The Temple in South Asia

Project leader
Prof. Himanshu Prabha Ray

Project Outline

Led by Himanshu Prabha Ray, this project aims to contribute to an understanding of how sacred spaces came to be defined in the archaeological record from around the latter half of the first millennium BC onwards. It bridges the gap that exists between textual studies and archaeology through a focus on the Hindu temple, and aims to take the initiative to overcome these disciplinary rigidities by inviting scholars from a range of academic specialisations to lead the way, both in terms of developing new research methodologies, but more significantly in pioneering changes in pedagogy for studying a crucial element in the understanding of Indian culture, viz. the temple itself, and the concrete and performative actualisation of texts in the life of the temple.

Theistic developments in the Indian subcontinent have often been seen as later overlays on what has been termed the portable ideational religion of the Vedas concerned largely with sacrifices and rituals. The key concept here is the notion of religious spots as being mobile as opposed to these being defined in terms of specific locales and geographic places. The location of the temple at a defined spot indicated a change in its relationship with the community that provided patronage and maintained it. No doubt, the temple was a manifestation of philosophic and religious changes and by the early centuries of the Christian era emerged as the most important feature of the landscape. On account of its location and appeal within the community, the temple provided a platform for creativity in terms of literary compositions inscribed on its walls, as well as in dramatic enactment and recitation performed in its precincts. The temple thus evolved as a crucial link between the ruling elite and the community and through its wider linkages in the overall sacred geography connected to other major shrines, cult spots and centres of pilgrimage extending beyond political frontiers.  

The project focuses on a number of key themes including: The Archaeology of the Temple; Texts and Religious Action; Asceticism and the Bhakti Tradition, and; Performance and Text. It engages leading scholars from India, Canada, the USA, Russia, France, Germany, and the UK in collaboration through key networks and outputs.

Project outputs