Working in and with India


The V&A’s South Asian collection has its origins in the India Museum, founded by the East India Company in 1799. The Museum’s collection was dispersed in 1879 and much of it, notably textiles and decorative arts, came to the South Kensington Museum, later renamed the V&A. The South Kensington Museum had also been acquiring Indian art since its inception, and these two collections, combined with acquisitions that continue to the present day, have made the V&A one of the world’s most significant museums for the study of art and design from South Asia.

The V&A is particularly renowned for its Mughal court arts, paintings and textiles. Highlights from the collection are in the Nehru Gallery. Sculptures and other artefacts belonging to the Hindu, Jain and Buddhist traditions are shown in the adjacent galleries (47 A and 47B). The first phase of the new Robert H.N.Ho Family Foundation Galleries of Buddhist Art opened to the public on 3 August 2015. Devoted to images of the Buddha Shakyamuni from India, Southeast Asia, and China, it traces the spread of Buddhism and its arts from its Indian homeland.

The Indian reserve collections can be viewed by appointment. Paintings are in the South and South-East Asia Study Room on the V&A site; textiles from the reserve collection can be seen at the Clothworkers’ Centre, Blythe Road. Other material, including metalwork, arms and armour, furniture and hardstones from India are also at Blythe House and available for study by appointment. Images of the collection are regularly added to the V&A’s Search the Collections database.


At the V&A

V&A India Festival 2015
Autumn 2015 was the 25th anniversary of both the opening of the Nehru Gallery and the launch of the Nehru Trust for the Indian Collections. The anniversary has been marked by a season of exhibitions and events. The headline exhibitions, The Fabric of India and Bejewelled Treasures: the Al Thani Collection, were given the Chairman’s special award at the inaugural annual Eastern Eye Awards for Culture, Theatre and the Arts at the South Bank Centre ceremony held on 22 May 2016.

The season included the following exhibitions and events:

Captain Linnaeus Tripe: Photographer of India and Burma, 1854-1860
(Curator: Martin Barnes; Gallery 38a; 24 June – 11 October 2015)
The exhibition featured some of the earliest and most stunning views of the landscape and architecture of South India and Burma, by a pioneering British photographer. This exhibition was a collaboration between the V&A, who acquired Tripe’s works in the 1860s, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York and the National Gallery of Art, Washington.

The Fabric of India
(Curators: Rosemary Crill and Divia Patel; Research Assistant: Avalon Fotheringham; Gallery 39 and North Court; 3 October 2015 – 10 January 2016)

This highlight of the India Festival was the most wide-ranging and visually exciting exhibition of South Asian textiles ever mounted. It featured around 250 objects ranging from the 3rd century to the present day, illustrating the skills, variety and adaptability of Indian textile makers, and including previously unseen treasures. This show was supported by Good Earth, Experion and Nirav Modi.

The exhibition received 110,165 visitors and the accompanying publication sold-out its first two print runs with a total of 12,575 copies and a third print-run is underway. The two day conference in collaboration with the Courtauld Institute was fully booked. Specially commissioned films showing textile making processes proved immensely popular within the exhibition itself, while the total viewing figures for the films online is currently 658,821 views.

The associated programme for children and families was also exceptionally successful.

Bejewelled Treasures: The Al Thani Collection
(Curator: Susan Stronge; Research Assistant: Anna Ferrari; Porter Gallery; 21 November 2015 – 10 April 2016)
Sponsored by Wartski

The exhibition included more than 100 objects drawn from a single private collection, and three additional major loans from the Royal Collection Trust. It explored the broad theme of jewelled objects made in India or inspired by the arts of India.

Bejewelled Treasures: the Al Thani Collection was seen by more than 88,300 visitors, and the accompanying publication was reprinted during the run of the exhibition. The three films commissioned by the V&A to show traditional Indian jewellery techniques and diamond polishing, and an interview with the contemporary Mumbai-based designer Viren Bhagat whose work featured in the exhibition, are now online. Bejewelled Treasures received extensive national and international media coverage, and lectures were given by the curator and by the V&A’s Senior Metals Conservator, Joanna Whalley, to specialist and non-specialist audiences.

