Thursday, September 22, 2005

Indian temple architecture - where did it all start?

Vijayanagar - Seat of learning, and a place so rich during the 14th century, Vijayanagar defined the final culmination of all temple architecture around the whole of south india. The Cholas added their experience to this wealth of knowledge as well. Lets say they were the Baroque stages of maturity in European terms. Profusely decorated temples, depicting anything and everything from all strata of society as well as all worlds clothe the various temples in exquisit sculptural finery. But where did it all start?

In the south? No, in the north maybe, but strangely, dravidian art owes a lot to its predecessor, the Buddhists. A lot of the over ornate elements that crown chola pallava and vijayanagar styles of architecture take their roots from buddist caves.

So the start was in a buddhist cave, not at ajanta or bhaja but in a remote place in Bihar, in the Barabar hills. The very first mauryan caves, whose walls still glisten with mauryan polish, were the first to be carved into stone rocky walls. Bihar speaks of 2 caves, the Lomas Rishi and the Sudama caves that started the trend of making retreats in rocky cliff sides. We can safely assume that what existed before this was in wood and has perished with time, leaving behind traces of its existance among these rocky caves.

I hope to trace back the visual story of indian art in this blog, each post chronologically covering a place (cave or temple) that added its value to the larger story giving us vital clues of progress in indian architecture through the indian subcontinent. I wouldn't leave it to all architecture, for there will be a lot of sculptural additions which add to the over all picture of social and religious acceptance of cults around the country and why temples came to be located where they presently stand today. We cannot eliminate cult worship and iconography so all this would pretty much go hand in hand.

For now, lets start this story with the first caves of Barabar hills. Purely buddhist in nature, and simple in appearance, these caves give the basic shape to a Chaitya hall facade which later decorated the cliffs sides of Ajanta. The fantastic arch window, shaped similar to a horse shoe, took is first form in rock here. Decorated with elephants and symbols of Buddha, then worshipped in the Hinayana phase, it holds up the simplest arch window that covers the entrance. Interestingly the entrance of the LomasRishi cave shows wooden beams carved into stone, more as a decorative piece than functional in nature. Here is where it all started.


Blogger Sriram C S said...

Interesting post...

2:50 AM  
Blogger Venky Krishnamoorthy said...

this is a great post... how did you manage it?

12:59 PM  
Blogger mysorean said...

Wow! Extremely insightful! :)

The grandeur of the temples at Vijayanagar has its humble beginnings at Bihar! Excellent!

Looking forward to your coming posts Kavitha!

5:33 AM  

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