The bad news is that it's a really confused exhibition, which it has to be, with such a broad theme. The unsubstantiated rumor is that the Museum had borrowed works from some museums abroad and rather than send them back, they extended the insurance and put together this exhibition. I have no idea if this rumor is true but I do know, when I asked the curator why he'd designed the exhibition like this, he didn't answer. Perhaps the answer involved an exploration of his psyche and was too complicated but I don't understand why he'd pick these topics in particular among the infinite topics that could come under this theme and I couldn't spot any literature on that. Which is why the theory that the exhibition grew around the pieces makes sense.
The second problem is that it's an exhibition of all ages. There's modern stuff like the now-famous installation by Mrinalini Mukherjee called 'Basanti', mixed with ancient pieces from the Harappan civilization; and
But, having raised these issues, there's one word that makes the exhibition a must see. Exquisite!! The pieces are exquisite and the wealth of art filling out this exhibition is mind blowing. There are pieces from 42 museums and Naman Ahuja and his team have scoured museum after museum to get their hands on the best that each museum had to offer, including the National Museum, whose opened their storerooms and taken out the jewels lying in the locker (metaphorically) for this one.
It's also a huge exhibition that needs to be visited again and again to get the full impact. I've visited it twice so far, once alone and once on a curated walk. The first time, I concentrated on the pieces and the next, I listened to the curator but didn't get the time (or space. There were some 300 people on the curated walk) to look at the art. And in both cases, I could only focus till Room 5, after which I zoned out. It's simply too big to comprehend and assimilate. The next time I go, and there's definitely a next time, I'm going to start from the last room. Luckily, the exhibition is in a circular space and theoretically, it might make sense to end in the first room, simply because the theme of the room is death.
The first room is probably there for shock and awe reasons. It focuses on death and among the amazing pieces are head stones devoted to a Sati, a woman warrior and folk heroes, among others. It also has a gorgeous statue of Shiva in his Bhairava form. The next room is about saintliness or achieving nirvana and focuses on the various ways saints or those achieving nirvana across various religions are portrayed including the hand marks of Muslim saints that are carried during religious processions and the feet marks of Vishnu and Jain sages kept in temples down south. There is also a recurring series of paintings of achieving transcendence/nirvana/oneness with God through moving from the body to nothingness. After which comes two more nondescript rooms, one with a video installation of dances. And then, come the superlative four rooms that are stand outs!
The first of these rooms is devoted to mothers/birth and it's probably the most problematic room for me (maybe because I know a bit about Goddesses and I can't really hold a learned arguement about astrology and vastu it taught me a whole lot more) and it contains the famous Shivling and the equally famous 'Basanti' (photo's above) which is composed of Hemp and invokes a woman's body. It also contains pieces ranging from the Harappan civilization to sculptures of the Goddess Jayeshta (the Goddess of misfortune worshipped from the 3rd century BC till the 10th century AD), Hariti (the Buddhist Ogress/Goddess who devoured children in her Zoroastrian avatar and then changed into a protector of women, children and families after joining Buddhist mythology), an intertwined Naga couple
The room after that pertains to birth. This (and the next room) would be the ones I would have loved more literature on because there were not only stunning pieces, they were also based on tales I don't know a lot about. For example, the story of the divine immaculate birth of Mother Mary is shown in a drawing in a beautiful old book. Similarly, I hadn't realized how many stories about adoption/surrogacy there are in Indian literature. Krishna, Kartikeya and Mahavir were all represented - which, according to Mr. Ahuja, was a sign of circumventing or breaking down the caste system (I'm not really convinced by this argument but heck, I'm not the expert)
The room after that is the room devoted to astrology. It's arranged as per a woman's vastu ( highly unusual. Usually, I've been told, there's only a vastu purush). There's graphic drawings of remedies to illnesses, sculptures of the various God's of astrology (arranged in the astrologically correct corners), a sculpture of Vishnu with all the symbols of astrology on his body
and even a snakes and ladder game exemplifying life as a game of chance. This is the fun room that I've never seen anything like before. In fact, personally, I'd have come to see the exhibition only for this and the next room which is the room dedicated to the supernatural bodies of God's.
superhuman ripped abs of the Gods (or upper caste) bodies inside?