Posted on: 15 March 2013

Gateway at Srirangam - 1847

This is plate 23 from James Fergusson's 'Ancient Architecture in Hindoostan'. Srirangam near Tiruchirapally is the site of one of the largest temple complexes in India. The gateway sketched by Fergusson is incomplete: the tower had not yet been added. It belongs to the Ranganatha Temple, a pilgrimage site famed for its annual Vaikuntha Ekadasi festival, dedicated to Vishnu. The scale of the gateway impressed Fergusson as nearly unrivalled in India.

The present temple has seven concentric walls and 21 towers or gopurams. Although worship at the site goes back earlier, the temple itself was founded in the 11th century. It was continually augmented between the 13th and the 17th centuries. The mostly 16th and 17th century gateways are brick and plaster pyramidal towers increasing in size from the innermost enclosure. The gateway of the seventh enclosure is one of the tallest in India (72 metres, or 236 feet).

Copyright The British Library Board

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The characteristic Hindu method of post and lintel construction can clearly be seen here, used for cloisters and gateways. Such structures could support less weight than what could be done by true arches, used by the Muslims. This is probably one of the reasons, apart from engineering challenges, that these huge pyramidal towers were built using bricks and not stone. Some of the temple Vimanas have been built with stone, however. The Brihadeshwara Temple, an hour from the temple depicted here, is a famous specimen.

Amazing Scripture

beautiful proportions

Visited the temple on April 16th,2012 with parents ! Marvellous architecture and a temple to visit again and again and again !


Fergusson was actually unimpressed with the placement of the gateways of this and similar temples, and thought it better if they were placed in the reverse order, that is, ascending in height from the outside in. This could not have been possible. Such gateways were built at different times, with varying engineering capabilities. This alone would explain their current configuration. Moreover, Hindu kingdoms in the south had to deal with Muslim aggression for at least 300 years (having already extinguished the Hoysala and Vijayanagar kingdoms), before the Nayaks added their gateways. Therefore, it was in their interest to add larger and higher enclosures with correspondingly higher gateways to cocoon a city within. Perhaps unsurprisingly, these outer prakaras were frequently put to military use, notably by Hyder Ali, Tipu Sultan, the French and the English.

>> The characteristic Hindu method of post and lintel construction can clearly be seen here, used for cloisters and gateways. Such structures could support less weight than what could be done by true arches, used by the Muslims. Pity that some one as informed as you would blindly repeat 18th century shibboleths.

Hello Mr. Sudershan. This is true. Before the advent of Muslims, "true" or "compression arches" were never used in India. Such an arch is first employed in the 13th century tomb of Balban at Mehrauli, Old Delhi. Since compression arches convert downward pressure exerted by elements above the arch to compressive stresses through the use of a keystone at the top of the arch, it is capable of bearing more weight than post-and-lintel or corbelled arches used in Hindu architecture. Thus, Gopurams that rise to enormous heights are built of brick and stucco and are hollow on the inside with each tier supported by wooden beams.

Well Sashi -- I am aware of the traditional 18th century view placed by British historians and faithfully adhered to since in that historical community. However this to me is another of the theories of 18th century British scholarship and is about as accurate as rest of them, so I think needs to be relooked at ab intio. There are many who have challenged the above belief, and there is much to support their view. For one Arches had been known across most of the old world for a very long time. Given that all the old world was in constant trade and such links, it is impossible to believe that Arches, true or not were not known across its breadth. Further, any number of Islamic architecture is very questionably "Islamic" in origin. The Islamic invaders into India did not bring with them masons or architects. In fact many of the early Islamic entrants did not even have such architecture in their country of origin. In addition, any number of arches survive from a old ear, of these are all in terms of stone carved arches, and such but nevertheless arches. So all in all what is simply likely is that the old arched buildings, have been destroyed and or appropriated. This is a common theme of that period. The difference could only be that oost the Islamic invasions, arches were preferred by the Invaders for whatever reason and more such buildings have been built.

