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The Temple of Bhitargaon (An Old and Rare Book)

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Item Code: UAS342
Publisher: Agam Kala Prakashan, Delhi
Language: English
Edition: 1981
Pages: 261 (Throughout B/w Illustrations)
Other Details 11.00 X 9.00 inch
Weight 980 gm
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Book Description
About the Book

By general consensus the temple of Bhitargaon is acknowledged by archaeo logists to be the key temple with no surviv ing earlier example. This book, therefore, fills an important gap in the study of Indian temple architecture.

The special features of the temple are the existence of a sikhara which is more than twice the height of the body. The shrine is built on the panchayatna plan with two recesses on each corner in order to invest the sikhara with dimensional elegance. The pilasters are the best found in brick archi tecture of ancient India, the geometrical and floral carvings on bricks are of exquisite workmanship and, but for a few exceptions there are no terracotta compositions in relief to match the proportion and beauty of the panels at Bhitargaon.

A brief survey of the temple was made in 1877 78 by Cunningham and again in 1907-09 by Vogel and Longhurst. This is the first comprehensive survey of this monument which constitutes an important landmark in the evolution of temple architecture in India.

Cunningham was of the view that the temple was older than the 7th century A.D. Vogel arrived at the conclusion that it was of the 4th or 5th century A.D. A few years ago J.C. Harle of Oxford expressed the opinion that the temple should be dated between A.D. 425 and 450. The author has used a number of parameters for judging the age of the temple. These are iconographic con ventions as compared to other contemporary monuments, both in brick and stone, stylis tic characteristics of terracotta panels, the dresses and ornaments represented in the sculpture and the motifs used on bricks and pilasters. He has come to the conclusion that it cannot be of a date later than the 5th century A.D.

Each feature of the structure, the founda tions, plan, section, elevation motifs, the components of pilasters and cornices and the numerous terracotta panels with which it is embellished have been described. The author has compared not only the terracotta panels but also the motifs on pilasters and cornices with similar other contemporary.

earlier and later objects. Monographs so far written on a single or groups of monuments in India deal with only selected and prominent features of such structures and ignore or discard those of subordinate importance. This is the first survey of a monument made in India which omits no detail either in the narrative or in the illustrations.

It is a source of great satisfaction that such an important venture has successfully been accomplished by an author whose vocation lay in an unconnected discipline and who notwithstanding a different religious persuas tion has so enthusiastically and devotedly contributed to the common cultural heritage through his deep study and unremitting labour.

About the Author

Dr M. Zaheer th 1916) had a distinguished academic career at the Allahabad University At the competitive examination for entry into the U.P. Civil (Executive) Service held in 1937 he stood first in order of merit, joined service in 1938, and was inducted into the Indian Administrative Service as from 1946 and worked as Deputy Land Reforms Com missioner, Collector and Magistrate, Joint Secretary to Government in various Depofte ments, Director Cultural Affairs and Scientific Research, was Member and Inter Chairman Tariff Commission of India, Land Reforms Commissioner, Member Board of Revenue and Director General, National Institute of Rural Development Hyderabad. As Director of Cultural Affairs and Scienti fic Research from 1957 to 1954 he reorgan nised the State Museum of Lucknow and took it to a new building in which a bold experiment of display was successfully executed, Instead of the object being kept in confined space it was displayed in simulated free environment most suited to its nature and association. The balance of restriction so removed was transferred to the spectator. He had the Mathura Museum.

of Archaeology extended and reorganised, masterminded the plan for the construction of a building for State Archives which was ultimately realized and initiated the scheme for setting up regional repositories. He was instrumental in the creation of the State Lalit Kala Academy. It was during his tenure that the now famous Astronomical Observatory at Nain! Tal was constructed and equipped.

