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Adam Hardy, THEORY AND PRACTICE OF TEMPLE ARCHITECTURE IN MEDIEVAL INDIA – BHOJA’S SAMARĀṄGAṆASŪTRADHĀRA AND THE BHOJPUR LINE DRAWINGS, 2015, Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi, & Dev Publishers & Distributors, New Delhi, i-xiii 1-295.


Book review by Pushpa Tiwari

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Author of this book is a renowned figure in the world of academia in general and in the field of studies on South Asian temple architecture in particular. He is a trained architect engaged as professor of Asian architecture in the Welsh School of Architecture, Cardiff University, UK. His training in architecture and art historical analysis has a serious bearing on all his scholarly works dealing with Indian temple architecture. As the title of the book under review suggests, Hardy here deals both with the theory and practice—Text and Temple—as it has been explained in the very beginning of the book itself. Hardy has selected Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra and King Bhoja’s unfinished royal temple at Bhojpur ‘to understand connections between Bhoja’s temple site and his text on temple architecture, and to reflect more widely on the common terrain occupied by the theory and the practice of temple architecture in medieval India, and on any barriers that might divide them’(p. 255). In fact, this work is a well-researched and brilliant exposition of this idea of theory and practice which is central to the schema of the book. Significance of this approach lies in the fact that for the first time an attempt has been made by a practicing architect and art historian to investigate the workability of prescribed cannons of Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra through the line drawings based on architectural principles. More than that, the book proffers the comprehensive translation of some chapters—relevant to the theme of the book—from Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra by Mattia Salvini—a Sanskritist and Buddhologist from Mahidol University, Thailand. Salvini has handled it very sensitively with the help of Hardy’s intuitive and discerning inputs.

Hardy has divided the structure of the book into six chapters: ‘Introduction’, ‘Bhoja’s Abandoned Building Site’, ‘Nāgara Temples in the Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra’, ‘Drāviḍa Temples in the Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra’, ‘Bhūmija Temples in the Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra’, ‘Theory and practice’. Aside from them, there are three apposite appendices at the end of the work followed by Glossary, Bibliography and Index. Each chapter is complete in itself with intense reasoning and interpretation. After introducing the selected Text and Temple— Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra and unfinished Śiva temple at Bhojpur along with ‘the one coherent and substantial set of medieval Indian architectural drawings to have survived’—author touches upon the problematic of cogent relationship between drawings and textual ideas in a provocative manner by posing pertinent questions on their exact purpose and nature. Introduction has a logical synoptic outline divided into three parts: ‘Temple and Text’, ‘Bhoja’s Royal Temple and the Architectural Tradition’, ‘Bhoja’s Treatise on Architecture and the Textual Tradition’—each anticipating the aim and scope of this book. It is significant to note that Hardy has given a brief overview of existing corpus on the subject beginning with Ram Raz and advancing through Prasanna Kumar Acharya, N.M.S. Sompura, Stella Kramrisch, Felix Otter and Bruno Dagens, in so far as they are engaged with the use of architectural drawings of temple forms, basic layouts and designs as deduced from the textual tradition of Śilpaśāstras. The arguments advanced through this brief exploration focus on the importance of Ram Raz’s approach of interpreting text with the help of practicing artisans and pandits, as well as emphasizing upon the fact that proper understanding of architectural language is necessary to interpret these texts—a fact made clear citing Prasanna Kumar Acharya’s encyclopedic work on Mānasāra and drawings therein—having no intelligible connect between text and drawings as they are not based on the knowledge of architectural principles. This chapter also addresses the issue of terminology on ‘the basis of built record’ explaining Nāgara and Drāviḍa as two distinct architectural languages having several modes such as Latina, Śekharī, Bhūmija in Nāgara, and Vesara in Drāviḍa, with each mode having several types. Hardy posits that the Bhūmija mode was favoured by the Parmāra kings and this mode emerged around the end of the tenth century in Malwa and spread to other regions such as Karnataka and Andhra and flourished till thirteenth century. He convincingly argues that Bhūmija may be seen as a mode in Nāgara language, but in contrast to the other modes ‘it does not represent a stage in a process of continuous transformation, but appears to have been invented, or rather drawn forth all at once.’ According to him the number of projections and number of bhūmis create three alternative classes of plan which evolved in sequential phases: orthogonal plan, stellate plan, and further stellate plan. His proposition that Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra deals with all the three plans, ‘where the typology of Bhūmija designs may well have been thought through in advance of the built tradition’ seems groundbreaking and intense in approach having possibilities for further investigation. Last part of Introduction critically analyzes Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra—its structure, content, date and authorship—with Hardy’s thought provoking surmise that portion on Bhūmija temples from Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra may have been authored/commissioned by Bhoja himself. Hardy enumerates Chapters 55 to 67—total 12 out of the 83 from Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra as the key chapters on temple architecture. In a way, Introduction shows a sharp glimpse of and lays a solid foundation for the architectural narrative that evolves in this book. This chapter is made both legible and lively with the prolific use of excellent illustrations and line drawings.

