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India: National Identity and the Arts

India: National Identity and the Arts

Explore the social and political dynamics in the arts and architecture of the world's largest democracy.

On this program, you will develop the skills to analyze the relationship between the arts, religions, and politics shaping cultural and national identity in India today and in areas of historic Indic influence. You will experience India’s visual and performing arts — its architecture, painting, sculpture, printmaking, photography, film, dance, music, and theater — on numerous excursions around Delhi and during extensive travel in India and to Myanmar (Burma).

Major topics of study include: 

  • Religious, political, and cultural dynamics of interpretation in the arts and architecture of India
  • The study of Indic cultural expansion to Southeast Asia, especially Burma
  • Buddhism as a Pan Asian vehicle for the expansion of Indic civilization
  • The use of religion and the arts in creating new conflicts in national identity
  • Critical theory, aesthetic theory, research ethics, and the methodology of how we study ancient texts
  • The language of myths, rituals, signs, and symbols in the articulation of personal and national identity
  • Historical preservation and conservation of historic monuments and urban spaces in the context of tourism, climate change, and funding challenges

SIT has a distinguished history of offering programs in Asia and is one of the oldest study abroad providers in India.


India presents an unparalleled diversity of religions, languages, and cultures. Its art, architecture, music, theater, and dance offer a dramatic reflection of the nation’s intricate cultural mosaic. 

Student group in India

The program utilizes the study of the arts to help you develop an understanding of India — the world’s largest democracy and one of the most rapidly changing and historically rich countries on earth — as a fascinating and complex center of world civilization, rather than the stereotypical nation beset by problems of the developing world. With this in mind, you will consider how India was and still is a wellspring of Asian civilization and how that came about through the historic export of Indic civilization.

Throughout history, artistic expression has played a critical role in the making of cultural and political identities. The arts and humanities are essential to human life, yet they are often co-opted and, as we see so often in the media, are critiqued, if not destroyed, in the name of a political mission or nation-building. The arts and architecture are at the forefront of cultural and political change and are critical assets for understanding and coming to terms with our rapidly changing world.

This program offers many opportunities to travel, participate in workshops and practicums, meet with artists and experts, and see art up close. Each day of the program is different.

Study abroad with students from different academic backgrounds.

Students from many different majors have studied on this program. Recent majors of students participating in this program include English, anthropology, creative writing, religion, American studies, film studies, art history, theater, journalism, psychology, international studies, and Asian studies. The program provides all students with a strong foundation in the art history and art expression of India, framed in both historical and contemporary contexts.  

Receive a thorough orientation to India and the program.

The program begins with a four-day orientation held at a meditation center in New Delhi. During these initial days in India, the program’s experienced academic director and staff will introduce you to the program and, importantly, to the city of New Delhi in a way that challenges you but allows you to get acclimated gradually while returning to a quiet and comforting ashram each evening.

Explore the cultural assets of New Delhi.

New Delhi is vibrant with monuments, galleries, museums, music performances, dance recitals, theater performances, film festivals, national and regional craft exhibitions, and national and regional fashion design exhibitions.

  • You will have access to art of all periods, including contemporary and traditional art from all over India.
  • All Indian states have representative houses and cultural centers in New Delhi, which are open to the public. These state houses offer varied lectures and performances that showcase their regional arts.
  • You may visit the National Crafts Museum, the National Gallery of Modern Art, the National School of Drama, the American Institute of Indian Studies, the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, the India International Centre, and the National Academy of Art. These visits complement classroom and other program activities.
  • You may visit galleries and studios of practicing artists, architects, and filmmakers and may meet students studying arts and aesthetics.
  • Most lectures are held at the SIT program house on the south side of New Delhi.

Experience art and architecture throughout India and in Myanmar (Burma).

Although the program is based in New Delhi, much of the semester is spent on the road. The program’s many excursions will take you to historically rich and vibrant cultural sites in Agra, Orchha, Khajuraho, Varanasi, Bodhgaya, and Kolkata in India and also to Yangon and Bagan in Myanmar. Through both guided city walks and visits to important historical sites, you will experience the art, architecture, and cultural identities of India in an immediately engaging way.

