This lecture will look at cultural modes of developing a meaningful localised universe (or: how to make sense of stones). It will focus on literary material associated with the South Indian Varada temple in Kanchipuram. The wider South Indian context, that may relativise claims of uniqueness or may take a polemical stance, will be explored, and some more general, comparative remarks will be added.
This lecture counters the linear view of religious change in South Asia, which suggests that the Hindu temple came into its own after the decline of Buddhism in the fourth-fifth centuries AD. Instead the presentation shows that the temple form was part of a common architectural vocabulary widely used from the second century BC onwards not only for the Buddhist shrine, but also for the Hindu and Jain temples and several local and regional cults.
The first lecture in the series traces the beginnings of the archaeology of religion in 19th-20th century India and highlights the trends that emerged in the study of the Hindu temple as a result of this intervention. Perhaps the most salient is the disjunction between religious praxis and theory and the study of architecture divorced from its ritual and philosophical moorings.
Recitation from sacred texts including the Epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata was a crucial part of ritual activities at temples further reinforced by representations of themes from literature in narrative panels on temple walls. The most sustained visual narrative based on the Valmiki Ramayana dates from 5th to 8th centuries and is to be found on the Visnu temple at Deogarh dated to 425 AD, the contemporary temple at Nachna, as well as in the Deccan on the Durga, Papanatha and Virupaksa temples at Aihole ‚Äì Pattadakal and at the Kailasa temple at Ellora.
The distribution of Buddhist and early temple sites shows that they overlap in the lower Krishna basin. But more noticeable is the clustering of early temple sites in the two interior districts of Mahboobnagar and Kurnool in Andhra where no Buddhist sites have been found, for example temple sites such as Keesaragutta and Alampur. The most ornate of the early temples located in the Eastern Deccan are those at the site of Alampur situated at the confluence of the rivers Tungabhadra and Krishna.