Displays and digital initiatives explored the rich and varied culture of South Asia, both past and present, including:

  • The Tales We Tell: Indian Warli Painting (14 November 2015 – 1 January 2017): Developed in collaboration with A FINE LINE and supported by The Helen Hamlyn Trust, this display at the V&A Museum of Childhood showcases Warli painting, a tribal art form originating from the Thane region, north of Mumbai. A display of contemporary Warli paintings by Jivya Soma Mashe, Ramesh Hengadi and others traces the evolution of this art. An installation created through a pictorial exchange between school children in Tower Hamlets and children from Dahanu Thane is also on view. Warli artists from Thane were in residence at the Museum of Childhood from 19 March – 19 April 2016 to extend the visual dialogue, working with children from local schools.
  • When Soak Becomes Spill (24 October 2015 – 31 January 2016): A major public sculpture on Exhibition Road by renowned Indian artist Subodh Gupta.
  • The Art of Indian Story Telling (11 August 2015 – 24 January 2016): A display on the National Art Library Landing.
  • Kalpataru: The Wishing Tree (9 November 2015 – 6 January 2016): An installation in the Main Entrance by Delhi-based designers Sahil Bagga & Sarthak Sengupta of handcrafted beaten brass and paintings by artists from Kerala.
  • Musical Wonders: A website, created in partnership with Darbar, a South Asian classical music organisation, of 19th-century musical instruments from the V&A's collection juxtaposed with footage of leading contemporary musicians playing similar instruments of more modern date, enriched by interviews with the musicians and other experts. The digital project is accompanied by a display of a number of the V&A’s 19th century instruments in the Nehru Gallery. The project was launched on 16 September 2015 with a symposium and performances, including that by maestro Ustad Bahauddin Dagar who played one of the restored and re-strung V&A instruments. The project is supported by The Helen Hamlyn Trust. You can find more information on the project website.

Exhibitions at the V&A in the recent past are:

  • MF Husain: Master of Modern Indian Painting (May – July 2014): It showcased the final nine paintings by Husain (1915-2011) which together formed Indian Civilization, a series of monumental triptych paintings which represented the artist’s vision of the richness of Indian culture and history. This display was supported by Mrs Usha Mittal and Christie’s.
  • Rabindranath Tagore: Poet and Painter (December 2011 – March 2012): A display of 49 paintings of Tagore, organised by the National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi.
  • Maharaja: The Splendour of India’s Royal Courts (October 2009 – January 2010): Sponsored by Ernst & Young, the exhibition was presented at the V&A and then in Munich in early 2010. It greatly benefited from an unprecedented number of loans from Indian private and public collections, facilitated by the Indian Ministry of Culture and the National Museum of India.

In India

  • Kalighat Paintings (2011 – 2012): Opening at the Victoria Memorial Hall, Kolkata, it attracted 7,000 visitors on its first day alone. After touring to CSMVS in Mumbai and the Salar Jung Museum, Hyderabad, the exhibition closed at the National Gallery of Modern Art in New Delhi. The exhibition was seen by over 400,000 visitors in total.
  • A Century of Olympic Posters (January – March 2011): This exhibition was shown at the Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum (Mumbai), where it attracted over 27,200 visitors.
  • Contemporary Photography: Something That I’ll Never Really See (2010 – 2011): The exhibition was presented at the Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum (Mumbai), the National Gallery of Modern Art (Bangalore and Delhi), and the Salar Jung Museum (Hyderabad). The tour attracted over 156,000 visitors.
  • Indian Life and Landscape (2008 – 2010): This exhibition was shown in six Indian museums: Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS; formerly the Prince of Wales Museum), Mumbai; Mehrangarh Museum Trust, Jodhpur; National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi; Victoria Memorial Hall, Kolkata; Salar Jung Museum, Hyderabad and the National Gallery of Modern Art, Bangalore. The first international exhibition to tour India, it was seen by over 500,000 people.

Touring V&A Exhibitions Elsewhere

The rich V&A India collection has been of appeal to audiences across the globe. Major touring exhibitions have included:

  • The Splendour of India's Royal Courts, which was drawn solely from the V&A's collection, was staged at the Palace Museum, Beijing from April to July 2013. The exhibition drew over 202,800 visitors.
  • A re-cast version of Maharaja: The Splendour of India’s Royal Courts, toured North America from November 2010 to February 2013. The tour attracted over 609,700 visitors.
  • India: The Art of the Temple, an exhibition presented by the Shanghai Museum and the British Museum with the collaboration of the V&A, toured to the Shanghai Museum from August to November 2010 and attracted 682,900 visitors.


The V&A has leant six objects to a major exhibition held at the National Museum in New Delhi, entitled The Everlasting Flame: Zoroastrianism in history and imagination. The exhibition featured over 300 objects exploring the cultural history of Zoroastrianism. This exhibition was sponsored by the Government of India's Ministry for Minority Affairs and is open from 19 March until 31 May 2016.


