent shawl that covers her head and runs down her back. A halo encircles her head. Next to the platform is a small table with various-sized flasks and containers. There is a lightly drawn terrace and trees in the background. Rajput style, Kota school.

  • The Great Orgy of Maharao Shatru Sal II

    The Great Orgy of Maharao Shatru Sal II

    The painting features a fanciful orgy participated in by men, women, and animals. On the left, the large male figure is Kota ruler Maharao Shatru Sal II (r. 1866-89). His stature represents his royal status. Rajput Style, Kota School.

  • Untitled from the Popular Series from the photo-performance project

    Untitled from the Popular Series from the photo-performance project "Native Women of South India: Manners and Customs," Bangalore

  • Standing Female Donor
  • Tantric Female Deity Drinking from Skull Cup (Vajrayogini)
  • A Lady at Her Toilet with Two Maids
  • Seated Goddess, folio from a Kalpasutra
  • A Lady on Horseback on a Terrace
  • A Woman Chases a Cat With a Stick
  • Transference of the Embryo from Devananda's Womb to that of Trisala, folio from a Kalpasutra
  • The Goddess Durga Battles Demons, folio from a manuscript of the Durgasaptashati (Seven Hundred Couplets in Praise of Durga)
  • Watermelon Seller
  • Nautch Girls
  • Hindoo Mendicants
  • Blacksmiths
  • Untitled from the Popular Series from the photo-performance project
  • Untitled from the Popular Series from the photo-performance project
  • Portrait of a Lady, copy of a European painting (painting, recto; text, verso), folio from a manuscript
  • Kali Quaffs Blood in the Pallava Camp (painting, recto; text, verso), illustrated folio from a manuscript
  • Nayika wringing her hair after a bath
  • Virahotkanthita Nayika Yearning for her Lover
  • Two Ladies from Surat
  • The Dream of Lady Devananda, folio from a Kalpasutra
  • Narayana Enthroned with Lakshmi and Sarasvati
  • Erotic Painting (recto and verso), folio from a Jain manuscript
  • Amorous Couple on a Terrace
  • Maharaja Man Singh of Marwar (r. 1803-43) with Ladies on a Charkhi
  • Standing Male Donor
  • Dancing Girls
  • Young Woman at a Balcony
  • Hindu Goddess Ganga with  Two Female Attendants Carrying Fly-Whisks
  • Two Friendly Ladies
  • Bhairavi Ragini, illustration from a Ragamala (Garland of Melodies) Series
  • Woman Nursing a Child
  • An Amorous Couple and Two Women
  • A Female Artist at Work
  • The Great Orgy of Maharao Shatru Sal II
  • Untitled from the Popular Series from the photo-performance project
University Teaching Gallery, Harvard Art Museums

Drawn from the Harvard Art Museums’ renowned South Asian art collection, this University Teaching Gallery installation complements an undergraduate course exploring images of women in South Asian art; the course takes a historical perspective in order to understand the politics of gender and the social status of women in today’s South Asia. In addition to historical examples of female patronage and representations of goddesses, the installation includes a group of objects portraying women as active agents—a lady chasing a cat, for example, or a rare depiction of a female artist. A small group of erotic images invites viewers to consider the relationship between erotic science and the Indic attitude toward the body, in which sexuality and virility are auspicious forces.

The installation’s related course is taught by Jinah Kim, the Gardner Cowles Associate Professor of History of Art and Architecture at Harvard University. The University Teaching Gallery serves faculty and students affiliated with Harvard’s Department of History of Art and Architecture. Semester-long installations are mounted in conjunction with undergraduate and graduate courses, supporting instruction in the critical analysis of art and making unique selections from the museums’ collections available to all visitors.

This installation is made possible in part by funding from the Gurel Student Exhibition Fund and the José Soriano Fund. Modern and contemporary art programs at the Harvard Art Museums are made possible in part by generous support from the Emily Rauh Pulitzer and Joseph Pulitzer, Jr., Fund for Modern and Contemporary Art.