Boasting one of the finest collections of South Asian art in the United States, the Galleries of Indian and Himalayan Art have as their centerpiece the spectacular Pillared Temple Hall (16th century) from Southern India. This veritable forest of granite blocks, carved with huge figures and scenes from Hindu mythology, is the only Indian stone architecture standing in the United States. Individual masterpieces of temple sculpture in the Museum's collection include the jolly elephant-headed god Ganesha dancing and the dynamic goddess Durga destroying the buffalo demon (both 8th century).
While particularly strong in sculpture from the great temples of India, the diverse holdings offer a comprehensive view of South Asian art, including paintings and sculptures from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Nepal and Tibet; an important group of textiles; and a variety of decorative and "folk" arts. Many of the works on view in the Galleries of Indian Art are from the collection of the eminent scholar Dr. Stella Kramrisch, who served as Curator and Curator Emeritus for Indian Art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art from 1954 until her death in 1993.
The William P. Wood Gallery houses changing installations of 16th- through 20th-century art, particularly "miniature" paintings such as The Birth of Karttikeya (19th century). Recent installations have included Epics from the Hills: Pahari Paintings of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, 1750-1850 (1997-8), and Threads of Cotton, Threads of Brass: Arts of Eastern India from the Stella Kramrisch Collection (1998-9). A new gallery devoted to Himalayan art displays works from the countries of Nepal and Tibet, including Buddhist hanging paintings, metal images of Buddhist and Hindu deities, and ceremonial implements. In 1998, the Museum acquired the monumental Face of Bhairava (16th century), a gilded, grinning image of the fierce but beloved god from Nepal-a powerful destroyer of evil and giver of blessed beer.
Major exhibitions presented by the Department of Indian Art over recent decades include Manifestations of Shiva (1981), and Painted Delight: Indian Paintings from Philadelphia Collections (1986). In 1997, the Museum's Department of Prints, Drawings and Photographs and the Aperture Foundation organized India: A Celebration of Independence (1997), an exhibition of some 250 photographs.