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Articles by Dr. Pratapaditya Pal

An internationally known scholar of the arts and culture of the Himalayas as well as South and Southeast Asia, Dr. Pratapaditya Pal is a prolific writer with over sixty published books, monographs and catalogues. He has been associated with many museums and universities in the States for over four decades as curator and teacher respectively. For eighteen years he was the general editor of Marg publications, including the eponymous magazine, published from Mumbai.
Prolegomena to the Study of an Early Wood Bodhisatva from the Himalayas
In an important recent publication, the late Mary Slusser convincingly presented results of scientific examinations of many Nepalese wood sculptures, which revealed surprisingly early dates. Apart from carved timber struts in situ in Kathmandu Valley urban centers, she published at least two freestanding sculptures now in private collections in the west that, thanks to carbon-14 tests, can be dated to the Licchavi period. To these two we are happy to add a third, and certainly the earliest and most attractive example, with this brief prolegomena.
Published: February 23, 2023
The Thoughtgem and Wheel Avalokiteshvara and Lokeśvara of Wish-fulfilling Gems Revisited
In this two-part article which spans over 50 years of scholarship, Dr. Pal revisits an article published in Calcutta in 1968, in which he examined two important forms of the great bodhisatva Avalokiteshvara: the Cintāmaṇi Cakra Avalokiteśvara in China and Japan and Nepal’s Cintāmaṇi Lokeśvara. In a detailed afterword, Dr. Pal traces the international scholarship in the study of Buddhist iconography and expands our knowledge of both forms of Avalokiteshvara, particularly the Nepalese form of the Lokeśvara of Wish-fulfilling Gems, which Dr. Pal traces back to an Indian sculptural tradition.
Published: September 20, 2021
The Quiet Collector and the Sensuous Immortals
The Sensuous Immortals: A Selection of Sculptures from the Pan-Asian Collection was organized by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 1977. For almost a quarter of a century thereafter only a limited number of people in the field knew who the collector was. The collection was formed over a short time, roughly two decades between 1960 and 1980. At his sudden death the following year, it consisted of well over a thousand objects spanning almost two millennia. This is the brief story of that remarkable aesthetic adventure of a short life that began in France in 1924 and ended in the New World in 1981. His name was Christian Humann.
Published: January 28, 2021
Engaging with Jain Visual Culture
My engagement with Jain art and architecture began when I was 10 years old in 1945. I still vividly remember being taken to the Jain temple of what we Bengalis call Pareshnāth in Kolkata (then known as Calcutta in English). It was a memorable visit as it was so different from the famous Kālı temple in south Calcutta (the Jain shrine was in the north of the city) for it differed notably from the former with its large crowds and hustle and bustle where getting a glimpse of the image of the goddess was an intimidating experience for a Hindu lad.
Published: June 27, 2020
Embroidered Dreams: A Personal Appreciation of Bengali Kanthas
Apart from thrift and utility, the kantha symbolizes both the emotional experiences and aesthetic aspirations of its maker. Usually made by a homemaker from an economically disadvantaged family, the kantha represents both devotion and labor, often achieved quietly and privately during spare moments snatched from a long day of domestic duties. This labor of love was an outlet for creativity and recreation for the amateur artist who never attended art school. The kantha communicates this love as it envelopes you during the embrace of sleep, a constant physical reminder of sweet memories that linger for years.
Published: March 06, 2018
Paul F. Walter (1935-2017): Personal Memories
I once read a book by Sir Erwin Panofsky which asserted that all artists were born under Saturn; today I would say that so are all curators and collectors of art. Paul Walter, however, must have been an exception; as a collector he was so passionate, avaricious, curious, eclectic, impulsive, gregarious and generous that I always felt he must have been born under all the planets and shared bits of all the zodiacal signs. He was a big man, with a big appetite and a big heart, like Mr. John Wayne of Hollywood fame.
Published: October 24, 2017
A Tale of a Collector and Curator: The Ross-Coomaraswamy Bond
When I first encountered Coomaraswamy’s multivolume catalogue of the Boston Museum collections in the Calcutta University library as a student in 1956, I learnt that the great Indian collection for which the museum was famous at the time was identified as the hyphenated “Ross-Coomaraswamy Collection.” The “Ross” part of the moniker, however, remained a mystery until I came to occupy the position of Keeper of the Indian Collections in 1967 – exactly two decades after Coomaraswamy passed away.