V&A India Festival 2015
The India Season included a lively programme of events and activities for adults, children, and families and tied in particularly with the Digital Design Weekend (which coincided with the London Design Festival) and the Diwali celebrations. The Autumn Half Term Family programme included events themed around Diwali and programmes developed with input from local Jain partners (24 October – 1 November 2015).

For adults

  • The V&A Asian Art year course includes a module on South Asia. A short course on textiles and jewellery, with V&A curators and conservators among the speakers, coincides with the India Festival. V&A curators contribute to the SOAS Diploma in Asian Art, which draws heavily on museum collections.
  • Arts of South and Southeast Asia, and the Islamic Middle East Year Courses will started in September 2016.
  • The annual Benjamin Zucker lecture on Mughal Art, on 10 November 2016, ‘Indian Jewellery and the Portuguese during the rise of the Mughal Empire’ was by Dr Hugo Miguel Crespo of the University of Lisbon. It is a component of Asian Art in London, the annual event that unites leading Asian dealers, auction houses, and museums.
  • From January to July 2016, the V&A hosted four lectures by distinguished Indian scholars, in honour of Robert Skelton, former Keeper of the Indian Department. The Lecture Series was supported by the Helen Hamlyn Trust:
    - 12 January 2016, 19.00-20.30: Dr B.N. Goswamy, ‘Matter of Detail: Indian Painting Seen From Up Close’
    - 15 March 2016, 19.00-20.30: Rajkumar Martand Singh in Conversation with Robert Skelton
    - 17 May 2016, 19.00-20.30: Dr Naman Ahuja, ‘Eroticism and Mood: Terracottas and Ivories from Ancient India’
    19 July 2016, 19.00-20.30: Dr Kavita Singh: ‘The Making of Indian Collections’
  • On 1 March 2016, the world premiere of Sarah Singh’s film, A Million Rivers, took place in the Lecture Theatre. Sarah Singh answered questions after the film had been shown to an audience including one of the stars of the film, Lillete Dubey.
  • The V&A ran a series of events linked with the Bejewelled Treasures: The Al Thani Collection exhibition (21 November 2015 – 10 April 2016), including:
    - A lunchtime lecture on 3 February 2016 with Susan Stronge (Senior Curator, Asian Department) on the exhibition.
    - An evening talk on 9 February 2016 with Francesca Cartier Brickell on Cartier: The Inspiration Behind the Innovation which included reference to the Al Thani jewels.
  • The annual Benjamin Zucker lecture on Mughal Art on 12 November 2015 was by Dr Yael Rice of Amherst College, USA: ‘Lines of Perception: European Prints and the Mughal Workshop’. This was a component of Asian Art in London, the annual event that unites leading Asian dealers, auction houses, and museums. The V&A staged other small events and talks during the week.

For families

  • The ‘Emperor’s Party’ backpack for the South Asia gallery continues to be available from the Learning Centre every day and from the Mobile Resource Unit at weekends.
  • During the Easter Holidays programme the Imagination Station activity South Asia was one of the suggested galleries to visit to source inspiration for a Spring-themed set design activity. Families explored floral designs in textiles, illustrations and jewellery for example. (4159 participants)
  • In April’s Drop-in Design: ‘Parade of the Animals’ activity families explored several animal themed objects in the collection, including Tipu’s Tiger, for design ideas for animal costumes.
  • In July 2016 there was a Ram Gopal weekend event, ‘Parade of the Animals’, which included a Drop-in Design costume design activity

For schools

Two new Teachers’ Resources link to the permanent collection and the Fabric of India exhibition. Students can learn about: fabric, colour, embellishment techniques, identity, symbols, meaning, pattern, style, handcrafted luxury and contemporary textile designs. This resource allows students to make links between historical and contemporary textiles through materials, techniques and design using the V&A’s collections. This resource has been designed for Key Stages 4–5: Art & Design, Design & Technology.

Led sessions on offer to schools include:

  • V&A Voyage
    KS 1&2
    Explore clothes, religious objects and artefacts from Japan, India, China and the Islamic Middle East.
  • Investigating Pattern
    KS 2
    Discover incredible patterns from around the world, including the Islamic Middle East and South Asia.
  • Literacy Live
    KS 1&2
    Work with a professional performer who will help your pupils develop confidence in creating and performing. A lively and engaging session bringing objects and galleries to life.
  • Pop Up Stories
    KS 1&2
    Develop literacy skills through uncovering exciting stories hiding in objects an use these as starting points to create a pop-up book.
  • SEND session (Tipu’s Tiger)
    Multi-sensory and interactive session for student with special educational need and disability, based around star objects in the collection.