Hello Mr. Sudershan. I'm not sure which belief is being referred to in your first sentence. I believe it to be the idea of introduction of the true arch to India by the Muslims, and not the inferior load bearing capabilities of post-and-lintel or corbelled arches against true or compression arches, which is a scientific fact. Arches weren't in common use in India before the advent of the Muslims. Fergusson himself expressed his astonishment over the advanced state of development of schools of architecture in India without this basic element common to Roman and Islamic culture, something he was familiar with. It cannot be supposed that Muslim invaders did not bring architectural knowledge with them. The first wave of settlements were carried out almost immediately after their victories, albeit without their architects. Qutb-ud-din Aibak began construction of his mosque in 1192, immediately after his triumph. Quwwat-ul-Islam is thus the oldest mosque in India, and its arches, built by Hindus, are corbelled and not voussoired as they did not posses that knowledge, something that was first used in Iraq in the 8th century. His successor, Shams-ud-din Iltutmish, bought along architects from Ghor and Persia, resulting in his arches (still corbelled) having geometric designs as opposed to that of foilage used on Aibak's arches built by the Hindus. The idea of the Hindu arch was the placement of elements above each other at both ends of an open span with progressive offsets so they meet in the center. This was not the Roman or Islamic method. Even if one supposes that they knew about the true arch, it cannot be held that all such specimens were cut down by the invaders. There reach down South was limited and no such arches are seen there.

Sashi -- you have contradicted yourself twice in the above. Please do read and figure out what you mean there in Let us first examin the facts, Muslim invaders have been in India since shortly after the fall of Iran. For three hundred years or more they were restricted to the west bank of Indus, and they were the original Arab Muslim invaders. The first success of Muslims in India started with Turko-Mongols in Afghanistan area against the Shahi kings in Further, before the fall of Delhi, even the Turko-Mongols took about 200 years to finally subdue the the Afganistand and Multan region before they had strong enough base to launch an attack into delhi proper. Funnily, we so no arches in any of that area in that very long period. However suddenly, Iltumish is able to get a Arch made in Delhi using Hindu slaves? :-) Yet only corbelled? Why, if he had his architects, they would make "true" arches. And if Hindus made those arches clearly they already knew of arches? Clearly that thesis does not stand to logical scrutiny. If they could make arches, a profusion of arches should have been seen in their native countries **before** and not after they had a chance of extensive learning and manpower appropriation from Indian conquests. As for old arches? Lookey here Dont tell me thats not a "true" arch. No shortage of examples, just need to be looked at. In any case true arches have been known much before 8th century as well, so I really dont understand your point that the first example was seen in Iraq. >> foilage used on Aibak's arches built by the Hindus. A kattar jihadi will let Hindu's put their mark on his victory parade of glory of Islam? :-) Clearly it was not built for Aibak by Hindu's. It was existing structure which was appropriated with minor changes. Basically the whole narrative if deeply flawed and needs complete overhaul.

The wonder of Ferguson at some one not using arch is easily explained. He comes from a linear culture, he understands only ONE type of good. He probably could not understand that people could know multiple styles and prefer one not preferred in his culture. Of course this would be all be at deeply subconscious level.

