Skip directly to content

Discovering ancient societies in Hindu temples

Our Shivdasani Visiting Fellow for Michaelmas term was Dr Himanshu Prabha Ray, who took a term away from the Centre for Historical Studies in Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi to explore the archaeology of ancient Hindu temples in her talks at the OCHS.

With degrees in Archaeology, Sanskrit and Ancient Indian History, Dr Ray was well equipped to give an inter-disciplinary perspective on much neglected aspects of the ancient Indians' experience of everyday life. In past publications, from Monastery and Guild: Commerce under the Satavahanas (Oxford University Press, 1986), to The Archaeology of Seafaring in Ancient South Asia (Cambridge University Press, 2003), Dr Ray has revealed the infrastructure of travel and commerce that underpins the life of the sub-continent in every century. She pioneered this approach in a new field during her stay at OCHS, with an exploration of the archaeology of sacred space in Hindu temples.
"Temple architecture is an important indicator of interaction with diverse interest groups, such as worshippers, ritual specialists, patrons, artisans, etc." she writes. Dr Ray used her OCHS lectures and seminars to demonstrate how modern archaeology failed to see temples in the light of their religious and philosophical context. In addition she explained how interpretations that highlighted the cultural pluralism of Indian temples, were replaced with more monotheistic religious identities as a result of 20th century legislation. She also demonstrated how the classical themes of Hindu religion, exemplifies in such literature as the Ramayana, provided a rich thread of continuity throughout.
Dr Ray's lectures, in audio format and with extensive notes, can be downloaded from the OCHS website at