Participate in workshops.

For a period of one week, you will participate with a small group in intensive workshops relevant to the program theme of national identity and the arts. The workshops may involve training in classical dance or music with a renowned artist, or studying the history and contemporary preservation challenges of South India’s great temples. Other examples may include theater, folk music, or painting workshops. The location and content of the workshops change depending on the semester and student interest. Typically, workshops are conducted in either South India (Mahabalipuram, Pondicherry, Thanjavur, and Madurai) or in the state of Rajasthan.

Study with local artists and experts in Indian cuisine.

Students at folk music workshop

In addition to the week-long workshops described above, you can engage in a practicum with a local artist for a hands-on study of a specific Indian craft or art. Or engage in a practicum in which you will learn how to cook Indian cuisine in our program center’s well-equipped kitchen in New Delhi. You will also have exceptional opportunities to network with many local scholars based in the capital, and you can expect to meet a range of lecturers throughout the semester. The program has strong links to multiple institutions in New Delhi, including the National School of Drama.

Learn Hindi.

Beginning to advanced level language students study Hindi language daily. Small group classes are determined by a placement test during orientation. Self-guided study with a tutor is arranged for students who pass out of advanced Hindi. Students at all levels are encouraged to continue working on their language skills as part of their daily routines, with homestay families, and during excursions.

Engage in an Independent Study Project.

In the final month of the program, you will complete an Independent Study Project (ISP), which provides you with an opportunity to pursue original research on a selected topic of particular interest to you. You will choose a research topic with consultation and support from the academic director and other experts. ISP research sites may be in New Delhi, northern India, or another approved location appropriate to the project.

Sample ISP topic areas include:

  • Challenges of historical preservation in a developing society
  • The expression of power in Mughal architecture
  • Photography, memory, and the nation
  • “Box Wallah” photography and the memorialization of the middle class
  • Pilgrimage and environmental degradation
  • The creation of a “national” classical dance
  • Modern Indian cinema and regional identity
  • A painting survey of the Buddhist pilgrimage route
  • Sufi music and poetry and the challenges of Wahabi Islam
  • Architecture, urbanization, and public space
  • Conservation of the tomb of Akbar: reconfiguring imperial identity during the British Raj
  • Mughal culinary culture in New Delhi
  • Seventeenth-century water systems of the Agra Red Fort
  • A survey of the arts of the eleventh-century Chandella dynasty
  • Is Buddhism still an “Indian” religion?
  • The political arts of the Shudra Raj: the case of Mayawati
  • Caste and Buddhism: Can Navayana Buddhism change a social system?


None, although previous coursework in history, art history, performing arts, or religious studies is recommended.

Access virtual library guide.

This program integrates critical theory, aesthetic theory, research ethics, and the methodology of how the arts in India are studied. Students are asked to consider how they educate themselves to look deeply and develop more sophisticated observational skills. The program’s coursework encourages students to engage in the arts and to question what it means to be creative and how they assess the creativity of a society. Students are asked to consider why it is important to understand the creative traditions and contemporary politics around both traditional and new forms of artistic expression in India today.

The program accomplishes this by examining a range of India’s visual and performing arts — including architecture, painting, sculpture, printmaking, photography, film, dance, music, and theater — in historic and contemporary contexts, with particular emphasis on the intimate relationship between art and religion in the historical past and in the context of the twenty-first-century democratic nation-state.

Students are asked to analyze the meaning and theories of aesthetic response in one of the world’s founding civilizations. By using the rich and varied arts of India, students look into the fundamental human language of rituals, signs, and symbols.

Links to syllabi below are from current and forthcoming courses offered on this program. Because courses develop and change over time to take advantage of dynamic learning opportunities, actual course content will vary from term to term.

The syllabi can be useful for students, faculty, and study abroad offices in assessing credit transfer. Read more about credit transfer.

