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Robert Arnett Unveiled
“The biggest misconception the West has about India is that Hinduism is a polytheistic religion…”


“Fools rush in where angels dare to tread,” says Robert Arnett. This statement is made in retrospect of the experiences he garnered during the writing of the book 'India Unveiled'. Arnett has been the toast of the town lately due to the 'India Unveiled' exhibition held at Columbus Museum, Georgia. While the author’s first book offered readers a glimpse of the best India has to offer in terms of art, religion and culture, his latest book 'Finders Keepers?' caters to children of all ages with illustrations done by Smita Turakhia. The following conversation reveals more about the author behind the work.

Some of the stunning photographs from the book 'India Unveiled'. More sample photos at

Let's begin with a little about yourself.
Sure. My freshman year was at Tulane University, my sophomore and senior years were at the University of Georgia; my junior year was at the London School of Economics in England and I got a bachelors degree in economics with a minor in history and then I went to graduate school at the University of Indiana and got a masters degree in history and a minor in art history. I also spent two years in the United States army and was one of the, (I guess) youngest officers in the Signal Corp. I was stationed in Turkey and have always enjoyed foreign travel and other cultures and when I say other cultures I have always been interested in non-Western cultures.

Why is that?
I would say it was inherent, not to be flippant. I remember when I was in the eight grade - I am from Columbus, Georgia, [and I] went to Atlanta with my mother who had a doctor’s appointment across the street from the main art museum there and while she had her appointment I walked to the art museum and even in the eighth grade I remember being disappointed with the art because it just had European and American art and I was interested in seeing more of our world than just America and Europe.

Was there any specific event or person who triggered your interest in India?
Yes there definitely was. Professor Roy Craven Jr., who was the head of the art department at the University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida and my older brother William Arnett. After I got out of the military I went into business with my brother. We collected and sold oriental, primitive art from around the world. We were putting together a collection of art to be shown at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, showing the influence of south-east Asian art, particularly Buddhism and Hinduism on south east Asia and I was visiting Professor Craven at his home. He was a great lover of India, and I asked him to show me his slides of India. And ironically it was the famous gates at Sanchi and when I saw the gates I took an inward vow that I would go to India. So it was when I saw these Buddhist gates I just had to go see these things. And in 1988 I made my first trip to India and fell in love with the culture and the people and after I returned from that six month trip I decided to do a book. I did not go to India to do a book. I later made two more six month trips and several shorter trips to complete the photography for the book.

However, there was an event, which really caused me to go to India more than the people. I was in Detroit, Michigan on business in 1968. Someone invited me to a meditation service at the Detroit Art Institute. It was a yoga service and I didn’t even know what the word yoga meant and the point of the service was to show the underlying unity of all religions. This had a tremendous appeal to me because I was raised in the country where religion was dividing and separating rather than uniting. So right away it had an appeal to me. Through God’s grace I had a very deep experience, which took me to a level of consciousness that I had never experienced before. So that immediately got my attention and I began practicing Raja yoga. This changed my life cause as an American I was taught to find happiness in the right woman, the right automobile, that sort of thing. And I realized, my God, what I am looking for is inside not outside. This is the origin that propelled me to go to India. Meditation changed my life, little by little.

Was there anything disappointing in the trip? Because maybe you had such an idealist vision?
No, and I would like to say in that regard that most people go places with some expectation undoubtedly. But I was not disappointed because I didn’t know what India was. I went to India to see what this India was. 

How would you describe your book India Unveiled in a sentence or two to someone who doesn’t know anything about it?
I would say it highlights the best of Indian culture through Western eyes which includes art, religion, culture.

According to you what is the biggest misconception that the West has about India?
The first and foremost is that Hinduism is a polytheistic religion, that would be the biggest misconception. Obviously Hinduism is a monotheistic religion and many terms have been used. The term I like to use is polymorphic monotheism, one God who can take many forms.

Who is your audience for the book?
The mainstream likes it because it explains India the way Western people can understand and then the Indian American community loves it because it’s great for parents who want to pass the culture on to their children who are born in America. And the Indian government bought 3000 copies. And ‘India Unveiled’ was the book presented to President Clinton, when he was president. So the market is very wide, from school systems to mainstream to the Indian government to Indian Americans. 

What have you learned from your journey so far?
Live your dreams, I definitely learnt that. And follow your heart, have common sense, [believe in] prayer, persevere, [have] faith, [and be] patient. I have learnt that things unfold on God’s timetable, not my timetable. 

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