Arts of the Tamil Temple

Key information

Module not running
Module code
FHEQ Level

Module overview

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

Key objectives:

  • to critically analyse sculpture, paintings and architecture from southern India, especially the Tamil region, using appropriate vocabulary.
  • to examine a range of approaches to understanding works of art from South Asia, focussing on the arts of southern India.

Learning Outcomes - Knowledge; Understanding; Skills

  • Chronological framework for the arts of Tamil south India from the 6th century CE to c.1750.
  • Knowledge of the political, social and religious contexts for the production and use of art in south India.
  • An understanding of how and why art objects have been made in this region.
  • The ability to critically analyse sculpture, paintings and architecture using appropriate vocabulary.
  • The ability to constructively criticise the approaches and methods of art historians.
  • Critical skills necessary for further research on the arts of South Asia.

Scope and syllabus

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.

  1. Cultural foundations of south India. Archaeology and state formation.
  2. Royal gods, sacred kings. Political allegory and religious narrative in Pallava sculpture.
  3. The language of Dravida architecture. Rock-cut and structural temples.
  4. Imperial temples. Elite patronage, goddesses and the gopura.
  5. Who’s who in the Tamil temple. Gods and saints in Tamil sculpture.
  6. ‘Living’ images and Hindu ritual. Darshan, bhakti and the devotional eye.
  7. The Dance of Shiva. Festivals, processions and Tamil temple urbanism.
  8. Crossing boundaries: Jain and Buddhist art in south India.
  9. Architecture and memory. Vijayanagara and memory; Vijayanagara as memory.
  10. Views of Difference: the historiography of Hinduism and the south Indian temple.

This course will appeal to students studying the religious arts of other areas of Asia, especially the Himalayas and Southeast Asia, and to students of South Asian history and religions.

Method of assessment

Assignment of 1000 words worth 30%, assignment of 2,000 words worth 70%


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules