Book presentation

Roundtable and Book Forum with Vidya Dehejia

Part of the interdisciplinary conference organized by Subhashini Kaligotla (History of Art, Yale) and Hannah Baader (KHI) on premodern temple cultures in and around South Asia. Please note: the times indicated refer to EST (Eastern Standard Time, GMT -5).

This inaugural event celebrates the release of Prof Dehejia’s book The Thief Who Stole My Heart: The Material Life of Sacred Bronzes from Chola India, 855–1280 (Princeton, 2021), drawn from her Andrew Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts at the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC (2016). The roundtable discussion will see Daud Ali, Nachiket Chanchani, and Sugata Ray in conversation with the author on the book’s contribution to the study of temple cultures in premodern worlds.

About the book: From the 9th through the 13th century, the Chola dynasty of southern India produced thousands of statues of Hindu deities, whose physical perfection was meant to reflect spiritual beauty and divine transcendence. During festivals, these bronze sculptures—including Shiva, referred to in a saintly vision as “the thief who stole my heart”—were adorned with jewels and flowers and paraded through towns as active participants in Chola worship. In this richly illustrated book, leading art historian Vidya Dehejia introduces the bronzes within the full context of Chola history, culture, and religion. In doing so, she brings the bronzes and Chola society to life before our very eyes. Dehejia presents the bronzes as material objects that interacted in meaningful ways with the people and practices of their era. Describing the role of the statues in everyday activities, she reveals not only the importance of the bronzes for the empire, but also little-known facets of Chola life. She considers the source of the copper and jewels used for the deities, proposing that the need for such resources may have influenced the Chola Empire’s political engagement with Sri Lanka. She also investigates the role of women patrons in bronze commissions and discusses the vast public records, many appearing here in translation for the first time, inscribed on temple walls. Vidya Dehejia is the Barbara Stoler Miller Professor of Indian and South Asian Art at Columbia University. She is the author of many books, catalogues, and essays on the cultural and intellectual history of India. In the course of her career, she has combined research with teaching and exhibition-related activities around the world. For her exceptional contributions to art and education, she was awarded the Padma Bhushan Award by the Indian Government in 2012.

This event is part of Temple Cultures & Premodern Worlds across South Asia and the Indian Ocean, an inter-disciplinary conference presenting new research on Brahmanical, Buddhist, Islamic, and Jain built spaces as well as their intersections and interstices—in South and Southeast Asia. With a focus on the premodern period, papers conceive of “temple” in the broadest possible terms, to encompass basadi, chaitya, masjid, and prasada. The range of themes include: issues of temple spaces as material and cultural palimpsests, cross-fertilizations across architectural and cosmological models, problems of access to temple spaces, the role of esoteric religious practices in activating temple environments, the imaginative resources of temple sculptors, temple rituals and ritual objects, access to food, shelter, and even alcohol in quotidian temple life, and the long-distance land and maritime networks that sustained temples. In addressing these dimensions, scholars reanalyze current categories for understanding temple cultures, reassess the state of the field, and indicate developing fields of inquiry.

Part I of the conference will take place Wednesday, September 1 to Friday, September 3. Further details are available on the event page.

Part II of the conference will take place Wednesday, September 15 to Friday, September 17. Further details are available on the event page.

Please note: the times indicated refer to EST (Eastern Standard Time, GMT -5).  

The event is supported by the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz – Max-Planck-Institute and the Yale Macmillan Center South Asian Studies Council.

The conference is open to the public upon previous registration. For more information and to register, please visit the conference website or contact Lara Scaiola (Research Assistant) at



Yale Macmillan Center South Asian Studies Council

01 September 2021, 9:30am

Online conference.

Please find the registration form here.

Further information


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