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Book: Indian Temple Sculpture

Indian Temple Sculpture by John Guy looks at Indian temple sculpture in context, as an instrument of worship which embodies powerful religious experience. The book serves as an absorbing introduction to the principal iconographic forms in Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism. A major highlight of the book is the pictures and photographs – 150 color and 50 black and white. The photographs are from the famous collection of South-Asian sculpture in London’s Victoria and Albert Museum.

‘Indian Temple Sculpture’ considers the cosmological meaning hidden in the sculptures, its origins, the temple setting and the role of sculpture within it and reveals the vivid rituals and traditions still in practice today.

Kesavan Veluthat reviews the book in The Hindu

He treats the subject under six separate chapters. The first chapter deals with how religion evolved in India in such a way as to require icons. A religion based on ritual does not require idols; one based on devotion does. Thus, the need for images grew from Vedic religion, which is aniconic, to Puranic Hinduism which is centered on the worship of images. Myths around the deities found expression in the plastic arts.

The third chapter on the temple setting is important, as it also goes to the secular functions of the temple. Guy appreciates how the projects of temple building undertaken by kings in medieval India were also political projects.

The next chapter is concerned with devotion in temple worship. When devotion becomes a public ostentation as distinct from the expression of a private sentiment, icons acquire a special significance.

The chapter on iconography and emotion deals with the expressiveness of the sculptures. He takes up the elaborate literature on dance, the Natyasastra, to show that the expressions represented by the sculptures are based systematically on the textbooks of dance. The chapter on manifestations and appearances traces the way in which sculpture represented different deities in the pantheons, in the process of which he has also traced the manifestations of different pantheons of the Saiva, Vaishnava and Shakta kinds.

Indian Temple Sculpture
By John Guy
Published by V&A Publications, Victoria and Albert Museum
Price: £35.00