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Painting, Map, Icon: Visualizing A Nepalese Sacred Journey

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Painting, Map, Icon: Visualizing A Nepalese Sacred Journey


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Saturday, May 13
10:00 a.m.–noon PT
Speaker: Dr. Neeraja Poddar, The Ira Brind and Stacey Spector Associate Curator of South Asian Art at Philadelphia Museum of Art, and a Research Fellow of the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies
Virtual Event


Pilgrimage to Gosainkund


In the collection of Philadelphia Museum of Art is an exceptional Nepalese painting that depicts pilgrims walking winding paths, fording fast-flowing rivers, and climbing steep cliffs as they make their way through the Kathmandu Valley. Their destination—the holy lake of Gosainkund—is at the right end of the painting and pilgrims traverse the work’s fourteen feet, three and a half inches (4.35 metres) to reach it. On the road they encounter numerous sacred sites that dot the urban centers or stand alone in the landscape. This presentation will explore how the format of the Gosainkund painting lends itself to the creation of a sacred map that unfolds experientially. Rather than focusing on scientific precision, the artist appears to use the horizontality of the object to plot towns, rivers, and mountains in relation to each other as they might be encountered on a journey, helping locate sacred sites and allows them to use the painting to trace a unique pilgrimage, choosing the places they want to “visit” en route. By walking along the length of the work and following an individualized route with their eyes. While the viewers are unable to bathe in the purifying waters of the holy lake, they may accrue religious merit by offering worship at Gosainkund—the remnants of ritual substances sprinkled on the deity represented within the holy lake are still visible, transforming the painting into an icon and making it a potent stand-in for a physical pilgrimage.

Neeraja Poddar is The Ira Brind and Stacey Spector Associate Curator of South Asian Art at Philadelphia Museum of Art, and a Research Fellow of the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies. She received her Ph.D. in art history and Archaeology from Columbia University, and was previously curator at The City Palace Museum, Udaipur. Her area of expertise is illustrated manuscripts and books produced at the royal courts of South Asia from circa 1500-1800. She also studies the painting traditions of Nepal. Dr. Poddar has published on illustrated manuscripts and series of the Bhāgavata Purāṇa; her curatorial projects include Mewar Photographs, 1857-1947 at The City Palace Museum, Udaipur, and Encounters in Exile: From the Ramayana, The Art of the Book in South Asia, and the reinstallation of the South Asian galleries at Philadelphia Museum of Art, among others. Her most recent installation, Unbound: Islamic Arts of the Book, at Philadelphia Museum of Art, will remain on view until August 2023.


Please reserve your spot by clicking on this link. All participants will be sent the Zoom link and instructions via email once you secure your place. Space is limited.

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Sponsored by the South Asian Arts Council.


Featured: Pilgrimage to Gosainkund, Pilgrimage through the Kathmandu Valley, Sites encountered on the way to the holy lake that is home to the Hindu god Shiva and the Buddhist savior Avalokiteshvara, ca. 1800. Kathmandu Valley, Nepal, Asia, probably Bhaktapur, Nepal, Asia. Colors on cloth. Purchased with the Stella Kramrisch Fund, 2000. Philadelphia Museum of Art.

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May 13, 2023
10:00 am - 12:00 pm
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