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Krishna Chaitanya

MIDDLE CHOLA TEMPLES
By S.R. Balasubrahmanyam
Thomson Press, 1975, 427 and 410 plates, 180.00

VOLUME II NUMBER 4 July-August 1977

One of the most helpful conceptual tools for taking up the study of any cul­ture, so that the basic orientation of its ethos will be immediately understood and will illuminate the further study of the facets, is Piterim Sorokin's categori­zation. In the ideational culture, temp­oral existence is subordinated to, and ordered in the light of, ideas about transcendental reality; an attitude which is exactly the reverse leads to the sensate culture; a vision that meaningfully inte­grates the two realms of being creates the idealistic culture. The earlier tend­ency was to regard the medieval cultures, of both India and Europe, as ideational but the symbolism of ideational art is notational while in a Gothic sculpture or a Chola Nataraja, the idea finds the per­fect sensuous incarnation, and this is the hallmark of idealistic cultures. Architecture is pivotal in the study of cultures, for you can read off from it what men worked for, what they prayed for. The skyscraper of the commercial enterprise dominates the modern land­scape, the temple or the cathedral that of medieval culture. By focusing on a single architectural artifact, you can inte­grally resurrect a whole culture. Victor Hugo did this with Notre Dame and others have used Monte Casino and Mont St. Michel in the same way. It will be a long while before we can undertake such creative adventures and the reason is that this country, culturally one of the richest, shows the poorest documentation of its treasures. Actually we need well-planned programmes, sustain­ed over years, and batteries of research teams. This does not seem to be in the offing. In the meanwhile we have to rely on individuals of monumental devotion of whom this country, mercifully, has still not run dry. The Cholas, whose epoch spans several centuries but reached its zenith in the eleventh, seem to have been the greatest builders among the southern dynasties. The Tamil Saivite saints (Nayanars) have paid homage in hymns to the deities of 274 temples in South India of which 190 are in Chola country. The documentation of all the Chola temples is really an assignment for a well­-staffed project team. No tribute to Balasu­brahmanyam will be excessive for having undertaken this monumental task all by himself. This is pioneering work which will rank with Coomaraswamy's codifica­tion of Indian miniature painting and Subba Rao's codification of the Ragas ...


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