Volume 59 Number 2, December 2007

India’s Popular Culture: Iconic Spaces and Fluid Images

Edited by: Jyotindra Jain
Binding: Hardcover
Specifications: 128 pages, 120 illustrations
ISBN: 978-81-85026-81-7
Dimensions: 305 x 241 mm

The essays in this volume explore the role of popular imagery through various aesthetic streams in such diverse areas as religious and social symbolism, national identity, theatre backdrops, film poster art, photography, architecture and urban living. Exploring the issues of image and representation, the contributors to this volume move seamlessly between anthropology, performance studies, art history, and cultural studies within the broader frame of the new discipline of visual studies.

Jyotindra Jain, formerly Director of the Crafts Museum, New Delhi, is Professor at the School of Arts & Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. A Former Alexander-von-Humboldt Fellow, Homi Bhabha Fellow, Visiting Professor at Harvard University at the Centre for the Study of World Religions, and recipient of the 1998 Prince Claus Award, his publications include: Ganga Devi: Tradition and Expression in Mithila PaintingOther Masters: Five Contemporary Folk and Tribal Artists of IndiaKalighat Painting: Images from a Changing World; and Indian Popular Culture: “The Conquest of the World as Picture”. He edited the Marg volume Picture Showmen: Insights into the Narrative Tradition in Indian Art (1998). As Director of CIVIC: Centre for Indian Visual Culture he is engaged in creating a vast digital archive of Indian popular visual culture. 

Introduction: Image mobility in India’s popular culture
Jyotindra Jain

Of Gods and Globes: The territorialization of Hindu deities in popular visual culture
Sumathi Ramaswamy

“The Accidental Ramdev”: The spread of a popular culture
Christopher Pinney

Optics for the Stage: Curtains of the Surabhi Company
Anuradha Kapur

India’s Republic Day Parade: Restoring identities, constructing the nation
Jyotindra Jain

Mecca versus the Local Shrine: The dilemma of orientation in the popular religious art of Indian Muslims
Yousuf Saeed

The Bombay Film Poster: A short biography
Ranjani Mazumdar

The Family Archive: Photo narratives from Goan villages
Savia Viegas

The Enclaved Gaze: Exploring the visual culture of “world class living” in urban India
Christiane Brosius


Introduction: image mobility in India's popular culture
Jain, Jyotindra
Vol. 59 No. 2, December 2007; ISBN: 978-81-85026-81-7, pp. 6-17

This book largely focuses on the current contexts of popular visual culture. Both "popular" and "visual" as specific forms of modern culture have only recently received serious academic attention in India. The emergence of modern communications technologies - digital media, TV, and film - and new disciplines such as cultural, visual, film, and media studies have supplied new frames to popular culture. The essays in this volume explore the role of popular imagery through various aesthetic streams in the areas of religious and social symbolism, national identity, theatre and film ancillaries, photography, architecture and urban living.

Of Gods and Globes: The territorialization of Hindu deities in popular visual culture
Ramaswamy, Sumathi
Vol. 59 No. 2, December 2007; ISBN: 978-81-85026-81-7, pp. 18-31

This article considers the appearance of cartographic imagery in the form of maps and globes in the so-called god pictures that have been such an ubiquitous feature of popular Indian visual culture for the past two centuries. A special focus is on tracking the transformations through time of representations of Varaha who is invariably shown in much of 20th-century popular art in the company of a globe with a map of India clearly delineated on its surface. Through a consideration of such images, she suggests that the secular modern science of cartography has enabled the transformation of "Hindu" deities into "Indian" gods.

"The Accidental Ramdev": the spread of a popular cult
Pinney, Christopher
Vol. 59 No. 2, December 2007; ISBN: 978-81-85026-81-7, pp. 32-45

The article explores chromolithographic images of Ramdevji, a Rajasthani war-hero, who has emerged from a regional pantheon including Gogaji, Dev Narayan, Pabuji, and Tejaji. The author postulates that chromolithography and the patronage of the Ramdevra temple by Maharaja Ganga Singh of Bikaner, helped spread this cult and elevated Ramdev to the status of a god worshipped widely in northern India, particularly by the Dalits, to whom his anti-caste message must have appealed particularly through a similar process. The author speculates that Gogaji may in future acquire the same elevated status as Ramji. Pinney also concludes that chromolithographic representations of these in the darshanic mode reflect the tenacity of the Nathdvara tradition. However, Ramdevji remains a powerful figure, a figure of action, whose jivanlila, essentially the reflection of an ethic, is the reason he is worshipped.

