Closely following the publication of Part III of Volume I of the Encyclopaedia of Indian Temple Architecture, I am happy to see that Part III of Volume II has been successfully completed. The American Institute of Indian Studies and its editor Shri M.A. Dhaky deserve the greatest appreciation of scholars and researchers for their perseverance in this painstaking gigantic task.
With each succeeding part of the two volumes the complexity increases. The developments of the earlier period were comparatively easier to describe and delineate. The vision, idea, and form were discernible: the symbolism, form, and function could be clearly identified.
The ancient Indian temple was a shrine situated at the confluence of rivers, mountains, and near oceans. It was a place of pilgrimage and in turn became a sacred place and provided space for a symbolic pilgrimage.
With the passage of time the Indian mind and its intellectual and artistic discourse became more complex and multilayered. The seeds of a system of establishing correspondences between the abstract and the concrete, the physical and the psychical, the temporal and the spiritual lay in early speculative though methodologies of ritual, philosophic schools, seminal notions in mathematics, and schools of medicine. However, it was early and late medieval India, in the north as well as south, east, and west, which endeavoured to give shape and substance to these notions through two different but related strategies. One was through the elaboration of mythic, the Puranic and others, through concretisation of the mythical into a structured language of narrative. It would appear that the authors and compilers of the Puranas found a language of myth and narrative to restate and interpret the revelation of the Vedas and other similar texts. The dynamics of the ecological concerns of the Vedas and the Upanisads was now couched in a descriptive language of another order. This is as evident from a re- reading of the myth of the descent of the Ganga as it is from the myth of Mahisasura-mardini or the Visnu as Varaha rescuing Prthvi or riding the Garuda. Countless myths and legends related to Siva, Visnu, and the Devi can be so interpreted at a primary level. Other layers of meaning were superimposed. Also, the Puranas endeavoured to translate the abstruse philosophic notions into simple but sometimes involved narrative. A theological layer can also be discerned. The method of the Puranas provided the tools of making multilayered statements which could be read concurrently at the purely socio-cultural, even political, level or at deeper levels of philosophic thought or even mathematical equations. An elaborate code developed which had significance for the lay and the initiated at his or her level of comprehension. The emphasis here as elsewhere was on interconnections, mutual interpenetration, and multilayered meaning which could be retrieved in different configurations. Multidimensionality was its principal attribute: simultaneity and concurrency, and reoccurrence its chief instrument.
The other equally potent instrumentality closely related to the first was the arts, specially those of architecture, sculpture, and music. Through the arts, the creator-visualiser could concretise the fundamental principles at the universal level and yet be grounded simultaneously in the reality of specific time and space. He could coalesce into a single artistic creation the spiritual and the temporal, the abstract and the concrete, the geometrical and the figurative, the micro and the macro, the unmanifest and the manifest.
It took time for these developments to attain fruition. Contours of these transitions which appear at first sight as total transformations can be traced, although difficult. However, by the tenth and the 11th centuries, the consequences are clear in architecture and sculpture. In the Puranas they can be discerned from the comparatively simpler Puranas like the Visnu, the Vayu, and the Agni to the Visnudharmottara to the later Puranas. The movement is from the simple to the complex, from one to many dimensions, from the direct to the oblique. This is perhaps the unseen but the real raison d' etre of medieval Indian temple architecture as of medieval Indian sculpture. The multiplicity of heads and arms in iconic concepts, the gradual expansion of the temple horizontally, the ascension of vertical sikhara and the rhythm of its repetitive cognate turrets (anga-sikharas, sikharikas), peaked mandapas, and sub-shrines are clear indicators of parallel articulations of the singular concern with the notion of the one and the many, the formless, and many forms, the relationship of the physical, the psychical, the temporal, and the spiritual. The beginnings of these elements can be seen in the late Gupta and early medieval architecture and its pinnacle is reached in the 11th and the 12th centuries through a vigorous formative process in the tenth century.
Ironically, and paradoxically, the king/royalty appropriate the notions and the system to make his or their royal presence. It is an interpenetration into an existing and evolving complex system. An outstanding example is the employment of the Daksinamurti myth of Siva by Rajaraja Cola. Siva's mythical abodes, forts, and temples also become palaces or like palaces as has been said. In north India, a shrine also begins to be equated with 'prasada' that is a palace, never rejecting it as a house of God. Whether the idea of treating a deity as the king or king as the divine is Indian or foreign is not so seminal as is the fact that the artistic structure was so designed that it could represent these two levels and many more simultaneously. Understandably, these temples have been interpreted by different scholars in diverse ways and viewpoints.
