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Northern Indian Temple Forms: Reconstructing lost origins

Temple fragments from Mathura, Gupta period
A forgotten, foliated, proto-Nagara style (Government Museum, Mathura; Lucknow Museum; Musée Guimet, Paris)

The project set out to understand the forms and compositional principles of Gupta and Vakataka temples and their legacies, and the patterns and processes underlying their transformations.

The project was funded by The British Academy and The Leverhulme Trust and ran from 2014-16.

The predominant tradition of temple building across northern India, termed Nagara, had established the Latina temple form, with its curved spire, by the 7th century.

Within this shape is contained a plethora of complex, highly structured symbolic ornament, derived through abstraction from the timber forms of place architecture and early shrine types. This architectural language can only be understood through analysis of earlier forms, especially those from the formative 4th-6th centuries.

Worship in temples became firmly established during this period, initially under the Gupta dynasty in the Gangetic basin and central India, and their Vakataka allies in the upper Deccan.

The project hoped to show how temple design under the Gupta kings led to the long-lasting Nagara tradition, while under their allies the Vakatakas a now virtually forgotten temple form was created. The term 'Varata' in medieval texts seems to refer to the latter.

Through the study of temple remains, numerous isolated fragments at sites and in museums, and depictions of shrines in relief carvings and mural paintings, drawings will be produced reconstructing both generic types and specific examples.


Professor Adam Hardy

Professor Adam Hardy

Emeritus Professor

+44 (0)29 2087 5982