British Association for South Asian Studies


BASAS hardback publications

Gods on the Move: Architecture and Ritual in the South Indian Temple.

Crispin Branfoot
SOAS / 2007 / ISBN 978 0 9553924 1 2

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Review by George Michell, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies:

The "late" period of religious architecture and art of South India, especially of Tamilnadu, has until recently been a much neglected subject. While there is no shortage of studies on Pallava and Chola temples and sculptures (sixth-thirteenth centuries), for example, the Vijayanagara and Nāyaka eras (fourteenth-seventeenth centuries) have not attracted serious attention from art historians. The appearance of this volume signals a major change in focus, since it is for the most part concerned with the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. As the author argues, it was only from the middle of the sixteenth century, once Tamilnadu had achieved autonomy from the Vijayanagara emperors who had dominated the region from the end of the fourteenth century, that artistic production once again resumed on a major scale. The revival of temple building in the second half of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries may be judged from the large number of splendidly appointed and grandiosely scaled religious monuments that date from this time. Though this period was marked by political instability there was nonetheless a sustained investment in Hindu architecture, sculpture and the related arts on the part of the Nāyaka rulers of the Gingee, Tanjavur (Tanjore) and Madurai kingdoms, as well as their successors. The temples that were substantially expanded or newly founded by these figures are the principal focus of the work under review here. Illustrated by a generous selection of photographs and measured architectural plans, many of which are published here for the first time, the author’s discussions constitute a welcome contribution to the subject that should be of particular interest for scholars, students and even travellers to Tamilnadu.


  • Acknowledgements, List of illustrations, Maps, Colour illustrations
  • Approaching the Tamil temple
  • From Vijayanagara to Nāyaka: patronage and the South Indian temple
  • Gateways to God: the development of the temple city in Tamilnadu
  • Sacred architecture, sacred sites: continuity and change in the Tamil temple tradition
  • Gods on the move: festival architecture and ritual
  • Expanding from: architectural sculpture in the Tamil temple
  • The royal presence and portraiture in the Tamil temple
  • Conclusion
  • Glossary; Bibliography; Index.