The Body Adorned: Sacred and Profane in Indian Art

About the Author

Vidya Dehejia holds the Barbara Stoler Miller Chair in Indian Art at Columbia University. She was chief curator and deputy director, as well as acting director, of the Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in Washington, DC. She is an established scholar whose publications have explored a range of topics, from ancient Buddhist art to the esoteric temples of North India, and from the sacred bronzes of the South to the art of British India. Her recent publications include Chola: Bronzes from South India; India Through the Lens: Photography, 1840-1911; Devi: The Great Goddess; and Delight in Design: Indian Silver for the Raj.

The Body Adorned: Sacred and Profane in Indian Art

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Vidya Dehejia

The sensuous human form—elegant and eye-catching—is the dominant feature of premodern Indian art. From the powerful god Shiva, greatest of all yogis and most beautiful of all beings, to stone dancers twisting along temple walls, the body in Indian art is always richly adorned. Alankara (ornament) protects the body and makes it complete and attractive; to be unornamented is to invite misfortune.


In The Body Adorned, Vidya Dehejia, who has dedicated her career to the study of Indian art, draws on the literature of court poets, the hymns of saints and acharyasacharyas, and verses from inscriptions to illuminate premodern India's unique treatment of the sculpted and painted form. She focuses on the coexistence of sacred and sensuous images within the common boundaries of Buddhist, Jain, and Hindu sacred spaces, redefining terms like "sacred" and "secular" in relation to Indian architecture. She also considers the paradox of passionate poetry, in which saints praised the sheer bodily beauty of the divine form, and nonsacred Rajput painted manuscripts, which freely inserted gods into the earthly realm of the courts.


By juxtaposing visual and literary sources, Dehejia demonstrates the harmony between the sacred and the profane in classical Indian culture. Her synthesis of art, literature, and cultural materials not only generates an all-inclusive picture of the period but also revolutionizes our understanding of the cultural ethos of premodern India.

  • Hardcover
  • 219 pages, 70 illustrations
  • Published: 2009

Editorial Reviews

"An important work for anyone interested in Indian art or religion . . . Highly recommended." —Choice

"This book is very well conceived, and Dehejia is a major scholar with a fine track record in scholarly yet accessible writing. The study's particular merit lies in the fact that Dehejia brings her sensitivity to the integral connections between verbal and visual imagery in Indian aesthetics, to the linkages among a variety of Indian arts, and to a holistic vision of the culture in which these arts flourish." —Indira Peterson, Mount Holyoke College

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