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South Asian Art

VMFA is home to one of America’s premier collections of Greater Indian and Himalayan art, featuring spectacular examples of sculpture, paintings, architecture, textiles, and decorative art.

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Highlights - Art of Greater India

This collection showcases the diversity of regional cultures and religious traditions that have defined the Indian subcontinent’s artistic production over more than 3000 years. From sublime sculptures and stunning paintings, to opulent textiles and glittering decorative arts, it is filled with masterpieces that both delight and educate.

Highlights - Art of the Himalayas

The arts of Nepal and Tibet are represented through an impressive assemblage of paintings, sculptures, book arts, textiles, and ritual objects spanning nearly eight centuries. Most of these artworks relate to the region’s dominant religious traditions, Buddhism and Hinduism, both of which came to the Himalayas from India.


An avatar of the Hindu deity Vishnu, Krishna descended to Earth to kill the evil king Kansa. Indian literature and art is filled with depictions of his mischievous youth, heroic encounters with demons, and romantic dalliances that are metaphors for his devotees’ emotional relationships with God. Blue skinned, usually in a saffron-colored loincloth and a peacock-feather crown, the young lord often carries a flute that, when played, enchants all who hear it. 


Ragamalas: Picturing Music & Emotion

Indian music and paintings fill two of the South Asian galleries. The paintings come from ragamalas, sets of pictures that depict musical structures called ragas. Every raga has a characteristic progression of musical notes intended—as the Sanskrit word raga suggests—to ‘color’ the mind and stimulate a distinct emotional response.  

Ragamala paintings, in which these musical moods are personified as heroes and heroines in romantic or devotional settings, are organized into groups imagined as families. Typically, a full ragamala series presents a grand cycle of six such families, each associated with one of India’s six seasons.

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Khambhavati Ragini (detail), mid-17th century, Rajasthan, Bikaner, opaque watercolor on paper. Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment, 2018.193