ARTH 212: Cities and Temples in Ancient India Fall 2000
Professor Michael W. Meister
Office: Jaffe 308

Time: TR 10:30-12, Jaffe 113

Thesis: The wooden architecture of ancient India's cities is represented in relief carvings from Buddhist religious monuments of the early centuries A.D. and replicated in remarkable excavated cave cathedrals. This course will trace that architectural tradition, its transformation into a symbolic vocabulary for a new structure, the Hindu temple, and the development of the temple in India from ca. 500-1500 A.D.

Visual Resources: The University of Pennsylvania houses a photographic archive of Indian art and architecture (now ca. 100,000 photographs) as part of the W. Norman Brown South Asia Reference Room on the fifth floor west end of Van Pelt library.

To gain access, contact the South Asia bibliographer, David Nelson, or his staff; a key will also be kept at the main Circulation Desk.

Some study images of India's art from Arth 104 are available on-line:

Examples of themes: to be covered in class lectures and discussion
(subject to change)



cosmic markers

alternative life-styles (ascetics)

housing as symbol

rock architecture








schools of




Two general surveys are available at the Penn Book Center (130 S. 34th St.):

James C. Harle, The Art and Architecture of the Indian Subcontinent (Pelican History of Art). New York, 1986.

George Michell, The Hindu Temple: An Introduction to Its Meaning and Forms, New York, 1977 (Chicago University Press paperback).

and one book for general reading:

Richard H. Davis, Lives of Indian Images, Princeton, 1997 (Princeton University Press paperback).

Additional readings will be distributed or placed on reserve as needed.

Course assignments:

Inn addition to participation in class discussion, students will be asked to prepare short reports and to choose an area for research leading to a final paper.

Mid-Semester Hour Exam:

There will be one hour exam when we have covered material for the course through the "Gupta" period (4th-5th century A.D.). This is usually scheduled in October, the week after fall break.

Final Paper:

Pick one site, temple, or aspect of Indian architecture from the periods we cover after the hour exam and do research to write an essay of ca. 12-15 pages on some aspect of it. This is intended to allow you to follow up your interests among the wide range of temples and regions we cover in class. You will be expected to develop a useable bibliography for this project in advance, to illustrate the paper, and to cite your sources fully.


First assignments:

The most recent and up-to-date full survey of Indian art and architecture is scattered through the new Grove Dictionary of Art, the vast full set of which you can always find in the reference collection of the Fine Arts Library reading room. The text is also available on-line (to use this on-line version from a Penn. connection, click on "Subscribers enter here" at the upper right of the Homepage screen):

Web Assignment 1 (week one): Find my "Introduction" to Indian Architecture (under "Indian sub-continent, architecture, Introduction"), print it out, read it, and write a 1-2 page informal response.

Try looking up other aspects of India's architecture using this web resource as the course goes on and let me know what you think of using its search features. How easy is it to find out who the author is of what you find?

Web Assignment 2 (week two):

Look up three of India's ancient cities, Mohenjo-daro, Patna, and Bodhgaya in the Grove Dictionary on-line. Compare and contrast them in a 2 page essay. (If you use prose from the Grove make sure to use quotes and to cite the contributor [you can do this in brackets]).

Web Assignment 3 (week three):

Assemble information on the Buddhist cave-cathedrals from western India from the Grove Dictionary of Art on-line by looking up the following major sites:

Bhaja. Bedsa, Kondane, Karle

Try using "full text searches" as well as "article searches" for these sites to see what other kinds of information are available and in what places in the Dictionary.

For visual images of these cave-cathedrals, see:


On-Going Assignment: Supplementary Readings on Reserve

As you read, please keep notes on these essays in a continuing journal, recording what you think is useful in them and what questions they raise in your mind. These I will ask you to hand in at the end of each month.

I. Supplementary Readings (September)

John Irwin, "'Asokan' Pillars: A Reassessment of the Evidence-IV: Symbolism," The Burlington Magazine 118 (1976): 734-53. (xerox; you might rather look at the original journal in the stacks)

Michael W. Meister and Joseph Rykwert, "Adam's House and Hermits' Huts," in Coomaraswamy, Early Indian Architecture, Oxford 1993, pp. 125-31 (look also through the photographs and drawings in the volume) (this book is on reserve)

Michael W. Meister, "Asceticism and Monasticism as Reflected in Indian Art," in Austin B. Creel and Vasudha Narayana, ed., Monastic Life in the Christian and Hindu Traditions, Lewiston, NY, 1990, pp. 219-44. (xerox)

