The hermit's hut: A study in asceticism and architecture

Kazi Khaleed Ashraf, University of Pennsylvania


The ascetic's dwelling forms a distinctive genre among various meditations on the elemental but although it has not received any exclusive attention. This dissertation explores the hermit's but or the ascetic but as a key trope in ascetic discourse and proceeds to establish its significance in the context of ancient India. The study also attempts to untie the semantic knot that exists between the dweller and his dwelling, the two forming a crucial conjunction in the discourse. The dweller is also the “perfected ascetic” who has acquired that status by dint of achieving “enlightenment,” the most compelling figure being the Buddha. The ideal of ascetic perfectibility in the Indic context required an extensive review of Buddhist literature and iconography. The ascetic but presents a polysemy, drawn from imageries of pragmatic dwellings to profound ideations. I have, in conclusion, proposed the term the “last” but to illustrate distinctive aspects in this diversity. Ascetic architecture, in essence, is a civilizational project, despite the fact that the ascetic but denotes a wide variety of domiciliary structures, from primitive to normative, and from naturalistic caves to trees. The “last” but condenses various shades of the ascetical enterprise, from considering the but as the symbol of being-in-the-world to being the emblem of “emptiness,” but most importantly embodying the enigmatic terminal goal (“enlightenment”) of the “perfected ascetic” visualized in the words of the Buddha as the cataclysmic event of “breaking the roof.” The characterization of the hermit's but as being intimately tied with its dweller presented a scope broader than architectural history. The study involved an inquiry into ascetical, religious, sociological and anthropological topics. Buddhist resources—literary and iconographic—form the core of the study, although works from Brahmanical sources are also included. The work of Joseph Rykwert provided a theoretical orientation towards the elemental hut, while the work of various Indological scholars, particularly Ananda K. Coomaraswamy, Mircea Eliade, Stella Kramrisch, Sukumar Dutt, and more recently, Patrick Olivelle and Michael W. Meister established crucial Indic themes in the argument. While the dissertation benefited from this scholarship, it also recognizes that none of the work fully proposes the hermit's but as an ideational type, and considers elaborating its significance in the ascetic imagination.

Subject Area

Architecture|Cultural anthropology

Recommended Citation

Ashraf, Kazi Khaleed, "The hermit's hut: A study in asceticism and architecture" (2002). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3043847.