Water Histories of South Asia: The Materiality of Liquescence, 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

Water Histories of South Asia

The Materiality of Liquescence, 1st Edition

Edited by Sugata Ray, Venugopal Maddipati

Routledge India

316 pages | 110 B/W Illus.

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This book surveys the intersections between water systems and the phenomenology of visual cultures in early modern, colonial and contemporary South Asia. Bringing together contributions by eminent artists, architects, curators and scholars who explore the connections between the environmental and the cultural, the volume situates water in an expansive relational domain. It covers disciplines as diverse as literary studies, environmental humanities, sustainable design, urban planning and media studies. The chapters explore the ways in which material cultures of water generate technological and aesthetic acts of envisioning geographies, and make an intervention within political, social and cultural discourses. A critical interjection in the sociologies of water in the subcontinent, the book brings art history into conversation with current debates on climate change by examining water’s artistic, architectural, engineering, religious, scientific and environmental facets from the 16th century to the present.

This is one of the first books on South Asia’s art, architecture and visual history to interweave the ecological with the aesthetic under the emerging field of eco art history. The volume will be of interest to scholars and general readers of art history, Islamic studies, South Asian studies, urban studies, architecture, geography, history and environmental studies. It will also appeal to activists, curators, art critics and those interested in water management.


‘This eclectic collection of essays attempts to capture an ineffable quality of waterscapes: that they shape imaginations and actions in ways both fluid and enduring. At a time when the challenge of climate change calls for creative cultural politics, this exploration of ways of seeing and being is all the more valuable.’

Amita Baviskar, Professor of Sociology, Institute of Economic Growth, Delhi, India

Table of Contents

List of Plates

List of Tables

List of Contributors

Foreword by Monica Juneja


1. Introduction: The Materiality of Liquescence, Sugata Ray and Venugopal Maddipati

PART I. Vision and Space, ca. 1500–1750

2. The Shape of Babur’s Lake: Architecture and Water in the Central Indian Frontier, Tamara I. Sears

3. Water is a Limited Commodity: Ecological Aesthetics in the Little Ice Age, Mathura, ca. 1614, Sugata Ray

4. Lakes Within Lake-Palaces: A Material History of Pleasure in 18th-Century India, Dipti Khera

PART II. Surface and Depth, ca. 1750–1950

5. Photos of the Ocean: Pearl Fisheries, British Colonialism and the Gulf of Manaar, Natasha Eaton

6. Deep Time as Intimate Stranger: The Age of Water in the Religious Imagination at Girar, 1855, Venugopal Maddipati

7. From Nallah to Nadi, Stream to Sewer to Stream: Urban Waterscape Research in India and the United States, James L. Wescoat Jr.

PART III. Materiality and Infrastructure, ca. 1950–2015

8. Water: Its Meanings and Powers in the Indian Sufi Tradition, Catherine B. Asher

9. Developmental Aesthetics: Modernism’s Ocular Economies and Laconic Discontents in the Era of Nehruvian Technocracy, Atreyee Gupta

10. A Critical Look into the Existing Practice of Water Governance in Cities: The Case of Chandernagore, Gopa Samanta and Malay Ganguli

11. Making Water Media in 21st-Century South Asia, Bishnupriya Ghosh

PART IV. Mediations

12. The Religious and Affective Actualities of the Yamuna: Conversations with Pandit Premchand Sharma, Nigambodh Ghat, Delhi, Padma D. Maitland

13. From Bundi to Delhi: Water Harnessing Systems in Semiarid Regions, Asim Waqif

14. You Always Step into the Same River! Atul Bhalla

PART V. Afterthoughts

15. Cosmographia Universalis: Environmental Crisis and the Water Aesthetics of Global South Asia, Partha Mitter


About the Editors

Sugata Ray is Associate Professor in the History of Art Department at the University of California, Berkeley, USA. His research focuses on the intersections among early modern and colonial artistic cultures, transterritorial ecologies and the natural environment. His publications include Climate Change and the Art of Devotion: Geoaesthetics in the Land of Krishna, 1550–1850 (2019); Ecologies, Aesthetics and Histories of Art (coedited, 2019); and essays in journals such as The Art Bulletin, Art History and South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies.

Venugopal Maddipati is Assistant Professor in the School of Design at Ambedkar University Delhi, India. His research focuses on geological thinking, architectural history and ecological histories. His publications include Gandhi and Architecture Against History: The Contemporaneity of Low-Cost Housing (forthcoming) and essays in journals and books, such as South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies; Sarai Reader 09; Simon Starling/Superflex: Reprototypes, Triangulations and Road Tests; and LA, Journal of Landscape Architecture.

About the Series

Visual and Media Histories

This series takes as its starting point notions of the visual, and of vision, as central in producing meanings, maintaining aesthetic values, and relations of power. Through individual studies, it hopes to chart the trajectories of the visual as an activating principle of history. An important premise here is the conviction that the making, theorising, and historicising of images do not exist in exclusive distinction of one another.

Opening up the field of vision as an arena in which meanings get constituted simultaneously anchors vision to other media such as audio, spatial, and the dynamics of spectatorship. It calls for closer attention to inter-textual and inter-pictorial relationships through which ever-accruing layers of readings and responses are brought alive.

Through its regional focus on South Asia the series locates itself within a prolific field of writing on non-Western cultures, which have opened the way to pluralise iconographies, and to perceive temporalities as scrambled and palimpsestic. These studies, it is hoped, will continue to reframe debates and conceptual categories in visual histories. The importance attached here to investigating the historical dimensions of visual practice implies close attention to specific local contexts which intersect and negotiate with the global, and can re-constitute it. Examining the ways in which different media are to be read into and through one another would extend the thematic range of the subjects to be addressed by the series to include those which cross the boundaries that once separated the privileged subjects of art historical scholarship from the popular – sculpture, painting, and monumental architecture – from other media: studies of film, photography, and prints, on the one hand; advertising, television, posters, calendars, comics, buildings, and cityscapes on the other.

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
ARCHITECTURE / History / General
ART / History / General
NATURE / Environmental Conservation & Protection
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Ethnic Studies / General
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Regional Studies