----------, "Introduction: The Language and Process of Early Indian Architecture," in Coomaraswamy, Early Indian Architecture, pp. xvii-xxvii. (this book is on reserve)

----------, "Reassessing the Text," in Contemporary Architecture and City Form, The South Asian Paradigm, Bombay 1997, pp. 88-100. (offprint)

----------, "Sub-Urban Planning and Rock-Cut Architecture in India," in M. S. Nagaraja Rao, ed., Madhu: Recent Researches in Indian Archaeology and Art History, Delhi 1982, pp. 157-64. (xerox)

Louis Renou, "The Vedic House," Res, Journal of Anthropology and Aesthetics 34 (1998): 142-61. (offprint) The text of this essay is available on the Web at:

Field exploration, the fun of making new discoveries:

Michael W. Meister, "Discovery of a New Temple on the Indus," In Expedition, the Magazine of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology 42.1 (2000): 37-46.

-----------, "Temples Along the Indus." Expedition 38.3 (1996): 41-54.

II. Supplementary Readings (October)

Michael W. Meister, "Altars and Shelters in India." aarp (Art and Archaeology Research Papers) 16 (1979) : 39. (handout)

----------, "Construction and Conception: Mandapika Shrines of Central India," East and West, new series 26 (1978): 409-18. (offprint)

----------, "Temple Building in South Asia: Science as Technology's Constraint," in Peter Gaeffke and David A. Utz, eds., Science and Technology in South Asia, Philadelphia: Dept. of South Asia Regional Studies, 1985, pp. 31-36.

----------, "Symbology and Architectural Practice in India." In Sacred Architecture in the Traditions of India, China, Judaism and Islam, ed. Emily Lyle, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1992, pp. 5-24. (offprint)

----------, "The Hindu Temple: Axis of Access," in Kapila Vatsyayan, ed., Concepts of Space, Ancient and Modern, New Delhi: Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, pp. 269-80. (offprint)

----------, "Measurement and Proportion in Hindu Temple Architecture," Interdisciplinary Science Reviews 10 (1985): 248-58. (offprint)

----------, "Fragments from a Divine Cosmology: Unfolding Forms on India's Temple

Walls," in Vishakha Desai and Darielle Mason, eds., Gods, Guardians, and Lovers, Temple Sculptures from North India A.D. 700-1200, New York:The Asia Society Galleries, 1993, pp. 94-115. (this book is on reserve)

III. Supplementary Readings (November):

Margaret Case, "The Birth of a Shrine" (typescript)

Michael W. Meister, "Temples, Tirthas, and Pilgrimage, the Case of Osian," in Folk, Faith & Feudalism, ed. N. K. Singhi & Rajendra Joshi, pp. 67-75. Rawat Publications: Jaipur, 1995. (xerox)

----------, "The Two-and-a-Half-Day Mosque" Oriental Art, new series, 18 (1971):57-63.

----------, with Pika Ghosh, Cooking for the Gods: the Art of Home Ritual in Bengal, Newark Museum catalogue, introductory essays.

----------, "Self Preservation and the Life of Temples." This brief report on a recent research project is available on line at:

Ajay J. Sinha, "Architectural Invention in Sacred Structures: The Case of Vesara Temples in Southern India," Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, 55.4 (1996): 382-99.

Other readings may be added.


Art 212: Cities and Temples in Ancient India

General Bibliography for Reference Use:

Batley, Claude. The Design Development of Indian Architecture, 3rd rev. enl. ed., London, 1973.

Brown, Percy. Indian Architecture, vol. 1. Buddhist and Hindu periods, 5th ed., Bombay, 1965.

Coomaraswamy, Ananda K. The Arts and Crafts of India and Ceylon. London, 1913.

Coomaraswamy, Ananda K. Essays in Early Indian Architecture, edited & with an Introduction by Michael W. Meister, Oxford University Press, 1993.

Coomaraswamy, Ananda K. History of Indian and Indonesian Art. New York, 1927.

Fergusson, James. History of Indian and Eastern Architecture, London, 1876; revised and edited by James Burgess, 2 vol., London, 1910.

Herdeg, Klaus. Formal Structure in Indian Architecture, preface by Balkrishna Doshi.

Pereira, José. Elements of Indian Architecture, Delhi, 1987.

Sinha, Ajay. Imagining Architects, Creativity in the Religious Monuments of India, Newark DE, 2000.

Tadgell, Christopher. The History of Architecture in India: From the Dawn of Civilization to the End of the Raj, London: Architecture Design and Technology Press, 1990.

Volwahsen, Andreas. Living Architecture: Indian and Living Architecture: Islamic Indian, New York, 1969-70.