Construing constructs: A study of temple design and construction in North India

Patrick Alexander George, University of Pennsylvania


Temple architecture in North India has been studied from a variety of perspectives, ranging from anthropological to art historical, but previous interpretations have not sufficiently explained the principles of temple design and construction, particularly the relationship between textual traditions and architectural practice, and between architects and craftsmen. This dissertation investigates these principles and processes from a specifically architectural perspective, through an analysis of temple measurements gathered during fieldwork at Bandhogarh, Madhya Pradesh, from temples dated to the latter half of the eighth century scCE, supplemented by data from other temple sites. These data are further compared and contrasted with textual references, evidence of craft practices, as well as historical and epigraphic data. An analysis of measurement data indicates two types of measurement procedures, proportional and constructional, corresponding to the two groups directly involved in temple production: priests and craftsmen. While options for overall temple proportions and morphologies were prescribed by communities of priests in textual form, it was necessary for craftsmen to fix the magnitude of these proportions, and thus the dimensions of the temple to be constructed, with fixed units of measure. This unit of construction was found to be based on the width of a hand, probably that of the patron of the temple. Groups of craftsmen may be further subdivided in terms of their experience. Those with the most knowledge and skill, i.e. architects, used the constructional unit to measure the individual stone blocks of temples, so that the sums of their discrete dimensions conformed to proportional prescriptions. In order to fulfill the proportional relationship between temple widths and heights, these architects employed mathematical progressions to determine the dimensions of the layers of blocks used to form temple superstructures. Other craftsmen then used the constructional unit to measure and carve specific, repetitive sculptural elements on these blocks. Experienced in the calculation of the terms and sums of these numerical sequences, architects were able to construct a variety of temples that both conformed to the prescriptions of texts and permitted the production of the wide range of superstructure profiles characteristic of temples in North India.

Subject Area

Architecture|Art History|History

Recommended Citation

George, Patrick Alexander, "Construing constructs: A study of temple design and construction in North India" (1994). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9521034.