Concurrent and basic was the acceptance of the paradigm of the Purusa as a design concept. Although the "Purusasukta" of the Rgveda provided the seeds of a total concept, it is in the arts that it developed into a sophisticated term of reference for actual structure. Architecture evolved the Vastupurusa-mandala as a basic grid for ground plan and elevational format; embodying the sculpture, the silpa texts evolved an elaborate system of sutras, bhangas, and asanas which served as an armature. Musical theory conceived the Sangita-purusa as a basic framework of structure and drama is the Natya-purusa itself. Many articles in this volume give details of the system of correspondence between the limbs of the human body and the different architectural members of the temple structure. It is clear from a reading of these articles that the basic grid or model had the inbuilt potential of multiple expressions.
Given the two unifying unseen threads of the employment of myth as narrative and the paradigm of Purusa as a geometrical grid, there was the possibility of countless permutations and combinations-geometrical, algebraical, arithmetical, horizontal, or vertical. The model was flexible enough to allow for containing the regional, sub-regional, local, and even individual predilections. It was broad enough to have the potential of subsuming the purely ephemeral, temporal royalty, feudatory lordship, and the rest. After a lapse of time, it is the perennial symbolism, the signification which can convey multilayered meaning that sustains. Herein lies the power and the efficacy of these structures as artistic expressions. While the motivations and intentions of the human instrumentality no doubt were determinants, today it is the perennial and universal which bespeak beyond history and temporality. This is as true of the great temples in south India, Brhadisvara (Tanjavur), Sriranganathasvami (Srirangam), as it is for Kandariya Mahadeva (Khajuraho), Lingaraja (Bhuvanesvara), and other such temples at Dilwara (Mt. Abu) in north India. Understandably, Sri Aurobindo, A.K. Coomaraswamy, and Stella Kramrisch focussed attention on the symbolism, significance, and meaning not eschewing the relation of form, function, and meaning. Paul Mus did the same in respect of the 'stupa', specially Borobudur in Java, also a medieval monument in terms of chronology and history.
In contradistinction, others have endeavoured to read only political, social, and economic messages through these temples. Some amongst them have attributed school, style, and technique to purely socio-economic and political conditions, and patron. While the latter were undoubtedly primary factors for creativity and specially, in the case of temples where surplus funding was essential, they cannot be in the very nature of creativity and the flow of a living tradition be the sole determinants of the final artistic product and characteristic style. The poet's, the painter's, the architect's, the sculptor's, the musician's, the dancer's, and the dramatist's skill lies in his ability to be contemporary without being ephemeral or purely local or time bound. In the case of medieval Indian architecture and its magnificent monuments, the sthapatis and the craftsmen appear to have taken the challenge of meeting dynastic desires and yet fulfilling a higher and more lasting purpose of creating a cosmos on earth with its multiplicity of the vegetative, animal, human, and divine all fusing into the one unknowable presence of the One. Even the particularity of the icon loses meaning. What remains as residual experience is fullness of the empty space of the garbhagrha where dualities are merged and lost.
Each one of the temples-through their regional schools and sub-schools, and clearly distinguishable styles and differences in superstructure-are Meru or Mahameru, They interconnect earth and heaven, move from the outer to the inner, the gross to the subtle, the mundane to the sacred, the physical to the spiritual. It is a journey from multiplicity and complexity to oneness and unity.
The chapters in the Encyclopaedia unfold the many rainbow colours, almost like the sancari bhavas (transitory states) in a grand medieval drama of Indian temple through the differences in schools and styles conditioned by dynasty and patronage. Material, forms, and techniques differ but, at the level of vision and essence, there is unity. As in the field of music and dance, where there are distinctive sampradayas and gharanas, and the ragas and compositional pattern are diverse, so also in the medieval temples: but the ultimate relish of rasa, a state of wonder (adbhuta) they evoke, is identical. Evoking the experience of being elevated to a higher level of consciousness through the monument and the ritual is the final goal. The temple structure itself, like a grand Indian musical composition, adopts a basic grid like an octave with its ascending and descending notes (its sthayi, antara, pallavi, anupallavi, and caranam) and then enlarges the built structure vertically and horizontally through repetitive motifs to create the effect of a single cascade or mood.
