Rookie Art Historians Guide To Temple Exploration

Reads: 294  | Likes: 0  | Shelves: 0  | Comments: 0

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Reddit
  • Pinterest
  • Invite

More Details
Status: Finished  |  Genre: Travel  |  House: Booksie Classic
The first time I went out to temple exploration academically and I was forced to do it very very text book. I just could not keep a straight face while my imagination ran wild when I was at the site of one the most exquisite and modular cave temples in all of the world, Badami, Karnataka, India. And hence I ended up writing this report and got a little more giggles than just academic points. And that made me happier.

Submitted: December 03, 2013

A A A | A A A

Submitted: December 03, 2013



Rookie Art Historians Guide To Temple Exploration-By aniSh-ism


The subject matter presented here is meant to be a ‘How to guide to temples for the rookie art historian.’ It is a guide to help analyze and observe temple architecture and anything with a history as old as a minimum of 500 years in the same country as his/her birth.

The purpose behind formulating and presenting this guide is to enable future art historian’s in training to identify the true reason for artistically historicizing a structure of worship.  Sticking to purely Indian context, temples are the earliest store houses of art objects. There has always been a religious side to Indian artefacts. The list begins from the seals of Indus valley, the cave paintings at Ajanta or Ellora, the art of constructing cave temples onto the sides of hills, the structural temples of south India. All of these examples of artistic objects of India all have religious significance. Therefore it does become essential to the reader of this guide to have known the religious facts on the artefacts that he is going to examine.

There are various other sources to help you learn about the religion that is associated with the artefact. This is not one of them. Here, you shall only learn why it is important and what happens to you if you think otherwise.


There isn’t a specific one involved. As long as the writing is making sense grammatically, there is some method involved.


Rookie Art Historian: The term rookie art historian is almost certainly coined by me. This term indicates the level of accomplishment of a student of art history. The student bearing this title is one that has not done much to the art historical world outside of college, but has certainly attained a change of perspective due to the classes of art history that one attends. No published materials are to be accredited to the student bearing this title.

The rookie art historian is one that is highly volatile and needs to be handled with care. The reason for this is that he/she mostly possesses incomplete knowledge about an obviously wide variety of topics. He/she is most certain to have an opinion on everything if ‘wit’ is an inherent quality of the said student. Much research needs to be done to make this a general term, but I intend to have every art history student to push further up into the amateur level.

Iconography: Iconography is the branch of art history which studies the identification, description, and the interpretation of the content of images. The word iconography literally means "image writing." An iconography may also mean a particular depiction of a subject in terms of the content of the image, such as the number of figures used, their placing and gestures. At the early stages, Iconography is a very important subject that the rookie needs to cover up and be completely thorough with and probably discard if found useless in the progression of his/her career.

The other terms and phrases used here can easily be looked up in the English dictionary and the meaning thus found can easily be associated to the context it is used in here.

The argument

There isn’t an argument as such. There is just some bit of ‘gyan’ giving. Do’s and don’ts, Tips and tricks, and some bit of personal soul searching.

Firstly, the rookie needs to know from books or any other sources, what are the temples that he/she is going to see during the field visits. Maybe make a list of them to cross refer when you actually reach the temple. Thus verifying personally, the existence of each of the temples that was so glorified in the literary sources earlier referred. Every temple visited and personally checked out should now have become an object of reality. It is most certain that these temples and architectural sites are now demystified up to 50%.

 How to achieve the remaining 50%? You should now study the site to such an extent that you can identify the site by images of this site. The images can be photographs, drawings or sometimes even memories in your head. I shall break it down in to methodical steps.

-Look at the site.

When you are looking at the site, you need to know how you got there. Did you take a train or did you ride there on a motorcycle mapping the route as and when you got closer?

The next thing to know is how to be able to get back to and from the site.

Is there any rule regarding visiting the site. An entry fee perhaps, restrictions on photography and video documentation. Not always will you have a representative from the ASI (Archaeological Survey of India) or your friendly neighborhood art historian along to guide you or even occasionally argue and question the guards to bend the rules or even initiatively prevent them from being bent.

Look at the signboards for names, dates etc. You have to memorize these, now or later. There is no skipping of this step. 

Following up with how you found your way here. Figure out if you are indeed at the right site. You don’t want to proceed further and make a joke out of the documentative material you gathered from the wrong site. This is why you need to know what to expect, especially since you’re not going to discover anything new in particular.

-Characterize it.

Find out what makes the site you are at, to tick. What makes it what it’s called? How many entrances are there? Question, and answer to yourself if the site is truly as magnificent as you were told about? Cross check the facts you were presented in the literary sources. Find objects and features that will help you identify this site even if you are the last human on earth after a biological apocalypse. Catalogue these features for future reference. Photograph them. But make sure you have a foolproof way of identifying which photo belongs to which corner of the site.

-Find its uniqueness.

This step is fairly easy if the previous steps have been followed correctly. It involves only differentiation from one site to the other. Identify and understand what makes site-A different from site-B or any other site apart from geographical location.

It is imperative that the rookie takes down notes as explained by the experts. This will further help catalogue what he/she saw in to various compartments.

While photo documenting a site, do not shoot abstract images. You are not selling them to any stock agency. It is for further research purpose. Make sure your images have sufficient amount of detailing on the sculpture. The color needs to be balanced right. So that people who have not seen the site are also able to identify the material and quality of the sculpture. Identify the medium of the artefacts present at the site. Why has this medium been used? Why not any other medium? How has this medium been explored in other geographical areas? These are certain questions that one should seek clarity about from the expert.

Further, identifying the iconography and varied representations of an art object is critical to further substantiate your newly acquired knowledge of this site. How is a particular art object depicted in various sites and why? This needs to be answered at this stage. If you are already aware of another site where an art object holds striking similarity or resemblance to the art object at your current site, you need to clarify the connection between the two through your experts. To answer which site is inspired by which one, purely rely on numbers and years as your primary step. Which site was commissioned and completed first is the source of inspiration to other replicas elsewhere. This methodology was grasped by me during Prof. Deepak Kannal’s lecture titled, Ellora the Karnataka connection.

Get artistic to learn history. Imagine yourself as an artisan sculpting the temple to its completion. What would you have done, at what point in the day or at what stage of completing a sculpture would you have taken a break to smoke some herbs? Ask yourself such imaginative questions to help you remember the site better by process of mental associations. Additionally, be sure to gather all the myths related to the site and its construction. Create your own personal version with contemporary context of these myths to help you remember the site and its purpose of construction.


Following the steps mentioned in this guide should help the rookie art historian to go beyond just saying ‘wow’ at a historical temple structure and its intricacies. It should be able to help him/her make other people go ‘wow’ at his/her newly acquired complete knowledge. With respect to a field trip to badami, Karnataka, India, a rookie art historian after following this guide should at least be able to distinguish between ‘gana’ sculptures and ‘ganapathi’ sculptures in the cave temples.


This guide need not succeed in entirely serving its purpose as the author himself is in need of an improvised version of it. 

© Copyright 2020 aniShism. All rights reserved.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Reddit
  • Pinterest
  • Invite

Add Your Comments: