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The Ceilings of Indian Temples

The Ceilings of Indian Temples
Item Code: NAU463
Author: Harihar Singh
Language: English
Edition: 2019
ISBN: 9788194083153
Pages: 513 (421 Illustrations)
Other Details: 11.50 X 9.00 inch
weight of the book: 2.48 kg
About the Book

Ornate and carved ceilings in Indian temples are unique and timeless works of art, with a symmetry and allure of their own. They are hallowed spaces in the spiritual context, possessing meaning, context and significance to worshippers as well as scholars of art and architecture. The exquisite ceilings of ancient and mediaeval times that exist in Indian temples, designed, carved and decorated with aesthetic finesse by extraordinary artists, continue to fascinate us to this day.

Based on the descriptions, techniques and classifications of temple ceilings spelt out in Bhojadeva's Samaranganasutradhara and Bhuvanadeva's Aparajitaprecha, Prof. Harihar Singh of Banaras Hindu University has produced a classical and masterful study on the subject, covering ceilings of temples in both North and South India. His erudition, clarity and painstaking attention to detail are evident in every page of the book. The book is lavishly illustrated to portray the ceilings, as they exist today, to the reader.

This is a seminal study of the subject; which will be of interest to scholars and lay readers alike.

**Contents and Sample Pages**


Ceiling plays an important role in any closed structure. In a way it gives completeness to the structure. When we talk about a temple or any other similar structure based on certain principles of shastras, the importance is magnified. An overhead inner surface that covers the upper confines of any built structure is ceiling. Often decorated to taste, there exist countless exquisite examples of frescoes and artworks on ceilings that lend grace and beauty to the structure. While the etymological origin of the word ‘ceiling’ is uncertain, some consider it to be related to Latin celare or French céler ‘conceal’ whereas some derive it from the late Middle English, in the sense ‘line the interior of a room with plaster or panelling.’ In Sanskrit, the closest equivalent to ‘ceiling’ is "vitana’ which is etymologised from prefixing the ‘vi’, to the root ‘tan’ + ‘gha’ suffix; wherein the root ‘tan’ stands for expansion: ‘tanu vistare’ (Paniniya Dhatupatha: tanadih.8.1463). The textual tradition of Indian architecture dwells deep into this Important subject. Two major treatises of this tradition namely, the Samaranganasitradhara of Bhojadeva and the Aparajitaprccha of Bhuvanadeva have elaborated on the subject in great detail and it can well be imagined that numerous religious and secular buildings would have drawn inspiration from these texts and would have translated the textual tenets into tangible form.

The precepts laid out in the said texts caught the attention of Prof. Harihar Singh, an eminent scholar of Archeology and he was initiated to decode the secret language of these texts with regard to designs and varieties of ceilings of Indian temples. Having successfully decoded some primary patterns of ceilings, he began his arduous journey spanning more than six years, as he delved deep into an intensive and exhaustive research in this topic and successfully decoded all the textual formulas contained in the Samaranganasutradhara and the Aparajitaprccha with regard to construction of ceilings. He ably cites corresponding specimens of actual ceilings, wherever available along with metrical diagrams, to support the textual prescriptions. Having worked assiduously on all the technical aspects of deciphering the text, he has presented an invaluable wealth of information on this important and integral part of Indian temples. He has tried to cover all the facets of ceiling architecture through his research.

It is our privilege to bring out this significant contribution of Prof. Harihar Singh to the field of Indian architecture in our KalasamAalocana series. This series of IGNCA 1s dedicated _ to bringing out the analytical and critical writings of pioneers of the Indian arts, who have illuminated the various and variegated, explored and unexplored aspects of these arts, through their works. This series, on the one hand include the original studies by such scholars who have left an indelible mark in the field of Indian arts through their seminal contributions; and on the other, the reprints of significant writings of scholars. The reprints of A. K. Coomaraswamy’s publications brought out under this series have been very well received . The IGNCA, in this particular series has brought to light several decisive and insightful studies in the areas of the arts, art-history, paintings, music, musicology, alongside a host of momentous studies in the field of Indian architecture, which include serious research works, such as, "The temple of Mukteshvara at Chaudadanapura’ by Vasundhara Filliozat and P. S. Filliozat, "Indian Temple Architecture: Form and Transformation’ by Adam Hardy, "Stupa and its Technology’ by Pema Dorjee, ‘Encyclopaedia of Indian Temple Architecture (two volumes)’ by M. A. Dhaky, ‘Baroque India’ by Jose Pereira, "Jain temples of Rajasthan’ by Dr. Sahdev Kumar, "Iconography of the Buddhist Sculpture of Orissa’ by Thomas E. Donaldson and more recently, "Theory and Practice of Indian Temple Architecture’ by Adam Hardy etc., to name a few. The present study on "Ceilings of Indian Arts’ by Prof. Harihar Singh is another value addition to this corpus of discerning studies on architecture.

