Nachiket Chanchani

Nachiket Chanchani


  • Email:
  • Phone: 734.647.1520
  • Office: 855 South University Avenue, 70D Tappan Hall, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1357
  • Ph.D. 2012, University of Pennsylvania

Research Interests


  • South Asian and Himalayan art, architecture, and visual culture


Research Description

My interests span many mediums, regions, and time-periods.

Currently, I am immersed in a book-length study that seeks to explicate how a remote mountainous landscape around the glacial sources of the Ganga River in the Central Himalayas in Northern India was transformed into a region encoded with deep meaning and one approached by millions of Hindus as a primary locus of pilgrimage. From approximately the third century BCE up to the thirteenth century CE, scores of stone edifices and steles were erected in this landscape. Primarily spanning this epoch, my book project explores how—through their forms, locations, and interactions with the natural environment and with processes occurring within the context of social and political life—these lithic ensembles evoked mythic worlds, embedded historical memories in the topography, changed the mountain range's appearance, and shifted its total semiotic effect. My publications in this broad arena include "Pandukeshwar, Architectural Knowledge, and an Idea of India" and "On the Task of Identifying New Archives" in Ars Orientalis 45, "Lead, Kindly Light: A Preliminary Study of a Sculpture of a Lamp Bearer from the Jageshwar Valley," in Prasada Nidhi: Essays in Honor of M.A. Dhaky (2015), and "Revelation in Rock: Thal" in Art, Icon, and Architecture in South Asia: Essays in Honor of Devangana Desai (2015), "From Asoda to Almora: Maru-Gurjara Architecture in the Central Himalayas" in Arts Asiatiques 69 (2014), "The Jageshwar Valley, Where Death is Conquered" in Archives of Asian Art 63.2 (2013), and a translation of an essay by M.A. Dhaky and P.O. Sompura (from Sanskrit and Gujarati with Deven M. Patel) in Art in Translation 2.1 (2010). Finally, Ars Orientalis 45 (2015), which I am jointly guest editing, considers the transmission of architectural knowledge in medieval South Asia; this theme nicely complements the subject that is the focus of my book project.

Concurrently, I am continuing to theorize strategies to account for the production, dissemination, and performance of the linguistically hybrid and profusely painted scrolls and manuscripts of pre-Mughal western India. The centerpiece of this study is a recension of the Vasanta Vilasa, copied on an eleven-meter long cloth scroll in the Sultanate city of Ahmedabad in 1451. My publications on this subject include "Cultural Cache" in Jaina Painting and Manuscript Culture (2015), "Telling Tales: The Freer Vasanta Vilasa" in Artibus Asiae 72.1 (2012), and a translation of an essay by Sarabhai M. Nawab (from Gujarati with Babu Suthar) in Art in Translation 2.3 (2010).

I remain interested in tracing the shadow of traditional Indian art, modern collections and the scholarship on them on the creative works of avant-garde Euro-American artists. Essays include "The Camera Work of Ananda Coomaraswamy and Alfred Stieglitz," History of Photography 37.2 (2013) and "Some Reflections on Art Writing and Translation in Colonial India," in Art in Translation 2.2 (2010).

Lately, I have been fascinated by the formulation of cultural policy in contemporary South Asia. Recent writings in this area include two essays published on the main editorial pages of The Hindu, India's widely respected newspaper. One essay, "'Monuments Men' Needed in Nepal" was published on May 06, 2015; another, "Leaving No Stone Unturned" was published on August 17, 2013.

My research has been supported by fellowships from the Asian Cultural Council, New York; Akshara Foundation, Ahmedabad; Nehru Trust at Victoria and Albert Museum, London; Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC; the Jan Gonda Foundation at the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, Amsterdam and other organizations. In the past, I have also been involved with curatorial projects at the Smithsonian's Freer and Sackler Galleries, Philadelphia Museum of Art, and Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

At the University of Michigan, I teach courses on diverse topics. My gateway courses include "Home the World: Introduction to South Asian Art" and "Art of Yoga." I also teach undergraduate and graduate seminars on Himalayan aesthetics, Sanskrit poetry and literati painting, and on the theory and practice of Indian temple architecture and sculpture. I welcome inquiries from prospective students interested in pursuing higher studies in the history of South Asian and Himalayan art, architecture, and visual culture.