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Landscape and Sacred Architecture in Pre-Modern South Asia

Dumbarton Oaks
November 14, 2014
08:30 AM to 05:30 PM
Garden and Landscape Studies Colloquium, John Beardsley and Subhashini Kaligotla, Colloquiarchs

Dumbarton Oaks announces the annual fall colloquium for 2014 titled “Landscape and Sacred Architecture in Pre-modern South Asia.” To be held on Friday, November 14, the colloquium is co-organized by John Beardsley, Director of Garden and Landscape Studies, and Subhashini Kaligotla, doctoral candidate in the Department of Art History and Archaeology at Columbia University and predoctoral fellow at the Getty Research Institute.  Because Dumbarton Oaks and the field of garden and landscape studies more largely have already seen extensive research into Islamic gardens generally and Mughal gardens in South Asia particularly, we want to push the focus back in time. The colloquium will focus heavily though not entirely on temples, which form the bulk of the extant remains from the pre-modern era: Buddhist, Hindu, and Jain, both constructed and rock-cut. Speakers will also address other kinds of ritual sites, including monastic complexes, rock reliefs, water monuments, and funerary structures. Whatever the type, the architecture will be considered in connection to landscape: its relation to topography, climate, and hydrology; to water engineering and management; and to larger landscape contexts such as nearby settlements, rivers, and roads. Departing from the monument-based perspectives that have dominated architectural histories so far, presentations will explore the spatial configurations of sacred complexes, including the interrelationships of component structures, as well as the distribution of the larger built environment. Speakers will engage with the multiplicity of ways in which sacred places have been constituted: from worship rituals such as festivals and processions to the economic practices of food production and irrigation; from the pragmatic transformation of remote wilderness areas to the expression of landscape cosmology and symbolism; from spatial concerns such as circulation, approach, and orientation to the exigencies of transport and trade. Gardens and landscapes are also imagined realms. We therefore expect consideration of discursive modes as they pertain to material culture—how inscriptions, courtly texts, or architectural treatises, for example, gave rise to or relate to specific landscape practices. Much of the research to be presented in the colloquium is new and unpublished and marks both a paradigm shift within architectural history and an important contribution to the emerging field of South Asian landscape studies.


  • Kurt Behrendt (Metropolitan Museum of Art), “An Enlightened Environment: Early Buddhist Relic Stupas in Relation to Agricultural Works”
  • Pia Brancaccio (Drexel University), “The Cave as a Palace and the Forest as a Garden: Buddhist Caves and Natural Landscape in the Western Deccan”
  • Crispin Branfoot (SOAS, University of London), “Festival Architecture, Processions, and the Tamil Sacred Landscape”
  • Nachiket Chanchani (University of Michigan), “Pandukeshwar, Architectural Knowledge, and an Idea of India”
  • Robert DeCaroli (George Mason University), “Poolside Monks: Water Management in Early Buddhist Monastic Complexes of the Western Deccan”
  • Padma Kaimal (Colgate University), “Circumambulation and its Opposite: Visual and Verbal Cues to Movement Outside and Inside the Kailasanatha Temple Complex in Kanchipuram”
  • Lisa N. Owen (University of North Texas), “Articulating Jain "Place" in Early Medieval Tamilnadu”
  • Tamara Sears (Yale University), “The Shape of Babur’s Lake: Reimagining Temple Landscapes in the Central Indian Frontier”

Three students received travel awards to attend the colloquium. Read their narrative reports.




Bliss Awards for Harvard University Students

Pandukeshwar, image courtesy Nachiket Chanchani, 2011