National Identity and the Arts Seminar – syllabus
(ASIA3000 / 6 credits / 90 class hours)
The National Identity and the Arts Seminar offers a foundation in Indic arts, culture, and religion in the context of the ongoing formation of Indian and Burmese national identities (in architecture, painting, sculpture, printmaking, photography, film, dance, music, and theater). The aim of this seminar is to provide a framework for the understanding of India as an ancient civilization that has shifted and reformed identity many times and, in that process, has also exported her civilization to shape many aspects of Asian civilization, especially Southeast Asian. The current identities of the modern nation states of India and Myanmar are the results of those centuries of religious, political, and artistic interactions. In this seminar, students will be challenged to consider the relationships between religion, politics, and art in the restructuring of cultural and national identity through three broad themes: 1) religion, social hierarchy, and the arts; 2) politics, patronage, nationalism, and the arts; and 3) aesthetic heritage and preservation. These three themes will be interwoven throughout the seminar in every seminar activity: in the classroom, at archaeological sites, in museums, during workshops, and on heritage walks. Lecturers are drawn from institutions such as the School of Arts and Aesthetics at Jawaharlal Nehru University, Jamia Millia Islamia, Benares Hindu University, and Delhi University.

Beginning Hindi – syllabus
(HIND1000-1500 / 3 credits / 45 class hours)
Intermediate Hindi – syllabus
(HIND2000-2500 / 3 credits / 45 class hours)
Advanced Hindi – syllabus
(HIND3000-3500 / 3 credits / 45 class hours)
Emphasis on speaking and comprehension skills through classroom and field instruction. Based on in-country evaluation, including oral proficiency testing, students are placed in beginning, intermediate, or advanced classes.

Field Methods and Ethics – syllabus
(ANTH3500 /3 credits / 45 class hours)
This course focuses on cross-cultural learning and developing field studies skills. It provides a framework for the Independent Study Project. Material includes cross-cultural adaptation and skills building; project selection and refinement; appropriate methodologies; field study ethics and the World Learning / SIT Human Subjects Review Policy; developing contacts and finding resources; developing skills in observation and interviewing; gathering, organizing, and communicating data; and maintaining a work journal.

Independent Study Project – syllabus coming soon
(ISPR3000 /4 credits / 120 class hours)
Conducted in New Delhi or in another approved location appropriate to the project. The project, developed and designed in the Field Methods and Ethic course, culminates in a 25- to 30-page research paper and formal presentation. Sample topic areas: challenges of historical preservation in a developing society; the expression of power in Mughal architecture; “Box Wallah” photography and the memorialization of the middle class; pilgrimage and environmental degradation; Kathak dancing; contemporary Indian cinema; considering whether Buddhism is still an “Indian” religion; political arts of the Shudra Raj; caste and Buddhism: considering whether Navayana Buddhism can change a social system?; a painting survey of the Buddhist pilgrimage route; preservation of the Kashmir shawl; photography, memory, and the nation; Sufi music and poetry and the challenges from Wahabi Islam; architecture and urban space; painting; conservation of the tomb of Akbar; culinary culture in New Delhi; seventeenth-century water systems of the Agra Red Fort; a survey of the arts of the eleventh-century Chandella dynasty.

Browse this program's Independent Study Projects / undergraduate research.

Please note that in order to take advantage of dynamic learning opportunities, program excursions may occasionally vary.

temple in India

This program is designed to take you to a diverse range of sites where art and architecture are emblematic of national identity formation, not only in India but also in Myanmar (Burma). During excursions and workshops you will study sites of major importance in the creation of Indian and Burmese identities. The program visits Indian cities considered centers of sacred geography, such as Varanasi, Bodhgaya, and Madurai as well as cities that exemplify the shifting political identity of India, such as Thanjavur, Agra, Kolkata, and Delhi. The five-day national identities workshop to Yangon and Bagan, Myanmar (Burma) brings the historic expansion of Indic culture to life and asks you to consider the relationship between Myanmar’s stunning art and architecture to Burmese national identity formation.

Major Excursion: Myanmar (Burma) and Northern India

Myanmar (Burma)

The program’s major excursion will take you to Myanmar for five days, with a particular focus on the city of Yangon and the ancient city of Bagan. Yangon is the former capital of Myanmar and its largest city. It is a time capsule of Asian colonial architecture and is home to significant religious architecture such as the Shwedagon Pagoda, constructed between the sixth and tenth centuries CE, and the Sule Pagoda, located in the center of the city. It is also the location of the National Museum, which houses important Buddhist and Burmese ancient artifacts, decorative and textile arts, and traditional folk art.