Hello Mr. Sudershan. I'm sorry to note that your comments above slip through my (admittedly tenuous) understanding of the history of the region. Please list the apparent contradictions in my previous comment that you allude to, so I could either correct myself or rephrase the statement. Arab incursions into East Asia began under the ambitions of the splinter states that arose after the fall of the Abbasid empire (based in Iraq) in the 9th century. By the end of the 10th century, the Hindushahis of Afghanistan (which was under Buddhist influence earlier) were defeated by the newly established Ghaznavid power. Mahmud enters the act around this time, and under 25 years consolidates regions up to Multan and sacks cities like Mathura, Kannauj and Somnath. His raids, apart from intending to break threats of Rajput coalitions, were executed to gather riches to finance his campaigns in Central Asia (where he took over Iran). But, it is also documented that Mahmud was a patron of culture, encouraging literature, poetry (the poet Firdausi being one) and architecture and used his exploits to further these. He had a marble mosque built with a university next to it, and historian Ferishta records his work on civil buildings. His victory Minar at Ghazni was the inspiration for the one in Delhi's Qutb Complex. None of these buildings have any Indian influence worth remarking, but do hark back to those of Cario's Ibn Tulun mosque, built in the 8th or 9th century in the Islamic style having domes and arches. Even in Fergusson's time, between Herat and the Indus, there did "exist a sufficient number of monuments to enable us to connect the styles of the West with those of the East" (i.e. between central and east Asia). Fergusson also remarks about a painting of Ghazni's tomb, which does have arches. The Ghorids, who supplanted the Ghaznavids, were converted to Islam by Mahmud's clerics after his initial raids into their regions. This emphasizes the strong religious current that ran through his rule, further suggesting impetus for religious architecture. The absence of some of the monuments could be attributed to the destruction wrought over the city of Ghazni by the Ghors 150 years after Mahmud, who reputedly razed and burned it for 7 days leading to the loss of some of the fine structures. Muizzuddin, who then led the capture of Delhi later consolidated by his slave Qutb-ud-din Aibak, too is documented for his cultural encouragements with the wealth begotten from his exploits. Inscriptions on the Quwwat-ul-Islam mosque, begun by Qutb-ud-din Aibak soon after his victories, do indicate that material from 27 temples (mostly Hindu and Jain) were appropriated to build it. Thus, the cloisters are almost exclusively supported by pillars from such temples. But, it is evident from his arches that red sandstone was used to build them, not the remains of those temples (see Quranic inscriptions and Hindu floral and foliage patterns run in parallel around the arches. This points to the employment of Hindu labor under Islamic direction, because of the use of foliage as a decorative motif and the use corbelled arches, both common in Hindu architecture. This in turn suggests the absence of Muslim architects around this time, which began in earnest soon after consolidation of power. Hindu motifs are done away with in the (still corbelled) arches erected by Shams-ud-din Iltutmish, which suggests increasing Islamic influence due to the influx of ideas or architects from Ghor and Persia. Qutb-ud-din Aibak also began work on the Qutb Minar as a victory tower (also for the Azan) inspired by similar ones at Ghazni. Apart from being named after him, it could also be so due to the presence of the sufi saint Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki, further suggesting the growing hold of Islamic culture. Could such a culture, sourced from West Asia, exist there without corresponding architecture? It was during the reign of Balban, who gave refuge to fleeing Islamic scholars and architects from West Asia under Mongol oppression, that Islamic culture received strong imperial patronage, and it is in his tomb that the first true or compressed arch is used in India. The presence of Amir Khusrau and Shaikh Nizzamuddin Aulia, who rise to fame shortly after Balban's time, also speaks about the culture extant then. To be sure, it was acknowledged by Fergusson that the principle of the true arch may have been known to Buddhists and Hindus, but almost no examples of correct technical execution exist to warrant any general use or knowledge of it (use of the keystone and restraining lateral stresses by walls connecting the arch; Coomaraswamy has documented these). Stupas with arches like the ones you have pointed out have been documented in Afghanistan (Lugar and Kabul valleys) since the early 19th century and have been victims of treasure hunters ever since. Such discoveries are no surprise at all. Also, I

Sashi, I wish you would not call me Mr Sudershan. If you wish to use a term of respect you can prefix ji, or use Mahodaya, mahashaya. But I would much prefer a simple, Satyakam, or Mitr, bandhu etc. I am not British, and you are a Desi too, so I assume you can use terms which are closer to both our contexts. In terms of contradictions in your first post, I listed the same in my write up, although it got mixed with the general post. I will try and come back to this if possible meanwhile let me look at your last post >> Arab incursions into East Asia began under the ambitions of the splinter states that arose after the fall of the Abbasid empire (based in Iraq) in the 9th century No, it started as far back as 711, and continued non stop for about 300 years. The Turko Mongol incursion into India started by 7th century too, and Kabul had fallen, even if Afganistan had not by 671 AD. These were HINDU kings and not Buddhists (they could be mixed Hindu/Buddhists kings in the typical Indian tradition though) This is common knowledge you can verify it through Wiki. >> This points to the employment of Hindu labor under Islamic direction, because of the use of foliage as a decorative motif and the use corbelled arches, both common in Hindu architecture That is a British interpretation. Why would hard core Islamic Jihadi's allow Hindu slaves to put their mark. No reason. It is clear that the entire buildings have been appropriated not materials. In fact Mahmud could build his victory tower only after he could transport slaves from India to build the same. >>> The presence of Amir Khusrau and Shaikh Nizzamuddin Aulia The word culture is very loosely used by Social scientists. Poetry, and philosophy do not equal Architetcure and civil engineering. Nomadic Arabs and Mongols in their tribes DID NOT have the knowledge of maths and physics which play a role in the civil engineering of such buildings. They acquired the same through winning over slaves/man power/and later day converts. >> The idea of the arch itself was borrowed from the Romans and the Byzantines. The idea of arch is very old, and predates Romans and Byzantines. It is only a Western centric view which puts its origins in Rome. Rome merely used it more than others. >> All of the above points could be gleaned from any text on Indian architecture And all of them are junk unfortunately and faithfully regurgitate old shibboleths in face of evidence which says quite differently. This is not scholarship at work. People still repeat AIT faithfully. >> To be sure, it was acknowledged by Fergusson that the principle of the true arch may have been known to Buddhists and Hindus, but almost no examples of correct technical execution exist to warrant any general use or knowledge of it I did post one photograph where there was a clear true arch, yes it was not used extensively, or perhaps used extensively only in western areas. Further I find it telling that you are willing to allow for destruction of lack of evidence in some parts, but are less willing do so in other parts. Net net, all old theories need to be junked and new books written, I am no Frawley or B B Lal to do so, but I can see there is enough material that a Frawlely, a Elst etc to be able to put this material into a coherent whole. Perhaps, even you could do it, if you chose to break from accepting the "given word" and re approaching the question. That is what I meant when I first said that I was disappointed that even learned folks like you just repeat the old words. I would hope that you would set new standards of scholarship.

