The Descent of the Ganges

Historical period(s)
ca. 1800
Kangra school
Opaque watercolor on paper
H x W (overall): 14.6 × 10 cm (5 3/4 × 3 15/16 in)
India, Himachal Pradesh state, Kangra
Credit Line
Purchase and partial gift from the Catherine and Ralph Benkaim Collection — funds provided by the Friends of the Freer and Sackler Galleries
Ralph and Catherine Benkaim collection
Accession Number
On View Location
Currently not on view


Ganga, India, Ralph and Catherine Benkaim collection, Shiva

To 1947
Ananda K. Coomaraswamy (1877-1947), Colombo, Sri Lanka, London, England, and Needham, Massachusetts. [1]

From 1947 to 1973
Rama Coomaraswamy (1929-2006), Greenwich, Connecticut, ownership transferred after the death of his father, Ananda Coomaraswamy. [2]

From 1973 to 2001
Ralph Benkaim (1914-2001), Beverly Hills, California, purchased from Rama Coomaraswamy in November 1973. [3]

From 2001 to 2018
Catherine Glynn Benkaim, Beverly Hills, California, by inheritance from Ralph Benkaim in 2001. [4]

From 2018
Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, partial gift and purchase from Catherine Glynn Benkaim. [5]


[1] According to information from Catherine Glynn Benkaim.

[2] See note 1.

[3] See note 1.

[4] See note 1.

[5] See Acquisition Consideration Form, object file, Collections Management Office.

Previous Owner(s)

Catherine Glynn Benkaim
Ralph and Catherine Benkaim
Dr. Ananda K. Coomaraswamy 1877 - 1947
Rama Coomaraswamy 1929 - 2006


This is a lovely colored drawing with an assured line, gracefully engaged figures, and an evocative, hazy mountain landscape. Its subject is an unusual rendering of the canonical Hindu narrative in which the Ganges (the goddess Ganga) descends through Shiva's jata (dreadlocks) to save the earth from a devastating drought. Ganga is often represented in Shiva's hair, as much an emblem of Shiva as his third eye or crescent moon. She appears, for example, as a small praying figure in Shiva's dreadlocks in the Freer's Chola bronze Nataraja (F2003.2) as well as in many court paintings of the great deity.

The image may reflect a Punjab Hills folk story or poetry about Shiva and Ganga. Vernacular stories as well as court poetry composed across India convey earthier (sometimes humorous, sometimes bawdy) tales about the god.

Published References
  • Dr. Stella Kramrisch. Manifestations of Shiva. Exh. cat. Philadelphia. P-44, 212.
Collection Area(s)
South Asian and Himalayan Art
Rights Statement

Copyright with museum