Raja Harishchandra

Chitra Ganesh, American, born 1975

Made in New York, New York, United States, North and Central America

Contemporary Period


Compressed charcoal and charcoal dust applied by brush on paper

Framed: 55 1/4 inches × 6 feet 4 3/8 inches (140.3 × 194 cm) Image and sheet: 51 5/8 inches × 6 feet 1/4 inches (131.1 × 183.5 cm)

© Chitra Ganesh

Curatorial Department:
South Asian Art

Object Location:

Currently not on view

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
Purchased with the Stella Kramrisch Fund for Indian and Himalayan Art, 2013

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In this large-scale drawing of 2012 Chitra Ganesh reinterprets a dramatic moment from India’s first silent film, Raja Harishchandra (1913). The movie narrates the legend of King Harishchandra, a righteous ruler who sacrificed his kingdom and family to honor his promise to the powerful sage Vishwamitra. Ganesh shows the king attempting to rescue three fairies caught in flames while on a hunting trip with his son. He is unaware that this is one of many tests instigated by the gods. In the end, pleased by his virtue, the gods restore his glory. This theme of integrity, especially in relation to rulers, is one that permeates epic Hindu tales of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.

This work emphasizes the truly global nature of South Asian art today: Ganesh is of Indian heritage but was born and raised in Brooklyn, where she lives today. She works in a variety of media—including drawing, illustration, installation, and digital collage—and is best known for her oversized digital prints that use the language of India’s comic books to confront contemporary themes, especially female sexuality and power. In this piece, Ganesh references South Asian popular culture, religious art, and classic film, imbuing the scene with dynamic new meanings while questioning age-old tales of gods and goddesses.