An Asian Sensation Of A Gallery At The British Museum

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 8 months ago

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An Asian Sensation Of A Gallery At The British Museum
A vast collection of objects awaits at the refurbished gallery.

Before us stands a golden humanoid bird. This is Garuda, the mythical mount of Lord Krishna, and is said to have been able to cover the distance of the earth with a single flap of its wings. Our own personal achievements seem very small by comparison.

This statue of Garuda is just one of the hundreds of treasures in The British Museum's newly refurbished and reopened China and South Asia galleries.

Hindu God Shiva as Lord of the Dance. © The Trustees of the British Museum

One half of this very lengthy gallery is dedicated to South Asia. The history of the area is covered from 1.5 million year old remains from an Indus valley civilisation right through all the religions that have been present in the region — Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Islam, Sikhism and Christianity — right through to the British rule of India.

The divine couple Shiva and Parvati are presented, surrounded by garland bearers and musicians. The level of detail is superb in this sculpture, exuding tenderness and beauty.

The remains of an ancient Buddhist temple are stunning.

The highlight of this section is located at the far end of the gallery — remains of Amaravati, an ancient Buddhist temple that was thought lost in the 14th century until it was re-discovered in the 18th century. Only one third of its magnificent dome is in the museum, but even these small parts tower over us and the scenes carved on them are remarkably intact. It's spectacular even now, so the original must have been wondrous to gaze upon.

Beautiful ceramic tiles of dragons. © The Trustees of the British Museum

The second half of this gallery is dedicated to the rich history of China, and the museum clearly knows its audience as it was very busy when we visited. The visitors were just impressed as we were with another fantastic array of objects. Ceramic tiles decorated with blue dragons, an ornate Ming vase and Samurai armour are just some of the highlights.

We're brought to modern times with a Warhol print of chairman Mao.

A beautiful set of figures shows a tomb procession taking place including horses, camels, officials and heavenly kings. All in ceramic, beautifully painted, they would have been buried with an official when he died.

This beautiful Ming Vase is another highlight. © The Trustees of the British Museum

We could go on describing all the wonderful objects on display here, but it would take an age and it's easy to spend half a day in this gallery alone. The rich history of Asia means even this massive gallery can only capture a sliver of the faiths, traditions and culture of this part of the world. Luckily for us, the parts they have captured are filled with beautiful historical artefacts and this refurbished gallery is a fine addition to a great museum.

The Sir Joseph Hotung Gallery of South Asia and China is in Room 33 of The British Museum. It is part of the permanent collection and free to visit.  

Last Updated 10 January 2018