Seen from Within

India Popular

Modern South Asia is a region of amazing linguistic diversity where 29 languages are each spoken by more than a million people; in India alone, there are an estimated 780 different languages. The Library's unique collection of popular media reflects this diversity. It includes pamphlets, religious works, magazines, posters, children's books, political tracts, and ephemera in all of South Asia's official and many of its unofficial languages and dialects.

Myth and history entwine in popular stories handed down through generations and across regions. Featured here is a well-known book of folk tales about the third Mughal emperor, Akbar, and his witty advisor Birbal. These clever moral stories are part of an oral tradition that stretches back centuries. The comic-book version of the legend of Rani Durgavati tells the story of the valiant Rajput queen who led her army against Akbar's forces and died on the battlefield.

From the first full-length Indian film of 1913 to the global blockbusters of Bollywood, the commercial film industry has dominated modern visual culture in South Asia. Cinema songbooks and magazines richly illustrated with pictures of film heroes and celebrities reflect the fame of professional actors, composers, and vocalists across the subcontinent.

In big cities and small villages alike, images of film heroes compete for attention and devotion with those of celebrated religious and political figures.The posters on display here might adorn private homes, shops, and offices, while the devotional booklets are mostly for personal use.

In addition to the materials housed in Chicago, the Library also owns local collections that remain in South Asia and serve researchers and students there. The Roja Muthiah Research Library in Chennai (Madras), founded in 1994, is the first such collection. It is named for Roja Muthiah, a graphic artist and designer who began collecting books, journals, and artworks in the 1950s. This extraordinary collection now contains more than 300,000 works of classical and modern literature and literary criticism, as well as a range of ephemeral print items such as gramophone records, songbooks, oleographs, theater handbills, and invitation cards.

Rajasthani bir gathaem
On deposit from Kali Charan Bahl

General Collection, Regenstein Library

Rajasthani heroic tales in Hindi

Purbachal. August 1977
Dacca, Bangladesh
Regenstein Library, General Collections

Language: Bengali

Devtaom ki gay (Kamadhenu)
Rudolph Collection

Regenstein Library, General Collections

This poster produced by the Ravi Varma Press, Mumbai, was part of a political campaign against cow slaughter. British censors viewed the poster as fostering anti-Muslim sentiment and banned the image of the sword-wielding demon from later editions for fear of it inciting communal violence.

Vishvamitra Menaka
On deposit from Kali Charan Bahl
Regenstein Library, General Collections

This chromolithograph was produced by the famous Ravi Varma Press around 1900. It is based on a painting finished around 1890 by Raja Ravi Varma, an artist famous for his European-style oil paintings of Hindu mythological and religious scenes. Varma greatly influenced the styles and subjects of posters and popular religious prints in the twentieth century.

Illustration for Katal magazine cover
Roja Muthiah

Regenstein Library, General Collections

[The Story of Atomic Energy]
Laura Fermi
Rangoon: The Guide Daily Press. 1966
Regenstein Library, General Collections

Language: Burmese

Laura Fermi was an author and the wife of Nobel Prize winner Enrico Fermi, professor at the University of Chicago. This book for children was translated into multiple languages; the library holds copies in Burmese, Malayalam, and English.

Idi Rajastan
New Dehli: National Book Trust, 1989
General Collection, Regenstein Library

Language: Telugu

The Story of Rajasthan, describes the region of Rajasthan, located far from the Telugu-speaking audiences of this book.

Rani Durgavati, Amar Chitra Katha No. 104
Bombay: H.G. Mirchandani for India Book House Education Trust, 1976
Regenstein Library, General Collections

Amar Chitra Katha, founded in 1967, is a popular series of comics published in more than twenty languages and intended to educate youth about India's history, culture, and religions. The series has been criticized for regressive attitudes towards women and minorities, and for its lopsided historical and cultural accounts.

Asli zahar-i 'ishq
Delhi: Ratan and Company Booksellers. [n.d.]
Frances Pritchett Collection

Regenstein Library, General Collections

A booklet on the film Aabshar (1953), starring the legendary actress Nimmi.