Devangana Desai

Portrait of Devangana   Desai

Dr Devangana Desai (1937, Bombay (now Mumbai)) is a prominent historian and researcher of early Indian art, in particular the iconic and narrative representations of female and male principles, whose essays on erotic art have been proven to be groundbreaking.

Born in a Vaishnava family, she developed an early interest in religion-related studies, her MA in Sociology from University of Bombay in 1978 followed by her PhD on ‘Erotic Sculpture of India in its Socio-cultural Setting’ under the guidance of sociologist Dr G.S. Ghurye. While never embracing an academic career path, she has published extensively books, monographs, and more than a hundred papers on Khajuraho sculptures, and on various motifs and themes in Indian iconology.

Drawing a distinction between depictions of mithunas (amorous couples) and maithuna (coitus), Desai stated that the earliest maithuna scenes in temple art belonged to the 6th–7th century, a period “when the Tantras came to be accepted by the literate class”.

Amongst her major publications are Art and Icon: Essays on Early Indian Art (New Delhi: Aryan Books International, 2013), and Erotic Sculpture of India, A Socio-Cultural Study (New Delhi: Tata Mc Graw-Hill, 1975).

Related resources: P. Pratap Kumar, 'Eroticism in Hindu Texts and Modern Hindus', in Contemporary Issues in Buddhist Studies, Richard K. Payne ed., Institute of Buddhist Studies and BDK America, 2016.

Watch a 2019 interview with Dr Desai on Sahapedia.