The Indian Temple: Production, Place and Patronage

Lead Research Organisation: Cardiff University
Department Name: Welsh School of Architecture (ARCHI)


Temples dominated the landscape of India between the 7th and 13th centuries. Protected by kings and widely supported by endowments, temples were centres of religious life, socio-economic power and artistic production. The main team members exploring this important phenomenon are Dr Adam Hardy (The Welsh School of Architecture, Cardiff University). Dr Oaud Ali (School of Oriental and African Studies) and Dr Michael Willis (The British Museum).
Established experts in aspects of Indian history and culture, the team are addressing the following questions: (1) How were temples designed and built? (2) What was the king's role as a patron of architecture and Sanskrit letters? (3) What was the social and political role of temples in medieval society? Our objective is to achieve an integrated understanding of these questions, establishing thereby a new model of interdisciplinary research in the field.
The interdisciplinary approach combines architectural history with a study of medieval patronage and the role of religious institutions in the medieval state. These issues have not been adequately examined in the Indian setting. The interrelationships between them have not been explored, the architectural, political and religious histories of medieval India having long been compartmentalised. This project has been organised specifically to bridge disciplinary divides, with an organisational structure drawing team members from different fields and institutional backgrounds.
The project centre-piece is the temple at Bhojpur. a massive structure in central India, left unfinished in the 11th century. It is associated with King Bhoja, one of India's most notable monarchs. Around the temple are quarries with rock drawings and unfinished architectural parts, a unique survival providing insights into medieval processes of design and construction. Adam Hardy is exploring these processes. The builder of the unfinished temple was King Bhoja, a renowned polymath who composed important works on art, philosophy, yoga and poetics. Daud Ali is examining Bhoja's literary output, his motivation for patronising the arts and his post-medieval reputation as an ideal king. Temples of this period received land and other revenue as endowments. Michael Willis is studying the geographical distribution of temples and their endowments, as documented by Sanskrit inscriptions, shedding light on the place of the temple in the society and economy of the medieval state.
Each team member is preparing a monograph on his respective topic, the studies being thematically interlinked and published as a set. These will be complemented by monographs by collaborators in India on the agrarian systems of central India during the medieval period, and on the goddess lies of the region. The team will be joined by research assistants attached to Cardiff University and SOAS. The Cardiff RA will produce a catalogue e British Museum's medieval sculpture collection for online publication. The SOAS RA will edit and translate King Bhoja's treatise on architecture, also for online publication. All electronic outputs will be disseminated through the project website. A PhD student at Cardiff will research 11th century temple architecture.
While the project is carefully focused, its material is paradigmatic for the study of medieval India as a whole. An interactional seminar will address the theoretical implications of this, exploring parallels between India and Europe in medieval times. The proceedings will be published online.
Through its analysis of traditional design principles, the project will contribute to the continuing search for culturally appropriate architectures in South Asia and its diasporas. Through its analysis of the social and political context of medieval temples, the project will help to counter projections of the temple as a symbol of an idealised and ahistorical Hindu past.
Title Placing the Gods' - short design project 
Description 'Placing the Gods' was a short design project run as one of the Welsh School of Architecture's Vertical Studio options, involving a group of first- and second-year Architecture students. The Vertical Studios are intended to feed some of the School's research into its teaching. 
Type Of Art Artwork 
Year Produced 2008 
Impact Educational impact. 
Description The main findings of the project were as follows:

The only intact set of medieval Indian architectural drawings, engraved on rock at the site of the unfinished 11th-century temple at Bhojpur, were documented, deciphered and re-drawn for the first time, illustrating the role of drawings in the process of design and construction of temples in medieval India: see

From the drawings it was possible to reconstruct the intended design of the Bhojpur temple, ascribed to the 11th-century king Bhoja, and to show that, if completed, this would have been the largest Hindu temple ever built.

Translations were made from the Samaranganasutradhara, the famous architectural canonical text also ascribed to Bhoja. Through collaboration between a Sanskritist and an architect/architectural historian is was possible to reach an unprecedented degree of understanding of the architecture dealt with in the text, and to translate its prescriptions into drawings.

Through comparison of the text with surviving contemporary temples, from which key dimensions were taken in field surveys, it was possible to draw conclusions about the relationship of actual practice to a theoretical text, in terms of composition and typology, measure and proportion, and the degree to which a design can be said to 'follow a text'. It was shown that these texts provide frameworks for interpretation and improvisation, and may act as a catalyst to architectural invention.

Remains of the royal palace at Bhojpur were discovered through the project. This is the only surviving building of this kind dating from the medieval period. It confirms that this site, with its well-known unfinished medieval temple, was a complex ritual centre, built by king Bhoja.

The circular city at Dhar shows that large urban centres were constructed in the
10th and 11th centuries in north India, subverting long-held ideas about
'feudalisation' and 'de-urbanisation' in medieval times. Coupled with studies of the
development of rural estates and temples in 11th century, these findings
necessitate a reassement of the paradigms used to define the constitution of India
after the 6th century CE.
Exploitation Route Apart from the new avenues that the project has opened up within its academic field, there are two ways in which the understanding gained through the project can be applied. Adam Hardy (PI of the project) has been commissioned to apply this understanding in both of these ways:

1. Temple conservation. Hardy has been commissioned by World Monuments Fund to develop a conservation strategy for ruined temples at Ashapuri, Madhya Pradesh, including making graphical reconstructions from scattered fragments.

2. Design of new temples using traditional principles. Hardy has designed a temple in the 12-th century style of the Hoysala dynasty, to be stone-built and hand-carved, for a site near Bangalore, now in the initial stages of construction.
Sectors Construction,Creative Economy,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

Description In the application we proposed that: 'Through its analysis of the social and political context of medieval temples, the project will help to counter projections of the temple as a symbol of an idealised and ahistorical Hindu past.' A step to counter such projections has been a Wikipedia entry explaining that the communally contentious, so-called 'Bhoja Shala' at Dhar was in fact a Jaina establishment. We also argued that 'Through its analysis of traditional design principles, the project will contribute to the continuing search for culturally appropriate architectures in South Asia and its diasporas.' The project provides a necessary understanding both for those who advocate the creative use of traditional principles without necessary using traditional forms, and for those who aim or claim to create traditional forms. A direct illustration of this understanding is provided by the commission to design a 'Hoysala' temple near Bangalore, where the brief is that the temple in 'Hoysala style', but not a copy of any existing Hoysala temple: Understanding gained through the project is being applied in a project funded by World Monuments Fund to develop a conservation strategy for ruined temples at Ashapuri (Madhya Pradesh):
First Year Of Impact 2010
Sector Construction,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural

Title Electronic database of archaeological remains and temple fragments in three districts of Madhya Pradesh 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Provided To Others? No