This is the first comprehensive study of monuments from Nolambavadi (southeast Karnataka and contiguous portions of Andhra Pradebuilt during the Nolamba dynasty.and Tamil Nadu) built during the Nolamba dynasty. Using the Nolambas as an example Chapter one questions the way art historians often assign centrality and periphery to dynastic periods and examines how these assumptions have allowed certain periods of art be neglected and how this leads to questionable assumptions regarding ‘influences’. Next, after a brief political summary of the Nolambas in Chapter two, the following chapters furnish detailed description and analysis of Nolamba monuments, breaking Nolambavadi into three subregional groupings that correspond roughly with traditional territorial divisions.
Because the central Nolambavadi (Chapter three) ‘idiom’ is the most recognizable of the Nolambavadi ‘style’, the temples from the Nolamba capital, Hemavati (Anantapur district, A.P), and environs are extensively discussed. Eastern Nolambavadi (Kolar district,Kamataka),Chapter four, features the aesthetically engrossing Bhoganandisvara temple compound at Nandi village and the temples of Avani. Traditional north Kongu, Dharmapuri (T.N.), is the location of southern Nolambavadi (chapter five) temples. Nolamba presence here is more intrusive and the temple style reflects the blending of Nolambavadi, Gangavadi and lower Dravidadesa styles. By emphasizing localized artistic traditions, while acknowledging regionally shared traits, this study demonstrates that the temples are recognizably ‘Nolamba’-a style distinctive in aesthetic charm- and that these monuments require inclusion in the study of south India art history.
Andrew L. Cohen is Associate Professor in the Department of Art at the University of Central Arkansas.
When discussed, Nolamba’ monuments are presented as provincial copies of the more central works of the Deccan tradition, that is, those of Calukyas, Rastrakutas, or the southern Pallava and Cola traditions: or, as a combination of influences from these larger nearby traditions. I, too, during much of my fieldwork expected the time honoured method of seeking artistic origins and influences from territories controlled by large dynasties outside of Nolambavadi would somehow explain the appearance or ‘style’ of Nolamba period monuments. However, after completely surveying Nolambavadi-encompassing present-day south-east Karnataka and contiguous portions of Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu (see map)-I realized that i needed not only primary documentation, but also a better way to talk about the formation of art in areas controlled by minor-which usually means less studies-dynasties.
I suggest historians of Indian art need to question the ‘essentialism’ in dynastic and regional studies that assumes there exists some ‘spirit’ or ‘nature’ of a dynasty- either an artistic spirit, or a nature of each dynasty expressing itself in certain shapes, images and motifs identifiable with (and the property of) that dynasty. This essentialism allows to arbitrarily define an artistic spirit and then assume this spirit spreads outwards, transcending all other criteria. The problem with this sort of thinking is that it allows generalizations of the characteristics of a Colatemple, for instance, to truly define ‘Cola’, so that when the same (more likely, similar) characteristics are seen elsewhere, it is assumed that we are still witnessing ‘Cola’ (or, at least, Cola-influenced art). The stronger the spirit (i.e. larger dynasties have more powerful artistic essences) the more ‘influence’ it has over others. It is as if there were only room for major dynastic personalities or major styles and all others had to be seen as dependent styles. Art then is recreated in scholarship to reflect a modern aesthetic recapitulation of the supposed regional political hierarchy under consideration. This approach disregards the diverse and complex factors that contribute. To why temple looks the way it does.
How should we address art developed in the peripheral regions of India’s great dynastic capitals? Must the stylistic character of every local art be attributed to the ‘essential character’ of neighbouring macro-centres, or can we understand better as locally-based and relatively autonomous? Are Nolamba monuments only the provincial imitations of their more powerful military and political neighbours, or are they somehow appropriate expressions of their own local circumstances? I suggest that monuments in smaller region need to be recognized not as the commingling of ‘influences’ from the larger and more familiar dynasties, but, rather as autonomous local expressions revealing a dialectical response to neighbouring monuments and not a simple subordination to them. Or, to be more precise, it is not the monuments that are responding to others, but the human agencies responsible for the monuments. To understand temple art it must be seen as the product of human agents, expressing the interests of those agents, not as concealed essences. Local, ‘minor’, polities have autonomous wills and interests quite distinct from their larger more powerful neighbours and so their expressions, whether political or aesthetic, will be their own and not merely miniature reproductions of the interests or wills of their nearby powerful neighbours. Even if we cannotidentify all the agencies involved and their motivations for involvement we might benefit from remembering that the temple is a complex monument, both in its form and in its purpose.
