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Department of the History of Art and Archaeology, School of Arts

The Indian Temple

Module Code:
15PARC034
Unit value:
1
Year of study:
Year 1 or Year 2
Taught in:
Full Year

This course explores the formal development, meaning and function of Hindu, Jain and Buddhist religious architecture and sculpture from the 2nd century BC to the 13th century AD. The study will take a largely chronological approach, although it will treat the development of North Indian (Nagara) and South Indian (Dravida) temples separately. It will seek to answer questions concerning why Indian temples look like they do, and how their structures and iconographic programmes should be interpreted. How do North and South Indian temple structures and styles originate and develop over time? How do the two architectural languages differ? What do Indian temples symbolise? How are they understood and navigated during devotional ritual? Who are the gods and celestial deities that frolic across their walls and towers, and why are they there? To what degree do the Vastushastras (early Indian texts detailing the rules of Indian architecture) have a practical application in the design of Indian temples? Visits to examine temple sculpture in London museums will be included.

This course will appeal to students studying other areas of Asian and African art and archaeology with an interest in religious art and architecture, and students of South Asian history and religions.

 

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

At the end of the course, a student will be able to:

  • Critically analyse sculpture, architecture and urban landscapes from South Asia using appropriate vocabulary.
  • Examine a range of approaches to understanding sacred architecture and its images from South Asia.
Learning Outcomes - Knowledge; Understanding; Skills
  • Knowledge of the chronological framework for the development of the art and architecture of South Asia from c. 400 to the present, with an emphasis on sacred architecture and sculpture.
  • Knowledge of the political, social and religious contexts for the production and use of art in South Asia in this period.
  • Understanding of key themes and approaches to the study of religious art in South Asia.
  • The ability to critically analyse sculpture, architecture and urban landscapes from South Asia using appropriate vocabulary.
  • The ability to constructively criticise the approaches and methods of art historians.

Scope and syllabus

Fieldtrips to study the collections of the British Museum and Victoria & Albert Museum may also be included.

Core thematic issues:
  • Religious change – Vedic sacrifice to temple Hinduism; devotion (bhakti), modernity.
  • Identity – religious, political.
  • Politics – images and loot, kingship and temples, temple destruction and re-use.
  • Design – forms, symbolism, textual theory and artistic practice.
  • Image – ritual, iconography, iconographic programmes.
  • Space – sacred landscape, urbanism, pilgrimage, festivals.

This course will appeal to students studying other areas of Asian and African art and archaeology with an interest in religious art and architecture, and students of South Asian history and religions.

Method of assessment

Three essays (4,000 words - 35%, 1,000 words - 10%, 4,000 words - 35%) and one 90-minute slide test (20%)

Suggested reading

  • Davis, Richard H. Lives of Indian Images. Princeton 1997.
  • Dehejia, Vidya, ed. The Sensuous and the Sacred: Chola bronzes from South India. New York, Seattle and London 2002.
  • Desai, Vishakha, and Darielle Mason, eds. Gods, Guardians and Lovers: Temple Sculptures from North India AD 700-1200. New York 1993.
  • Eck, Diana L. Darsan: Seeing the Divine Image in India. New York 1998 (3rd ed.).
  • Guha-Thakurta, Tapati. Monuments, Objects, Histories: Institutions of Art in Colonial and Postcolonial India. New York and Chichester: Columbia University Press, 2004.
  • Hardy, Adam. The Temple Architecture of India. Chichester 2007.
  • Michell, George. The Hindu Temple: An Introduction to Its Meaning and Forms. Chicago and London 1988.

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