Indian Temple Sculpture
John Guy: Indian Temple
Sculpture, V&A Publications, London, 2007, 192 pages. Order the book
Article added on October 31, 2007
The Victoria and Albert Museum in
London owns an important Indian sculpture collection. John Guy is Senior
Curator of South and Sout-East Art in the Asian Department of the V&A. He
has organized a series of exhibitions and contributed to many catalogues on
the subject of Indian art and devotion. He is currently preparing a
catalogue to the Indian sculpture collections of the V&A.
John Guy's book Indian Temple Sculpture focuses on Indian temple arts
as instruments of worship. His multidisciplinary approach reveals the
traditions still in practice today and opens up a world of understanding
about Indian devotional art in an accessible form.
Devotional sculptures offer a powerful religious experience through
their aesthetic and symbolic authority. John Guy explores the origins of
the religious sculptural imagery as well as the emergence of a formalized
pantheon of deities.
The codification of art-making is reflected in medieval artists' manuals
(sastras), which not only dictated both the form as well as the
emotional authority and aesthetic experience (rasa) of a work of art.
John Guy explores the temple settings and, through the eyes of the devotee,
the place of sculpture. The author presents the principal deities through
their myths and manifestations. He introduces the reader to the principal
iconographic forms in the three traditional religions of the Indian
subcontinent, Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism.
Any description of the pantheon of Indian deities is doomed to
incompleteness. Therefore, John Guy mainly concentrates on the three supreme
gods: Siva, “the embodiment of
creative energy and its seeds of destruction”; Visnu, who “protects the
universe the universe from the forces of disintegration and periodically
restores order”; and Devi, “the personification of females power”. All gods
can assume variously benign or fearsome forms through the numerous
John Guy stresses that “traditional Indian religions and the art forms to
which they give expression carry different meanings for different
followers.” The meaning is often time specific and geographically defined.
Divergent ritual practices and varying explanatory mythologies reflect the
multiplicity of streams of thought which characterize Indian traditional
religions. There is no single, clearly defined philosophy in Brahmanism.
John Guy has studied the temple context and the placement of sculptures,
observed the enactment of temple rituals and worship (puja) and
documented a number of festivals, mainly in Tamilnadu, Karnataka and Kerala.
Indian Temple Sculpture explores the making of religious sculptures
in clay, stone, metal, wood and ivory from the early centuries BCE, but
largely concentrates on the
“medieval” period from the sixth to the sixteenth centuries.
The book Indian Temple Sculpture is illustrated though
the V&A's excellent collection of South-Asian sculpture and contextualized
by the use of both archival and contemporary photographs of Indian temple
sculpture in temple worship, ritual and personal devotion and festivals.
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