Optics for the Stage: curtains of the Surabhi Company
Kapur, Anuradha
Vol. 59 No. 2, December 2007; ISBN: 978-81-85026-81-7, pp. 46–59

The author examines the use of painted scenic backdrops by the Surabhi Theatre Company in Cuddapah, Andhra Pradesh to create different spaces within it. She traces the genealogy of the Surabhi Theatre’s stage property and settings from drop curtains to the moulded and gilded border of Haymarket arch, to the eclectic stage of Parsi theatre with backdrops and devices of perspective that created an illusion of reality, costume and properties are drawn from a multiplicity of periods. The Surabhi stage, thus, brings together what the author terms a surplus of illusion and creates a performance that is collected from diverse eras, styles, and grammars of theatre, visuality, and architectural convention.

India's Republic Day Parade: restoring identities, constructing the nation
Jain, Jyotindra
Vol. 59 No. 2, December 2007; ISBN: 978-81-85026-81-7, pp. 60-75

This essay examines the annual Republic Day Parade in New Delhi to show how the cultural mechanism of image mobilization – of symbols, icons, performances and spectacles – has been deployed by the state to gain ideological control and to strategically ensure integration of the diverse and separatist elements active in India before and after Independence. The cultural pageant, comprising tableaux and dances, was used to represent the nation’s unity in diversity. This visual identity propagates through print and electronic media, philately, tourism, and Festivals of India, became a powerful tool for imaging India’s specific cultural identity and for national integration of a culturally diverse society.

Mecca versus the Local Shrine: the dilemma of orientation in the popular religious art of Indian Muslims
Saeed, Yousuf
Vol. 59 No. 2, December 2007; ISBN: 978-81-85026-81-7, pp. 76-89
Among the most vibrant examples of popular art found on Indian streets are religious prints and posters. The popular calendar art of the Muslims depicts not only the images of Mecca and Medina, but local shrines, saints, their miracles and folklore, often portrayed as graphically as Hindu mythical scenes. Many of the artists and the industry that produces the Muslim artworks are Hindus. Thus it is easy to see Hindu symbols being adopted in the Muslim images. Since a large number of Indian Muslims are unable to travel to Mecca for a pilgrimage, the local shrines and religious folklore play an important role in their lives. Thus the images of many Indian Sufi shrines, the personages of the saints, and their special attributes become favourite subjects. The author poses questions relating to how the common Muslim users of these images connect with the icons of the local shrine in relation to images of Mecca and Medina. Are there any needs of the devotee that are fulfilled by a local shrine, which an image of Mecca probably cannot? How does the printing industry exploit this to produce more local images?
The Bombay Film Poster: a short biography
Mazumdar, Ranjani
Vol. 59 No. 2, December 2007; ISBN: 978-81-85026-81-7, pp. 90-103

The author traces the historical development of the film poster in terms of its formal aesthetic transformation, its cultural biographical mobility, and its spatial diffusion. Developments in technology from oil painting, photography, offset printing, and finally digitally generated and enhanced imaging, brought the poster close to electronic media images. The author analyses poster design to determine the hierarchy of the information presented in terms of star, story, credits, and location. Analysed is the relegation of print posters to small towns, or downmarket locations in big cities, in the face of digital technology and powerful neon-lit advertising. The film poster has moved from public places into the enclosed space of a gallery, and is now considered an art work, to be collected and studied.

The Family Archive: photo-narratives from Goan villages
Viegas, Savia
Vol. 59 No. 2, December 2007; ISBN: 978-81-85026-81-7, pp. 104-113

The term "colonial" has long been used indiscriminately with respect to Portuguese, French, or British cultural traits in India. The article draws attention to the possible trap in equating the specificities of British Indian photography with that of its Portuguese Goan counterpart, as both have divergent social histories. The Goan photographic archive centred around family portraits of two elite classes, the feudal landed Bhatkars and the Western educated Goan elite whose lifestyle was adapted from that of the local European population. The cultural ethos of Portuguese Goa is represented by the photographs which reproduce and represent lifestyle in the closed space of a photostudio. The author warns against the misrepresentation and stereotyping of Goan society by the media and tourism industry, just as was done during the colonial period and later.

The Enclaved Gaze: exploring the visual culture of "world class" living in urban India
Brosius, Christiane
Vol. 59 No. 2, December 2007; ISBN: 978-81-85026-81-7, pp. 114-125

The new Indian middle-class lifestyle space is explored, based on visual and print material such as hoardings and brochures, which reveal generalized history, tradition, and modernity interlocked with nostalgia, exoticism and desire. Historical structures and ancient sites, exotic and indigenous images from across the globe are used in advertisements by real estate developers, reflecting the fascination in the popular mind with these symbols of a lifestyle that is their aspiration. The author examines the new and unfamiliar global lifestyle taking root in India, where apparent paradoxes such as tradition and modernity, history and the present, amalgamate harmoniously.