For the researcher and the scholar it is also an essential prerequisite to understand the 'what' and the 'how' before asking the 'why'. The volumes lay bare the structure, design, and the nuances of differentiation. Here is a mine of information and knowledge assiduously compiled by the senior scholars Krishna Deva, M.A. Dhaky, and Michael Meister. As a reference work this Volume along with others will serve, metaphorically speaking, the mountains of encyclopaedic knowledge which must be traversed before reaching the pinnacle of experience. I would like to record my, and of others like me, admiration for this diligent scholarship. I would again like to congratulate Dr. (Prof.) Frederick Asher, President of the American Institute of Indian Studies (AIIS) and its Vice-President Dr. Pradeep Mehendiratta for their direction and guidance, and to Prof. M.A. Dhaky for his exemplary scholarship and deftness as editor.
I am happy that Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA) could join the AIIS as a co-publisher in bringing out this volume. Through our combined efforts as co-publishers (and otherwise), I hope Indian art history will slowly but surely take a new turn of eschewing the 'either or' approach, and, instead, embrace both.
Some twenty years ago, a skeptical officer at the agency that has provided by far more financial support for the American Institute of Indian Studies' Center for Art and Archaeology than any other agency, pronounced with certainty that not a single volume of the Encyclopaedia of Indian Temple Architecture ever would be published. At the time, he may have had reason for doubt. But, with this volume, the project is very nearly complete. Just two more volumes and perhaps the most invaluable resource of all, the glossary volumes, remain, and they soon will be ready for press as well.
What has happened during these twenty years to change the outlook for a resource that is now widely acclaimed in many countries? Several things, mostly a series of highly effective partnerships. First, the Center became part of the American Institute of Indian Studies, where the administrative work could be shared with an extraordinarily capable and experienced new set of colleagues under the direction of Pradeep Mehendiratta, the Institute's Director-General. This left scholars to deal with scholarship. Second, the scholars themselves gave untold hours-no, even years-to the project. At the head of the list, we need to acknowledge M.A. Dhaky, who has devoted what must be described as a lifetime to the Encyclopaedia, all the while maintaining his personal scholarship, to say nothing of friendships around the world. Michael Meister provided a close editor's hand, substantial original writing, and a wise voice in shaping Pramod Chandra's original vision. Many others, too, have participated in this project. The numbers go well beyond the scholars responsible for each chapter. Four in particular merit special mention V.K. Venkatavaradhan, whose devotion to the project has insured letter-perfect text, and three draftsmen- S. Dorai, S. Pandian, and N. Ravi who have set the standard for architectural drawing in India: And Dharmapal Nanda' s complementary share at the same level of excellence on the score of photography.
Two other partnerships need acknowledgment. Following publication of the first volume, the doomsayers were proved wrong, and the Smithsonian Institution became a major sustainer of the project. Without their financial support, the project would have failed long ago. We remember fondly the late Kennedy Schmertz, whose initial support provided the much-needed expression of confidence. Gretchen Gayle Ellsworth followed him with similar support for the project. And finally we recognize with gratitude Francine Berkowitz's support for the Center for Art and Archaeology and its leading project, this Encyclopaedia. Rarely has there been a representative of a funding agency who as often appears to represent the Institute as the agency that actually employs her. Finally, the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts has provided generous support for the publication of several of these volumes. We acknowledge with gratitude Kapila Vatsyayan's confidence in the Institute and this project.
The Part 3 in the sequence takes further the publication programme for the Volume II of the Encyclopaedia of Indian Temple Architecture series of this Institute and in size is comparable to the preceding two parts. The buildings discussed here were founded in the tenth century, a period which represents the beginning of the medieval architectural styles in north India (and in parts of Pakistan), that came on the scene before the advent of the High Medieval which began from the 11th century. The building activity in the tenth century was underway in the domains of several different regional and imperial dynasties. Buildings, in a few cases, were erected by the rulers themselves, some by their vassals, provincial governors, wealthy and powerful generals, and other officers such as those on ministerial posts, also treasury officers, next the opulent merchants, and, no less, a few were founded by the heads of different religious sects, particularly the Saivaite pontiffs and Jaina abbots.