I must congratulate Dr. Sushma Jatoo, senior faculty member of the Kalakosa Division who has dextrously managed this extremely intricate project. I also congratulate the Kalakosa division for bringing out this important Volume.

We would look forward to receiving any feedback on this publication, which we understand will open up newer vistas of dedicated research in the field.

**Contents and Sample Pages**


It was some time in 2008 that I was struck with the problem of the articulation of ceilings in Indian temples. In order to solve this problem I read The Ceilings in the Temples of Gujarat written by J.M. Nanavati and M.A. Dhaky but this important pioneer work on temple ceilings has not been of much help to me. One day when I was reading the Aparajitaprccha regarding the formulation of Nabhicchanda ceiling I found that the text on Nabhya ceiling (a variety of Nabhicchanda ceiling) can be decoded. Then I started making line drawing of Nabhya ceiling on a graphpaper and succeeded in doing so. Inspired by the initial success I tried to decode the textual formulas of other ceilings and now it is a happy moment for me to say that all the textual formulas prescribed for the construction of ceilings in the two famous Sanskrit texts on ancient Indian architecture, viz. Samaranganasitradhara of Bhojadeva and Aparajitaprccha of Bhuvanadeva, have been successfully decoded and the metrical diagrams of almost all the designated ceilings made in the present work of mine.

As we all know the ceilings are the interior repertoire of Indian temples. They provided not only coverage to a given space but also ample surface for carving. The carving surface could be available due to the mode of construction of Indian temple ceilings since they consist of a series of horizontal courses laid dry one upon the other in receding order and closed up on the top by a flat stone or an ornate pendant. In India, temples are built almost in every nook and cranny of the country. These temples are studded with varieties of ceilings worked out under flat, lantern and domical order. The rich material of ceilings has been collected and discussed in many modern works on ihe subject. Nanavati and Dhaky in their above work on ceilings have also made an attempt to identify them, of course with little success, on the basis of textual information contained in the aforesaid two Sanskrit texts. But the authors of the modern works have not been able to identify the ceilings not only of the rhythmic class (Padma, Nabhicchanda, Sabhamarga and Mandaraka — a classification of ceilings provided by the Aparayitaprccha) but also of the composite class because they could not decode the Sanskrit texts on ceilings. In the present work the entire Sanskrit text on ceilings has been decoded and an explanatory note on each ceiling given so that the reader can easily understand the formulation of each ceiling. Besides, each ceiling (except for Karotaka) has also been illustrated by a metrical diagram prepared on the basis of textual information of the above two Sanskrit texts and exemplified as far as possible by a corresponding example of ceiling executed in the temples.

In the preparation of this work I received help and cooperation from many individuals and institutions to whom I must express my gratitude and thankfulness. The foremost among these are the authors whose works have been of immense value for me in writing this work. I am deeply indepted to the American Institute of Indian Studies, Gurgaon (Haryana), L.D. In- stitute of Indology, Ahmedabad (Gujarat), and Baroda Museum and Picture Gallary, Vadodara (Gujarat) for the photographs which are reproduced here. I am very grateful to Dr. Ganapati Shastri, formerly Publication Assistant in the Puranic Section, Deptt. of Ancient Indian Histo- ry, Culture and Archaeology, Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi, for explaining some verses of the Sanskrit texts, Shri Shiv Kumar, Draftsman in the same Dapartment, for making dia- grams of the majority of ceilings, and Shri Barun Kumar Sinha, photographer also in the same Department, for photographic work. I am extremely grateful to Dr. Sita Ram Dubey and Dr. Mohammad Naseem, Professors in the Department of AIHC & Archaeology, BHU for various kinds of academic and other support. My thanks are also due to my younger son Dr. Vinay Shankar who prepared computerized diagrams of many ceilings. I shall fail in my duty if I do not put on record the names of my wife Mrs. Madhulekha Singh, elder son Mr. Hari Shankar and daughter-in-law Mrs. Beena Singh, and daughters Mrs. Chandana and Mrs. Anjana for the cooperation they extended towards me throughout the preparation of this work. The manuscript of the work has been composed by Mr. Sunil Kumar to whom I must express my thankfulness.

I am extremely grateful to Prof. Kamlesh Dutt Tripathi, Professor Emeritus, Banaras Hindu University, and then Advisor, Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA), Regional Centre, Varanasi for referring my work to IGNCA for publication. I am also deeply indebted to Dr. Sachchidanand Joshi, Member Secretary, IGNCA for accepting my work for publication under their prestigious Kalasamalocana series, and also for writing a meaningful foreword, which has enhanced the value of this Volume. I would like to place on record my sincere thanks, appreciation and blessings to Dr. Sushma Jatoo, senior faculty of KalakoSa, for her constant support, rigourous follow up and for meticulously managing and _ bringing the draft of this volume to final stage of publication. My blessings are also due to Dr. Arvind Sharma, the young scholar of KalakoSa, for his efficient assistance in completing the project.