On this excursion, you will also see the ancient city of Bagan. Myanmar has a devoutly Buddhist culture, and nowhere is the rich history of Burmese Buddhism manifested with more dramatic presence than in Bagan.

Orchha, Khajuraho, Varanasi, Bodhgaya, and Kolkata

MyanmarThe major excursion combines five days in Myanmar with exhilarating opportunities for comparative analysis of national identity formation at major sites in India, including Orchha, Khajuraho, Varanasi, Bodhgaya, and Kolkata. Historical sites in these places represent a diversity of artistic expression and cultural identity of historical and contemporary importance:

  • Orchha is a quiet medieval village on the banks of Betwa River. It has two impressive palace-forts as well as many Hindu temples and medieval chhatris (funerary memorials).
  • The small town of Khajuraho has an astounding 25 eleventh-century Hindu temples. The temples are lavishly embellished with finely preserved sculpture.
  • Varanasi is often referred to as the oldest city in the world; it is the most sacred city in Hinduism.
  • Bodhgaya marks the place of awakening of Gautama Siddhartha under the Bodhi Tree.
  • Kolkata was the capital of British India and it boasts a rich architectural heritage from that period.

Agra and Taj Mahal

Taj MahalDuring the seventeenth century, before the Mughal capital was relocated to Delhi, Agra was the seat of the Mughal court in India. Because the city was strategically located on the banks of the Yamuna River and along the Grand Trunk Road, it attracted artists from Persia, Central Asia, and other parts of India who built the luxurious forts, palaces, and mausoleums that still stand today. Of these structures, the best known are the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort, which are both UNESCO World Heritage sites. Here, you will see, up close, many examples of Mughal and other art and architecture.

New Delhi

Visits in and around New Delhi include:

  • Historical and cultural sites
  • Museums and art galleries
  • Concerts and recitals
  • Dance and drama performances

Mary Storm, PhD, Academic Director

mary storm Mary Storm has a PhD in Indian art history from the University of California, Los Angeles, and an MA in East Asian studies and Japanese Buddhist art from Stanford University. In a previous life, she acquired a law degree. Dr. Storm has lived and worked in India for many years, roaming the back roads of India from West Bengal to Rajasthan and from Ladakh to Tamil Nadu in search of archaeological adventure. She has taught at various American institutions as well as at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi in the School of Arts and Aesthetics. She was previously a Ford Foundation Visiting Fellow and associate professor of art history at that university.

When not teaching, researching, or working for SIT Study Abroad, she spends her time painting and writing. She loves to cook both Indian and French food and has a diplôme from Le Cordon Bleu, Paris. She has published numerous articles on Indian art history and is proud to report her paintings are "exhibited" on many refrigerator doors. Her book Head and Heart: Valour and Self-Sacrifice in the Art of India was published in August 2013 by Routledge. Her present research focuses on the history of Indian food and the creation of national identity.

Read Oregon State University’s interview with Mary Storm.

ArjunArjun Singh Chauhan, Program Coordinator

Mr. Chauhan first joined SIT New Delhi in the fall of 2007. Mr. Chauhan is a graduate of the Delhi College of Vocational Training and is a recently certified Wilderness First Responder. He enjoys basketball, travel, music, and good food.He lives with his family in South Delhi and is the proud father of a baby boy and little girl. He loves animals and the quiet of nature.

Lecturers for this program typically include faculty from:

  • School of Arts and Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University
  • Jamia Millia Islamia
  • Delhi University
  • Benares Hindu University
  • School of Planning and Architecture

Rameshwar P. Bahuguna, PhD, Lecturer, Indian History Overview and Islam in India

Rameshwar Bahuguna is a professor in the Department of History and Culture, Jamia Milia Islamia, New Delhi. He teaches courses on the religious and cultural history of medieval India. His research focuses on medieval sants and sant-based panthic formations.