DesignLab: Engineering the World: Year 7 students from Central Foundation Girls School in Bow worked together with sound engineers from Arup to develop soundscapes for the Nehru gallery, which would enhance the visitor experience. Students visited the Engineering the World exhibition and in particular the Arup SoundLab to develop their understanding and awareness of how sound plays a major part in public spaces and can enhance visitor experience. Taking key objects from the gallery such as Tipu’s Tiger, the students worked together to developed a subtle but interesting soundscape to compliment some of the storytelling in the gallery. The final Soundscapes were played on 7 July as members of the public enjoyed their visit.

Digital Programmes: The V&A Digital Programmes Manager travelled to Ahmedabad in May 2016 as part of the UnBox Caravan to develop collaborations with UK and Indian artists and designers which the V&A hopes to host at the Digital Design Festival in 2017. Working with students from the National Institute of Design, and researchers and designers from University of Dundee, Mozilla Foundation, Invisible Flock and Quicksand, themes around traditional making practices, civic sustainability and collaborative design were explored. At London Design Festival in September 2016 we displayed a small selection of prototypes from the trip as part of the Open IoT Design Sprint.


A film focusing on the South East Asian art collection has been made for the new dedicated V&A channel on British Airways in-flight entertainment system.

On April 7th 2016 Susan Stronge took part in BBC Radio 4’s In Our Time programme, The Sikh Empire, and was interviewed about Tipu’s Tiger for ‘Tiger’, a programme in BBC Radio 4’s Natural Histories series, broadcast on 6 September 2016.


Institutional Collaboration

  • The V&A hosts Indian scholars via the Nehru Trust for the Indian Collections at the V&A and the Jain Art Fund every year. The Trust, administered by the V&A, awards grants to Indian museum curators, conservators and scholars to come to UK for training and research for up to three months, and also provides travel grants for UK-based scholars to use during study trips to India.
  • The Museum has been working closely with the Salar Jung Museum in Hyderabad as well as other institutions such as the Calico Museum of Textiles, Ahmadabad, the Mehrangarh Museum Trust, Jodhpur, the Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum, Mumbai, the CSMVS, Mumbai, and the TAPI Collection of Textiles in Surat.
  • The V&A collaborates with several UK-based South Asian cultural organisations, including the Nehru Centre (the cultural wing of the Indian High Commission), the Institute of Jainology, the Pandit Ram Sahai Sangit Vidyalaya (PRSSV) Foundation, the UK Punjab Historical Association, the Anglo-Sikh Heritage Trail and the South Asian musical organisation Darbar, amongst many others.
  • In partnership with the National Institute of Design (NID), Ahmedabad, the V&A ran a pilot course for Indian museum professionals on Museum Design in Kolkota in 2011. A V&A conservation workshop at NID, funded by the Parasol Foundation Trust, focused on the development of a conservation strategy for NID’s furniture collection.
  • The V&A also hosted a one month training programme in the UK for a graphic designer from CSMVS in 2009.

Diplomatic Relationships

  • The Indian High Commissioner, His Excellency Navtej Singh Sarna, has made several visits to V&A exhibitions and galleries since his appointment to London in January 2016.
  • In October 2014, Beth McKillop (Deputy Director, 2010 – 2016) attended a roundtable discussion organised by the British Council and attended by the British Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport in Kolkata and Delhi.


Digitisation of the V&A Indian Collection

  • One of the major outcomes of the MoU with the Ministry of Culture was a collaborative digitisation programme of Indian ‘Company’ paintings in collections in the UK and India. The V&A India Festival 2015 marked the culmination of the next stages of this online cataloguing project, funded by the Parasol Foundation Trust, which resulted in full catalogue entries and new photography of 8,500 paintings, textiles and hardstones being available on the V&A’s Search the Collections database.
  • The Museum is also a partner in the JAINpedia manuscript digitisation project, with an associated display of manuscripts and a series of educational events held at the V&A in 2014.

V&A and Parasol Foundation Trust, Capacity Building Programme
The Parasol Foundation Trust supported a programme of skills development and knowledge sharing including: Museum Development Master Classes held in Kolkata by the V&A in collaboration with the British Council in October 2011; Textile Conservation Workshops run in collaboration with the Sutra organisation in Kolkata in November 2011; work placement for Indian conservators and scholars at the V&A in 2011; a workshop on paper and book conservation, led by two V&A conservators, held at the Salar Jung Museum, Hyderabad in November 2012.

