SOAS University of London

History of Art and Archaeology

Arts of the Tamil Temple

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2022/2023
FHEQ Level:
Taught in:
Term 2

Temples have been built in stone from the 6th century to the present in the Tamil region of south India, from small rock-cut shrines to the monumental temple-cities of the 17th century. This course examines the temple architecture, sculpture and painting of Tamilnadu in order to explore many themes and issues of wider relevance to the study of the art and visual culture of medieval and early modern South Asia. Though the focus of the course is on Hindu art, Jain and Buddhist material will also be addressed. The course will include seminar sessions at the British Museum.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of this module a student will be able to:

  • Critically analyse sculpture and architecture from southern India using appropriate vocabulary.
  • Examine a range of approaches to understanding works of art from South Asia, focussing on the arts of southern India.
  • Interpret the chronological framework for the arts of south India from the 6th to early 20th century CE.
  • Evaluate the political, social and religious contexts for the production and use of art in south India.
  • Critique the approaches and methods of art historians.


One hour lecture, one hour seminar

Scope and syllabus

  1. Cultural foundations of south India. Archaeology and state formation.
  2. Political allegory and religious narrative in Pallava sculpture.
  3. Royal gods, sacred kings: Pallava patronage and the temple
  4. Imperial Chola temples.
  5. Who’s who in the Tamil temple.
  6. ‘Living’ images and Hindu ritual.
  7. The Dance of Shiva and Chidambaram
  8. Architecture and memory at Vijayanagara.
  9. Festivals, processions and temple urbanism.
  10. Collecting south India: the historiography of the Tamil temple.

Method of assessment

  • One 750-1,000-word object analysis/literature review - 30%
  • One 2,000-2,500-word essay - 70%

Suggested reading

  • Davis, Richard H. Lives of Indian Images. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997.
  • Dehejia, Vidya, ed. The Sensuous and the Sacred: Chola Bronzes from South India. New York, Seattle and London: American Federation of Arts and University of Washington Press, 2002.
  • ———. The Thief Who Stole My Heart: The Material Life of Sacred Bronzes from Chola India, 855–1280. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2021 [ebook].
  • Dehejia, Vidya, and Peter Rockwell. The Unfinished: The Stone Carvers at Work in the South Indian Subcontinent. New Delhi: Roli, 2015.
  • Guy, John. Indian Temple Sculpture. London: V&A Publications, 2007.
  • Francis, Emmanuel and Charlotte Schmid, eds. The Archaeology of Bhakti II: Royal Bhakti, Local Bhakti. Publications de l’Institut Français d’indologie. Pondicherry & Paris: Institut Français de Pondichéry; École Française d’Extrême-Orient, 2016.
  • Kaimal, Padma. Opening Kailasanatha The Temple in Kanchipuram Revealed in Time and Space. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2021 [ebook]
  • Michell, George, and Indira Viswanathan Peterson. The Great Temple at Thanjavur: One Thousand Years, 1010-2010. Mumbai: Marg Publications, 2010.
  • Nanda, Vivek, and George Michell, eds. Chidambaram: Home of Nataraja. Bombay: Marg, 2004.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules