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Arched Portals


Naman P. Ahuja

THE TORANA IN INDIAN AND SOUTHEAST ASIAN ARCHITECTURE
Edited by Parul Pandya Dhar
2009, pp. 317, Rs. 4200.00

VOLUME XXXIV NUMBER 8 August 2010

This is a succinct monograph on the morphology of the architectural motif of the torana, or the festooned or simply arched portal, that is a fundamental constituent, endlessly repeated in the history of Indian architecture. Lavishly illustrated and printed on heavy art- paper renders it a fairly weighty tome, no doubt one that scholars of South Asian architectural history would welcome. Although toranas are entrances or gateways, they are not to be confused with Pratolis and Gopuras, which grew into more substantial buildings, sometimes as defensive gatehouses to guard. Gopuras being more substantial buildings, have already been the focus of previous studies (one of the more notable ones of South Indian ones being the 1963 monograph by J.C. Harle). The study is essentially two-pronged. Establishing a formal morphological corpus or shall we say a taxonomy of the torana and second, ballasting this with what ancient texts and inscriptional evidence have to say about the form. This study is thus within a well-established indological methodology, which as Professor Settar’s Foreword makes clear has been followed ever since the earliest writings on Indian art and architecture from the nineteenth century. In not translating the extensive transcripts of passages from Sanskrit treatises that refer to toranas, clearly the author is reaching out to an erudite audience au fait with Sanskrit. She sets out her rationale at the very outset of the book: Indian art and architecture must be studied in its own specialist language, rather than impress English terminology to approximate what it means. She says, ‘Despite criticism against employing technical terms occurring in the treatises in recent writings, I believe that they play an important role in arriving at a culturally viable framework for an art historical analysis of the Indian temple’ (p. 3). At the same time, she is quite aware that there has seldom been a singular meaning of a term or complete agreement in what it means even in Indian languages. Indian texts are of course not the product of a single mind, they are separated by centuries and may come from regions far apart. Hence preceding her glossary of Sanskrit terminology, she provides for the diligent reader a tabular listing of terms gathered from different texts. Returning to the first aim of the monograph: to provide a formal analysis of the development of the form of the torana. Art historians of the conventional sort (wont as they are ...


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