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Nachiket Chanchani

Associate Professor, History of Art/Asian Languages and Cultures

Office Information:

phone: 734.964.5400

Center for South Asian Studies; CSAS Faculty; ISP Faculty; Global Islamic Studies Center


PhD University of Pennsylvania, 2012

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

My book-length study Moving Mountains: The Construction of Sacrality in the Central Himalayas (under contract) 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, “Lead, Kindly Light: A Preliminary Study of a Sculpture of a Lamp Bearer from the Jageshwar Valley,” in Prasadanidhi and “Revelation in Rock: Thal,” in Art, Icon, and Architecture in South Asia, “From Asoda to Almora: Maru-Gurjara Architecture in the Central Himalayas” in Arts Asiatiques, “The Jageshwar Valley, Where Death is Conquered” in Archives of Asian Art, 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.

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  “Paper Prasadas,” in Artibus Asiae, “Cultural Cache” in Jaina Painting and Manuscript Culture,  “Telling Tales: The Freer Vasanta Vilasa” in Artibus Asiae. and a translation of an essay by Sarabhai M. Nawab (from Gujarati with Babu Suthar)  in Art in Translation.

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 and “Some Reflections on Art Writing and Translation in Colonial India,” in Art in Translation.

I also remain committed to historical preservation and to the formulation and critique of cultural policy.  Currently, I am developing a public-facing humanities project aimed at the documentation, interpretation, and ultimately conservation of a medieval landscape consisting of several hundred shrines built around the perimeter of an artificial lake in western India. Recent writings in the area of cultural policy 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 in 2015; another, “ ‘Leaving No Stone Unturned” was published in 2013.

My research has been supported by fellowships from several organizations including the Asian Cultural Council, New York; Akshara Foundation, Ahmedabad; Nehru Trust at the 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.

As a Consulting Curator at the Detroit Institute of Arts, I am currently participating in the reconceptualization and reinstallation of their Asian art galleries. These galleries are scheduled to open to the public in Fall 2018.  In the past, I have 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.


  • Asian Languages & Cultures
  • Center for South Asian Studies

Field(s) of Study

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