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Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites

Historical Objects at the Asian Civilisations Museum

Asian Civilisations Museum

Exhibits in the Asian Civilisations Museum

The Asian Civilisations Museum specialise in pan-Asian cultures and civilisations. The museum concentrates on the history and art of China, Southeast Asia, South Asia and West Asia.

ACM fosters understanding of the diverse heritage cultures of Singapore, their interconnections and connections with the world. Our galleries are organised thematically rather than by geographical region, with an emphasis on networks and flows rather than borders and boundaries.

Among the many historical and cultural objects in the Asian Civilisations Museum, the following are highlights:

  • Dancing Ganesha
    • This “Dancing Ganesha” is a sculpture full of movement and represents a favourite theme in South Asian art. Ganesha is one of the best-known and most worshipped deities in the Hindu pantheon. This sculpture depicts Ganesha’s role as leader of the boisterous and playful ganas or dwarf follower of Shiva. Two ganas play instruments on either side of the Ganesha and at his feet sits the mouse.
  • Shadow Puppet – Rama
    • This “Shadow Puppet” depicts Rama, the lead character from the Indian epic the Ramayana. It is a form of shadow puppet show called Togalu Gombeyaata unique to the state of Karnataka, India. Togalu Gombeyaata translates to “a play of leather dolls” in the native language of Kannada. Shadow puppetry is an ancient tradition. Performances usually included music, song, and dialogue set against a screen with intense light from behind the puppets to cast a distinct shadow. The stories were drawn from famous Indian epics such as the Ramayana and Mahabharata, or from myths, legends and traditional storytelling.
  • Bhairava
    • This statue depicts Bhairava, a Hindu deity and a fierce manifestation of Shiva associated with annihilation. Bhairava originated in Hindu legends and is sacred to Hindus, Buddhists and Jains alike. He is worshipped throughout India and Nepal. As a terrifying form of Shiva, he is depicted with bared teeth, wide-open eyes and flared nostrils. The serpents and skulls on his head add to the fierce image. He is seen in this statue with a skull as a begging bowl in his right hand. A figure of Bhairavi his consort sits behind his right shoulder.
  • The Family of Shiva
    • This sculptured stele shows “The Family of Shiva” also called “Umamaheshvara” which is the name for a depiction of the Hindu god Shiva and his wife Uma also called Parvati. They are shown tenderly holding each other while a chaotic scene unfolds below. The style of this sculpture is typical of the post-Gupta period in northern India. This narrative setting shows Shiva seated with one leg raised in a style called “the position of royal ease”. His wife Parvati sits on his knee and they flanked by their sons, Ganesha and Skanda, as well a by Nandi, the bull that carries Shiva, the sage Bhringi plus attendant figures.
  • Apsara
    • This statue depicts an “Apsara”, who is a is a female spirit of the clouds and waters in Hindu and Buddhist mythology. This “water nymph” figure once adorned the exterior wall of a temple in central India. Her sensuality is believed to attract the gods to hear the prayers of the faithful. The English translations of the word “Apsara” include” “nymph,” “celestial nymph,” and “celestial maiden.”
  • Somaskanda
    • This “Somaskanda” depicts Shiva with his wife and infant son, Skanda as a family unit. Somaskanda in Sanskrit literally means “with Uma and Skanda” and originated in the 4th or 5th century as a counter to sects advocating celibacy as the way to salvation. This representation shows Shiva with four arms with Uma and between them, the infant Skanda is shown as dancing with ecstasy. This bronze example was made to be carried in festival processions. The bronze loops on the base were attached to poles so the sculpture could be carried in the festival. This Indian art imagery is only found in the south of India. Somaskanda is the most popular image of Shiva in southern India in addition to the Linga, being his abstract representation.
  • Vajradhara and Prajna
    • This “Walking Buddha” is a three-dimensional sculpture representing the transcendent qualities innovated in the Sukhothai period. The Kingdom of Sukhothai as an early kingdom in north-central Thailand from 1238 to 1438. Sukhothai is derived from Sanskrit, and means “dawn of happiness”. This simply clad Buddha figure steps forward in smooth fluid motion with the right hand in the gesture of fearlessness.
  • Hanuman
    • This bronze sculpture depicts Hanuman, who is the devoted monkey general of Rama. He is one of the central characters in the various versions of the Indian epic Ramayana. He is also mentioned in several other texts, such as the Mahabharata, the various Puranas and some Jain, Buddhist, and Sikh texts. Hanuman takes the form of a human with a monkey head. He has a monkey-like posture and a tail. His hand placed in front of his mouth symbolises humility. He is also a popular figure in legends and arts found outside Indian subcontinent such as in Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia and Bali Indonesia.
  • Walking Buddha
    • This “Walking Buddha” is a three-dimensional sculpture representing the transcendent qualities innovated in the Sukhothai period. The Kingdom of Sukhothai as an early kingdom in north-central Thailand from 1238 to 1438. Sukhothai is derived from Sanskrit, and means “dawn of happiness”. This simply clad Buddha figure steps forward in smooth fluid motion with the right hand in the gesture of fearlessness.

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“A given excuse that was not asked for implies guilt.”
– Singaporean / Malay Proverb

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With Acknowledgement and Thanks to Asian Civilisations Museum for permission to use their Images and Gallery Highlight Descriptions.

Photo Credit: JOM

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