Towering stone sculptures dating back several centuries and a painted book about magic made for Mughal emperor Akbar, are among the nearly 300 spectacular art objects displayed at the National Museum here in an exhibition that explores representation and expression of the human body.
The display of ancient and modern objects in the show 'The Body in Indian Art', is much bigger than what was mounted at the four-month Europalia festival at Brussels, which was inaugurated by President Pranab Mukherjee in October 2013 and reportedly attracted an audience of one million people.
Curated by historian Naman P Ahuja, the 11-week long exhibition here was inaugurated by Culture Secretary Ravindra Singh today, who unveiled eight specially-designed galleries with objects sourced from 44 institutions and individuals across the country from Manipur to Kerala.
Themes such as birth, rebirth, death, heroism, asceticism and rapture are shown in the different galleries spread over 18,000 sq ft of carpeted space.
"This is a time when defence of our cultural institutions has never been as important. But that defence cannot simply be a rearguard action. It must consist in setting forth what we stand for, not simply what we are against," Ahuja said.
National Museum Director-General Venu V said the show is by far the most extensive collaboration of museums and collectors across the country, showcasing belief systems in Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, Jain and Sikh traditions.
A variety of artefacts such as sculptures, paintings, masks, jewellery, charms and amulets are contained in the exhibition, he said.
It also features multi-media with video and audio presentations.
"In our quest to bring in new audiences, this exhibition is a milestone, as it combines rigorous and exciting scholarship with modern and innovative design," he said.
Ahead of media preview earlier today, Ahuja an associate professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University, said he intended the viewer to confront modern attitudes to universal questions of life, death and destiny.
"How are our attitudes shaped by our history and destiny? Do human bodies exercise individual agency? These are some of the questions we seek to address," Ahuja asked.
Voices of modern and contemporary India are also present in each of the galleries. So apart from work by famous urban artists like Subodh Gupta or Pushpamala N, craftswork and other recent work from various regions of the country, calendar art, and even Amar Chitra Katha comics.
Satish Mehta, Director-General, ICCR hailed the exhibition and Culture Secretary Rabindra Singh said he hoped "the exhibition will attract a large number of visitors."
Talks and seminars, besides activities like puppetry and theatre are scheduled to be held till June 7.