‘Bhoja’s Abandoned Building-site’—the second chapter of the book, unveils one of the two major themes of the book—Bhojpur line drawings. After presenting a brief description of the site at Bhojpur author proceeds to discuss the irrigation scheme, dam, quarry, earthen ramp, the imperial unfinished Śiva temple and the numerous engraved drawings, all made easy to grasp through wonderful illustrations and line drawings, particularly informative are the illustrations 2.10, 2.13, 2.15, 2.72, 2.73 and 2.74 detailing the site plan showing locations of engraved drawings (with ASI numbers) and correspondences between Śiva temple and some of these engraved drawings. The scholastic precision and the passionate involvement of the author with these engraved drawings, in equal if not more intensity, shows that the author truly appreciates them as a work of art and it appears that while documenting them he has become part of them—like a pilgrim searching their contexts, meaning and purpose. His fundamental observations can be summarized that the engraved drawings and the existing buildings are by the same hands, that many of the drawings are 1:1 designs for ‘elements actually realized in the temple’. Author has minutely scrutinized many drawings corresponding with the intended plan of the unfinished imperial Śiva temple and convincingly arrives at the conclusion that there certainly were two alternative blueprints (‘lying engraved on stone for a thousand years’) for completing the mulaprāsāda. The crisp architectural analysis of these engraved drawings shows author’s in depth knowledge of both architectural theory and practice.

The next three chapters provide a detailed study on the Nāgara, Drāviḍa and Bhūmija modes, primarily as revealed in the Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra. These chapters seem like a stage where a ‘jugalbandi’—an enticing interplay of matching skills of a proven architect and a trained Sanskritist unfolds with all its scholastic nuances. There is no competition, rather a harmonious collaboration. Chapter dealing with the Nāgara group of temples is based on the chapter 56 and 57 of   Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra. Translator’s note in the beginning of the book informs that he has based his translation on V.S. Agrawala’s Sanskrit edition1 of the text—which, in turn, was a reworked edition first edited by T. Ganapati Shastri.2 Hardy points out that the chapter 56 has four different series of Nāgara temples—ranging from Latina to fully evolved Śekharī types—which he has labelled as A-D, each series supported with explanatory line drawings, plans, layouts, and exemplified with extant examples wherever possible, and therein, lies the real merit of this book. This is a serious work and requires not only the firsthand encyclopedic knowledge of the history of Indian temple architecture along with the precision of architectural engineering, but also, a solitary devotion, full of empathetic understanding and curiosity, to unravel the mystery of underpinned forms presented verbally in the text—chapters on Nāgara, Drāviḍa and Bhūmija bear testimony to both.

Chapter on Drāviḍa temple discusses the chapters 61 and 62 of Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra. Hardy begins by discussing the issue of the geographic source of the Drāviḍa chapters in the text and takes his argument further by suggesting that the Drāviḍa conception of the text might belong to the later Karṇāṭa Drāviḍa tradition as seen through the lens of 11th century Malwa architects’ understanding of the Drāviḍa, but at the same time, Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra also shows an awareness of the Tamil tradition in prescribing a diversity of forms of moulded base which ‘fixes the origin of the Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra’s Drāviḍa temples in the far south, even though the text seems to have undergone changes through its northward transmission.’ Chapter 61 of the text describes five types of moulded base which have been elaborated by Hardy with interpretive line drawings and matching illustrations of actual temple adhiṣṭhānas. Chapter 62 is concerned mainly with the description of the elevation of twelve types of Drāviḍa temples ranging from one to twelve storeys. Text prescribes the measurement of height and width and their ratio in hastas (cubits), agulas, bhāgas, pada, aṁśa. Karamāna—the diagonal of the square plan i.e. the width x √2, is the decisive measurement regulating the height of the temple to the summit of the crowning member i.e. ghaṭā. Table 1 clarifies this arithmetical master plan and Table 2 explains how the total height of successive stages, deduced in this way, is approximately equal to the height of the temple prescribed, which in turn, is equal to the Karamāna—i.e. the length of the diagonal of the plan. Hardy observes that there does not seem a regular arithmetical or geometrical progression, though Pierre Pichard3 has convincingly shown that the storeys of the Gangaicondacholapuram follow a geometrical progression. According to Hardy he did not find any such pattern in his architectural survey of various Karṇāṭa Drāviḍa temples. This chapter is made very communicative through the use of explanative diagrams.