Dr. Zaheer's interest in archaeology and art history has been of an abiding nature. Even when he had not yet graduated he published in 1935 a comprehensive article. on modern Europeon painting and this was followed by numerous articles and publica tions. His books in this field include Maintenance and Preservation of Archives and Museum Management. He has publish ed articles on Hindu Iconography, Gothic Cathedrals of France, The State Museum of Lucknow Lucknow in the Eighteenth Century, Matha Kunwar Ka Kol-Kasia and The Ruins of Kausambhi. He has made a special study of Ragas and Raginis in Indian painting and has produced a programme in which the rele vant raga is played alongwith the projection through transparencies of the corresponding paintings of schools of 17th and 18th centuries, He has lived in and visited Europe on five occasions and the Far East and the USA, six times and contributed extensively to international seminars. He has given lectures on Indian Art and Architecture at many centres in Europe and also in USA Besides Hindi Urdu and English he is also proficient in Persian and French. His hobbies include sculpture, painting, photo graphy and gardening.


The brick temple of Bhitargaon is widely acknowledged to be the key temple since it is perhaps the oldest roofed Hindu shrine extant with a high sikhara. The temple was first discovered in 1877 but no detailed study of its features was made for almost a hundred years though there is no book on ancient Indian architecture in which reference to this temple may not have been made. These references were based on the very short surveys conducted by Cunningham in 1877-78 and by Vogel and Longhurst in 1907-09. I was fascinated by this monument because of its unique posi tion in ancient Indian architecture, and the beautiful terracotta panels and bricks with which it is embellished. Though not academically qualified to embark on such a venture, I persuaded myself to study the temple and its features in detail and to write this monograph. I have in this way tried to fill a very important gap in the study of the evolution of temple architecture in India. The present survey aims at being comprehensive, and not selective. No feature, aspect, sculptural relief, floral and geometrical decoration has been omitted on the ground of its being of lesser value or importance than others.

For help and guidance I must most profoundly thank Dr. C. Sivaramamurti, the doyen of Indian Indologists and art historians who was so good as to read through the whole manuscript and to offer valuable guidance. Prof. J.E. Van Lohuizen de Leeuw of the Institute of South-Asian Archaeology, Amsterdam, also went through consider able portions of the manuscript and offered very valuable advice. My friend Shri. V.P. Mathur, Deputy Director, Cultural Affairs, Govt. of U.P. has been unsparing in his help and enthusiasm and braved many hardships in taking most of the photographs. I must also thank Shri Azmat Shah for the drawings included as Fig- 39.1 to 39.5.

I am grateful to the Archaeological Survey of India for allowing me to photo graph the monument, to have its measured drawings made, to make drawings in Fig. 35-38 from photographs of the Survey and for permission to reproduce photographs in Fig. 48-52.


The Gupta temple in brick from Bhitargaon is one of the most important monuments of the Gupta age. It is probably the earliest Gupta temple in terracotta; and after it was noticed by Cunningham, and described by Vogel decades later, has remained as obscure as the village in which it is located. Its out of the way location has itself been a blessing which assured it longivity and comparative safety from ravages during the centuries. Except for some terracottas, now in the Indian Museum and the Lucknow Museum, which are known all over the world, the monument itself has awaited a detailed study.

It therefore is a great joy to know that at last a comprehensive book on this monument will now be available. Dr. M. Zaheer, has to be thanked by scholars for his indefatigueable effort of years to make a special study of this rich early brick monument. Generally, it is only some salient features of monuments that are studied, and it is rarely that a complete survey of every little detail of the parts of a monument is made. From this point of view, the present book is unique as it is comprehensive and goes into details of almost every brick from the monument, and narrates every state of transformation of the monument for better or worse for a century from the time Cunningham discovered it in 1877.

It has been a great tradition with officers of the civil and administrative services in India to pursue intellectual hobbies and study Art, Archaeology, History. Language and Literature. It is no wonder, therefore, that Dr. Zaheer, who belonged to the Indian Administrative Service, has evinced a keen interest in this very early Gupta temple, studied it with a spirit of dedication and tried to understand every terracotta panel ornamenting it. He has taken great pains to describe the architectural features of the temple, its vicissitudes, the arrangement of the panels, their identification, the decorative bricks and ornamental patterns and their varieties, correlating them with similar bricks from other sites both Gupta and early medieval. He has contributed greatly to the knowledge of early and Gupta terracottas in India through this book.

Book's Contents and Sample Pages

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