Further Shashi, I believe you err in accusing me of accusing Fergussan as "parochial" -- those were not my words. At best I can be accused of not treating him as a deity, infallible and unquestionable and subject him to a limited purva-paksha.

I think it would sound quite pretentious... if not outright odd if one were to address each other as "ji, or use Mahodaya, mahashaya... or Mitr, bandhu etc." anywhere in the southern half of India. In Bangalore it might be respectful to add a suffix of 'avaru' and in Andhra Pradesh 'varu'. Given the variety of cultures in India... I guess we have naturally arrived at a consensus of addressing each other with a prefix of Mr. Isn't this kind of thought process...stretching our sense of nationalism a bit too far?

Thats why I said Satyakam is absolutely fine RBSI, BTW so is avare, garu or any other of Sashi's choice. I grew up in Bangalore ;-)

Outside RBSI, I cant recall anyone calling me Mr Sudershan, hard as I might think. :D

Anyway more arches at Mes Aynak (soon to be a copper mine for the insatiable Chinese industrial machine)

Hello Sudershanji. Sure, I will backup a little into our history with the Arabs, so that hole in my understanding could be plugged in. Thanks for those pertinent pointers. Traditional literature states there was significant exchange of cultural knowledge between the Turks and the Hindus during quiescent periods that peppered Turkish advances. This presupposes a learned West Asian society. For first hand verification of actual direction of transference of culture, one would have to be multilingual (a working knowledge of Arabic, Urdu, Persian and Hindustani should be imperative). While a few of the European officers and civil servants were so, your point is well taken that only a holistic study of such documentation would confirm the present theories, which are based primarily on circumstantial evidence and knowledge of inscriptions and translations of well known oriental works. It would be exciting indeed to blaze such a trail, and I do hope such an iconoclast comes along soon enough. In the meantime, the theories that are accepted now have been through the rigor presently afforded by Western and Eastern academic scholarship, and thus deserves respect. As an aside, other threads at RBSI have asked us to keep away from Marxist texts. This one goes further and suggests to eschew them all. Wonder what would be next. : )

Writing your own based on completely primary sources Sashiji. :-)

Another aside. As mentioned in my comments, true arches in Buddhist architecture has been known and documented since the early 19th century (Lugar and Kabul valleys of Afghanistan, apart from a few in India documented by Coomaraswamy). But, strangely enough, they have never been used widely in India to suppose a general knowledge of them. Fergusson suggests that the Hindus preferred arches with no lateral stresses on its walls (such an arch "never sleeps") but the apparent stability of stresses acting downward that would be counteracted by a pillar, post or block of slabs under the (thus corbelled) arch.

Great to know that you are a Bangalorean... Satyakam! I am a great admirer of Shashi Kolar. I am quite impressed at his well crafted and well reasoned arguments...based on sound research and study. Moreover he retains the dignity of the discussion by addressing people with due respect. He is a rare phenomenon no doubt and has just raised the bar for all of us at RBSI...

Let me clarify,..what he says is his own opinion...but how he says is worth emulation.

Sashi-ji >> true arches in Buddhist architecture has been known and documente But, strangely enough, they have never been used widely in India I believe such open questions, essentially point to the fact that the current mainstream in this respect are not only incomplete, but incorrect. These are precisely the sort of **just what happened here** type of mysteries which call for a relook of established textbooks ab initio to see if we can make a complete and correct picture. I would like to believe that this supports the currently alternate (and hopefully mainstream in future) theories (such as one I gave) of what would have happened. These are the open questions which make the whole thing so interesting.