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Department of the History of Art and Archaeology

The Indian Temple

Course Code:
Unit value:
Year of study:
Year 1 or Year 2
Taught in:
Full Year

This course adopts a thematic approach to the temple in South Asia from the earliest examples in around 400 AD through to the present. The Hindu temple and its images will be the focus of the course, but Buddhist and Jain examples will also be examined. Whilst the thematic issues will remain similar, the geographical and chronological range of examples will vary from year to year. For example, the course may focus on either the period 400-1300 or 1300-present across India; or on southern India alone from 600 to the present; or may include the temple in Sri Lanka and Nepal. Students are encouraged to pursue their own geographical, religious and chronological interests through the assignments.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

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.