I am very thankful to M/s Baba Print Arts for the fine printing of this work.

**Contents and Sample Pages**


Vitana is a Sanskrit word denoting a ceiling worked out in a building. The ceiling or inner canopy of a room, porch, hall etc. in the structural temples of India ts of special interest, since it produces a fanciful picture of the interior. Indeed it is the ceilings that are the chief attraction of the interiors of the structural temples of western India, because they possess so many varieties of ceilings as to be hardly met with elsewhere in India. This is perhaps due to the fact that the two famous architectural texts, namely Samaranganasutradhara (hereafter referred to as SS) of Bhojadeva datable to the 11" century A.D., and Aparayitaprecha (hereafter referred to as AP) of Bhuvanadeva datable to the 12"- 13" century A.D. come from this region. The latter contains a detailed account not only of the mode of construction of a variety of ceilings but also about many varieties of decorative ornaments and motifs for their beautification. Such a detailed description of ceilings 1s not available in any other Indian architectural text.

The roofing in ancient Indian temples was made with a horizontal arch and dome and not by a vertical arch of radiating voussoirs aS we notice in Western architecture. The simplest mode of roofing a small square space supported by four pillars is merely to run a stone beam from each pillar and to cover the intermediate opening by a stone slab, plain or carved, on the interior. The small opening may also be covered by a single block of stone stretched from wall to wall. In the second stage, when the square space 1s increased, the opening may be covered with 5. 9 or 13 stones by cutting off the corners. In the third stage, when the square space 1s increased so much as to be. barely covered by any of the above methods, then a dome, consisting of a series of circular courses and a sealing slab or key-stone to close it. at the top is devised, with its load supported on twelve pillars, four standing at the four corners and the other eight, two on each side, at the intermediate points. To bring the vertical pressure of the dome over the pillars, figure struts and stone arches are also stretched across the ceiling courses and between the pillars’ brackets. The courses of the dome are laid dry one upon the other in receding order and kept in position by their weight and balance. The joints of the courses are broken to avoid any kind of fission by laying the stones back and forth. This is a horizontal method of erecting a dome and ts called kadalikakaranavidhi (corbelling method) in the Indian tradition. The advantage of this method of erecting a dome is that it is not prone to lateral thrust, unlike the vertical arch and dome, which need expedients as buttresses and pinnacles to counteract the lateral thrust. Another advantage of the Indian dome Is that its courses provide ample space for decoration.

Of all the architectural texts available today in western India, the SS and the AP deal with the maximum varieties of ceilings, while the others merely contain information about the construction of the dome (karotaka) and this information too is more or less the same as narrated in the two texts cited. It is very surprising that the bulk of the material available in the SS and the AP about the mode of construction of ceilings has not yet been properly analysed and understood because the textual formulas regarding the construction of different ceilings are yet to be decoded. Consequently, the whole gamut of textual information about ceilings remains a mystery to the world of scholars. An attempt in this direction was no doubt made by J.M. Nanavati and M.A. Dhaky in their famous book The Ceilings in the Temples of Gujarat, but they could not decode the textual formulas regarding the mode of construction of different types of ceilings. As a result, this important pioneering work on ceilings does not quench our thirst for understanding the intricacies of ceilings. I have also been working on this intricate problem for the last six years and it is now a happy moment for me to declare that all the textual formulas contained in the SS and the AP in regard to the construction of ceilings have been successfully decoded in the present treatise of mine. This is well demonstrated in Chapter II of this work by making a two-dimensional metrical diagram of each ceiling along with an explanatory note on the textual prescription. Not only that, an attempt has also been made to cite corresponding specimens of actual ceilings, wherever available, in support of the textual prescriptions.

Of the two texts, SS and AP, the latter is more elaborate and gives a list of 1113 varieties of ceilings, classifying them into four categories named Padma, Nabhicchanda, Sabhamarga and Mandaraka. This type of rhythmic classification as given in the AP, or any other classification, is not found in the SS, although a good number of ceilings narrated in the SS falls in one or the other category of ceilings enumerated in the AP. Apart from the rhythmic (morphological) classification, the APalso gives the structural classification of ceilings and divides them into the three categories of samatala, ksipta and utksipta. Nanavati and Dhaky (op. cit., pp. 35-57) have rightly construed these as ‘flat’, "thrown in’ and ‘thrown out’ (project out) respectively. The word utksipta has also been used in a similar sense in the SS (54.30) in the context of amas.

**Contents and Sample Pages**

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