Gaining independence from Britain in 1947 left India scrambling for a national identity. Now with the current rise to power of Vajapayee and the Hindu Nationalists, India is again transformed. She has become a nuclear power and the world is scrambling to fit her back into the political puzzle. India’s 5000-year-old culture has weathered occupation, war, and social upheaval, but to most Western observers her mythology and ritual remain mysterious and profane, full of erotic idols, chants, and demons with 18 arms. Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists and Christians have all left their fingerprints on Indian history, and this is nowhere more apparent than in the visual narrative left behind by Indian artists. Vidya Dehejia, associate director and chief curator of the Smithsonian’s Sackler and Freer Galleries, has authored Indian Art (Phaidon Press), a generous contextual survey of Indian painting, sculpture, and architecture from the beginnings of Indian civilization through the 20th century. Easy to digest and more fun than a textbook, it reads like a travel guide through time, tracing a passionate and diverse artistic heritage through Southeast Asia’s tumultuous history. The weight of this undertaking is echoed by the image of Hindu deity Ganesha on the cover. Remover of obstacles and god of education and the fine arts, he is traditionally given puja before undertaking a project. This book removes at least a part of the obstacle of Western ignorance veiling India in mystery. Dehejia discusses and signs copies of her book at 7 p.m. Tuesday, July 7, in the exhibit, closing today, “Sakhi: Friend and Messenger in Rajput Love Paintings” (an example from which is pictured) on the first level of the Sackler Gallery, 1050 Independence Ave. SW. Free. (202) 357-3200. (Greg Pavlovcak)