Architectural History & Theory (AHTG)

Laxshmi Greaves

Laxshmi Greaves is currently working on an AHRC funded PhD collaborative project between the Welsh School of Architecture and the British Museum.

Laxshmi Greaves

Laxshmi Greaves

PhD Abstract
Brick Foundations: Ahichhatra and the Formation of Indian Sacred Architecture in the Gupta-Vakataka Age

The aim of the thesis is to reconstruct as far as possible, through plans and drawings, a monumental 5th century AD brick pyramidal temple structure (known as Bhimgaja or ACI) at Ahichhatra in Bareilly District, Uttar Pradesh. Despite the monument having lost its crowning shrine it still stands at an imposing 18 metres high and bears a large stone linga at its pinnacle which can be seen from a distance of 4 km. The iconography of the terracotta panels found at this location support the view that this was originally a magnificent Pasupata (Saiva) temple.

The walled fortress city of Ahichhatra was once the capital of Northern Panchala and is mentioned on a number of occasions in the Mahabharata. Archaeological evidence suggests that there was an inhabited settlement here for an estimated three thousand years which was abandoned in the 12th century following an earthquake. Ahichhatra (approximately 7 km sq.) has proved to be rich in antiquities and some of the most animated and exquisite Gupta terracottas have been found here, including the life- sized Ganga and Yamuna gateway sculptures from Bhimgaja housed at the National Museum in New Delhi. The rich heritage of this historically important location makes it seem all the more extraordinary that there has been so little penetrating scholarship on the Gupta architecture at this site.

The fascinating structures at Ahichhatra and at other comparable sites covered in this thesis, such as Mansar and Pawaya, for the most part do not belong to the mainstream nagara (North Indian) modes of temple architecture. As a result, this project aims to build an understanding of the architectural language of monumental terraced brick temples, and of Gupta brick temple architecture in general.

To achieve the objectives, a variety of approaches will be pursued. First and foremost, a formal analysis of visual material will be conducted through fieldwork, museum visits and by examining photographic evidence from the ASI archives. A series of decorative brick architectural fragments from Ahichhatra now at the British Museum, along with other bricks still lying at the site or in other museums will be analyzed. They will be compared with similar architectural components still in situ on standing Gupta temples. Comparison with other Gupta and Vakataka monuments in general will be a useful method for forming an understanding of the obscure architectural language of terraced brick temples. There will also be a new reading of the iconographic material from the Bhimgaja temple. The visual evidence will be situated in an ethnographic context, which will result in a richer and more informative thesis. Furthermore, literary, mythological and religious sources will be interpreted and compared with the visual material in order to establish an insightful and rounded picture of Gupta temple culture.

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