Program for Festival of India -- two-year feast of Indian culture

Festival of India in the United States 1985-1986, foreword by Pupul Jayakar. New York: Harry N. Abrams Inc. 240 pp. $35. ``In India, Earth is the realm of the gods.''

So writes Milo C. Beach of the Smithsonian's Center for Asian Art in his entry in this sumptuous volume marking the Festival of India. His chapter, ``The Arts of South Asia,'' is one of 39 devoted to the exhibits that make up the current two-year feast of Indian culture that museum- and gallery-goers can revel in throughout the United States.

The goddess Durga's perpetual battle with the forces of evil is mirrored in the fascinating juxtaposition of supreme loveliness and abject misery that one encounters in India at every hand. To Westerners, India may represent the ultimate in exotica -- and on closer inspection, it does not disappoint. But what is most rewarding about India is the subtly acute intelligence, the sophistication, the creativity -- not of its gods, but of its people. This book is essentially a program of all the exhibits that

make up the Festival of India. It is also a wonderfully pleasurable way to discover just how ignorant we are of Indian culture.

How many Westerners, for instance, know that Fatehpur-Sikri, 24 miles west of Agra, was the site of Emperor Jalal-ad-Din Akbar's thriving artistic capital from 1571 to 1585? Whether or not we ever visit what remains of this classic jewel of Mogul architecture, or even make it to the Asia Society Galleries in New York, where this particular exhibit is on view, the evocative color plates and black-and-white photographs in this book will give us a sense of Fatehpur-Sikri's magnificence.

The entries allot as much space to photos as to text: usually from two to three pages for each. Some of the more esoteric explanations are heavy going; the one about Vistara, for example, entitled ``The Architecture of India,'' tells lay readers more about Mandala, Manusha, and Manthana than they might care to know. Yet it contains some of the book's most compelling photographs.

``Painted Delight,'' ``Jews of India,'' ``The Printed Book in India,'' ``The Master Weavers,'' ``Court Costumes of India,'' ``Monumental Islamic Calligraphy from India'' -- the variety of the exhibits seems endless.

Toward the back of the book are entries relating to the contemporary arts. Unfortunately, the delicacy and dignity of the works in more classical exhibits seem to have lapsed a bit here. The colors look garish, and some of the examples of modern art lack grace.

Whether or not this is symptomatic of a stagnation in Indian art today can probably be debated. But the real attraction of this book -- and surely of the Festival of India itself -- lies in its introducing us to some of the finest examples of what is immortal in Indian culture and art.

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