Temple making is generally a movement of the creator's idea from within to the exteriors through the medium of stones. He projects the mass frontally, elevated vertically in three-dimensional forms and creates a structural edifice. In contrast, the rock-cut temple presents the spectrum of life moving from outside to inside to create a world of its own. Rock-cut shrines represent the fountains -of creativity wherein ideas of art germinated as sapling and were later nurtured into trees.
Rock-cut cave temple architecture of South India, spanning a period of over four hundred years and patronized by the Calukya, Pallava, anti Rastrakutas, as a symbol of political vitality, is a unique contribution of Indian art towards world heritage. Epitomizing Indian mysticism and philosophy besides eternalizing the innovative intellect of the artisans and their patrons.; this mode of architecture proved to be latent with underlying symbolism of forms. A plethora of divine and worldly images pulsating with life, signify a residence place of the gods in all their majesty and glory besides highlighting the cultural ethos and philosophical contours of the period concerned.
Art-historical studies are usually equated with mere historical and cultural placements of art specimens in a chronological framework. The current study endeavours to map out the sequence and highlight the architectural components of the rock excavations beginning from the Calukyan caves through Pallava rathas and mandpams up to the climax of such ventures in the form of Rastrakuta Kailasanatha temple at Ellora. While the Pallava creations were geographically located down south, those of the Calukya and Rastrakuta patrons in Deccan bore affinity with the Dravidian style, therefore forming an extension of South 'Indian art.
Adequately complemented with 9 maps, 178 figures and 67 colour illustrations, the work unravels an art- oriented analysis of various architectural aspects evolving under the cave temples. It emphasizes upon rock creations as essentially sculptures on a grand scale, _ and analyses the influence of structural architecture in their progression. The findings outline the creative processes and the evolutionary form of structures as manifested in the ground plan; the sketch the transition from ex perimental To developed stages of rock architecture; elaborate upon the symbolism of the excavations in depth encompass the formative process of rock-cut architecture, covering both cut-in and cut-out aspects; and furnish an updated historiography of this phase of the Indian art.
Dr. Preeti Sharma specializes in Ancient Indian History, Indian Art and Architecture, and South Indian Rock-cut Temple Art and Architecture. Her areas of research interest also include gender studies, especially women's representation in art and literature; feminine sexuality; social history with special bearings on patriarchic formations; cultural formations; folkloric studies, etc. She has published more than thirty research papers in reputed national and international journals on related issues, besides making scholarly presentations including those at UK (University of Cambridge), Italy, Spain, etc.
An alumnus of the University of Rajasthan, Jaipur, she has been recipient of several awards and prizes including the University Grants Commission's (UGC) Inter University Centre Research Associateship in Humanities and Social Sciences at the prestigious Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Rashtrapati Nivas, Shimla, Himachal Pradesh where she worked on 'Interpretations of Mahabalipurarn Relief'. She has also been offered a visiting fellowship at the School of Advanced Study, Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London, UK. Presently, she is serving as Professor and Head, Department of History and Indian Culture, Banasthali Vidyapith, Rajasthan.
Temple making is generally a movement of the creator's idea from within to the exteriors through the medium of stones. He projects the mass frontally, elevated vertically in three-dimensional forms and creates a structural edifice. In contrast, the rock-cut temples present the spectrum of life moving from outside to inside to create a world of their own. Rock-cut shrines are nothing but fountains of creativity where ideas of art evolved as sapling and were later nurtured into trees.
My visits to South India as a student of Art History initiated me to the enigmatic world of cave temples, a fascinating amalgamation of human ingenuity and divine mythology. These visits proved a budding ground for a number of questions in my mind to be contemplated upon in the course of future study. For instance, historically speaking, the practice of cave excavations was popular among the non-theistic religious sects like Buddhism and Jainism, which required a secluded place to meditate upon and seek the self, or even before that, as safe retreats for the wandering monks, bhikshus, during rainy season. But the ritual- oriented Brahmanical sects did not necessitate such exclusion. Then, what led the Saivite and Vaisnavite followers to chisel cave temples in the rocks, both hard and soft, involving a rigorous process and tremendous technical expertise? Was it sectarian rivalry? Or, an urge to proclaim supremacy over seemingly indefatigable mountains? Were the creators motivated by some nobler inner instincts? Or, were they moved by their own aesthetic sensibilities? Did they intend to herald some novelty in the prevailing cultural set up? Or, was it an endeavour to seek divine grace for some material incentives? Was the activity linked to political aggrandizements by the reigning dynasties? Or else, does the actual rationale lie beyond all such assumptions and comprehensions?
