Brick temples of Northern India

In parts of India, especially the south, examples of a given temple design can often be found in both brick and stone, virtually indistinguishable once plastered and painted. Are there differences in the proportions? In a brick temple, vertical dimensions are clearly determined by brick coursing. Are horizontal dimensions also affected by brick sizes? Are given temple types conceived in stone adapted to brick, or do brick temples set the rules for stone ones? Apart from these questions, there are basic ones about brick construction. Is mortar used? How are the bricks bonded? How are they used for spanning and covering space? How much of their shape and patterning is moulded in advance, how much carved in situ?

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In many areas brick temples would have been far more numerous than stone ones, but few have survived as they are less durable. Much of the art historical picture is missing for this reason. A huge gap in this picture sweeps across the Indian cultural heartland of Madhyadesha in the Gangetic basin, overwhelmingly a region of brick, where most temples have been obliterated by time and conquests. It is therefore surprising that scholarship has neglected the few brick temples that do survive there. Though the fifth-century Gupta brick temple at Bhitargaon, near Kanpur, is well known, a group of eighth- to tenth-century temples in the same area has not been studied in detail.

This study of brick temples, originally stemming from The Indian Temple project, focuses on these monuments in Kanpur and Fatehpur Districts, including the temples at Nimyakheda, Thithaura, Sardhan Bujurg, Kurari, and Tinduli. Built at a time when nearby Kanauj dominated northern India, especially when it was capital of the Gurjara-Pratihara empire, it could be imagined that these are the remnants of an imperial style which at Kanauj itself is lost in the rubble. Yet, although these are definitely Nagara temples, their character is far from mainstream – idiosyncratic, with an inventive profusion of carved patterning, very different from stone temples thought of as ‘Pratihara’ in central India. Belonging to the same tradition as the monuments around Kanpur and Fatehpur, but some distance to the north, at Nasirabad in Sitapur District, are two groups of brick temples that have not been documented or published. We have carried out a measured study of theses temples in collaboration with Dr Rakesh Tewari (Department of Arcaheology, Uttar Pradesh) and Dr Neeta Das (Lucknow University).

Another strand in our study of brick temples focuses on a unique survival in Haryana, at Kalayat in Kaithal District, not far from Kurukshetra of Mahabharata fame. Here we have collaborated with INTACH Haryana and the heritage organisation DRONAH. Two brick temples dating to around the beginning of the eighth century stand next to a large tank, on either side of the complex known as the Kapil Muni Tirth. There are no academic publications on these temples, though they are protected by the ASI. One, dedicated to Shiva, is well preserved, and provides an insight into what many temples must have been like in this region. It is very much more mainstream Nagara than the brick temples studied in Uttar Pradesh, relating closely to Nagara stone temples of the period in central India. At the same time it seems to represent a ‘missing link’ between the latter and Nagara monuments in the Himalayan foothills, such as Masrur and Bajaura in Himachal Pradesh.


  • "Brick Infill: Little known brick temples of the Pratīhāra period", in Parul Pandya Dhar and Gerd Mevissen eds., Temple Architecture and Imagery of South and Southeast Asia: Essays presented to Prof. M. A. Dhaky (New Delhi: Aryan Books International, forthcoming 2015)
  • Adam Hardy, ‘The Brick Shiva Temple at Kalayat in the Context of Nagara Temple Architecture’, in Shikha Jain and Bhawna Dandona (ed.), Haryana Cultural Heritage Guide (New Delhi, INTACH with Aryan Books International, 2012), pp. 55-62

Brick Foundations: Ahichhatra and the Formation of Indian Sacred Architecture in the Gupta-Vakataka Age

A related piece of research is an AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Partnership awarded in 2010 for a PhD to be supervised jointly with The British Museum (Prof. Adam Hardy, with Dr Michael Willis as Supervisor at the BM). The focus is the fifth-century, terraced, brick Gupta temple mound at Ahichhatra near modern Ramnagar (Uttar Pradesh), and the starting point of the research is twenty-six terracotta architectural fragments from Ahichhatra held in the BM. The research broadens out to throw light on the character and development of temple architecture in the Gupta-Vakataka period. The AHRC bursary was awarded to Laxshmi Greaves.