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In The Medieval Indian Context

Vijaya Ramaswamy

By George Michell
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2015, pp. 352, Rs. 1395.00


George Michell is a Professorial Fellow at the School of Architecture in Melbourne. He has dedicated the major part of his academic career to look at architecture in the medieval Indian context and more specifically at temple architecture. His prolific writings on temples in the Deccan and on the monumental ruins of the Vijayanagar Empire testify to his long term involvement with this knowledge domain and his command over the academic field of India’s architectural heritage. The present monograph draws partly from Michell’s earlier researches but focuses on the latermedieval period leading up to the early colonial times. The time frame taken up for the study itself makes this monograph valuable because most studies on temple architecture take up the developments under the Cholas and Chalukyas rather than the period from the Nayaka rule onwards that is roughly the seventeenth-eighteenth centuries. In Northern India some major temples were constructed in the eleventh-twelfth centuries under the patronage of Chandelas of Khajuraho, Eastern Gangas of Orissa, Palas of Bengal and the Sisodia-Guhilot dynasty of Rajasthan. This book situates its analysis within a study of stylistic continuities in the earlier temple structures but moves rapidly to the state of temples during the Sultanate and Mughal periods, continuing the study into the colonial period. This profusely illustrated monograph consists of four distinct analytical blocks in the place of the usual chapters. The author calls these blocks—‘Continuities, Revivals, Appropriations And Innovations’. The main body of the book is foregrounded by a historical and religious overview of medieval India focussing particularly on the devotional movements and the patronage of rulers and sectarian leaders to temples. Part three of this work looks at temples regionwise beginning from the Himachala-Himalayas and Jammu-Kashmir right down to Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Somewhat unusually, Michell starts his book with destruction rather than construction. Drawing upon earlier scholarship including that of Richard Eaton, he meticulously maps the destruction of cities and temples as a result of Muslim invasions. To quote Michell, ‘There can be little doubt that the Muslim armies were systematic and effective in their destructive endeavours, as in the cities and towns of the Ganga-Yamuna river valley, extending from the Punjab to Bengal…. So thorough were the intruders in this regard that hardly a single Hindu or Jain monument was left standing in an almost 2000 kilometre long corridor’ (p. 20). This statement of the author is backed by ...

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