Published: August 16, 2017
Indian Art “Auditions” in Hollywood
…My initial encounter with Hollywood occurred on my first visit to Los Angeles in the summer of 1964: I must admit the tiled star-studded stretch of Hollywood Boulevard and the Grauman's Chinese Theatre (as it was then known), were not what I expected of Tinseltown. There really was no arcadian, territorial Hollywood; only a state of mind. In any event on that initial visit, as I did walk the walk of fame on Hollywood Boulevard, I never dreamt that I would one day work in the neighborhood or meet any real movie stars.
Published: May 11, 2017
Revisiting a Kashmiri-Style Buddhist Image of Vajrasatva with Consort
This exquisitely rendered sculpture debuted in the seventies of the last century when it was included in the exhibition of the renowned Pan-Asian collection formed by the prodigious collector of Asian art, Christian Humann. It is a pleasure to revisit the object almost half a century later, as it has remained not only an intriguing and rare representation of Vajrayana Buddhist deities but, with a great deal of material from Kashmir and the contiguous regions in Western Tibet published since, it is now possible to throw more light on its origin and iconography.
Published: September 19, 2016
The Splendor of Wall Paintings in Bundi: A Review Article of The Bundi Wall – Paintings in Rajasthan (Rediscovered Treasures)
What is striking about the murals at Bundi and other palaces of the period is that they are merely larger versions of the portable pictures, mostly on paper, that were also produced at court simultaneously. Often the wall paintings are one gigantic assemblage of a group of smaller and complete pictorial compositions, each of which, if cut out from the plaster and affixed to paper, would become a complete picture in its own right.
Published: January 26, 2016
Some Hindu and Buddhist Bronzes from Bangladesh
Prior to the departure of the British from the Indian subcontinent in 1947, leaving behind two sovereign states – India and Pakistan – the history of Indian art was relatively easy to study as it was not coloured by issues of nationalism. After 1971 when East Pakistan declared independence and transformed itself into Bangladesh the task of the art historian became more complicated. Works of art which could once be attributed to Bengal now had to be assigned to either West Bengal or Bangladesh to establish their precise geographical origin.
Published: July 15, 2015
Roshan Sabavala’s Tryst with Himalayan Art
Considering the lively scene for collecting Indian art among the wealthy members of Bombay’s Parsi community, that Roshan Sabavala too would be tempted to dip into this rich resource is not surprising. Moreover, she was also familiar with the vast collection of the Tata brothers – Sir Dorab (1859–1932) and Sir Ratan (1871–1918) – that had become the treasures of the local museum then known as the Prince of Wales Museum of Western India and now renamed Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS).
Published: December 09, 2014
The Last of the Mohicans: Remembering Robert Ellsworth (1929–2014)
Born in 1929, the year of The Great Crash, Robert H. Ellsworth died recently in New York – by his own description ‘the token pauper of 960.’ In case the reader is unaware, 960 is the number of the building on Fifth Avenue, where he occupied a 20-room apartment: it is supposed to be the third most desirable address in New York, only a block or two from The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Not bad for a child brought up in the depression era.
Published: September 17, 2014
An early Tibetan mandala of Ekallavira Achala in a private collection: An Art Historical Analysis
The history of portable Tibetan painting can now be confidently pushed back to the eleventh century. Buddhism was officially introduced to the country under the great ruler Song-tsen Gampo (r. 609-649) of the Yarlung dynasty and one can form a good idea of the architecture and sculpture of this early historical period; but significant evidence for Tibetan painting of any kind, cannot be traced back much earlier than the tenth century.
Published: September 09, 2013
The Rise and Fall of the Hindu God of War: A Review article
The Rise of Mahāsena: The Transformation of Skanda-Kārttikeya in North India from the Kusāna to Gupta Empires, by Richard T. Mann (Brill: Leiden. Boston 2012. pp. XIV and 282. Figs 43), is a study of the early history or development and decline of the god of war in the Brahmanical/ Hindu pantheon.
Published: August 01, 2012
A Painted Book Cover from Ancient Kashmir
The history of architecture and sculpture from Kashmir’s pre-Islamic past (1st c. BCE – 1300 CE) is well-apprised but nothing is known about painting. No example of pictorial art has yet come to light in the Valley of Kashmir. The purpose of this article is to discuss a painted panel in wood that was introduced in the recent exhibition of the arts of Kashmir. This painted panel is the only known object of its type that can be clearly traced to Kashmir itself and the artists there.
Published: December 22, 2008 | Associations | Articles | Exhibitions | Galleries