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In what may seem an unlikely place to house some of the most remarkable South Asian art, the Cleveland Museum of Art is a must-visit for anyone looking to have a wonderfully curated and immersive experience. Located downtown, near Little Italy, surrounded by museums, botanical gardens, and lovely parks, the art museum stands proud and welcoming to visitors.

Free to all, one would truly be missing out if they didn’t explore the galleries they offer here and, especially, the exhibits on rotation. For example, this summer, the museum is showing A Splendid Land: Paintings from Royal Udaipur, a sense-invoking, rotating display located in the heart of the museum, thanks to the generosity of the Smithsonian for helping curate this magical experience.

In the kingdom of Mewar, located in the city of Udaipur in Rajasthan, the ruler was called Maharana, meaning “great king.” This royal family practiced Hindu traditions, and their surname, Singh, means “lion.”

Upon entering the space, you will find yourself staring at a screen that shows a palace on a lake – something the royal family created not to keep people out, but to welcome them to their kingdom. This sets the scene for the museum visitor to step into history, and be a part of the journey of the Maharanas of Mewar.

After seeing the screen, you will move into the city palace. Quite literally, the first section of the exhibit shows the intricacies of what palace life was like. A complete sensory experience, you hear the sounds of Udaipur inside the palace walls. Rowing oars, bustling people, and more, the soundscape truly allows the visitors to immerse themselves in history. Amit Dutta, an Indian filmmaker and artist known for his aesthetic theories and use of symbolism, is the creative force behind this auditory experience.
Once you experience palace life, including card games, dancing, watching wrestlers, and celebrating Holi, you follow a Maharana on horseback into the next room. The soundscape is suddenly different, as you will see that you are now outside the palace walls and into nature. Here, even the flooring changes from wood to carpet so that you feel as though you’re outside. A photograph on the wall depicts the landscape this family had to navigate, helping you imagine what hunting campaigns may have been like.

Perhaps the most exciting and intricate part of this exhibit is the center of it, where the paintings depict the monsoon season. Curator of Indian and Southeast Asian art Sonya Rhie Mace shared that this season was considered the most important and intimate for the people of Udaipur, as the rains would not allow men to leave the palace on long campaigns. Thus, the monsoon atmosphere would induce a season of love. In this gallery space, we see depictions of couplings and Manmatha (somewhat equivalent to Cupid) together enjoying this time of passion. The soundscape here is of heavy rainfall, which makes you feel like you are in the palace during a monsoon.

Other paintings in the space illustrate the piety of the Maharanas to celestial beings. There are two large tapestries that show the heavens and earth together and where Udaipur stands in relation to heaven and the celestial body of Krishna, whose body encompasses one of the tapestries to illustrate where people fall and where cities are located. Here, Udaipur is mapped out against the bodies of worshiped beings, evoking a sense of piety as well as recognizing perhaps the roles of the people of Udaipur in this world.

All in all, this gallery really is as splendid as its name claims. The information is easily digestible and fun to read about, the art is stunning and tells a story in each painting, and the immersive experience with the soundscape creates a very special space. For visitors who aren’t familiar with this history, or South Asian art, this gallery allows them to enjoy and learn in a fun and informative way. Those who are familiar can immerse themselves in this beautiful layout of history, perhaps even learning more because of the information given, it’s a wonderful experience for all. Thanks to the generosity of the City Palace Museum in Udaipur, who lent these pieces to Cleveland, and the Smithsonian who curated this exhibit, it was truly a privilege to view the art of the Maharanas of Mewar.


Talia Dave is a senior at Kalamazoo College in Michigan. She studies Anthropology, Sociology, and Religion, and recently completed her thesis, titled "Monstrous, Sensual, and Unapologetic: Shurpanakha and Lilith, the Villainesses of Cautionary Tales." Talia's work on this project has allowed her to expand her knowledge of South Asian art and awareness of how it is presented. She visited and reviewed the Cleveland Museum of Art and the University of Michigan Museum of Art. 

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