The Indian Temple: Production, Place, Patronage

The project was a collaboration between Cardiff University, the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) and The British Museum. It began in 2006, when it was granted funding (£632,186 f.e.c.) for three years by the Arts and Humanities Research Council of the United Kingdom. The main collaborators were Dr Adam Hardy (Cardiff), Dr Michael Willis (British Museum) and Dr Daud Ali (SOAS).

Temples dominated the landscape of India between the seventh and thirteenth centuries. Protected by kings and widely supported by endowments and other gifts, temples enjoyed ascendancy as centres of religious life, socio-economic power and artistic production. Although much research has been carried out on temple architecture since the late nineteenth century, important questions remain about how temples were patronised and constructed and the place they occupied in a medieval Indian polity. Three general themes, each with a corresponding question, provided a framework for our research:

Production (Adam Hardy): How were temples designed and built?
Place (Michael Willis): What was the social and political role of medieval Indian temples?
Patronage (Daud Ali): What was the king’s role as a patron of architecture and Sanskrit letters?

The ultimate aim was to achieve an integrated understanding of these questions, establishing a new model of interdisciplinary research in the field.

In addressing these broad themes, one temple site, paradigmatic of medieval Indian in general, was taken as the starting point for the project. This is the site of Bhojpur, near Bhopal in central India, where a gigantic temple was left unfinished in the mid-eleventh century. Around the temple are quarries and unfinished architectural parts, along with architectural drawings engraved on the rocks, a unique survival providing insights into the processes of design and construction. The temple is associated with King Bhoja of the Paramara dynasty, a renowned polymath. Bhoja is the subject of many stories and legends in nearly every Indian language, and is known as one of the greatest kings of medieval India. Over thirty literary works are ascribed to him, including the Samaranganasutradhara, a famous but barely understood architectural treatise, which formed a central part of the study.

Our two main collaborators in India were Dr O. P. Mishra (Department of Archaeology, Madhya Pradesh) and Dr Vishwa Mohan Jha (Delhi University). Two Research Assistants took part in the project: Mattia Salvini, based at SOAS, worked on the Samaranganasutradhara; Anne Casile, based at Cardiff but working with Michael Willis at the British Museum, created a database of archaeological remains and fragments of temples in three districts of Madhya Pradesh. The project doctoral student, Doria Tichit, completed her PhD on the Udayeshvara, the exquisite Paramara temple at Udayapur. Amita Kanekar did extensive survey and drawing work, and there were important contributions in this respect by Ananya Gandtora, Sonal Mithal Modi, and Yashaswini Sharma.

An international seminar exploring the nature of 'the medieval' in a comparative context was held in 2009.