The Sanskrit terms used here have been extracted from the various medieval vastu-works of central and western India as well as Orissa and its bordering tracts in eastern India. This Part has 207 drawings and 20 site-maps in the first (text) bind, and 913 black-and-white illustrations in the second bind.
The history of this Project has not been touched upon in any of the previous parts; hence is briefly outlined here. A personal project which was destined to be a seed for this Project, was initiated late in the year 1966 at the American Academy of Benares, Varanasi (after 1970, American Institute of Indian Studies), with a modest title and limited scope, as The Dictionary of Indian Architectural Terms. Its tentative scheme I then had worked out for approval and had discussed with Dr. Pramod Chandra, the initiator and the first Director of the American Academy of Benares. (Dr. Chandra had already explored the idea with the Indian Advisory Committee of the American Academy of Benares whose members had fully supported it.) In the following year, after my discussions with K.R. Srinivasan in Madras (Chennai) and Krishna Deva in Delhi, its scope was enlarged and the Project then was promoted as the Encyclopaedia of Indian Temple Architecture with essay volumes discussing regional and period styles where the appropriate technical terms extracted from the relevant vastu-texts in Sanskrit were envisaged to be employed in the descriptions of the buildings, reflecting as they supposedly do the perception and language of the ancient/medieval architects and sculptors involved in their construction. The annotated and illustrated glossary of terms was envisaged to follow the essay Parts.
While promoting this modified and enlarged version of the Project, Prof. Chandra enlisted the support of the Smithsonian Institution in the U.S., as also of the academics connected there with the studies in the field of Indian art and architecture. The schema of the volumes then contemplated and next rigorously followed was based on three co-ordinates-region's political/historical background, socio-religious context, and the temporal bracket involved, in short within the perspective of space-time-cultural continuum. The classificatory organization of styles thus resulted is somewhat analogous to that involving phyla, genera, and species in biology which are set within the broad geographic areas and geological times. Likewise, in this instance, the architectural styles here are viewed in a continuous process of formal and stylistic evolution as they perceptibly reveal. The scheme was sufficiently flexible to accommodate new entries of the fresh stylistic groups and it can, wherever and whenever felt necessary, be modified when fresh discoveries/researches in certain regions and temporal areas so demanded or warranted. (In point of fact, the schema of each Part had been more than once revised, enlarged, and remodelled in response to the exigencies of new archaeological findings including the fresh epigraphical discoveries necessitating the modification of history and the chronology of events as well as of buildings etc., etc.) Based on the premises of the strongly marked stylistic differences, the series of publication was next designed to have two volumes, Volume I to cover the South Indian buildings and Volume II to discuss those of North India.
As in the life of an individual, so in the history of an institution, visitations of ups and downs were inevitable; the Project, as a result, sometimes received serious jolts, temporary stagnation, and even at times was threatened to be totally abandoned. However, the Varanasi Center, and along with it the Project, thanks to the efforts of the past Presidents, particularly Prof. Edward Dimock Jr., and the Vice-President of AIIS and the Director-General of its Indian operations in Delhi, Dr. Pradeep Mehendiratta, has survived and for the past two decades has been progressing at a fairly consistent pace; its productions-despite a few hostile, partisan, venomous, and motivated reviews (as against a bulk of appreciative ones) they received-have been welcomed. In point of fact, the wide use made of the volumes by several researchers in the field the world over, bears testimony to their usefulness and hence the validity of the Project. (The earlier Parts of the volumes are now largely out of stock.)
Strong reservations on the usage of Sanskrit terms had been voiced in some quarters for describing the buildings in the first Parts when they became available in print. However, we have parallels for the usage of the characteristic terminology of a given land in other fields, for instance the employment of the Arabic and Persian terms for Islamic architecture, Greek and Latin jargon for the Hellenic and Roman architecture, French, German, and Spanish terms in the domain of Romanesque and Gothic architecture, Chinese terms in understanding the Chinese paintings and philosophy: And, in India too, in the realms of Indian philosophy, literature, and Indology in general, several Sanskrit (and Pali-Prakrit) terms are used. Why, then, the opposition in the field of Indian temple architecture? Though there is some reason for such resistence in regard to the EITA volumes, this was due more to the excessive use by a few contributors not only of the genuine Sanskrit terms but also of Sanskrit words for which common English words were readily available. For instance pillar or column (and not 'stambha'), doorsill (and not 'udumbara') etc., should have been used in lieu of the Sanskrit words/terms shown here in parenthesis. (In India, of course, such Sanskrit words are widely known and readily understood.) Keeping the afore noted criticism in view, I have, for this volume, as far as was possible within the intentions of the contributing scholars, converted such terms into their equivalent English words. But the total negation of the usage of Sanskrit terms is uncalled for, because, for many architectural details, the only terms available are in Sanskrit. Some of these in origin denote their functional/locational aspects, some are metaphorical and hint to their remoter origins as well as meanings inherent in the formal shapes implied, and the associated decorative details in the total cultural context of ancient and medieval India.
