ARTH 212: Cities and Temples in Ancient India Fall 1999

Professor Michael W. Meister, Jaffe 308

Time: TTH 10:30-12, B4 Meyerson Hall

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 over 80,000 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.

Some images are available on-line:

Text Books: 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).

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

(A preliminary list of these reading will be posted when Pennlin is up and running next week.)

Course assignments: In 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.

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



First assignment:

The most recent full survey of Indian art and chitecture is in the new Grove Dictionary of Art in the Fine Arts Library reference room and on-line at

(to use the on-line version from a U. Penn. connection, click on "Subscribers enter here" at the upper right).

Find my "introduction" to Indian Architecture, print it out, and read it.

Try looking up other aspects of India's architecture using this web resource and let me know what you think.


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.

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.

Arth 212: Cities and Temples in Ancient India

Supplementary Readings placed on Reserve (1: Sept. 99)

Irwin, John, "'Aokan' Pillars: A Reassessment of the Evidence-IV: Symbolism," The Burlington Magazine 118 (1976): 734-53.

Meister, Michael and Joseph Rykwert. "Adam's House and Hermits' Huts," in Coomaraswamy, Early Indian Architecture, Oxford 1993, pp. 125-31 (look also at the plates in the volume).

Meister, Michael W. "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. xviixxvii.

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

----------, "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)

Renou, Louis. "The Vedic House," Res 34 (1998): 142-61.

[The text only of this essay is also available on the Web at:]

As you read, please keep notes on these essays, recording what you think is useful in them.

Web Assignment (Sept. 21):

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 1-2 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]).

Handout and Computer Exercise, (Sept. 23)

Buddhist cave-cathedrals from Western India, material assembled from Grove Dictionary of Art


Bhaja. Bedsa, Kondane, Karle

Review images are available at:

On-Line Assignment: The edited texts I handed out in class were found using "article searches" in the on-line Grove Dictionary. Try doing "full text searches" for these sites to see what other kinds of information are available in what places in the Dictionary.

Arth 212: Cities and Temples in Ancient India

2. Supplementary Readings, articles placed on Reserve (October 99)

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

"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.

"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.

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

"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 volume is on reserve)

As you read, please keep notes on these essays, recording what you think is useful in them and what questions they raise in your mind.

Supplementary Readings (November):

I note that the November readings have not yet been properly added to the course's Homepage. These are:

Margaret Case, "The Birth of a Shrine"

M. Meister, "Temples, Tirthas, and Pilgrimage"

M. Meister, "The Two-and-a-Half-Day Mosque"

M. Meister and Pika Ghosh, Cooking for the Gods: the Art of Home Ritual in Bengal, Newark Museum catalogue

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


Final Paper assignment:

Pick one site or temple from the medieval period after the hour exam and do research to write an essay of ca. 10-12 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 have covered in class. Please develop a bibliography and cite your sources fully.