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Soon, Krishna in Toronto museum

The colourful life of the Hindu deity will form a vital part of the Royal Ontario Museum's new South Asian gallery.

art and culture Updated: Dec 21, 2007 13:02 IST

The Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) - Canada's largest, housing six million items in over 40 galleries - is set to add a glittering South Asian Gallery in a move to attract the burgeoning community.

To be called Sir Christopher Ondaatje South Asian Gallery, named after Sir Christopher Ondaatje for his donations to the museum, the gallery will showcase over 350 South Asian artefacts in a triangular space with high crystal ceilings and amazingly angled walls.<b1>

Its most beautiful part will be a rotating exhibition bringing the museum's hidden treasures before the public for short periods. And the first rotating exhibition will be "Playful Krishna", highlighting the colourful life of Krishna, Hinduism's most powerful divinity.

It will showcase 40 artefacts, including a recent acquisition of a 'picchvai' - a painting on cloth depicting the pilgrimage route to sites sacred to Krishna's life.

"This gallery is uniquely Canadian," said Sir Christopher Ondaatje in a statement Tuesday.

"While conflict exists in many parts of the world, here in Canada we have created a tremendously diverse South Asian gallery, with Canada's varied South Asian communities and the museum matching my initial support. It is to this ideal that I pledged a further $1 million. Canada is the great United Nations experiment, and it is working."

The gallery will be thrown open to public Febrauary 16 next year.

William Thorsell, museum director and CEO, said, "Each artefact reveals aspects of South Asia's (5,000-year) long and diverse history. Nine thematically organised areas present the museum's outstanding collection of South Asian religious objects and sculpture, decorative arts, arms and armour, miniature paintings and textiles, originating from countries such as Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Tibet."

Deepali Dewan, lead curator of the gallery, said, "It presents the history of South Asian art as a series of stories. Visitors can move easily within the space to find their favourite ones and their favourite artefacts."

Among its various sections, "Material Remains" highlights the material culture from the Indus Valley Civilisation (3500 - 1900 BC) to the Sunga Period (3rd - 2nd century BC). "Imagining the Buddha" traces the birth and development of Buddhist art from the 3rd to the 5th centuries, "The Goddess" explores icons of the feminine divine in both benevolent and wrathful forms and "Visualising Divinity" showcases representations of gods across several religions and their various manifestations over time.

While "Passage to Enlightenment" presents the colourful arts of the Himalayan region, which gave concrete form to concepts of esoteric Buddhism, "Courtly Culture" describes lavish luxury items and displays of grandeur predominantly from the Mughal and Rajput courts.

For the modern period, "Cultural Exchange" focuses on Dutch, Portuguese and British commercial interaction with South Asia from the 16th-19th centuries and the new social, political and cultural relationships that were established. "Home and the World" presents the modern and contemporary art of South Asia and of the South Asian diaspora.

Also on display will be a rare 3rd century Buddhist reliquary with delicate gold and pearl ornamentation, a dramatic 12th century bronze statue of Shiva as the Lord of Dance, and an exquisite 18th century hand-painted textile made for the export market.

As visitors enter the gallery, they will be greeted by a recently acquired beautiful balustrade, once part of a Sri Lankan palace or temple that depicts a Yali, an auspicious mythical animal that is part lion and part dragon.