In this innovative book, John Guy examines Indian religious sculpture in its temple setting, exploring its origins and cosmological meaning, its function within the architectural schema and its dynamic role in facilitating worship by devotees. Illustrated with the Victoria and Albert Museum's unrivalled collection of South Asian sculpture, it examines Indian temple sculpture as an instrument of worship, conveying powerful religious experiences, both emotive and aesthetic. It traces the early origins of sculptural imagery in India, the emergence of the pantheon of deities associated with the growth of temple building, and with the codification of image-making. The central role of the temple setting is presented through archival and contemporary photographs, underscoring the role of ritual practice and the vitality of the temple festivals still enacted today. This book also provides a fascinating introduction to the principal iconographic forms in the three traditional religions of the Indian subcontinent, Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism, with the principal deities presented through their myths and manifestations.
John Guy is the Florence and Herbert Irving Curator of South and Southeast Asian Art at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. He previously served for 22 years as Senior Curator of Indian Art at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. He is an elected Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London and of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Major publications include Arts of India:1550-1900 (V&A 1990), Indian Art and Connoisseurship (1995, ed.), Vietnamese Ceramics: A Separate Tradition (1998), Woven Cargoes: Indian Textiles in the East (1998), Wonder of the Age: Master Painters of India (MMA 2012), Interwoven Globe: The Worldwide Textile Trade,1500-1800 (MMA 2013) and Lost Kingdoms: Hindu-Buddhist Sculpture of Early Southeast Asia (MMA 2014).
An overwhelming impression a visitor to India gets is of the way in which religious activity pervades all aspects of daily life - the integration of everyday living and devotion is almost seamless. A second impression, which follows on quickly from the first, is of the sheer scale of religious activity and the bewildering array of deities that populate the religious landscape. This troubled the twelfth-century aiva poet-saint Basavanna, who wrote:
Gods, gods, there are so many there's no place left to put a foot.
There is only one god. He is our Lord of the Meeting Rivers (Siva].
Basavanna, hymn 563, (Ramanujan,1973: 84)
Monotheism, multiplicity, manifestations and personifications - these are the constant themes that run through the stream of Indian religious thought and its most tangible expression, the sculptural temple arts. Indian traditional religions and their arts also continue to confound the outsider with their insistence on juxtaposing the ancient and the modern, reflecting the system's ability to re-invent itself. There is no single static hierarchy of divine forms; rather, the gods appear and re-appear at their own volition. Hence, any description of the pantheon is doomed to incompleteness. The approach here has not been to attempt to be encyclopaedic but rather to be selective, focusing on the seminal deities and their key forms.
The everyday reality of Hinduism for the devotee is of a world populated by an enormous (indeed unnumbered) cast of gods, demi-gods, saints and ascetics, who exist alongside local cult deities and deified heroes. At the pinnacle of this vast theatre preside three supreme gods: Siva, the embodiment of creative energy and its seeds of destruction; Visnu, whose role is to protect the universe from the forces of disintegration and periodically restore order; and Devi, the personification of female power. All of these gods can assume forms that are variously benign or fearsome, through their numerous manifestations.
Indian Temple Sculpture aims to assist those interested in the temple arts of India to access the subject in a way that presents its seemingly bewildering multi-layering of meanings and apparent (and actual) complexities in an accessible form. Much of what appears here is a synthesis of a large and often demanding literature on Indian religions and the role of devotional art, presented through the filter of my study of temple arts - principally sculpture - and my own observations and study of devotional practices. The emphasis therefore falls on Hindu beliefs, imagery and worship, which are most prevalent in the subcontinent today, but also on Jain and Buddhist practices, both historical and contemporary. Indian religious sculptures in the temple context are examined - their cosmological meaning, how they function within the architectural schema and their dynamic interactive role in worship.
It is my hope that this approach will provide a way into this rich and fascinating subject, although it must be stressed that this is but one approach to a subject that defies a single set of definitions. Traditional Indian religions and the art forms to which they give expression carry different meanings for different followers. Much of the meaning is time specific and geographically defined, rendering generalizations flawed from the outset. Generalizations are nonetheless necessary in order to present a panoramic view of the religious arts of the Indian subcontinent. There will undoubtedly be specific details to which some readers can offer alternative interpretations, or for which they can describe divergent ritual practices and recount different explanatory mythologies. This in part reflects the lack of a clearly defined single philosophy in Brahmanism and acknowledges the multiplicity of streams of thought that are embodied in Indian traditional religions: this is in the nature of a complex and dynamic religious system that has at its core the power to transform itself. Add to this the reverence attached to the revelatory religious experience and we are witnessing a belief system in continuous flux.
This book examines Indian sculpture both in the context of the temple schema of which it forms an essential component - integral to its meaning and function -and as a tool of worship, animated by priestly ritual and personal devotion. The efficacy of an image - its effectiveness in worship - is affected both by the way it is made by the artist/artisan (sthapati), and by the way that it is approached by the devotee. Correct procedures need to be followed in both cases. Guidance for the maker is provided by the Sastras, and for the devotee, usually guided by a priest, by the agama texts concerned with ritual. The origins of sculptural imagery and the emergence of a pantheon of deities that paralleled the growth of temple building are examined, along with the later codification of art-making as reflected in the medieval artist's manuals (aastras) - guides that dictated not only form but also rasa, the emotional authority of a work of art. The principal deities are presented through their myths and manifestations. The major iconographic forms in the three traditional religions of the Indian subcontinent, Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism, are described, conveying a picture of the iconographic richness of India's religious imagery.
Artists in the Indian subcontinent have been making sculptures of the gods for more than 2,000 years. This study is devoted to the products of their activity: the making of religious sculptures in clay, stone, metal, wood and ivory. The oldest date from the early centuries BCE, the bulk from the high point of monumental temple building in India in what can be broadly termed the 'medieval' period, from the sixth to the sixteenth centuries. The study is illustrated through the Victoria and Albert Museum's extensive collection of South-Asian sculpture, contextualized by the use of both archival and contemporary photographs of Indian temple sculpture in worship.
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