His publications include several articles in scholarly journals on the medieval sant movement. He is currently working on a monograph about the historical dimensions of medieval vaishnava and sant hagiographies.

Shukla Sawant, PhD, Lecturer, Modernism in Indian Art

Shukla Sawant is a visual artist and professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Her research interests include contemporary art and art in colonial India. She has been a Commonwealth Scholar at the University of London and has studied at the Ecole Des Beaux Arts, Paris.

She recently contributed articles on Sultan Ali, Sanat Kar, and Chittoprasad, among others, to the Delhi Art Gallery catalogue “Manifestations.”

She has participated in artist residencies at Braziers College, Oxford, UK; Khoj Workshop, Modinagar, India; and Began Grond Residency, Utrecht, Netherlands, and has had solo art exhibitions in London, Amsterdam, Mumbai, and Delhi.

Mr. Tapan Chakravarty, Lecturer, Development of New Delhi

Tapan Chakravarty is an architect and urban planner, with an interest in historical conservation. He received his BA and MA in architecture and urban design from the School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi.

He has taught at the TVB School of Habitat Studies and the School of Planning at Architecture, and he currently holds a position as professor of interior architecture and design at the Pearl Academy of Fashion, New Delhi. He also freelances as a consultant for architecture and urban design projects as well as architectural conservation projects.

Chakravarty worked closely with the Indian National Trust for Arts and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) to help design the plan to develop Delhi as a World Heritage City.

Anjan Chakraverty, PhD, Lecturer, Benarasi Textiles and Wall Paintings of Benares

Anjan Chakraverty acquired his BA, MA, and PhD from Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi, and currently serves at the dean of the Arts and Aesthetics Department at the same university.

Chakraverty has published several essays and books on Indian painting and textile history including Sacred Buddhist Painting and Indian Miniature Painting.

Chakraverty is himself a painter and has organized five solo exhibitions in New Delhi, Kolkata, and Kathmandu, and has participated in about fifty group shows held in different countries.

Mr. Anjan Mitra, Lecturer, Heritage Walk in Old Calcutta

Anjan Mitra is an architect and city planner who has been involved with architecture and urban development as a researcher, practitioner, and activist. Throughout his career he has advocated sustainable design, and he is involved in various research studies involving urban development, urban economics, conservation, and cultural issues.

He has specialized in conservation, alternative technology, and tourism, and is a member of the heritage subcommittee of Kolkata Municipal Corporation. He is also secretary of the registered society Sustained Actions for Value and Environment and advises the local community on sustainable development.

Mr. Yousuf Saeed, Lecturer, Islamic Poster Art

Yousuf Saeed is an independent filmmaker and researcher based in Delhi. He started his career in educational television (with the Times of India) in 1990, co-directing the science series Turning Point for Doordarshan, and moved on to make documentaries on a variety of subjects. Some of his prominent films include Inside Ladakh, Basant, A Life in Science: Yashpal, and The Train to Heaven, which has been shown at numerous film festivals and academic venues and on TV. His most recent work is a feature-length film entitled Khayal Darpan about the state of classical music in Pakistan.

Besides film and television, Yousuf also worked for Encyclopedia Britannica (India) as the arts editor. He has been a Sarai Fellow (2004) and an Asia Fellow (2005). He has published many essays about the popular devotional art of Indian Muslims and is the author of the book Muslim Devotional Art in India.

Bishnupriya Dutt, PhD, Lecturer, Social Theater

Bishnupriya Dutt is an Indian theater practitioner-researcher. She has acted in forty plays and has directed five. At present, she is an associate professor in the School of Arts and Aesthetics at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Her areas of research include colonial and postcolonial theater in India, feminist readings of Indian theater, and performative practices and popular culture.

Her recent publications include the articles “Historicizing Actress Stories: English Actresses in India” and “Actress Stories: Binodini and Amal Allana” and the texts Engendering Performance: Indian Performer’s Journey in Search of an Identity and Actors from an Alternate Space.

She has completed research projects with the University Grant Commission project on professional and semiprofessional female performers in Indian popular performances.

