Cultural History of Early South Asia: A Reader presents a wide-ranging survey of the diverse art forms of early South Asia. In doing so, it departs from the dominant tendency of treating the arts as static ‘heritage of the past’ with just exhibition value, and instead perceives them as dynamic processes of meaning and communication in the past. It connects cultural production with ordinary life, to explore the various roles which literature and visual arts played in the lives of their communities. Here, art is investigated as objects of aesthetic enjoyment, but also as creations of rhetorical or philosophical moment, as well as of utilitarian value.
Through its broad chronological sweep covering the earliest specimens of cultural expression like the prehistoric rock paintings of Bhimbetka; the ornaments of the Harappan culture; the frescoes and rock-cut temples of Ajanta and Ellora; the Pali Jatakas, and South Asian folklore, the book argues for a variety of audiences in ancient and early medieval South Asia.
Bringing together authoritative voices on South Asian history, archaeology and literature, the book presents complementary views which will help in understanding the popular dimensions of the subcontinent’s art and culture. It will acquaint its readership with fundamental contributions to the region’s art history, and yet do so in a way that questions and opens up received wisdom, and initiates a new understanding of early cultural processes. Scholarly, yet accessible, it will be of enduring relevance for researchers, students of history and cultural studies, as well as lay readers interested in the artistic traditions of South Asia.
Shonaleeka Kaul is Assistant Professor, Department of History, University of Delhi.
Introduction: Producers and Consumers of Culture (Shonaleeka Kaul)
1. ‘A Figure of Speech, or a Figure of Thought?’ (Ananda K. Coomaraswamy)
2. Rock Paintings of the Mesolithic Period (Erwin Neumayer)
3. Ornament Styles of the Indus Valley Tradition (Jonathan M. Kenoyer)
4. Texts on Stone: Understanding Asoka’s Epigraph-Monuments (Upinder Singh)
5. Social Background of Ancient Indian Terracottas (Devangana Desai)
6. On Modes of Visual Narration in Early Buddhist Art (Vidya Dehejia)
7. Archaeology of Early Temples in the Chalukyan Regions (Himanshu Prabha Ray)
8. Ellora: Understanding the Creation of a Past (Jaya Mehta)
9. Theory and Practice of Painting: Introduction to the Vishnudharmottara
10. The Jataka as Popular Tradition (Uma Chakravarti)
11. The Functions and Social Location of Kavya (Shonaleeka Kaul)
12. Bards and Bardic Traditions in Early Tamil Poetry (K. Kailasapathy)
13. Who Needs Folklore? The Relevance of Oral Traditions to South Asian Studies
(A. K. Ramanujan)