9. Time Unbound

Our relationship with time, the living world and that which lies beyond, can be viewed from many different perspectives. This exhibition has presented a history of India and the World in a linear fashion. But different cultures have conceived different notions of time and history, not always in a linear way. These last objects, which are contemporary, offer different perspectives on time and our relationships with the past.

According to different Indian traditions, the universe is cyclical in nature, just as an individual soul is also reborn, time after time, as personified in Shiva’s dance of destruction that ultimately leads to rebirth. Other deities, such as Rahu, give expression to how the forces of time, and history, can become disturbed or unbound.

For many Australian Aboriginal peoples, time is neither linear nor cyclical. Events and stories from the time of creation are manifest in the present. Understanding the creation of the world, and how humans fit into and reproduce it through meaningful action, is known as the Dreamtime or Dreaming. Passed down through the generations, these Dreamtime stories link people with country, the past with the present and the future – performing the very role of history.


By LN Tallur
Bronze, coins and concrete
AD 2011
Tallur Studio, Koteshwara, Karnataka, India
Kiran Nadar Museum of Art

LN Tallur’s sculpture draws on the cyclical view of time in Indian traditions. Here, Shiva appears to be entombed in a ball of concrete and money. Perhaps intimating that these are the new gods of time and destruction, or that there is no god inside at all?  ‘Unicode’ is the script used by computer platforms all over the world suggesting the potential for globalisation to reduce us all to sameness. Yet despite the universal pervasiveness of money and concrete, in its packaging of history and memory, ‘Unicode’ remains unmistakably Indian.


Yarla Jukurrpa (Bush Potato Dreaming)

By Victor Jupurrula Ross
AD 1980 - 1989
Warlukurlangu Artists Aboriginal Association
Yuendumu, Northern Territory, Australia
British Museum

© Victor Jupurrula Ross, Warlukurlangu Artists/Viscopy. Licensed by DACS 2017.

This imposing painting of an Australian Aboriginal Dreaming story illustrates how the creation of the world remains always present in the landscape and people’s lives in the now. In the story, an old man digging for bush potato (yarla) in the Dreamtime creates a huge hole from which emerged men and women and a vast dust storm. The black circle represents the centre of the plant, the wavy lines the wind and the four black crescents the old man digging the plant.

Warli painting

By Jivya Soma Mashe
AD 1975–77
Maharashtra, India
Crafts Museum, Delhi


This painting by Jivya Soma Mashe documents a time when the life of the Warli, an indigenous people of western India, was changing. Warli painting was always about movement – people in marriage processions, festive dances and harvests marking the passage of time.  Yet to the fixed visual vocabulary that marked a seemingly eternal cyclical time, Jivya brought a radical change. Here, he depicts the trains, trucks, and cars that are now part of Warli life, alongside the traditional bullock-drawn cart.

Zodiacal symbol Rahu devouring the moon (Eclipse)_Government Museum and Art Gallery, Chandigarh.jpg

Rahu, the consumer of time

Gouache on paper
Pahari, AD1720–50
Nurpur, Himachal Pradesh, India
Government Museum and Art Gallery, Chandigarh Museum (2153)


In Indian mythology, Rahu is personified as the wrathful devourer of time, the eclipse causing demon of darkness. He is one of the nine major celestial forces in Indian astrology and represents the northern node of the moon. Time between sunrise and sunset is segmented into eight phases and one of them is called Rahukaal. This period, which occurs at different times every day, is a time when Rahu’s influence is heightened, things go unexpectedly and time itself becomes unbound.