Notes from New Orleans, a weekly WWNO radio program sponsored by NolaVie, focuses this week on how and why an amazing collection of Indian art resides right here in the Crescent City. It’s one collector’s story about obsession. To hear an interview with Dr. Siddarth Bhansali, click here.
Some people are born collectors. Dr. Siddarth Bhansali, one of New Orleans’ best-known cardiologists, swears that’s how he came out of the womb. His earliest childhood memories are of collecting little sticks and stones. Whatever their now long-forgotten fascination, he admits that he couldn’t get rid of them, even when a new passion steered him toward acquiring stamps and coins.
Leaving India to practice medicine in the United States, “Sid” Bhansali moved from collecting stamps and coins to acquiring English sporting paintings, antique furniture and Art Deco and Art Nouveau objects. It never occurred to him to collect the arts of his native country — that is, until 1975, when he was jolted by what he says was his “eureka moment” at an auction house in London.
There he was drawn to an early Jain bronze, which in a moment of emotional passion, he bid on and bought. As practicing Jains, he and his family had often talked about how purchasing such things was unacceptable, as it only contributed to thievery and thus the destruction of their temple — a fact that, at that moment, caused him serious feelings of guilt and concern. All this evaporated, however, when Dr. Bhansali learned that his mother not only approved, but was pleased that such a precious object would, once again, reside in a Jain home.
Jainism, an Indian religion whose origins date as far back as the 9th century BE, has at its core the belief in non-violence to all living beings. It also professes that every living being has a soul that is potentially divine, and that the liberation of that soul comes through Right Knowledge and Right Conduct. Many of these beliefs are reflected in the exquisitely crafted metal sculptures of ancient Indian deities that populate Dr. Bhansali’s world-class collection, on view through Oct. 23 at the New Orleans Museum of Art.
Having, in essence, received permission from his mother to continue his newest passion, Dr. Bhansali became, he says, an incurable addict. He spent the next several decades collecting hundreds of rare and precious Jain, Hindu and Buddhist bronze sculptures. For him, they are a direct link to his Indian heritage and culture. For the rest of us, who know so little about this art form and the religious groups that inspired it, it is a rare opportunity to surround ourselves with their elegant simplicity and spirituality.
The Elegant Image: Hindu, Buddhist and Jain Bronzes from the Indian Subcontinent in the Siddharth K. Bhansali Collection, is on view at the New Orleans Museum of Art until October 23.
An interview with Dr. Bhansali: