Water Histories of South Asia : The Materiality of Liquescence book cover
1st Edition

Water Histories of South Asia
The Materiality of Liquescence

ISBN 9781138285316
Published June 20, 2019 by Routledge India
332 Pages 110 B/W Illustrations

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Book Description

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.

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


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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.


‘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

"This beautifully produced volume, printed on fine glossy paper, is a joy to hold and read. Ray (Univ. of California, Berkeley) and Maddipati (Ambedkar University Delhi, India) have put together a luxurious book of 14 chapters and 122 plates, in both black and white and color, to explore the material culture of water in oceans, dams, rivers, and lakes, from antiquity to the present.This is a wonderful contribution by Routledge and the contributors."

--R. D. Long, Eastern Michigan University, CHOICE, January 2020 Vol. 57 No. 5