1 October 2010 – 1 July 2015
Laxshmi Greaves worked on an AHRC funded PhD collaborative project between the Welsh School of Architecture and the British Museum.
Brick Foundations: North Indian Brick Temple Architecture and Terracotta Art of the Fourth to Sixth Centuries
The thesis aims to develop an understanding of the nature and evolution of brick temple architecture in the subcontinent, focusing in particular on terraced Hindu structures of the fourth to sixth centuries CE. It also seeks to advance understanding of the iconography and artistry of the terracotta relief panels that once graced the outer walls or platforms of Gupta period brick temples. To date, scholarship on Hindu temple architecture of the Gupta period has primarily focused on cave and structural stone temples, while brick temple architecture of the epoch, along with terracotta reliefs and sculptures, have largely been confined to the margins of historical studies. This approach has led to the formation of a somewhat distorted picture of the architectural landscape of the Gupta period.
To address this shortcoming, all of the known terraced structures in the subcontinent have been mapped in order to establish an understanding of the development and dissemination of this mode of architecture. The architectural form and relief sculpture of the vast terraced brick Śaiva monument known as ACI or Bhimgaja, situated at the heart of the ancient fortress city of Ahichhatrā in Uttar Pradesh, forms the main case study for the thesis – with architecture being the subject of the first half of the thesis. ACI is compared with a terraced brick Vaiṣṇava structure at Pawāyā in Madhya Pradesh, formerly the Nāga centre of Padmāvatī, and with the only standing brick temple of the Gupta period, at Bhītargāon in Uttar Pradesh. Despite the scale and complexity of the former two monuments, neither has received adequate scholarship. A series of fifth- and early sixth-century CE ornamental terracotta pilaster and frieze fragments from Ahichhatrā, held in the reserve collections of the British Museum, are examined within the context of Gupta period temple architecture; the objective being to determine where each of the fragments would have been positioned on a temple. On the basis of these artefacts and related pieces from the site, it is possible to build up a picture of the type of décor that would have adorned the exterior of ACI.
The many intriguing sculptures and relief fragments from Pawāyā and Ahichhatrā are the subject of the second half of the thesis. Some of the reliefs – especially those hailing from ACI – are of great importance since they represent some of the earliest visual depictions of myths contained in the Mahābhārata and other religious texts. These reliefs and sculptures are explored within the broader context of Gupta iconography, with particular attention paid to the numerous and fascinating terracotta reliefs of the era, most of which are divorced from their original settings. Moreover, based on style and scale, some of panels evidently share the same origin and these are collated here. In addition, new interpretations are proposed for several of the plaques.