PRASADA Home

Theory and Practice of Temple Architecture
in Medieval India

Bhoja's Samarānganasūtradhāra and the Bhojpur Line Drawings

Adam Hardy

with translations from the Sanskrit by Mattia Salvini

(New Delhi: Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts with Dev Publishers, 2015)
Buy book
303 pages, numerous photographs and line drawings

This book is about vastuvidya or architectural theory, the creation of temples, and the role of drawing as an indispensible bridge between the two. It focuses on two works attributed to Bhoja, the legendary Paramāra ruler of Malwa in the first half of the eleventh century. The first of these is his vastly ambitious, but unfinished, royal temple at Bhojpur, with its unique set of architectural drawings engraved on the surrounding rocks. These beautiful drawings, documented here for the first time, provide insights into construction processes and glimpses of hitherto unknown temple forms. They also hold the key to the intended design of the Bhojpur temple itself, which would have been by far the biggest Hindu temple in the world.

The other main focus of this study is Bhoja's great compendium of architectural knowledge known as the Samarānganasūtradhāra, a project of comparable ambition to his temple. This famous Vāstuśāstra was compiled at a moment when the classical traditions of Indian architecture had blossomed into abundant maturity, and could be understood in relation to one another, in all their diversity. The Samarāngana's treatment of Nāgara, Drāvida and Bhūmija temples are covered here in detail, with key chapters translated both into English and into drawings of the temple designs that the text encapsulates. As illustrated by numerous photographs, the text describes types known among surviving monuments, as well as many others probably never built. Far from being a straightjacket and an impediment to growth, the text is revealed both as full of architectural invention, and as a framework and a stimulus to further creativity. This book will allow the reader to begin to understand the temple architecture of medieval India through the eyes of its creators.

Acknowlegements i
Credits for the illustrations ii
Translator's note ii
Map showing temple sites mentioned in the text iv
1. Introduction
   Temple and Text 1
   Bhoja's Royal Temple and the Architectural Tradition 4
   Bhoja's Treatise on Architecture and the Textual Tradition 22
2. Bhoja's Abandoned Building Site 31
3. Nāgara Temples in the Samarānganasūtradhāra 75
4. Drāvida Temples in the Samarānganasūtradhāra 165
5. Bhūmija Temples in the Samarānganasūtradhāra 203
6. Theory and Practice
   Bhojpur and the Samarānganasūtradhāra 255
   Correlating Temples and Text 256
   Parivartana 260
   Texts, Drawings and the Act of Creation 264
Appendix 1. Measured survey of the mulaprasada of the Udayeśvara temple, Udayapur, by Amita Kanekar 271
Appendix 2. Comparisons between prescriptions in Chapter 65 of the Samarānganasūtradhāra and examples of Bhūmija temples 272
Appendix 3. From Point to Parivartanā to Plan, by Paul Glossop 277
Glossary 285
Bibliography 289
Index 292

There are many questions to be answered about the Vāstuśāstras, the 'canonical' Indian texts on architecture, and their relationship to practice. Who wrote them, priests or practitioners? Who used them, connoisseurs or craftsmen? Do they seek to control practice, or to confer authority? Do they describe practice, or guide it, or inspire it? Do they aim to reveal, or partly to conceal? Do they create norms, or mnemonics? Are they an inventory of tradition, or are they inventing it?

Apart from words, architecture has another way of transmitting ideas: drawings. Were architectural drawings used in medieval India? If so, what were they like? Were they schematic or detailed, approximate or precise? Were they used to perpetuate existing principles, or develop new designs? Were they drawn to scale? Were they used for practical purposes of setting out and construction?

And how did drawings relate to the texts? Was the role of drawings diminished because so much was conveyed verbally? Or could texts only describe what had already been drawn, if not built? Are texts and drawings products of different preoccupations, one elite and the other practical? Or do both arise from a single world of complementary theory and practice?