Ms. Shikha Jhingan, MPhil, Lecturer, Bollywood Music

Shikha Jhingan is an assistant professor at Lady Shri Ram College, Delhi University, New Delhi. She is currently completing her doctoral thesis in cinema studies from the School of Arts and Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

Her published works include “The Singer, the Star, and the Chorus” and a review of Ganesh Anantharaman’s Bollywood Melodies: A History of the Hindi Film Song.

Urmimala Sarkar Munsi, PhD, Lecturer, Indian Classical Dance

Urmimala Sarkar Munsi is a social anthropologist and dancer/choreographer. She is currently visiting faculty at the School of Arts and Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Her courses include Indian Dance: Theory and Practice; Living Traditions; Dance, Gender, Society; Therapeutic Use of Movement Systems; and Performance Documentation.

Urmimala has contributed to numerous journals and has edited Dance Transcending Borders. She is also co-editor of the book Traversing Tradition: Celebrating Dance in India, part of the Routledge Celebrating Dance in Asia and the Pacific series.

students in market in IndiaYou will live with Indian host families in New Delhi for approximately eight weeks. Most families live in relatively close proximity to the SIT program center.

Homestay families are primarily from the middle and upper-middle class and are from a range of professional backgrounds. In living with a family, you will have numerous opportunities to practice your new Hindi language skills and learn about everyday life and family expectations. You will have the chance to visit temples or mosques with your host family and learn how to cook Indian dishes. In the fall semester, lucky students may be invited to attend an Indian wedding.

Other accommodations during the program include ashrams, guest houses, hostels, or small hotels.

Program Dates: Spring 2016

Program Start Date:  Feb 1, 2016

Program End Date:    May 15, 2016

The dates listed above are subject to change. Please note that travel to and from the program site may span a period of more than one day.

Student applications to this program will be reviewed on a rolling basis between the opening date and the deadline.

Application Deadline:   Nov 1, 2015


SIT Pell Grant Match Award. SIT Study Abroad provides matching grants to all students receiving Federal Pell Grant funding; this award can be applied to any SIT semester program. View all SIT Study Abroad scholarships.

Tuition: $14,160

The tuition fee covers the following program components:

  • Cost of all lecturers who provide instruction to students in:
    • Indian arts
    • North Indian culture and society
  • Field Methods and Ethics on research methods and Human Subjects Review
  • All educational excursions to locations such as Gwalior, Datia, Khajuraho, Orchha, Bandhavgarh, and Orissa or Kolkata, and Myanmar including all related travel costs
  • Independent Study Project (including a stipend for accommodation and food)
  • Intensive language instruction in Hindi
  • Health insurance throughout the entire program period

Room & Board:$4,140

The room and board fee covers the following program components:

  • All accommodations during the entire program period. This includes during orientation, time in the program base (New Delhi), on all excursions, during the Independent Study Project, and during the final evaluation period. Accommodation is covered either by SIT Study Abroad directly, through a stipend provided to each student, or through the homestay.
  • Homestay (eight weeks in New Delhi)
  • All meals for the entire program period. Meals are covered either by SIT Study Abroad directly, through a stipend provided to each student, or through the homestay.

Estimated Additional Costs:

International Airfare to Program Launch Site

International airline pricing can vary greatly due to the volatility of airline industry pricing, flight availability, and specific flexibility/restrictions on the type of ticket purchased. Students may choose to take advantage of frequent flyer or other airline awards available to them, which could significantly lower their travel costs.

Visa Expenses: $211

Immunizations: Varies

Books & Supplies: $150

International Phone: Each student must have a phone in each country. Cost varies according to personal preferences, phone plans, data plans, etc.

Discretionary Expenses

Personal expenses during the program vary based on individual spending habits and budgets. While all meals and accommodations are covered in the room and board fee, incidentals and personal transportation costs differ depending on the non-program-related interests and pursuits of each student. To learn more about personal budgeting, we recommend speaking with alumni who participated in a program in your region. See a full list of our alumni contacts. Please note that free time to pursue non-program-related activities is limited.

Please Note: Fees and additional expenses are based on all known circumstances at the time of calculation. Due to the unique nature of our programs and the economics of host countries, SIT reserves the right to change its fees or additional expenses without notice.


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