‘Bhūmija temple in the Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra’ deals with the chapter 65 of the text which provides the defining traits of Bhūmija mode. Author has categorically suggested earlier in the first chapter of the book that this mode of temple architecture did not come into being through gradual transformation, but abruptly, at once, as if deliberately invented. He further clarifies this stand while analyzing the content of the chapter 65 and asserts that there is a coherence and complexity resulting in a geometry which fits together. ‘This geometry is not given explicitly … we have to puzzle these things out. This makes one suspect that the brain-teasing character is deleberate [Italic is mine], or else that drawings or a guru were expected to be at hand’. Chapter 65 of Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra describes four types of orthogonal (caturaśra), seven type of stellate (vṛtta), and five aṣṭaśāla/aṭabhadra i.e. temples with eight bhadras. Hardy suggests that most of the types elaborated here are architecturally buildable and correct, but, are absent in the available built examples. He contends that if Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra was composed around the time of Bhoja, then it would have to depend upon the ingrained scope and feasibilities of a new mode through re-casting of existing forms. He further explains that existing Bhūmija temples seem to follow some of the directions of Samarāṅgaṇa too closely ‘perhaps because the theory and practice developed side by side in a way that would not have been possible in older and more disparate traditions.’ Aside from providing the translation of chapter 65, this section brilliantly explains each type belonging to three main groups through the prolific use of charts, diagrams, plans and matching illustrations of existing Bhūmija temples. Particularly interesting is the explanation of interrelated dimensions of śikhara and the alternative interpretation of elevation for Niadha type of temple as presented through illustration 5.5 and 5.6 making clear that the radius of the rekhā i.e. veṇukośa ‘is always interconnected with the base width, height, and skandha width.’ Some of the existing temples illustrated to match the diagram deduced from the text are Omkar-Mandhata (c. twelfth century), Temple 1, Balsane, Maharashtra (c. early-twelfth century), Mahānaleśvara, Menal, Rajasthan (c. late-eleventh century), Ambarnath temple, Ambarnath, Maharashtra (AD 1060), Udayeśvara, Udayapur (mūlaprāsāda), Nīlakaṇṭeśvara, M.P., Siddheśvara temple Nemawar (c. early-twelfth century) and many more. Stellate group of temples have been exemplified and explained through diagrams in a manner that one can easily identify and relate them with the corresponding textual description as well as understand the alternative plans of elevation.

The last chapter is ‘Conclusion: theory and Practice’ which does not only offer the essence of this book but goes beyond it. Hardy clarifies that though there is no direct connection between Samarāṅgaṇa and the Bhojpur, yet, ‘the work at Bhojpur exhibits the same way of thinking about architecture as the text does, including the same kinds of modular proportion.’ He further suggests that these engraved drawings are ‘actual means of making’ i.e. practical and workable describing graphically and expressively how to determine measurements for quarrying, cutting, carving, making designs and creating diagrams for moulding outline etc. There are various drawings at Bhojpur e.g. D1 (fig. 2.23), J1 (fig. 2.70) which are identifiable with the ratio and proportion described in the chapter 65 and as revealed in the existing examples of Bhūmija mode like Jāmaleśvara temple at Jamli (fig. 2.70) and Malayādri type of the text. After pointing out this closeness between engraved drawings, text and existing temples he ventures into technical/mathematical calculation of this remarkable closeness and surmises that ‘a text can certainly provide clues for understanding temples’. Drawing J1 is of utmost importance as it gives the form of an orthogonal Bhūmija śikhara with five projections and five bhūmis. Hardy points out that first-hand measurements are to be preferred over the published ones and he clarifies—with the example of mūlaprāsāda of the Udayeśvara as presented in Appendix 1—on two different approaches to measure the temples—one based on the detailed measurement, and the other taking only the key dimensions, particularly where correlation of temple and text is desired.

