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The variety of programs we offer range from experiential to educational to artistic. It can be a solo endeavor or a group activity, from visiting our new online gallery or our art gallery in person to attending an art opening. Or perhaps you want to attend a lecture or take part of a historic walking tour, there is something for everyone!

A Summer Lecture Series: The Architecture of India

By Dr. Allan Langdale

Thursdays, Via Zoom.
June 17 - August 19, from 6:45 - 8:00 PM

$10/lecture or $80 for all

This lecture series focuses on several monuments and architectural complexes in India, surveying the Buddhist, Hindu, and Islamic traditions of the sub-continent. The material will be presented in chronological order, spanning dates from the 2nd century BCE to the sixteenth century.

In the third century BCE the legendary emperor Ashoka, troubled by the violence required to consolidate his empire, fell under the influence of a relatively new religion: Buddhism. At that time an upstart offshoot of Hinduism, Buddhism became an imperial religion under the newly-converted Ashoka, who embraced the concept of ahimsa or non-violence. Ashoka sponsored ambitious projects to promote Buddhism, constructing stupa complexes and Buddhist monasteries throughout northern India. None was more ambitious than the great stupa complex at Sanchi, which survives as the most eloquent and monumental expression of early Buddhist architecture.

Beginning in the second century BCE, Buddhist monks began carving monasteries (viharas) and worshipping chapels (chaityas) in the dramatic cliffs above a bend in the remote Waghora River in north central India. For centuries afterwards, Buddhist monks came to this remote place to carve more monasteries and worshipping halls. Ajanta became not only a home for hundreds of monks, but a pilgrimage site for Buddhists and the beneficiary of generous religious patronage, even from Hindu rulers. Ajanta is one of India’s wonders; an open-air gallery of Buddhist rock-cut architecture, sculpture, and painting. This lecture tours some of the most important caves and the art to be found in them.

The earliest Hindu temples were constructed of wood, an ephemeral material that does not survive very long in the monsoon-soaked humidity of the Indian subcontinent. Beginning in the 6th century CE a Hindu dynasty called the Chalukyans began carving and constructing architecture in stone, and thus it is with the Chalukyans that we see some the earliest surviving Hindu temples of India, primarily in three important temple sites: Badami, Aihole, and Pattadakal.

One of the most impressive of all the rock-cut Hindu temples is the remarkable cave temple to the Hindu god Shiva that is found on the remote island of Elephanta, south of Bombay on the west coast of India. Not only are the ‘architectonic’ elements of the temple complex carved from the basalt of the island’s mountain, but the walls have been carved into the most intricate and monumental depictions of both Shiva and his consort, Parvati.

 

Continuing with our focus on temples dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva, we travel in this lecture to the most remarkable rock-cut building in the world, the Kailasanatha temple at Ellora, dating from the 8th century CE. A colossal expression of the power of the central Indian dynasty of the Rashtrakutans, Ellora is, today, one of the most visited religious sites in India. In this lecture we’ll examine in detail the essential symbolism and ritual components of a Shiva temple.

*CONTENT WARNING* Sculptures depicting sexual acts will be shown in this lecture *

Around the year 1000, a north Indian dynasty called the Chandelas attempted to consolidate their power with an ambitious campaign of temple building at a place called Khajuraho. The temples there have become the most famous examples of medieval Hindu religious architecture. Clothed in sculpture, some of it erotic in nature, these temples still today dot the landscape around the village of Khajuraho, their towers reminiscent of the towers of Gothic cathedrals in Europe which date from centuries later.

Muslim incursions into the Gangeatic Plain, beginning in earnest in the twelfth-century, were to forever change the political, religious, and social nature of the Indian subcontinent. Eventually, Islam would subjugate the entire region. This lecture examines how the earliest Muslim Dynasties established their presence through architecture in the area around their chosen capital, Delhi.

After centuries of expansion and military success in north India, one dynasty emerged as a powerful entity that would conquer and consolidate a vast empire: the Moghul Empire. This lecture focuses on a single early monument that celebrates the power of this dynasty, Humayun’s Tomb in Delhi, dating from 1565 CE. This huge tomb and its gardens would serve as a model for later Moghul tombs, such as the Taj Mahal, dealt with in the last of our lecture series.

The most fascinating of all Moghul emperors was without doubt Akbar (r. 1556-1605). He was not only emperor at the height of the empire, but he was also an intellectual and builder. His most ambitious project, by far the most ambitious project of any Moghul emperor, was an entire ideal city: Fathepur Sikri. In this lecture we’ll explore the city but also examine how the city was an expression of the ideals of Akbar himself.

The crown of Islamic architecture in India is the monumental tomb known as the Taj Mahal in Agra. Build by the Emperor Shah Jahan (r. 1628-58) for one of wives, Mumtaz Mahal, this tomb and tomb complex is one of the world’s most recognizable works of architecture. This lecture will examine the tomb complex, its decoration, symbolism and function, revealing that the Taj is much more than a pretty building.

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