Visitor experience programme
Under the terms of the V&A’s MoU with the Ministry of Culture, India, and with the support of the Parasol Foundation Trust, the V&A ran a course in museum education for Indian museum professionals focusing on the visitor experience. The course was held in June and July in 2012 at the V&A’s Sackler Centre for arts education, focusing on the visitor experience.

Artists’ exchange programme
The V&A Museum of Childhood, in collaboration with Harley Gallery in Nottingham, organised and hosted an international artists’ exchange programme with artists from Ahmedabad and Dhaka, Bangladesh in 2010. The South Asian artists held residencies at the Harley Gallery and the Museum of Childhood in May and June 2010.


The Development Department has longstanding links with Indian contacts. The first Travel with the V&A trips to India were in February 2006, taking a group of supporters to Rajasthan. In January 2012 the Museum organised a trip to Goa and the Deccan for a group of its high level supporters. The V&A has several Indian donors as well as a large group of donors who support the Museum’s South Asian collections.


The V&A is Europe’s leading centre for publications on the arts of India with an active and productive strand of scholarly, exhibition and general titles by the museum’s curators. We have a long tradition of publishing books on Indian subjects, and many books by V&A authors have had Indian co-publishers or Indian editions, including:

  • Rosemary Crill, Steven Cohen, Divia Patel, Fabric of India (V&A Publishing, 2015; Indian edition: Roli Books, 2015)
  • Susan Stronge, Bejewelled Treasures: the Al Thani Collection (V&A Publishing, 2015; Indian edition: Roli Books, 2015)
  • Anna Dallapiccola, Kalamkari Temple Hangings (V&A Publishing/Mapin, 2015) Divia Patel, India Contemporary Design: Fashion, Graphics, Interiors (V&A Publishing/Roli Publications, 2015)
  • Suhashini Sinha (ed.), Kalighat Paintings (V&A Publishing/Mapin, 2012)
  • Eiluned Edwards, Textiles and Dress of Gujarat (V&A Publishing/Mapin, 2011)
  • Christopher Breward, Phillip Crang & R. Crill (eds.), British Asian Style; Fashion and Textiles, Past and Present (V&A Publishing/Mapin, 2010)
  • Rosemary Crill and Kapil Jariwala, The Indian Portrait: 1560-1860 (National Portrait Gallery/Mapin, 2010)
  • Susan Stronge, Made for Mughal Emperors (Roli Books/Lustre Press: UK edition I.B. Tauris, 2010)
  • Anna Jackson and Amin Jaffer (eds.), Maharaja: The splendour of India’s royal courts (V&A Publishing, 2009)
  • Susan Stronge, Tipu’s Tigers (V&A Publishing, 2009) Nick Barnard, Indian Jewellery (V&A Publishing, Indian edition: Timeless Books, 2008)
  • Rosemary Crill, Chintz: Indian Textiles for the West (V&A Publishing, 2008)
  • Pauline Rohatgi and Graham Parlett, Indian Life and Landscape by Western Artists (CSMVS, Mumbai, 2008)
  • John Guy, Indian Temple Sculpture (V&A Publishing, 2007) Rosemary Crill (ed.), Textiles from India: the global trade (Kolkata, Seagull Books, 2006)
  • Rosemary Crill, Susan Stronge and Andrew Topsfield (eds.), Arts of Mughal India: studies in honour of Robert Skelton (V&A Publishing /Mapin, 2004)
  • Divia Patel and Rachel Dwyer, Cinema India: The Art of the Hindi Film (Reaktion press/V&A Publishing, 2002)
  • Susan Stronge, Painting for the Mughal Emperor (V&A Publishing, 2002)
  • Rosemary Crill, Marwar Painting: A History of the Jodhpur Style (Mumbai, India Book House, 2001)
  • Rosemary Crill, Indian Embroidery (V&A Publishing, 1999) Susan Stronge (ed.), The Arts of the Sikh Kingdoms (V&A Publishing, 1999)
  • Rosemary Crill, Indian Ikat Textiles (V&A Publishing /Mapin, 1998)
  • John Guy (ed.), Indian Art & Connoisseurship: studies in honour of Douglas Barrett (Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi/V&A Publishing, 1995)
  • John Guy and Deborah Swallow (eds.), Arts of India 1550-1900 (V&A Publishing/Mapin, 1990)

In conjunction with the V&A India Festival 2015, the Autumn 2015 issue of the journal, Arts of Asia, was devoted to the V&A