The symbolism latent in the excavated shrines as well as the chiseled forms are equally baffling. Besides, to what an extent the caves replicated their structural prototypes, as they betray minutest details of wooden architectural components? How was the technique of excavating, carving and sculpting, both in softer and hard stones, devised? Above all, what actually prompted their royal patrons who, despite incessant military campaigns, actively patronized them? Was the activity a manifestation of or legitimization of political authority disguised under religious affiliations? What propelled the equally enthusiast artists who measured steps with their mentors in undertaking such vulnerable, enormously challenging, time-consuming and patience-testing enterprises. The manner of their creation, the magnitude of scale on which executed, lavish sculptural embellishments brimming with conventionalized iconographic representation, bespeaks upon the artistic expertise as well as the desire of the creators to endow their creations with immortal fame and enduring life span. These were some of the queries and observations enticing me to work on the rock-cut architecture of South Indian cave temples.
To me the rock-cut temples revealed themselves as hidden treasures of art inside the mountain. They are the creations of space through architectural projection Of divine drama through sculptures. They rather signify a unique world or cosmos of Gods where they play, dance, marry, eliminate the evil, i.e. indulge in interplay of creation and annihilation within the cave premises, and manifest themselves in hierarchies and a variety of manifestations. Herein the soft, elegant, rhythmic forms of deities, emerging from the heart of the hard granite or soft trap stone, are a spectator's delight. The spontaneity and dynamism underlying these figures render them lifelike. The reflection of images, particularly in bright and fading sunlight, is indeed a matter of supreme vision or divine revelation. For me, the experience of moving within the inscrutable environs from. one cave to another was analogous to Alice moving in the wonderland.
Although a number of European and Indian archaeologists and art historians have studied these monuments through the years, their attempts remained primarily descriptive and survey-oriented accounts. The few detailed studies undertaken were region specific or dynasty centric. Such being the state of affairs, a systematic study of Indian cave temple architecture as a whole remains a desideratum.
The present work is a humble effort to map out the sequence of and highlight the architectural components of the rock excavations in South India beginning from the Calukyan caves through Pallava rathas and mandapams up to the climax of such ventures in the form of Rastrakuta Kaildanatha temple at Ellora. I have also attempted to discuss the current status of Indian heritage sites, exposed to multiplicities of vulnerabilities, both natural as well as human, and recommended certain measures that might help in mitigating the threat looming large over these treasures of our adorable past.
In planning the study, emphasis has been given on two significant aspects of cave excavations: (i) Temple architecture constitute first part of the excavation wherein the deity resides. Without the presence of religious sculptures, the abode of God and the art of rock-cut temples would be incomplete. Thus, sculptural art and iconography are not separate but comprise the second and indispensable part of the compact rock-cut architectural whole; (ii) The monolithic temples chiseled and separated from the hill have to be treated as the culmination of the art of cave excavations.
The methodology adopted for the study involved both consulting extant material for reference as well as undertaking extensive field visits to the Brahmanical excavation sites in Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra to get a first-hand information about the excavations. Consultations with subject experts for technical know-how, and locals for place-related myths and legends were also resorted to.
In the writing of this work, some oft occurring references have been given in abbreviated forms. In describing Pallava shrines' technical terminology, K.R. Srinivasan's convention has been adopted, while for those in Calukyan and Rastrakuta territories, K.V. Soundara Rajan's usage has been followed. The inscriptions have been quoted in situ or as given in the Epigraphia Indica, Indian Antiquary, Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum and South Indian Inscriptions.
Dating of the rulers or temples has not been delved upon much, as in the absence of reliable epigraphic evidences it can never be conclusively ascertained. For a similar reason, the controversy regarding authorship of Pallava Mahabalipuram monuments has been deliberately avoided. On stylistic grounds, Elephanta caves are being assigned Rastrakuta origin. Regarding art styles and iconographic specifications, only relevant and select portions have been cited from the silpasastras. Of the plethora of forms and manifestations classically assigned to Hindu divinities, only those frequently or sparsely portrayed in the rock-cut shrines have been chosen for analysis.
A uniform scheme of italicized words has been used for the words from languages other than English, i.e. Sanskrit, Hindi, Tamil, etc., as well as for book titles and references. The use of diacritical marks in modern place-names is being refrained from, but these have been used for ancient place names, dynastic nomenclatures and technical terminology of Hindi, Sanskrit or Tamil languages.
Despite my best efforts, there will certainly be several errors in the text, for which I accept all responsibility.
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