As I glance through the scholarly writings of the new generation in the U.S., U.K., and Germany, researchers like Thomas E. Donaldson, Michael D. Rabe, Phillip B. Wagoner, Walter Smith, Adam Hardy, Falk Reitz (besides my friend of long standing Michael Meister), there is encountered a sizeable sprinkling of Sanskrit terms. These scholars have mastered the Sanskrit jargon to an appreciable degree. Of course, discretion has to be maintained on not unduly mixing up the jargon specific to the ancient and medieval periods, or of northern and southern India; and even in north India that of the eastern provinces and of the rest of the northern regions. (Earlier writers on Indian temple architecture have introduced confusions and hence erred exactly on this score.) Also to be avoided, as far as possible, is the usage of terms of the modern Middle Indo-Aryan or Dravidian languages-Oriya, Gujarati/Rajasthani, Tamil-e-for it is advisable strictly to employ the Sanskrit terms alone for the national as well as international usage. But these are the problems which will be tackled and discussed at some length in Part 5 of each Volume.
The present Part deals with the dawn of the medieval architecture whose onset took place precisely at the beginning of the tenth century. Medievalism in north India simultaneously manifested itself in all regions and in almost all fields of cultural expressions-literature in its manifold modes, elaborate ritualistic forms of worship, costumes and ornaments, music and dance, and above all art and architecture, converging as they all did to the same ideals, and exhibited identical inward spirit and external unity in formal appearance. Architecture, by an assured, as though pre-determined, course of evolution, by then had left behind the relative simplicity, undue massiveness, ponderousness of appearance met with in the earlier ages. The medieval era ushered in the first definite stage of creating fully organic, highly integrated, and convincingly articulate appearance of a "temple" as it will look, or should look, as Gothic era contemporaneously was to do in the medieval Europe for the "church".
The temple's lower structure and superstructure, their highly organized, stratified, and moulded surfaces in vertical rise, and their structural spread along the horizontal plane for the first time attained a well-balanced, logical, wholesome and handsomely manifest, and truly architectonic image. The figural presence and decorative art of the temples (both on the prasada and the adjoined hall) now blended harmoniously with the moulded surfaces, so much so that they cannot be separated from the total rhythm of form and features. The supple torsos, the elegant body bends, the nicely formed faces, and the fine jewellary of the associated divine and semi-divine figures, and no less the humans, wherever appearing, were depicted as engaged in the manifold activities of life including worship as well as love: They added worldly colour together with otherworldly intentions. And their specific placement on the exterior of the temple-body clarified their functions as well as the iconological import of their association even when they were progressively losing the contemplative and serene looks of the classical, post-classical, and even pre-medieval times. For the first time the prasada looked as Purusa, embodiment of Eternal Man. as well as the configuration of the total Cosmos, a perfected concrete symbol of the total existence.
Some of the greatest masterpieces of temple architecture, a few among these also possessing pretension of scale, were created in this age. True, there was still not that outburst of prolific building activity, as it will be from the beginning of the 11th century onwards till the early phase of late Medieval centuries, in the latter times it particularly happened in western India. However, much of this period's material contribution has been destroyed by the ravages of time as well as the vagaries of man. And yet, selecting from the surviving buildings, we may mention, in passing, the Laksmana and Visvanatha temples in Khajuraho, the ruined temples at Kotai and Kerakot in Kaccha, and the Muktesvara and Gauri temples at Bhuvanesvara as representing the finest gems of this early phase of medieval architecture. There will, in the next phase, be built grander edifices, notable for their more evolved form and hence even more cogent appearance. But, qualitatively, the level of excellence of form and decor and their happiest marriage visibly manifest and joyously celebrated here, in the tenth century, was not to be duplicated afterwards.
Send as free online greeting card
Email a Friend