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Research Projects

The Nagara Tradition of Temple Architecture:
Continuity, Transformation, Renewal

Funded by the Leverhulme Trust (£270,284; three years from Nov. 2015)

Feature on Leverhulme Trust website

Studies of revivals and reinventions of ancient artistic traditions in a postcolonial context tend to focus only on the political implications of the renewal, taking the earlier tradition as a changeless given, in little need of analysis. Studies of ancient traditions, on the other hand, generally regard their later manifestations as, at best, an embarrassing postscript. This project will explore how past and present can be studied both for their own sakes and for their mutual illumination, by examining the transformations and renewals of an architectural tradition across a millennium and a half in India. The tradition in question is the Nagara tradition of temple architecture, which has been the predominant branch of temple architecture across the northern portions of the subcontinent since its formative stages in the Gupta period (c. 320-500 CE), when temples, built of stone or brick, became the principal focus for worship. The aim of the project is to arrive at an integrated understanding of that tradition – its formal principles and patterns of change, its body of written theory, and its modes and processes of creative practice. Recognising the complexity and value of the artistic medium itself, the study aspires to illuminate issues of historical and social context in the light of a clear grasp of that medium.

The research is structured around three inextricably related areas: (1) The surviving temples constituting the built record, (2) the surviving related theoretical texts (Vastushastras), (3) the nature of architectural practice. For this third theme, a large part of the research will be concerned with the present-day practices of the Sompura community from Gujarat and Rajasthan. These lineages of traditional architectural practitioners (sthapatis) tend to be ignored by architectural historians and marginalised as an archaic anomaly by the architectural mainstream, despite their prodigious output and their often uncritical acceptance elsewhere as the embodiment of tradition. In the proposed project, it is envisaged that members of this community will not merely be an object of research but active contributors to its development. The long timeframe embraces a succession of periods with significantly varied social and economic conditions and changing forms of religion, inevitably affecting the nature of temple architecture and its patronage. The kind of material to be studied and the nature of the investigation vary accordingly.

Objectives

For temples:

  • To compile, in a systematic format, a documentary compendium of the known corpus of Nagara temples providing a comprehensive overview up to the present time, ranging from overall design to detail, supplementing this corpus through field surveys, most extensively for the later (post-17th century) periods for which documentation barely exists.
  • To assemble a database of relevant measurements of a full range of key examples, in plan, section and elevation; and to pioneer, specifically for Indian temple architecture, the use of digital scanning and modelling for this purpose.
  • To use both of the above to analyse evolving typologies, design principles, systems of measurement and geometry, and construction methods, illustrating the analysis through analytical drawings.
  • To make a visual survey and critical overview of the range of practices for conservation and renewal of Indian temples; to develop and illustrate the concept of meaningful display of temple remains.
  • To carry out measured and high quality photographic documentation of the temple fragments from Palitana (Gujarat) and Ajmer (Rajasthan) in the V&A collection; to make graphical reconstructions of their original contexts; and to make suggestions for their meaningful display.

For texts:

  • To transliterate and make meaningful English translations of the main chapters on temples from the Aparajitaprchchha (c. 12th century) and of a representative sample of subsequent Vastushastra texts up to the present time.
  • To make informed drawings from the prescriptions in those texts.
  • In terms of composition, type, proportions and geometry, to compare the designs dealt with in the texts with those found in corresponding built examples.
  • To understand 20th-century texts by Sompuras in their historical and historiographical contexts.

For practice:

  • To trace the conceptual and technical processes of designing and building temples in the respective periods; and to understand the role of Vastushastra texts in these processes.
  • To understand the nature and development of the architectural practice of the Sompuras over the past century.
  • To gain an overview of the range of Sompura practices (families, locations, works, scale of operations and techniques etc.).

TEAM

Prof. Adam Hardy
Principal Investigator
Dr Vishakha Kawathekar
Co-Investigator: History and practice of temple conservation
Megha Chand Inglis
Research Associate: Contemporary architectural practice
Dr Kengo Harimoto,
Dr Libbie Mills
Dr Mattia Salvini
Translations from Sanskrit Vastushastra texts
Bimal Mistry
Translations from Gujarati
Ashish Trambadia
Poonam Trambadia
Surveys and documentation
Kailash Rao
Digital documentation and analysis
Devdutt Trivedi
Virendra Trivedi
Sompura family history

Advisors

  • Prof. John Cort, Dept. of Religion, Denison University, Granville, Ohio, USA.
  • Prof. M.A. Dhaky, Emeritus Professor of American Institute of Indian Studies.
  • Prof. A.G.K. Menon, Convenor of INTACH, Delhi chapter.
  • Prof. Anupa Pande, Dean, National Museum Institute, New Delhi.
  • Dr. Samuel K. Parker, University of Washington, Tacoma, Washington, USA.
  • Prof. Rabindra Vasavada, former head of Conservation, CEPT, Ahmedabad.

Collaborating institutions

  • School of Planning and Architecture (SPA), Bhopal, India
  • Victoria and Albert Museum, London.