Centrality and periphery hare is defined as a fluctuating opposition rather than, as has more commonly been the practice, as a continuum or a diminishing extension. Political and artistic centres do not always coincide, but I am arguing that issues of polity and centrality need inclusion the discourse. Of course an obvious point, but one that I think should not be dismissed as trite, is that what is considered peripheral relative to a ‘major’ centre, becomes central within another context. Within Nolambavadi (considered peripheral by (art) historians) I call the Nolamba capital, Hemavati, central. As this study demonstrates, artistic periphery need not be considered inferior, or unoriginal. Even if monuments are based on models from other localities (or 'influenced” as it is often used), the resulting product, due to training of artisans, available materials, patron demands and other requirements, are reshaped according to immediate needs.
After studying artistic developments in peripheral regions of a cultural context other than India, that of medieval and Renaissance eastern Europe, Jan Bialostocki observes:
Periphery is an area situated far away from the powerful center and not dependent on the influences coming from one place, but which receive inspirations from many regions and centers. Periphery is an area where various influences mix and merge and where no one of them obtains decisive superiority; that allows the artist of the peripheral regions to make the choice to develop the independently chosen elements and to create out of various influences an art autonomous and original.
Although I found his observations helpful, it essentializes central and periphery as fixed places. Another approach to the same situation, or at least how I see it for medieval south India, would be to recognize the great centres as autonomous yet connected and in a world of slow limited communication-contrasted to today's immediate maximum communication-all centres, major and minor, are peripheral to each other: responding to one and another if or when found to be required or helpful. Artists distant from major dynastic centres are aware of divergent forms that might come from any number of localities. They reshape designs, within the limitations of their training and skill, to satisfy the specific needs and demands of any given situation unbeholden to any particular tradition but susceptible to all those nearby. When building a temple there are many complex agents involved in varying stages of the construction contributing to the final appearance. Local tradition and autonomy predominate, but do not block other elements from potential use.
There is a teleological formalism predominating in most art historical accounts that explains artists, works or periods influencing subsequent artists, works and periods as if some style or period essence proceeds uninterrupted. Art historians' search for origins and evolutions might at times misrepresent the art and ideas rather than explain." Although some art historians feel uneasy with the evolutionist approach, many implicit assumptions concerning essences in Indian art historical scholarship remain intact.
One problem (as many art historians today acknowledge) is that the conventional models for non- Western studies are based on Eurocentric paradigms, and, specifically in art history, the predominant normative model for (world) art history has been based on assumptions regarding the Italian Renaissance. As Svetlana Alpers shows, even areas of Western art have been significantly distorted by scholars operating on the assumption that the mode of making art during the Italian Renaissance is correct for other (pre-modern) cultures." On the Western standard India, of course, did not 'correctly' evolve artistically (or in any manner, according to some). As was the case in the Renaissance, proper art should be rational, scientific, proportional, balanced: it is based on the human figure, which, of course, means man. Unbalanced, or irrational, art is hence feminine- which, as it is used, becomes a derogatory term. In orientalise scholarship the term 'feminine' has also been used in describing the essence of the mind of India." The subtle survival of Western evolutionist, Renaissance model implicit in most Indian art historical scholarship is a serious problem that we have only begun to debate.
The intellectual manipulations which try to reconstitute knowledge of other peoples (i.e. orientalism) is not a new topic. In Imagining India, Inden thoroughly critiques Indological discourse as it has constructed India. I have little to add but to point out that historiography engenders modes of discourse: revisions to commonly accepted models of south Indian polity could help in new approaches to dynastic or regional art studies.
The available histories of medieval south Indian are presented as hegemonic texts in both form and content. The authors' intentions are to present studies that are empirically comprehensive and authoritative; their primary concern is for the dynastic histories of major kings, their political networks, and the competition among dynastic powers. Often these studies have an inherently biased political agenda. The British presented countless studies which subtly justified their historic role in India. And following their lead many English educated (directly or indirectly) Indian scholars carried on in this vein though with different objectives." Using European empiricism to demonstrate historical parallels between Indian and European political institutions, many historians wanted to present medieval Indian government more like that of constitutional monarchs than as oriental despots." Most notable for contributions to south Indian and Deccan history are K.A. Nilakanta Sastri and A.S. Altekar. Although there is much to be admired in these studies, their adoption of European models has given an unwarranted emphasis on efficient, centralized dynastic power. According to Nilakanta Sastri and A1tekar, lesser dynasties remain subjugated powers, inconsequentional except according to the situation as allies or foes to the dominating dynasties. Scholars following the conventional history see the centralized large dynasty (in the case of my study, that would be the Rastrakutas or Colas0 as dominating, hence, politically and artistically independent: creative, innovative and superior. Obviously what follows is that smaller peripheral dynasties, and art from those areas, are depicted as unimaginative, derivative, inferior.
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