There are three Tables in Appendix 1 which have been conclusively surmised upon by Hardy. Then he proceeds further to explain the relevance of chapter 65 in the analysis of stellate plans. He argues on the basis of his own experience that earlier sixteen and thirty two points star were considered as the model for Bhūmija temple plans, but, they are conspicuous by their absence in the existing Bhūmija temples, whereas, stars with twenty and twenty eight points seem to be the typical plans. He has exemplified this with the plan of Udayeśvara temple (fig. 6.2) showing radial division by twenty eight, which earlier seemed to be based on thirty two points star. ‘Conclusion’ is a veritable treasure trove of author’s perceptive comments on parivartanā (‘going around the circle’), right from its root in the astronomical texts, the Śulbasūtras to the alternative way of its interpretation as contained in chapter 65 of Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra. One has to go into detailed account of this as given by Hardy to really understand the complex mathematical divisions inherent in the textual as well as actual temple plans.

Author concludes with ‘Texts, Drawings and the Act of Creation’. With his insightful comments he demonstrates the nature of correlations between texts and temple and how they complemented on and diverged from each other, retaining their independent—but not mutually exclusive personalities. He rightly suggests that ‘every text must be examined on its own terms in order to understand its precise relationship to practice’. Texts are conceived in terms of drawings—though verbal—which have to be translated into formal architectural drawings. His analysis of the emanatory and svayambhūor self-creating character of text and temple is of much interest as it tries to fill the gap between theory and practice. He brings out the degree of differences in the emanatory nature of Nāgara, Drāviḍa and Bhūmija and asserts that ‘Bhūmija sets itself apart and aspires to subsume both Nāgara and Drāviḍa. It is an invented tradition, constructed around the time of Bhoja’s great cultural project. … Their architects certainly transformed older forms into new one, and created a complex mathematical system to regulate the whole set of variations’. Very briefly but expertly he has touched upon the issues of divine origin, individual genius of architects and how bringing in the western paradigm of artistic creation is of no use to comprehend them in Indian context, appropriately commenting that: ‘The texts do not say “do it like this and it will be beautiful”, but “do it like this and enjoy these results”.’  He concludes by stating the purpose of writing this book which was to present to the world ‘surviving set of medieval Indian architectural drawings’ along with ‘the temple designs encoded in a related and famous architectural text’ i.e. Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra of king Bhoja. Conclusions he has arrived at are not the end of this book; it is open and inviting for further investigation as he himself suggests: ‘so that others can reach conclusions, preferably draw conclusions, refine my conclusions and continue to draw from texts.’ The kind of intimate understanding is revealed in this book—about the practical, theoretical and aesthetic nature and scope of Bhojpur drawings and Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra—seems to be a befitting appreciation of and honour bestowed upon both of them by the author.

Appendix 1 gives the measured survey of mūlaprāsāda of Udayeśvara temple at Udayapur by Amita Kanekar to showing the variability of dimensions; appendix 2 illustrates comparisions between prescriptions in Chapter 65 of Samarāṅgaṇasūtradhāra and examples of Bhūmija temples through three tabular charts; appendix 3 is on ‘Point to Parivartanā to Plan’ by Paul Glossop which takes further the discourse on Parivartanā and explains the principles and methods of rotation through numerous diagrams. Glossary helps in following the terms used in diagrams and the book. Bibliography is devoted to the relevant publications on Vāstuśāstra and Vāstuśāstras, and Temple Architecture. Index is given at the end. Book has minuscule number of avoidable printing errors—the most glaring of them in the Bibliography which ought to be corrected in its next edition/reprint. Quality of illustrations is excellent and the overall getup of the book is very attractive.

This book addresses scholars working on Indian temple architecture who are well versed both in the textual tradition and the mathematical language of architectural engineering—a prerequisite to comprehend both theory and practice. Art historians in general may immensely benefit from this academic production as it has much to offer on the intricacies of two languages of temple architecture—Nāgara and Drāviḍa and the new mode of Bhūmija—which was deliberately invented, perhaps around the time of king Bhoja. It is a welcome and refreshing addition to the existing modest corpus of Indian temple architecture. While going through the whole architectural narrative of this book, one can sense the presence of not only the ever inquiring mind, but, also the indulgent and empathetic faculty of the author—who like a pilgrim and a philosopher, throughout remains engaged in the search and re-search of the underlying principles and designs to decode the nuanced interplay of theory and practice—both ‘divine’ and human.



1. Agrawal, V.S. (ed.). 1966. Samarāṅgaasūtradhāra. Baroda: Gaekwad’s Oriental Series.

2. Sastri, T. Ganapati (ed.). 1924/25. Samarāṅgaasūtradhāra of King Bhojadeva. Baroda: Gaekwad’s Oriental Series.

3. Pichard, Pierre. 1995. Thanjavur Bhadīśvara, An Architectural Study. Delhi: IGNCA and Ḗcole de l’Extrème Orient, pp. 84-93. cf. chapter 4, fn. 15 of the book under review.